While Acknowledging Past Antisemitism, Church of England Fails to Right Historical Wrongs
Widely reported in the British media last week was a Church of England “teaching document” on Christian-Jewish relations. The document, titled “God’s Unfailing Word,” was generally headlined as “historic”: a long-overdue “call to repentance” for antisemitism, and acknowledgment of Christianity’s role in the Holocaust.
For several years I have been campaigning against antisemitism in the Church of England, my own faith community. Earlier this year I wrote an essay accusing the Church of institutional antisemitism. Some of the responses I received vindicated my accusations, including clergy blaming Jews for antisemitism, comparing Israeli Jews to Nazis, and comparing Israeli military actions to the Holocaust. And yet these clergy deny that they are antisemitic! I have kept their responses, and in view of the fact that the College of Bishops accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism last year, I will challenge the Church on IHRA criteria.
The Church of England document has been described as historic because, as we read in the “Preface,” the Church has never before attempted to formally redefine post-Holocaust relations with Jews in the way that the Roman Catholic Church did in 1965 through the Nostra Aetate declaration.
My overall impression of “God’s Unfailing Word” is that it is implicitly and disturbingly antisemitic. It teaches anti-Zionism, and offers links to numerous anti-Zionist resources. The Church must not use this document, as it stands, to teach about antisemitism. Particularly worrying are the positive references to “Palestinian Liberation Theology,” led by Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, an Arab Anglican clergyman. Ateek has famously used contemporary forms of blood libel against his Jewish “Occupiers,” such as referring to the State of Israel as a “crucifixion machine.” His theories of liberation and justice are ill-disguised calls for Christians to augment the violent revolution of Islamist irredentists.
Palestinian Liberation Theology is really a conflation of Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Liberation Theology — a Marxist-Christian theory of revolutionary action to bring about “justice.” In my experience, the Church of England consistently supports, and is consistently duped by, Christian-Arab anti-Zionists. This is perhaps inevitable because the Arab Anglican clergy are in Communion with their London (Lambeth) administrative mother church. The Church is bound to consider the position of Anglican clergy in the Holy Land. And so the Church mistakenly sees the Arab-Israeli conflict as symmetrical.
The conflict is not symmetrical. One only has to read the founding covenants of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or Fatah (which controls the Palestinian Authority under Fatah Chairman Mahmoud Abbas) to see political and theological genocidal antisemitism calling to make the land Jew-free. In the Hamas covenant, we read that Jerusalem is to be cleansed of Jews, and that “Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Muslim people.”
The genocidal intent in contemporary Arabisation should be obvious to Christian clergy in the Holy Land. Israel is now the only nation in the Middle East and North Africa where it is safe to be a practicing Jew, Christian, Sufi, Bahá’í, or Druze. The Church of England knows this, because earlier this year the Bishop of Truro was commissioned by the former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to report on the “millions of Christians” in the region who have been “uprooted from their homes … killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against.” Hunt said, “What we have forgotten in this atmosphere of political correctness is actually the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet. In the Middle East the population of Christians used to be about 20%; now it’s 5%.”
Uprooted. Killed. Kidnapped. Imprisoned. Imprisoned for what? Killed for what? Whatever the 22 Arab nations are seeking, it is not peace. And you cannot dialogue with an interlocutor (Christian or Muslim) whose very motivation is genocidal purification, and for whom multiculturalism is anathema. Hamas for instance – explicitly Jihadist and a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – quotes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on authority, as the Western Church did in the first half of the 20th century, not least Roman Catholic France, and not least Nazi Germany’s ecumenical Protestant Reich Church.
And yet the Church of England sees only a symmetry of conflict. As we read in its document: Israel/Palestine, An Unholy War (dated to the General Synod of 2002):
“It is difficult in such a report to convey the deep despair that leads young Palestinians to seek ‘martyrdom’, or the anguish felt by Israeli families mourning the loss of loved ones that legitimates military retaliation. What motives three 14-year old Palestinian classmates to mount a suicide attack on a Jewish settlement in Gaza, or a 20-year old Palestinian woman to blow herself up by a bus stop in central Jerusalem? Without an understanding of this despair, merely condemning suicide bomb attacks as immoral glosses over the deep-rooted social, economic and political disenfranchisement experienced by Palestinians. Such attacks are evil and must be condemned unequivocally. However, if peace is to be achieved the cycle of suicide bombings has to be broken. This requires the circumstances that give rise to them to be understood and resolved. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine the grief felt by Israeli families when a Jewish girl’s bar [sic] mitzvah party in Hadera turns into a bloody massacre leaving six dead and thirty wounded or when a night out in Tel Aviv at a discotheque or snooker club ends in horrendous circumstances…”
The Church of England, then, seems to be willfully blind, if not suicidal, in support of Arab irredentism. I think this is because of the innate antisemitism in the Church. There seems to be a deep psychological — and blasphemous — need to harm and scapegoat the Jew.
Throughout history, every Christian nation has raged against the Jews in its midst; today almost every nation rages against the Jewish nation in the midst of all nations. The Church of England, in attempting to create a document of historical significance, had the opportunity to properly repent and to right historical wrongs. The document has failed to do this. In fact, it is likely to make things worse for the world’s besieged and only sovereign Jewish nation.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Mark Pickles is a scientific technical writer with a deep interest in understanding theology in the light of modern knowledge. He was an atheist from ages 10 to 30, and since then has been an active and practicing adherent in the Church of England.