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July 15, 2013 8:10 am

‘Disciples of Christ’ Has History of Anti-Israel Bias

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

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A Christian Coptic Orthodox Monastery in Lower Egypt. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday marked the first day of the General Assembly of the Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination with approximately 600,000 members. The agenda for the Assembly, which is taking place in Orlando, Florida, includes a resolution calling on members to meet with Palestinian Christians as they trek to the Holy Land.

Interestingly enough, the Assembly does not have any resolutions before it regarding the tsunami of violence against Christians in the Middle East, nor does it have any resolutions addressing the ongoing violence in Syria, where approximately 100,000 people have been killed in a civil war that began in March 2011.

By way of comparison, since 1948, approximately 60,000 people have died as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which has been the subject of numerous resolutions passed by mainline churches, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

As a denomination, the Disciples has largely been silent about the Middle East since 2005, when it passed a resolution calling on Israel to take the down the security fence – without asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that preceded its construction.

This resolution, written in large part by the Rev. Dr. Peter Makari, who serves as the point man on the Middle East for both the Disciples and the Untied Church of Christ, encapsulated just how obsessed mainline Protestants were with Israel and how indifferent they were to Palestinian violence.

The passage of this resolution generated a substantial amount of blowback for both the Disciples and for the UCC.

Subsequently, both churches have been relatively quiet about the Arab-Israeli conflict and about the Middle East in general.

In 2011, the national assemblies of both denominations passed resolutions condemning Islamophobia, but said nothing about the obvious and undeniable increase in violence against Christians in the Middle East.

They said nothing about the attack on Oct. 31, 2010 attack on Christians in Baghdad and they said nothing about the New Year’s Attack on Christians in Alexandria in 2011.

The silence of these churches is remarkable in light of the obsession these and other mainline denominations exhibited about the Arab-Israeli conflict, which as tragic as it is, represents a very small proportion of the deaths caused by war since World War II.

Approximately 85 million people have died as a result of armed conflict since the end of World War II. Twelve million of these deaths have resulted from violence between Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia. As stated above, approximately 60,000 people have died as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948. By any reasonable measure, attention to the conflict has been disproportionate, especially by mainline peace activists.

One justification for the mainline concern for the Arab-Israeli conflict is that it takes place in the Holy Land, where according to the Christian faith, Jesus Christ walked, preached, performed, was crucified, resurrected, and ascended into heaven.

But the Holy Land is not merely limited to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Jesus also walked in Egypt along with his mother and Joseph, who is described in some traditions as the “Foster Father of God.” Mathew 2:13-12 describes how Joseph brought Mary and Jesus to Egypt – and then back to the land of Israel – to avoid death at the hands of King Herod.

As it turns out, the Coptic Church – whose members have been under siege since Hosni Mubarak’s 2011 ouster – has memorialized the sites where, tradition has it, Jesus and his family rested and hid while they were in Egypt.

Egypt is part of the Holy Land and Coptic Christians are some of the “living stones” in this land. Nevertheless, for one reason or another when it comes to addressing violence in the Holy Land, mainline churches have largely ignored violence against Coptic Christians.

When it comes to using the Holy Land as a lens to focus people’s attention to violence and conflict, mainline churches direct their gaze at Israel and not its Muslim and Arab adversaries – even when they are perpetrating terrible acts of violence against Christians. It has been like this for decades.

It is no surprise to see that the Disciples of Christ’s General Assembly is considering a resolution encouraging its members to visit Palestinian Christians when visiting the Holy Land. Couldn’t the denomination at least offer up a churchly word on behalf of Coptic Christians living in Egypt? Apparently not.

To be fair, calling on churchgoers to stand in solidarity with Coptic Christians in Egypt is a completely different thing than asking Disciples of Christ members to smear some hummus with Palestinian Christians. Coptic Christians are getting murdered in the streets of their homeland on an almost daily basis.

It happens every once in a while to Christians in Palestinian society, but not nearly as often as it happens in Egypt, even Palestinian Christians are subject to regular acts of intimidation at the hands of the Muslim majority.

Violence against Copts has gotten worse in the aftermath of Mohammed Morsi’s ouster as Egyptian President. Just recently, the Washington Post published an AP story about the murder of four Coptic Christians and the hands of a pro-Morsi mob. The story started as follows:

“With a mob of Muslim extremists on their tail, the Christian businessman and his nephew climbed up on the roof and ran for their lives, jumping from building to building in their southern Egyptian village. Finally they ran out of rooftops.”

“Finally, they ran out of rooftops.” What a horrifying image.

Eventually, the Christian businessman and three others were murdered in the village of Nagaa Hassan. The nephew of the businessman survived to tell the story.

Of course, in the shadow of violence like this, the General Assembly could consider and pass an “emergency resolution” condemning violence against Christians in Egypt. In 2005, the assembly passed an emergency resolution condemning suicide bombings. The denomination’s President Sharon Watkins used the passage of this resolution to defend against the blowback from Jewish groups over the passage of the Tear Down the Wall resolution in 2005.

The assembly might pass an emergency resolution condemning Muslim violence against Christians but it probably won’t.

The main obstacle to the passage of resolution is the previously mentioned Rev. Dr. Peter Makari. Makari’s official title is Area Executive for Europe and the Middle East for Global Ministries for the United Church of Christ and The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

It’s a long title that conveys an important fact – Makari helps frame what two denominations – the United Church of Christ and the Disciples – say about the Middle East. (By the way, Peter’s father, Victor, held a similar position with the Presbyterian Church (USA).)

Following in his father’s footsteps, Peter has used his influence to convince the two churches he works for to target Israel for condemnation while downplaying Islamist hostility against Jews and Christians.

The egregious manner in which Rev. Dr. Peter Makari has downplayed Islamist hostility toward Israel and Jews was particularly evident in his book about Christian-Muslim relations in his father’s homeland – Egypt. This book, titled Conflict & Cooperation: Christian Muslim Relations in Contemporary Egypt (Syracuse University Press, 2007) depicts the now-dead Grand Mufti of Cairo’s Al Ahzar University, Sayyd Tantawi, as a proponent of good interfaith relations despite the fact that he called on Christians in Egypt to pay the Jizya, or the poll tax historically imposed on non-Muslims in Muslim-majority societies.

Makari even went so far as to describe Tantawi as remaining “steadfast in his call for good relations between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians, and among all people generally.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Tantawi was an inveterate anti-Semite who portrayed Jews as the enemy of Islam. He also endorsed suicide bombings against Israel. (I’ve written about Makari’s praise for Tantawi here and here.)

For all his connections and expertise (which are impressive), Makari’s testimony about what’s going on in the Middle East is simply not reliable.

And yet he will nevertheless serve as a resource person for the people attending the Assembly in Orlando. Anyone who has any questions about what’s really going on in the region will be directed in Makari’s direction by denominational leaders.

Makari appears to have worked his magic in the materials submitted to the General Assembly. In his report to the body (which begins on page 9 of this document), he speaks in vague terms about the need for dialogue between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, but makes no direct reference to the violence endured by Christians in the region. By way of comparison, James Vijayakumar, Global Minstiries’ Area Executive for Southern Asia (whose report follows Makari’s) speaks directly about attacks on Christians in Pakistan where anti-blasphemy laws are used to terrorize Christians.

In his defense, it can be argued that the uptick of violence against Christians in Egypt took place after Makari’s report was sent to the printers, but it has been an ongoing problem for years, especially since Mubarak’s ouster, which took place more than two years ago. Surely the violence against Christians is deserving of more attention than some vague statements about the need for dialogue.

The question facing the delegates attending this week’s General Assembly in Orlando is if they will follow Makari’s example or break the pattern. Will they ignore or downplaying the violence against Christians in Muslim-majority countries? Will they obsess about Palestinian Christians who blame Israel for their suffering?

Or will they break the pattern and speak clearly and prophetically about Islamist violence in the region and in the rest of the world?

Dexter Van Zile (@dextervanzile) is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (@cameraorg).

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  • G. Fränkl

    Even a totally blind man can see that Mr. MacKinnon here is a fraud, charlatan and a brazen liar who is trafficking in his extremist ultra-left fraudulent ideology, nothing else. As I said, a fraud. An easily excitable one at that.

  • Mike:

    So is it proper for Rev. Dr. Peter Makari to describe Tantawi as “steadfast in his call for good relations between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians, and among all people generally” when the man was in fact, an inveterate anti-Semite?

    Is it good and just for the Disciples to rely on Rev. Makari for information about the Middle East?

    These are yes or no questions, Mike. Please answer them.

  • Sonia Willats

    SO well written. Thank you.

    The flames of anti-Semitism in the church are fed by modern “liberalism” (which sees itself as fashionably leftist, but is leaning decidedly rightward.)

    Fortunately there is a stream in Christianity that is decidedly committed to Israel e.g. Hal Lyndsay, Chuck Missler, Glen Beck etc.

    Are these others genuine Christians, who have no care for Israel, for the Copts of Egypt, for the people of Syria etc? In the Middle East, Christians are as threatened as Jews, probably under the same mantle. Perhaps they just enjoy tea parties on Sunday!

    • Efram Paul

      Liberalism has nothing to do with what is going on in the church. A liberal does not believe in genocide, in bigotry, or hatred. What you should be saying is that the church is enmeshed with politically-coerced censorship. This invidious concept has nothing to do with liberalism, and is, as you point out, more right wing than anything else. Those who worship at the shrine of politically-coerced censorship are as fascistic as the right wing. They call themselves liberal, and are labeled as such, but, by doing so, are living ‘the big lie.’ They are as dishonest as terrorists who state in English that they love all peoples, but say in Arabic that non believers, especially Jews, should be slaughtered.

  • Keeping silent on the truth everyone knows is the most perverse form of lying.

    I wonder how any sensible Christian could lend credence to whatever Rev. Dr. Peter Makari says from now on.

  • Pamela Deane Chester

    Wasn’t the “church” Obama belonged to for 20 years the United Church of Christ?

  • mh8169

    Bravo for a clear and insightful op-ed. One question, will this Christian denomination hear you?

  • It is evident that the so called Christians in Canada HATE Jews more than they FEAR Islam.
    It is pure hate when these so called Christians pick on Israel where Christians & Muslims are the safest than in any state of the whole of the Islamic world
    In my country Iraq, we had over 1.3 million Christians. One of the oldest and most vibrant Christian communities in the world. Today they have been reduced to less than 200,000 and more are running away yet these Canadian ‘Christians’ keep their eyes, ears and mouths shut!
    What ‘Palestinian’ Christians? They are being ERADICATED as we speak both in Gaza & the West Bank yet these ‘clergy’ blame Israel.
    I have not found a single document that asserts that Jesus died in Palestine nor that there were any Palestinians about.
    The Gospels tell us that he died as a Jew, declared by the Romans (as satire) King of the Jews in a country called Judea
    These Jew haters are most certainly not Christian nor are they moral or just. Calling such creatures Christians, is an insult to Jesus and his teachings.
    Please correct me if I am wrong
    IQ al Rassooli

    • babaganoush

      you are absolutely right,
      and thank you

    • Mike MacKinnon

      In fact, you are as wrong as it is humanly possible to be, as is the author of this offensive article.
      There is NOTHING, absolutely zero in these actions by the DOC or anything the DOC has ever done that is anti-Isreal. And to claim it is “hate of Jews” is absolutely vile. It is nothing of the sort.
      The author goes through a long list of “terrorist” actions, without mentioning EITHER the much, much, must longer list of violent actions committed by the government of Israel against the Palestinians and the overall oppression of those people. To claim opposition to these actions, which I cannot imagine any follower of Christ supporting, are “anti-Israel” or “hate of Jews” is preposterous, they’re nowhere close to being either.
      The fact that one of these responders talked about how “fortunate” it is to have Glenn Beck among your supporters should be a very bad sign to you, Beck is a person who earns a living spreading hate and lies, desecrating the name of Martin Luther King and perverting American history.
      Even more offensive is the outright blasphemy of referring to the “church” that President Obama attended. So, if they don’t agree with your right wing politics, it’s not a REAL church? You seem to have more concern for gutter politics than following Christ.
      Another asks “will they hear you,” and the answer is of course we have and will continue to do so. Unlike so many here, the DOC have looked at this issue completely, prayerfully, and with an open mind, getting full information from credible sources (meaning we can do better than Glen Beck) we pray for peace for ALL in the Middle East, justice for ALL in the Middle East, not some warped sense of “victory” for one side.
      The final response makes a truly disturbing comment that this is about “hating Jews more than they fear Islam.” There is nothing close to hating Jews here, and there’s no reason to fear Islam at all. Islam isn’t a threat to anyone, and so long as the falsehood that the actions of the most extremist wing of Islam represents the thoughts and actions of the more than a billion Muslims worldwide, the cause of peace has no hope. So long as you try to stir up fear and hate, war will always be the answer people foolishly turn to. This is NOT “picking on Israel” any more than expressing disagreement with our own government when they do wrong is “picking on the US” or “hating America.” This poster also seems to think it should ONLY matter what is happening to Christians and Jews, as if the lives of those being slaughtered by the government and military of Israel and the United States have less value in the eyes of the Lord and should have less value in our eyes. You have insulted Jesus with the vile claim that we are not Christians, there’s nothing moral about blindly supporting war crimes and oppression, and there’s nothing close to the teachings of Jesus in anything you’ve said.

      Jesus said love your neighbor. My neighbor is Palestinian and Muslim and Arab, AND Jewish and Israeli. We should love them all equally, and support justice FOR ALL, EQUALLY. One cannot support justice and support the unjust actions of the extremist Israeli government.
      I am very proud of the stance for peace and justice my church has taken. You have every right to disagree with it, and even to be misinformed in doing so. You do NOT have the right to claim our faith is not real, or our church or our sister church the UCC isn’t “really Christian” because of belief that when God said to treat others as we’d want to be treated, God did not just mean the ones who belong to the “right” church, or had the right color skin, or were the right sex, or were neuro-typical, or heterosexual, or wealthy, or healthy. It’s about love for your neighbor…no exceptions.

      • G. Fränkl

        You are a 100 % certifiable idiot and a colossal moron. In fact, a despicable dissembling rotten-to-the-core antisemite.

        • G. Fränkl

          And the word is correctly Israel you fool, not Isreal.

      • EJ

        “No reason to fear Islam”?

        Tell that to the thousands of Christians being persecuted daily by its followers worldwide.

        For that matter, tell it the countless other victims of Sharia.

        Tell it to Lee Rigby’s mother. The pious young man who butchered, and then beheaded her son, justified his brutality as being required service to Allah, based on the teachings of the Koran, as he proudly displayed the blood of his victim covering his hands as a badge of honor.

        Have you ever even bothered to read the Koran? Do you know what is taught in the Hadith? Do you know what Islam teaches concerning Christians and Jews?

        Move to Israel. For that matter, try living as a Christian, Hindu or Sikh under Shariah. Try it as a homosexual or even as a girl or woman. Then tell me there is nothing to fear.

        Your tolerance for others would be commendable if it was honest. Your ignorance in pretending that Islam shares that tolerance is inexcusable, in particular due to your unfair condemnation of Israel, as it is repeatedly forced to struggle for its very right to exist.

      • Efram Paul

        The big lie. When vicious bigots such a MacKinnon just make things up to prove their points, what they actually prove is that bigotry is uber alles. Jews have committed no crimes against Palestinians. It was not Jews who evicted Arabs in 1948, it was the hate filled Muslim world which urged them to leave, so they could return and drive the Jews into the sea. It is also these evil, hateful, bigoted regimes which, instead of absorbing these Palestinians (most of whom had ties to the area of less than 50 years), they put them in wretched refugee camps and fed them hatred against Jews and Israel.

        Let’s be clear about bigotry and bias. If you judge two sides of an issue by the same standards, that is being fair. When you single out one group, which happens to be Jewish, and blame them for everything from American foreign policy to world domination to apartheid behavior, that is bigotry. Judge Iran as you judge Israel. Judge Syria as you judge Israel. Judge Saudi Arabia as you judge Israel. Judge ANY OTHER COUNTRY the way you judge Israel and you have a leg on which to stand. But as long as you manufacture crimes against Jews, while giving a free pass to Muslim barbarians, you are morally bankrupt, and have as much credibility as a white collar criminal.

        I loathe the right wing and always have. To be humane is not to necessarily be of a political persuasion. But the politically-coerced censorship crowd, blinded by its double standard, is as evil as the right wing. People who deliberately murder innocent people are evil. People who try and protect innocent people from genocidal vermin are NOT evil. I do not care who the people are, the above definition is a fairly good one about good versus evil. The breathtaking barbarism of Islamist extremists, around the world, is evil. It cannot be defended, it cannot be excused, and it does not matter who the victims of these animals are. Anyone who is an apologist for such vermin has no right to call himself a human being.