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GC2009: The Socialist Workers Party at Prayer

GC2009: The Socialist Workers Party at Prayer

by Mark Tooley
The Institute for Religion and Democracy
July 16, 2009

The 2 million member and fracturing Episcopal Church is currently convened in its governing General Convention in Anaheim, California, and seemingly poised, in between affirmations of same-sex unions and transgenderism, to condemn Israel as the focus of Middle Eastern strife.

In stereotypes from another era, snooty Episcopalians once practiced anti-Semitism lite, keeping Jews out of their country clubs and not mixing socially. Later, many Episcopalians fought hard to overturn the reality behind those stereotypes. In the 1950's and 1960's, Episcopal leaders were in the forefront of defending Israel's existence.

Then in the 1970's and 1980's, much of the church endorsed Liberation Theology, which portrays Palestinians as innocent victims and Israel as the Western oppressor.

Today, some Episcopal elites seem determined to return to earlier days, when the modern descendants of the ancient Hebrews were regarded with distaste.

There are no resolutions currently before this year's Episcopal General Convention directly criticizing any government in the world, except two: Israel and the United States. Resolutions mention human rights abuses in the Philippines and strife in southern Sudan but decline to criticize governments there, though surely Sudan's Islamist regime, dripping with blood of millions of victims, might merit some disapproval. There is no criticism of any Muslim or communist dictatorship around the world, though Cuba's Marxist regime is portrayed by one resolution as the victim of U.S. sanctions. In contrast, about a half dozen statements for consideration before the General Convention are aimed at Israel.

Many of these resolutions will not back it out of legislative committee onto the floor of the Episcopal General Convention. But they still reflect a disturbing anti-Israel ethos within much of the denomination.

One resolution disingenuously exploits biblical language to demand that the "Wall around Bethlehem and all other barriers to come down," referring of course to Israel's security barrier against Palestinian suicide bombers. "Reach down your divine hand so that the wall shall come down in Bethlehem, the birthplace of your Son, the Prince of Peace; And may the crumbling walls herald the fall of all barriers that divide us," it intones, while saying nothing about what the security barrier guards against. "Bind us together so that love gives rise to an abundance of tenderness among all people; and may our hearts like Mary's magnify the Lord, and may your love shower down throughout the world so all divisions are scattered and washed away." Leaving Israeli defenseless is evidently an example of "tenderness."

Another equally even-handed resolution urges deploying all the "authority and power" of the Episcopal Church "to end the oppression and the ghetto-ization [of Palestinians by Israel] and to bring the Wall down." A third resolution demands a Palestinian "sovereign state, independent of the State of Israel, and created from territory in the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem serving as the capitol of both Israel and Palestine, and urges the Administration's immediate and continuous engagement with representatives of Israel, Palestine, the Arab League and other countries in the region to achieve a comprehensive and enduring peace in the region and in the world."

Still another resolution, professing to be more equitable, insists that "peace between Israel and Palestine can be achieved only by a division of historic Palestine into two sovereign states," along the "1949 Armistice line, with mutually agreed border adjustments"; with "unrestricted opening of borders" with Gaza; with a "shared Jerusalem" serving as capital for both Israel and "Palestine"; and denouncing any "force, violence or arbitrary power by Israelis or Palestinians."

Yet another resolution bemoans the Israeli "blockade" of Gaza, without describing that the barrier responds to Hamas rocket attacks and terrorism against Israeli civilian targets. It cites the anti-Israel Friends of Sabeel group as a resource, demanding that Israel end its "crippling blockade" and "fulfill its obligation as an occupying power under international humanitarian and human rights law to ensure the welfare of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, notably its obligation to ensure the supply of essential necessities such as electrical power and to allow the movement of people and goods." It also quotes from the Free Gaza Movement in calling Israeli policies a "man-made disaster" that "continues to devastate the people of Gaza; due to Israel's ongoing hermetic closure of the Gaza Strip over 80% of the population there require food assistance just in order to survive." Evidently, according to the Episcopalian writers of this resolution, neither Palestinians nor Gaza had any role in this "man-made disaster" in Gaza.

There are no resolutions before the Episcopal General Convention expressing support for Israel or concerns about terrorism or radical Islam. Of course, there is a resolution condemning the U.S. for its policy of "preventive or preemptive strike that is aimed at disrupting a non-imminent, uncertain military threat." Another resolution confesses that "our nation's invasion and occupation of Iraq has resulted in individual and global injustices including death and maiming of countless Iraqi innocents, displacement of millions of Iraqi citizens, silent response to atrocities, illegal confinement without representation or formal charges, torture, lack of support and care for military personnel returning home and the opportunity costs of nearly $600 billion spent." It warns against any continued U.S. military presence in Iraq and implores "our entire nation to seek wisdom from sin committed in Iraq and let that wisdom inform future relationships throughout the world." Of course, there are no words about Saddam's genocides, or the murder and mayhem of insurgent groups in Iraq.

One resolution faults the U.S. for not endorsing the "U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." Another blames the U.S. for not banning cluster bombs. Still another condemns the U.S. for its "use of torture and the practice of extraordinary rendition." No words about torture anywhere else in the world that might distract from portraying Israel and the U.S. as the focus of evil in today's world. In one bright spot of restraint, the proposed resolution on the Honduras "coup," thanks to the Bishop of Honduras, is reasonable, warning against OAS sanctions that would punish Honduras in favor of the ousted leftist president.

But that bright spot is rare among otherwise slanted Episcopal proposed resolutions. As my colleague Jeff Walton reported from on site at the Episcopal General Convention, the Episcopal Priest Richard Toll, Chairman of Friends of Sabeel North America, has told supporters that previous Episcopal calls for two-state solutions are now out of date, "when the viability of two states has been destroyed, actively and consciously, by Israeli settlements in the West Bank, settler highways and, in particular, the Wall which divides the land and separates the Palestinian people into five barely contiguous isolated areas." The Rev. Toll insisted: "The United States needs to face as a nation its complicity and support, financially and emotionally, for this [Israeli] occupation." Not surprisingly, Toll's Friends of Sabeel hosted Palestinian Episcopal Priest Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem to the Episcopal General Convention to tout his new book, A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation. No doubt, many Episcopalians flocked to Ateek's anti-Israel book rally with eager and itching ears.

A draft of a moderated anti-Israel resolution heading out of committee for the General Convention floor urges "cessation of violence by all Palestinians and Israelis," "the end of the air, water and land blockade of the Gaza Strip, "the wall in whatever its form around and through Palestinian land to be brought down," and "an end to the on-going confiscation of Palestinian land, demolition of housing, and the displacement of people," and a "just resolution for Palestinian refugees," plus an independent Palestine, with a shared Jerusalem, as part of an "enduring peace."

But can there be an "enduring peace" without a change of zealous anti-Israel attitudes among Palestinians and Arabs, who still dream of Israel's ultimate extinction, if not militarily, then demographically? The Episcopalians seem unprepared for that question.

More widely, this year's Episcopal General Convention, with its obsessive concern about Israel's sins and various left-wing preoccupations, seems determined to spiral further into schism and futility.

Read other IRD articles covering the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church here. http://www.theird.org/

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