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July 16, 2018 12:53 pm

The Episcopal Church General Convention’s Sin of Scapegoating Israel

avatar by Noah Summers

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Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church. Photo: Beth Crow / Wikipedia commons.

“Episcopalians are famous for taking words seriously,” proclaimed Bishop John Taylor at the Episcopalian Church’s 79th General Convention (GC) last week. If Taylor’s claim is accurate, Episcopalians should be horrified by their General Convention’s political scapegoating of Israel — with at least 15 anti-Israel resolutions considered, and six passed. After all, Bishop Taylor made his statement while arguing in the House of Bishops against the use of the word “apartheid” in the anti-Israel resolution “D039 Regarding Occupation and Apartheid.”

And some Episcopalians were outraged. Rising in opposition to D039, William Murchison — a deputy (delegate) from Texas — pointed out in the House of Deputies that the Episcopal Church was not calling attention to the threat that Hamas and Hezbollah pose to Israelis. Speaking again, this time against D027, Murchison concluded, “The mood of the house is to beat up on Israel, to beat it to a pulp, and to make excuses for its adversaries and its sworn enemies.” 

Murchison was immediately and personally ridiculed on Twitter by some fellow Episcopalians. A fellow deputy felt the need to rise and issue a rebuke from the floor of the House of Deputies. Unfortunately, for far too many deputies and bishops debating and voting on anti-Israel resolutions, their words and resolutions were extremely harmful, careless, and frankly, sinful toward Israel. 

But in the House of Bishops, concern over the wording and sources of resolutions was more prevalent. Bishop W. Nicholas Kniseley spoke of his concerns about resolution B016 having “an imbalance in the intentions towards one party of the conflict.” Bishop J. Scott Barker pointed out that a portion of D038 was based on hearsay, and that the resolution’s original explanation “referenced Mondoweiss [a virulently anti-Israel website], which if you just give the quickest look to evaluate what kind of website that is, it’s highly controversial and highly partisan.”

Highly controversial and highly partisan anti-Israel sentiments were plentiful at the Episcopalian Church’s 79th GC, despite some church officials’ and deputies’ protestations to the contrary. Deputies and bishops not only voted on divestment from Israel, but also on a multitude of other anti-Israel resolutions and revisions. 

The GC appeared to be splitting hairs and only paying lip service to support for Israel and their opposition to antisemitism. In its “divestment” resolution, the GC amended D019’s language to supposedly differentiate between antisemitism and opposition to Israeli government policies in an apparent effort to garner more votes for divestment. While D019 — the main divestment resolution — failed in the House of Bishops, the language of B016, which was adopted, did not even pay lip service to supporting Israel’s right “to exist in secure borders” and opposing antisemitism.

Rev. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, a professor of church history at the Seminary of the Southwest and a scholar of the history of Jewish-Christian relations, testified against C017  a proposed boycott and divestment resolution targeting Israel (which was not passed). He said: “I frame my opposition to this legislation not out of guilt or anxiety about anti-Semitism, but in terms of the deep problem of Christian supersessionist theology that is endemic within Western Christian thought, including within progressive Christianity and this denomination.” 

He reminded his fellow Episcopalians, “Supersessionism at its heart claims Jews have lost their covenant because of their sins. It perpetuates the logic that Israel as a people have failed and the Church is able to stand in judgement of it and determine what aspects of Israel are legitimate and which are not. Supersessionism is the original sin of the Christian church.” 

He added, “If the government of Israel is only ever the target of resolutions considered by the committees of the General Convention and the clear wrongdoing of the other parties in the conflict is not also subject to proposals for direct action, then it is hard to avoid the question of the degree to which supercessionist thinking unconsciously informs the progressive social theology underlying proposed legislation.” 

Clearly, the identity of those targeted by the GC’s anti-Israel resolutions contradicts D019’s supposed distinction, and is revealed by B016’s lack of distinction. The GC passed resolution “A230 Deploring the Sin of Scapegoating in Politics.” Yet, the Episcopal Church’s GC had no issue whatsoever with politically scapegoating Israel. 

Speaking about D039, Bishop Eugene Sutton admonished his fellow bishops: “There’s a sense of piling on here in these resolutions. And it makes me wonder, as my Jewish friends say to me constantly, ‘Why the fixation on Israel?’ — with the massacres going on around the world, the abuses everywhere, and in this country [the United States]. But there are no resolutions from this body of boycotting American goods because our treatment of immigrants on our borders right now and our citizens in the streets. There are abuses around the Middle East. There are no calls for boycott of Saudi Arabian oil. There are no calls for boycotts in conflicts in the Congo.”

He concluded by stating that, “We are for human rights. And we have to ask ourselves, ‘Why are we constantly having many resolutions around this conflict that are primarily addressing the abuses of Israel?’”

Resolutions specifically targeting Israel was not the only concern at the Episcopalian Church’s 79th GC. The House of Deputies’ Committee 13 controversially removed “Israel,” and replaced it with “all nations” in a liturgical prayer: “We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of all nations to be your people.”   

This Eucharistic Prayer B is contained in the Episcopal Church’s “Holy Eucharist, Rite II,” and is also known as the Nunc Dimittis (or the “Song of Simeon”). Some Episcopalians, united in their concern over this controversial revision, took to Twitter to express their thoughts on the shift in language and its ramifications. 

Discussing rising antisemitism, Everett Lees — the vicar of an Episcopalian church in Tulsa, Oklahoma — exclaimed “to separate Jesus from the Jewish people is highly problematic and dangerous. #gc79.” When asked to explain what had happened, he responded, “A member of the committee moved to strike Israel from the salvation history of Prayer B and include all nations.” He also said, “Seems like we need some basic instruction on OT [Old Testament] theology.”

Echoing similar concerns, Jonathan Grieser — an Episcopalian priest from Madison, Wisconsin — tweeted, “Why I quake in fear at the prospect of #bcprevision: the amendment tor [sic] replace ‘Israel’ with ‘all nations’ in Eucharistic Prayer B. That it was proposed is pathetic. That it passed calls into question the biblical & theological literacy of the deputies who voted for it. #gc79.”

J. Wesley Evans — the rector of an Episcopalian church in Texas — shared the original Christian passage, Luke 2:30-32, on which the prayer is based: “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel! #gc79 #KeepIsrael #D078.” He then admonished, “Quick OT [Old Testament] lesson: God called Israel out of the nations to be his Covenant People, to Israel was given the Law and prophets, and it was through Israel that was born Jesus the Messiah to redeem the world. #gc79 #KeepIsrael #D078.” 

While the House of Deputies eventually voted to reinsert “Israel” into the D078 liturgy — and the House of Bishops concurred — deputies’ arguments for doing so were generally based on the claim that “Israel” refers to the historical Israel, not the modern State of Israel.

The Episcopalian Church’s GC evidently did not see a connection between historical Israel and its modern form. And given the prominence of “pro-Palestinian” advocates and organizations, who chaired critical committees and organized “pro-Palestinian” testimonies at committee hearings, who can be genuinely surprised by that outcome or by the anti-Israel resolutions that were passed? 

Arguing on behalf of divestment, Rev. David Ota of the Diocese of California exclaimed, “When I think about this issue, when I see Palestinians behind walls, I see Jesus and I see my family and I see our church.”

Under its current leadership, the Episcopal Church’s GC has made one thing abundantly clear through its rhetoric, resolutions, and revisions. Apparently, it does not see Jesus — the Jewish carpenter — in the face of Israelis living under constant threat of attacks for their very existence in the Jewish state. 

On Friday, Christians from a variety of Christian denominations were being alerted of rockets from Gaza being fired at Israelis. The same day that Israeli children were hiding in shelters in fear of rockets raining down on them, the Episcopal Church GC’s House of Bishops was voting on anti-Israel resolutions — passing resolution C038, which accuses Israel of mistreating detained Palestinian children.

Bishop Edward Little stated in his remarks opposing C038’s passage: “Jesus loves the little children — Palestinian and Israeli. I oppose this resolution for two reasons. First, is that it provides no facts.” After explaining that the resolution was predicated on an outdated UNICEF report, he concluded, “Second, this resolution ignores the fact that Israeli children have suffered as well. They have been killed in suicide attacks — in buses, cafes, markets, Passover dinners.”  

Does the Episcopal Church not see Jesus’ early disciples — who were all Jews living in the land of Israel — as “family” and “our church”? Because its General Convention seemingly refused to see their descendants — Israelis living under constant threat in the land of Israel — as worthy of the support and respect afforded one’s “family” and “church.” 

While many Christians embrace the Jewish roots of their faith and support the State of Israel, by its own rhetoric and actions, it is clear that the Episcopal Church’s General Convention was only concerned with politically and exclusively scapegoating Israel — the world’s only Jewish state. 

In sharp contrast to its claims of being part of a Jesus Movement and the Way of Love, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention showed itself to be only a royally anti-Israel General Convention under the leadership of its royally anti-Israel bishop Michael Curry 

Will Episcopalians join other Christians in taking their words seriously and in only speaking love and truth to their Jewish and Arab brethren? Or will they continue down the path of politically scapegoating Israel with their careless rhetoric and harmful resolutions?  

Noah Summers is a specialist on Middle East affairs and American foreign policy.

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