March 4, 2005: Headlines: COS - Congo Kinshasa: Religion: Israel: The Jewish Week: Congo Kinshasa RPCV Dexter Van Zile says: This Protestant Stands With Israel

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Religion: January 23, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Religion : March 4, 2005: Headlines: COS - Congo Kinshasa: Religion: Israel: The Jewish Week: Congo Kinshasa RPCV Dexter Van Zile says: This Protestant Stands With Israel

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Congo Kinshasa RPCV Dexter Van Zile says: This Protestant Stands With Israel

Congo Kinshasa RPCV Dexter Van Zile says: This Protestant Stands With Israel

Congo Kinshasa RPCV Dexter Van Zile says: This Protestant Stands With Israel

This Protestant Stands With Israel
Dexter Van Zile

When the United Church of Christ convenes its General Synod in July, it will decide whether to divest from companies doing business in Israel. A few years ago I would have said confidently there was no way the UCC would embrace the one-sided narrative of Arab suffering and Jewish misbehavior offered by the divestment movement. Not today.

Growing up in an old wooden UCC church in New England, I had no doubt where it stood in regard to human rights and religious freedom. We were Yankee Protestants whose spiritual forebears fled religious oppression in England, fought for freedom in the Revolutionary War and sacrificed their lives to end slavery. The entrance to our church was decorated with the names of members who fought military expansionism and totalitarianism in both world wars.

Our church was part of the UCC and not governed by it, so we had our own controversies. My mother served on the by-laws committee that recommended women serve on the Diaconate — the board responsible for the religious life of the congregation — that had been a male enclave. I remember watching her listen to complaints about the recommendation during the after-church coffee hour.

One critic could not offer a rational argument against the change, but merely asserted, “I got a feeling of history about this.” So did my mother. Women served as deacons, and in the following decade I served on the search committee that hired the first woman pastor in the church’s 350-plus year history.

During all of this, some members of the church regarded the denomination with suspicion. I first started to see what their problem as a member of the Diaconate, when I started receiving copies of the denomination’s newspaper. The UCC’s national leadership had very little in common with the people at my church. Sure, some of the things they stood for were legit, like the separation of church and state. But there was an underlying anti-Americanism to their rhetoric.

I am no “America right or wrong” type of guy, but having served in the 1980s as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo), I knew that while the United States not perfect, it had a better human rights record than many of the countries that condemned it. But if you listened to the denomination’s leaders, the U.S. and Israel were the primary source of violence, evil and repression in the world.

For example, in November 2003, John Thomas, president of the UCC, condemned the Iraq war, asserting we had squandered the good will 9-11 created for the U.S. and asserted that the true axis of evil ran “the length and breadth of Pennsylvania Avenue.” He said this at a protest organized by International Answer, a group tied to the Workers World Party, a Stalinist group that had nice things to say about Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. The group also called the Tiananmen Square showdown “a battle, not a massacre” and said that in any event, it was the protesters’ fault.

It is one thing to oppose the Iraq war, but why is the president of the UCC, the inheritor of a grand tradition of abolitionism, human rights and religious freedom, participating in an event organized by people who apologize for murderous dictators? Is the denomination’s contempt for the U.S. so strong that its leaders can abandon principles its churches have embodied for centuries?

The UCC’s pronouncements on Israel, which emphasize Jewish wrongdoing but soft-pedal Arab violence, demonstrate the denomination’s contempt for the Jewish state. These pronouncements, endemic to main-line Protestantism, follow a predictable pattern: The language of prophecy is invoked against Israel, while the suicide attacks and killings perpetrated against it by its Muslim Arab neighbors are explained in sociological terms. Theology for the Jews and sociology for the Arabs would have outraged my father, who hated anti-Semitism, not just because it was evil but because the Second World War it inspired cost him his brother, who died on Iwo Jima.

When the United Nations passed its “Zionism is Racism” resolution in 1975, Dad was furious. When the American left’s hostility toward Israel became too obvious to ignore in the 1980s, he fumed. He would be outraged with the UCC if he were alive today.

By defending Israel, I am honoring my father.

I am also confronting problems within my church. For too many Protestant theologians, issuing one-sided condemnations of Israel is their way of demonstrating they have exorcised Christianity of the anti-Judaism that has plagued the faith since its birth, with disastrous results for Jews. Condemning Israel as a human rights abuser, while remaining virtually silent about oppressive human rights violations in nations that have sought its destruction for decades, does not demonstrate Christianity’s transcendence of its anti-Judaism, but its re-emergence — in main-line Protestantism.

Fortunately, I am not alone in my assessment of the crisis facing the UCC and main-line Protestantism in the U.S. Through the Internet, we are gathering by ones and twos to confront the divestment campaign’s dishonest, one-sided narrative. If the UCC does choose to divest, it will be the result of willful dishonesty and not of ignorance. Then maybe it will be necessary to start a divestment campaign of our own. n

Dexter Van Zile is a member of the Judeo-Christian Alliance, an initiative of the David Project that promotes a fair and honest discussion of the Middle East conflict in Protestant churches.
Special To the Jewish Week

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Jewish Week

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Congo Kinshasa; Religion; Israel



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