Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An overture filled with fury: anti-Semitism again

Anti-Semitism[1] is hatred of the Jewish people. It is not the hatred of all Semitic people but is instead a word designated for the Jews alone. With a great amount of fury the San Francisco Presbytery and the Israel/Palestine Mission Network as well as other Presbyterian (U.S.A) organizations, have exposed their great hatred for the Jewish people, not just the ones in Israel but also the ones in the United States. And they have also revealed their great contempt for God’s word.

Recently added to the overtures in the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee is 08-09 On Referring “Christians and Jews: People of God” and “Understanding Christian-Muslim Relations” This overture asks the General Assembly to postpone both of those reports until other more political organizations, such as the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, the National Presbyterian Middle East Caucus and the PCUSA partner churches and agencies in the Middle East can be consulted. (Keep in mind these are theology papers.)

The main problem for them is the Jewish paper. In the rationale section of the overture they have linked to a pdf file written by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and referred to it in the text.[2] It is mostly about the paper “Christians and Jews: People of God.”

Lies !: Although the IPMN lists some things they like about the paper they in various ways take them back when they start expressing their dislikes. So I will begin with their complaints. Under “the fatal flaws” they first look at what they title “The Separation of Theology and Justice.” After arguing that not enough is said about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians they write:

“By neglecting the reality on the ground, this report would ‘make nice’ with certain American Jewish organizations to avoid unwarranted charges of anti-Semitism. These are the organizations that have provided financial and political support for the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands since 1948, and used threat and intimidation to censor debates about Israel within and without the Jewish Community. A report that confesses Christian guilt for the past and calls for changes in our theology and practice but neglects to mention contribution of American synagogues to the oppression of Palestinians over the past six decades appears to us as inauthentic interfaith dialogue.”

There is a footnote with the line about threats and intimidation to censor by Jewish organizations. The footnote is, “The package (a bomb?) sent to 100 Witherspoon St in 2004, the fire in a Rochester Church, the picketing of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship event at GA when Professor Norman Finkelstein was a featured speaker, and the many visits of teams of Jewish neighbors to local Presbyterian Churches are examples of these tactics.” The rest includes a Jewish web site that supposedly documents all of this. (But it doesn’t)

So let’s start unraveling all of this by insisting that the package was never linked to any Jewish organization. Nor was the fire. And arson and bombing are not American activities but picketing is. And visits to local Presbyterian Churches by Jewish neighbors-I hope the pastors preached about Jesus.

The first quote about how Jewish organizations have been helping Israel for six decades- I hardly know what to say. Have these authors ever heard of the Marshall Plan which helped Europe recover from the ravages of World War II. Many Jewish organizations in the United States started for the same reasons and function in much the same way. Others do fight bigotry and intolerance and of course just like the present Presbyterian Washington office the Jewish citizens of the United States also lobby for what they think is right. What could be more American?

The Jews cause anti-Semitism ?:The authors refer to many different issues in the Christians and Jews paper and one of its concerns, the rise of anti-Jewish rhetoric and actions is attacked by the authors of the IPMN paper, who state:

“This statement [about the rise of Anti-Jewish rhetoric and actions] needs to be contextualized. The ‘anti-Jewish rhetoric’ does not arise out of a vacuum, or some inchoate reservoir of anti-Semitism. In fact, the case can be made that it is a reaction to the actions of the state of Israel. And this is related to the American Middle East wars, which, combined with the U.S. defense of Israel internationally, fuels anti-Jewish stereotypes and some classic anti-Semitic beliefs.”

So those who defame the Jewish people are not at fault! Instead the Jews are! And the United States. That is a classic double bind. There is no defense against a double bind and when combined with classic anti-Semitism it is pure evil. The victim is made responsible for the crime. It is like telling a woman she was raped because of the way she dressed.

Jews as the people of God: Finally the authors turn to theology. They complain that, “Christians and Jews’ uses selected texts in the Old Testament and in Romans 9-11 to affirm the continuity of Jewish and Christian faith. It declares that both are ‘people of God.’ And ‘serve the same God.’” They go on to complain that the paper fails to show the differences between Christian and Jewish faith as the paper on Muslims does. But their real complaint here is “Muslims who compare the titles of the two reports may conclude that we believe they worship a lesser God than Christians and Jews.”

But here is the real problem: the paper Understanding Christian and Muslim Relations does speak of both Christians and Muslims worshiping the same God which isn’t true. The Christian Jewish issue is a bit different. I think it can be put this way.

The Old Testament is full of Jesus Christ, it is about him. The Jewish people do not accept that and yet their Scriptures are a beautiful and true picture of the God Christians worship. Without the Old Testament Christians would have no foundations for their faith in Jesus Christ. That is not true of Islam. Their holy text is a contradiction of what Christians believe.

Furthermore, God has, as the Christian and Jews paper points out, given promises that tie the Jewish people forever to God’s keeping power. “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28)”

While I wish the paper Christians and Jews had been clearer and more insistent that all peoples, including the Jewish people, need Jesus for eternal salvation it does state that “Presbyterians share a basic conviction that the Church is called to tell the good news of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord to all people.”

The Authority of Scripture or Not: Other problems with Israel/Palestine Mission Network paper is their view of Scripture and their misrepresentation of the Christians and Jews paper’s view of Scripture. Writing about biblical interpretation they suggest that the theological paper upholds historical critical methods which will “call into question the validity of anti-Jewish texts in the New Testament.” They state this about the Christians and Jews paper as an excuse to question the validity of Scripture themselves.

But this is not what the Christians and Jews paper does. Instead it states, “Inappropriate uses of the historical-critical method of studying Scripture can reduce the Old Testament to a mildly interesting account of what people used to believe long ago and far away. For Christians, the Old Testament is more than a record of ancient Israel’s faith; it is ‘Christian Scripture.”

The paper also states, “Unfavorable New Testament references to ‘the Jews’ do not refer to all Jews of the first century, and certainly not of the twenty-first.” None of this questions the validity of the Holy Scriptures. But the Israel/Palestine Mission network paper does. They write:

“We believe it is necessary to use historical critical methods to call into question biblical texts in Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Joshua that are used to support the Israeli treatment of Palestinians within Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Land, Zionism, and a Jewish State; A few other problems: The authors of the IPMN paper complain about the section on land in the Christians and Jews paper. And yet, while the IPMN and other Presbyterian pro-Palestinian organizations always give a one-sided story about Israel and land, the theological paper constantly gives two accounts. They explain the merits and problems of connecting Israel to God’s promise of land. The paper Christians and Jews is extremely fair in this area.

The IPMN paper complains of the warning about anti-Zionism in the theological paper. Instead of heeding the warning, IPMN faults Zionism for seeking a Jewish State. As an example they write, “The push by the current government of Netanyahu for recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ is one example of this ideology.” And they footnote this with, “The common denominator of most forms of Zionism is the demand for a Jewish State.” Indeed!

And may it ever be a Jewish State.

Then the final request in the IPMN paper is that all the political entities in the Presbyterian Church who would like to see that Israel loses her status as a Jewish State be consulted when the Church writes a theological paper on Christians and Jews.

In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) something evil this way comes-may God stand between it and his Church. Deliver us from evil.

[1] Anti-Semitism A Presbyterian Pastor, John Shuck, asked this question and I thought I would answer it.
[2] see- 111 Refer Papers Attachment.pdf


will spotts said...

I surprised they were so blatant with historic antisemitic arguments. The Jews cause antisemitism. (Yes, they use the word Israel. But the argument is fundamentally the same). They should really look at the people who used this argument before them - because it has been used to justify the inconceivable.

will spotts said...

I meant, "I am surprised".

And I forgot your policy ...

Will Spotts
North East, MD

Viola Larson said...

Sometimes I think some of these organizations and people have no knowledge at all of the past. Do they really think that people in the past that were anti-Semitic, like Hitler as the supreme example, didn't give reasons for their right to hate the Jews; of course they did. It’s okay because they caused the black plague. (Medieval) It’s okay because they own all the banks. (1920s to today) It’s okay because the media is owned by them and they are influencing the United States. (1920s to today’s mainline churches.) They don’t seem to understand that they are spouting some of the same rhetoric all anti-semites have.

What really amazed me was their casual unconcern of accusing Jewish synagogues and organizations of threatening others and sending a bomb to PCUSA headquarters and burning a Church. I live in a City where about 12 years ago three synagogues were burned in one night. One of those synagogues has recently been receiving anti-Semitic graffiti ,etc. It just never seems to end and this certainly doesn’t help.

will spotts said...

One would think they'd require proof for those accusations. More quirky, however, is that they put them in the same breath as picketing Norman Finkelstein (which was appropriate free speech) AND visiting churches - which can only be good. Unless they want to ban Jews from entering churches. Or is it just people who disagree with them? Either way, it seems to reveal a rather disturbing attitude.

Will Spotts
North East, MD

Viola Larson said...

I could have gone on and on with this. For instance this statement, "but [Christians and Jews] neglects to mention contribution of American synagogues to the oppression of Palestinians over the past six decades appears to us as inauthentic interfaith dialogue,” actually attacks Jewish people worshiping in their synagogues rather than political entities. I just find this so disheartening-it makes me sick.

will spotts said...

Viola -

Maybe - just maybe - the mass of Presbyterians will agree with you on this and will decide that this type of attitude is out of bounds.

You will, of course, never persuade those who push for this. But maybe good sense will prevail.

Will Spotts
North East, MD

Presbyman said...


Thank you for speaking out. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that at least some of the language of the rationale to this overture is motivated by anti-Jewish animus. The negative reference to "synagogues" and the bizarre conflation of unproven allegations of Jewish violence with picketing and visiting churches is reprehensible. And, as you point out, there is the truly vile attempt to find an excuse for modern anti-Semitism in Israel's actions.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

Viola Larson said...

I wish we could get at least a commissioners overture to ask the GAMC to do something about the Israel/Palestine Mission Network. They are a Presbyterian Organization without any oversight and they have morphed into a “Let’s get Israel organization.”

Anonymous said...

Hi Viola,

I am concerned with the theology IPMN's paper, particularly the paragraph that comes after the Walter Bruggemann quote on page 3. They completely ignore Paul's love for Israel and Jerusalem and the theological underpinnings of that love, not to mention the theology behind Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to name just two outstanding examples that would give the lie to the theology underpinning the paper.
Though seemingly thoughtful in some places, "An Example" may be another symptom of the anti-semitism that is spreading like wildfire over Europe and England these days and is now threatening our shores as well.

Viola Larson said...

After I read the paper I had trouble seeing them as understanding anything God has to say about the Jewish people in the Word of God. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

Meir Avrahami said...

God Bless You for speaking out

I am getting v worried out what I read from Protestant Churches so it is good to come across someone such as your self

Viola Larson said...

Thank you for letting me know that. And I love it when I see someone posting on my site from Jerusalem.