Monday, 20 June 2011

Israeli Nurse and the hi-jack of British Methodism

An Israeli Nurse with good memories of the people called Methodist has written this biting critique of the disgraceful hijack of our good name by a grisly  bunch of  well known anti-Semites. It first appeared on the CIF Watch website and is reproduced here with permission:

Until this time last year, whenever I thought of Methodists, I thought of pressed blue flowers. The explanation behind that perhaps strange-sounding connection is that as a small  child in England I grew up with Methodist next-door neighbours and in 1961 they became the first people I knew who travelled to Israel after the country’s independence. When they returned, they gave me some tiny blue flowers which they had picked on the Mount of the Beatitudes and carefully pressed in their Bibles. At the time, I had never seen flowers like them and I still keep them, wrapped inside yellowed paper with Annie’s spidery handwriting on it: “A present from Galilee”.
Fifty years on, I can see the Mount of Beatitudes and its glorious array of spring flowers from my home. Unfortunately, since last year I can also see a different kind of Methodist to the ones I knew who not only respected their neighbours’ different faiths, but practised Interfaith relations before anyone had ever heard of the term by cultivating the common ground between themselves and others.

The octagonal Methodist Chapel, Heptonstall, UK
At the end of this month the Methodist Church will be holding its annual council in Southport. On the agenda is an update to the decision taken at last year’s conference to boycott Israeli goods from certain regions of the country.  The text of the paper to be presented can be seen by clicking on MC1165 on this list.  From that text one gathers that the Methodist Church appears for some inexplicable reason to have been rather surprised by the reactions to its boycott decision and that attempts have been made to contain the damage by engaging with the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
In this exchange of letters the current President of the Methodist council assures the BoD that her church “[u]nequivocally affirms the right of Israel to exist as an independent state and in security and peace alongside a Palestinian state” and “[a]bsolutely opposes antisemitism in all its forms”.  Those claims cannot be accepted as genuine so long as the Methodist Church continues to work with, promote and support people and organisations involved in the assault on Israel’s legitimacy with the ultimate aim of denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination by bringing an end to the Jewish state.
Document MC1165 recommends to its church members a number of organisations as sources of valid information on the subject of the Israel/Arab conflict. One of those organisations is “Rediscovering Palestine” which includes among its members the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ which is outlawed by Israel. Other members include the non-transparently funded Palestine Solidarity Campaign, ICHAD, Friends of Birzeit (the university with the distinction of having produced numerous suicide bombers and PACBI), Friends of Sabeel UK which embraces Naim Ateek’s offensive supersessionism theology, and the AM Qattan Foundation which, among other things, funds an organisation named Al Shabaka which is involved in undermining the Palestinian Authority’s peace negotiations with Israel.
Also on the list is Christian Aid, and the radical NGO War on Want – who produced this Christmas cardwith a picture of Israeli soldiers conducting a body search of Joseph, and a pregnant Mary on a donkey, blocked on their way to Bethlehem:
Last but not least there is the Amos Trust which is also the organisation behind ‘Just Peace for Palestine (also promoted by the Methodist Church) which employs Ben White – author of the odious book ‘Israeli Apartheid – A Beginner’s Guide’. 
Ben White’s book also appears on the ‘Rediscovering Palestine’ recommended reading list on the subject of the conflict – as promoted by the Methodist Church. Unsurprisingly, most of the books there are virulently anti-Zionist and include works by Naim Ateek and other Sabeel activists such as Jean Zaru and Elias Chacour as well as many of its sympathisers such as Jeff Halper of ICHAD and Donald Wagner.   
Other authors included on the list are Ilan Pappe, Garth Hewitt of the Amos Trust, Shlomo Sand with his highly offensive and academically suspect The Invention of the Jewish People” and of course Amos Trust and Friends of Sabeel UK activist Stephen Sizer, who recently visited Malaysia as a guest of the Hamas supporting outfit ‘Viva Palestina’.
Should the Methodist Church’s endorsement of such extremist organisations and literature come as a shock? Indeed it would have once, but if one has read the report produced by its working party last year upon which the decision to engage in a boycott was based and noted the sources used in the compilation of that report, one would be aware that many of the above mentioned authors, along with other highly biased sources, form its backbone. That fact, of course, resulted in gross historic inaccuracy becoming the report’s most outstanding feature. That, in turn, ensured that rank and file Methodists were unable to make an informed decision on the subject.
But of course the Methodist working party did not produce such a biased and inaccurate report merely as a result of chance or bad luck; it was programmed to do so from its very inception. Its members were obliged in advance to “affirm that they are in agreement with previously stated Conference positions on the occupation”. Calls for a greater diversity of opinion among working party members were deemed unhelpful.
“Requests have been received that the group should be “balanced” and contain members who are not in agreement with Conference statements.  This is not believed to be a constructive approach given the remit of the group.”  
And so, a working party made up of people with remarkably homogenous opinions and guaranteed to come up with the ‘right’ result was formed. Its members and their qualifications for the task were described as follows:
  • Revd. Graham Carter (Chair) – former President of the Methodist Conference.
  • Revd. Alan Ashton – over 32 years experience of living there and visiting, with family living in the West Bank.
  • Revd. Warren Bardsley – returned accompanier with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Harris – Senior Lecturer in Comparative Study of Religion, Hope University.
  • Steve Hucklesby – Policy Advisor, Joint Public Issues Team.
  • Revd. Nicola Jones – member of Friends of Sabeel and frequent traveller.
  • Revd. Marian Jones  – frequent traveller with contacts in Israel/Palestine.
  • Dr. Stephen Leah – Peace campaigner with contacts in the UK peace and justice community and in Israel/Palestine.
  • Revd. Sam McBratney – involvement in university programme with students from Gaza and Israel.
Predictably, the Methodist document makes no mention of the engagement of some of the above in reactionary politics or their associations with extremist organisations, but once those connections are clear, it is more than obvious that the Methodist Church has been steered by a committed group of activists into waters more coloured by politics than theology.
The motion to engage in a boycott of Israeli goods was proposed by Revd. Nichola Jones who is – as stated above – a long- time member of ‘Friends of Sabeel UK’. Like the leader of the parent organisation Sabeel, Naim Ateek, she appears to have jumped on board the supersessionism bandwagon. Whatever the theological arguments behind that, Methodists should be aware that not only is such theology deeply offensive to Jews, but that it is employed by Sabeel in order to promote anti-Zionism. At the 2010 conference Nichola Jones said ( at 73 mins): 
“In the Bible we learn of the Chosen People. Who are they and what were they chosen for? Genesis tells us again & again that God chooses Abraham and makes a covenant with Abraham & his heirs: a covenant being a two-sided agreement with obligations on both parties, like marriage……Of course, Israel today is not the same as Israel in the Bible: in the Bible, Israel refers to the people of Abraham’s descendants, who are in covenant with God. Israel today is a modern, secular state, created in 1948…….
For years I cherished the Galatian text…now I read it properly: ‘In Christ there is no longer male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek (we could say Jew or Arab): we are all one in Christ.’ We are heirs of Abraham, and so inheritors of the promise of Abraham. Jesus, who makes with us a new covenant which transforms us utterly, never speaks of the land or owning it: he speaks of the Kingdom & joining it and invites us to do so. He teaches us God is not a racist God with favourites, but God loves all his children & blesses them
Nichola Jones attended the 2011 Sabeel Conference together with other members of the British Methodist Church including its President and Vice-President. Anyone who is aware of Sabeel’s record and its commitment to campaigning for a one-state ‘solution’ (i.e. the end of the Jewish state) should be deeply worried by the close co-operation between the two organizations.
The seconder of the BDS motion was Revd. Stephen Leah. He was rather disappointed that his church only agreed to boycott goods from certain areas in Israel.
“ I personally would like to have divestment going a little bit further into the full boycott of Israel, but I know how much I can get away with in the churches sometimes. [...] Churches are paranoid about being critical of Israel sometimes, they want to be balanced all the time, we must put pressure on church leaders.”
Of course that stance is perfectly understandable when one appreciates the fact that Leah is also the chairman of the York branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. In his spare time he re-writes Christmas carols which are in turn promoted by Stephen Sizer at his Virginia Water church.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem
Imprisoned you now lie.
Above thy deep and silent grief,
Surveillance drones now fly.
And through thy old streets standeth,
A huge illegal Wall.
The hopes and dreams that peace will come
Are dashed in this year’s Fall.”
Another member of the working party with PSC connections is Revd. Warren Bardsley who has appeared as a speaker for the PSC promoting the Kairos Document as well as organizing demonstrations on behalf of the PSC West Midlands branch and meetings for Action Palestine. Bardsley is also the Midlands representative for ‘Friends of Sabeel UK’.
Revd. Alan Ashton makes no secret about his support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, having signed up (along with Stephen Leah, Marian Jones and Warren Bardsley) to this campaign – complete with Tim Biles’ infamous fake maps of so-called ‘land grab’ which were also used in the working party’s report.
Dr Elizabeth Harris is probably best remembered for her more than unfortunate remarks relating to a visit to Yad Vashem, which were made in a section her paper entitled “Jewish perspectives” under the sub-heading “An ethos of victimhood”. The document later had to be removed from the Methodist website.
“A pilgrimage through the exhibition rooms of the Centre, which bring home both the horror of the Holocaust and the vigour of Jewish resistance, brings you out in the open air, overlooking the beauty of Jerusalem. This perspective is transmitted to young Israelis through visits to Yad Vashem organised by schools and other groups. When I visited the Centre with a group from Britain, I noticed that many visitors were not of European Jewish descent. As Michael Ipgrave, then Secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Inter Faith Relations, wrote in his report of the visit: ‘The Holocaust has come to serve as a national story embracing also Oriental Jews for whom this was not part of their family history.’ Peace groups in Israel have to work against this backdrop.” (emphasis added)
Dr. Harris then went on to claim that “[w]hat is given at Yad Vashem is an interpretation of history” and that “[c]ollective memory of the Holocaust also feeds into an ethos of victimhood within the Jewish community”. Beyond the obvious fact that only a couple of generations ago two-thirds of European Jewry were indeed victims of the most extreme kind of European antisemitism and few families in Israel are untouched by that fact in one way or another, one cannot but also wonder how Harris became such an expert on Jewish group psychology and mark the deep contrast between her lack of sympathy for the biggest tragedy the Jewish nation has known to her 2006 statement on the subject of the Mohammed cartoons in which she stressed “the responsibility to draw back from causing deliberate provocation or offence”.  
Steve Hucklesby has been issuing statements on behalf of the Methodist Church for several years in his capacity as Secretary for International Affairs. Many of them show a profound lack of understanding of the situation in the Middle East and yet despite that he is listed as one of the church’s ‘experts’ on Israel. Here, for example, he makes uninformed and irresponsible statements on the subject of the Gaza blockade, failing to recognize that humanitarian aid has been transported daily into Gaza unless terror attacks on the crossings made that impossible. Here he is voicing his opinions on the 2006 Lebanon war, when the Methodist Church was apparently very worried about the plight of Lebanese children but found nothing to say about Israeli ones bombarded by over 4,000 Hizbollah missiles.
Earlier this year, Hucklesby organized and participated in a visit to ‘Israel/Palestine’ together with the President and Vice-president of the Methodist Church. As can be seen from their blogposts, there was significantly more ‘Palestine’ than ‘Israel’ in the tour and the few Israelis they did meet seemed to be mostly of the far-Left variety such as ICHAD and Rabbis for Human Rights. The trip was rounded off with a visit to the Sabeel Conference and a chat with the British Consul in Jerusalem who recently attended the Bil’in conference together with the proscribed terror organization the PFLP and the DFLP.  Apparently, the Methodist dignitaries felt no need to meet up with mainstream Israelis, let alone the people whose livelihoods they are attempting to harm with their boycott, which just goes to show that convictions do not always go together with courage.
Hucklesby also blogged individually about the trip and in a post about Hevron, his apparently uncontrollable bias oozes from practically every sentence but even so, it takes considerable effort to revise history to the extent which he achieves.
“We arrive at the Ibrahimi Mosque (the Tomb of the Patriarchs) a site that is holy to both Muslims and Jews.  In 1994 a Jewish settler shot 29 Palestinians dead while they prayed. Following that act, Israeli authorities turned one-third of the Mosque into a synagogue.”
Working party member Sam McBratney also visited the region in 2008 for the first time. Unlike his colleagues above, he did spend some time in Israel, but appears to have found little Christian tolerance in his heart for the local way of life.
“Why is it, for example, that pedestrians are treated so badly in this country? Again and again, walking along minding my own business, the pavement suddenly disappeared altogether. Or worse still, drivers feel no compunction at mounting the pavement and parking right across the walkway. Don’t ever daydream in Israel or the chances are you’ll be mowed down by a bloody scooter weaving its way along the PAVEMENT – what part of footpath don’t they understand?
Maybe it’s a state secret or part of the security operation but would it kill someone to put bus routes on a piece of paper and make it widely available? What do they call those things? Oh, I know, a MAP! Negotiating buses and fares is nightmarish to say the least. So, of course, that makes tourists reliant on taxis. Plenty to choose from, sadly it seems, most drivers are out to fleece you.” 
Obviously nobody told Revd. McBratney that Israel is a nation which is technologically at least on a par with his native country and that we have a dandy little thing here called ‘the internet’ – accessible from the laptop he obviously had with him – where bus timetables are readily available.   
The members of the Methodist working group on Israel/Palestine are obviously not unintelligent people and yet it is quite difficult to believe that mature adults could be so gullible as to accept every politically motivated distortion and fabrication they are fed as being gospel truth. But unfortunately the holders of extremist ideologies often have a tendency to picture the world in neat compartments of good and bad, black and white.
Sadly for the Methodist Church, it is apparently being led and coerced by such blindly partisan adherents to extremist political ideologies at present. It is this fact which made the adoption of the boycott motion inevitable last year and it is this fact which will have to be addressed by the rank and file members of the Methodist Church if they wish to return to the values of their faith rather than being tools in the hands of a small group of extremist political activists. 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The kingdom anointing - power for service


Guest contributor the Reverend John Bedford asks some questions about healing and comes back with some inspiring and encouraging answers: 

Sometimes it is helpful to ask the Bible questions – like, “Why did Jesus not heal the sick or cast out demons until he was about 30 years old?”   

The answer may surprise some people, because it is quite simple, I would suggest, he could not heal the sick because he did not yet have the power, or the gifts of the Spirit that came through the anointing, which came upon him at his water Baptism when he was about thirty years of age. See Luke 3:22, 4:1, 4:14, Acts 10:38

Jesus did not heal the sick because he was Divine but because he was a man, the Son of Man, anointed with the Holy Spirit and with Power.  Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter man.

Before we explore the Anointing, let us look at the work of the Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus, and discover a pattern for our own lives.

1.  Was Jesus born of the Holy Spirit?  -  Yes, read Luke 1:35
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you”… the angel said to Mary.
2.  Did Jesus have a Divine Nature?   - Yes,   Luke 1:35
“The Holy One to be born – will be called the Son of God.”
3.  Did Jesus live a perfect life and demonstrate all the fruits of the Spirit?  -  Yes  Luke 1:32
“The Holy One, - Son of the Most High” – “He will reign.”
“Which of you accuses me of sin ?”  -  John 8:46
His perfection guarantees our salvation, -   Hebrews 5:8-9

So now let us compare our spiritual journey with that of Jesus.
1.  Do I have to be born of the Spirit?  -  Yes,   read John 3: 5 – 8
“You must be born again…. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
2.  Do I become the partaker of a Divine Nature?  -  Yes,   2 Peter 1:4
“You may partake of the Divine Nature and escape the corruption in the world.”
3.  Am I expected to live like Jesus and grow the fruits of the Spirit. ?  -  Yes, Galatians 5:22
“The fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience…..”
“Since we live in the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit,”  5:25

So our spiritual journey is the same as that of Jesus – we are born again of the Holy Spirit, become partakers of the Divine Nature and manifest the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

But what about the Anointing of Jesus ?    Acts 10:38 makes it clear that Jesus, the Son of Man – the human being we call, the Carpenter from Nazareth, who lived down the road, God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with Power.
1.  Was Jesus Anointed with the Holy Spirit ?  -  Yes – Acts 10:38, Luke 3:22, Luke 4 :18.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to…. preach, deliver heal. ”
2.  Did Jesus receive Power to Minister? -  Yes,    Luke 4:1, 4 :14,  4:36.
“Jesus returned to Galilee in the Power of the Spirit”
“With authority and power he gives orders to the evil spirits and they come out.”
“Laying hands on each one of them he healed them.”    Luke 4:40
3.Did Jesus as the anointed Son of Man us the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?  -  Yes Luke 5 :17-26
In the healing of the Paralytic man….He used the gift of the Word of Knowledge
“Friend your sins are forgiven“, Knowing that guilt was the root of the man’s problem.

The Gift of Discernment… to know what they were thinking?

Then the Gifts of Prophecy and faith and healing….

Now let us compare the second phase of our spiritual journey with that of Jesus.

1.  Do I need to be anointed with the Holy Spirit and Power. -  Yes   Luke 3:16
“He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire.”
Notice Anointing and Baptism are used for the same experience.
“Stay in Jerusalem until you have been “clothed” with Power from on High.” Luke 24:49, Acts1:8
This was true for the Disciples in Jerusalem,  Acts 2:4, it was also necessary for the
Samaritans in Acts 8 v 14 – 17
“Peter and John came from Jerusalem and laid hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit.”
They had already believed the Word and been baptised in water. Acts 8:12.

This was also necessary for the Gentile believers, like Cornelius and his family as they heard the Gospel.  Acts 10: 44 – 46.  They had their own day of Salvation and Pentecost. It was also true for the Gentiles at Ephesus  Acts 19:4 – 6.   Those receiving the Spirit, usually used some gift of the Holy Spirit, like Tongues or Prophecy, when the Holy Spirit cam upon them.

2.  Will I receive Power to serve Jesus in the fulfilment of His calling on my life ?  -  Yes you will.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”  Acts 1:8
“Signs and Wonders were done by the Apostles  Acts 2:43, and by Stephen, & Philip & Paul
who were not of the 12 Apostles but called and anointed ordinary men.
We are all called to heal the sick and testify to the King and His Kingdom.  Luke 10:9,17
3.  Can I receive and use the gifts of the Holy Spirit like Jesus and the Apostles did.” Yes, you can.
“For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body…and were given the One Spirit to drink.”
Read through 1 Corinthians 12,    “There are different kinds of Gifts but the One Spirit.  1 Cor 12: 4 – 6.  “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given.”  1 Corinthians 12 :7 – 11

The Apostles used the Gifts of the Spirit in their Ministry, just like Jesus did in his Ministry.
In Acts 3, Peter heals the man lame from birth.  He uses the….

Gift of Discernment -  Look at us… and he “sees” the man has faith to be healed.

The Gift of Faith… what I have I give you.

The Gift of Prophecy… to speak it out before it happens.

The Gift of Healing…I give you in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Nothing was apparently happening so Peter uses the

Gift of Wisdom… he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up, then came the

Gift of Miracles… the man’s feet and ankles became strong…a miracle, he had never walked.
                                 and his brain had never learned, for him to be able to walk.

So we disciples of Jesus can and should be Anointed with the Holy Spirit and with Power to minister and use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to encourage, to heal and deliver people from the enemies control, and destroy the works of the devil, sin, sickness, spirits, & death. 1 John 3 v 8

         So it becomes clear every Christian needs to experience these two works of the Holy Spirit.

1.                       We need to be born again of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit in us, and become partakers of the Divine Nature and Live like Jesus, manifesting the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

2.                       We need to be anointed with the Holy Spirit, receiving his Power, as he comes upon us. (He is already in us, because we have been born again.)  He will give us power to heal and deliver the captives and receive and use all the gifts of the Spirit as we need them.  We are then to do what Jesus did and even greater things.     John  14:12

Then we can fulfil the commission of Jesus……Luke 9 & Luke 10……
“As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”  So let’s eagerly seek Jesus for His Anointing and then go and do what he said to do…. 

            That His Kingdom may come and His will be done…
“In the Power of His Holy Spirit.”                                                                          
                                                                                              
                                               

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Navigating the internet dating sites


One of my friends recently turned 40 and turned to internet dating in the hope of finding that elusive lifetime partner. She has written up her experience of navigating internet dating. Meanwhile if there are any good single Methodist men out there who would like an introduction, let me know.  Here is her contribution to the guest blog:

I don't know what the general consensus is out there with regards to internet dating.  I mean I know a number of people who have successfully met their “soulmates” through dating sites and on paper, it does all seem a very logical decision to make, almost like an arranged marriage in some ways.  You get to choose who to date on the basis of common and shared interests, what their job prospects are, where they come from, age, look etc.  What's not to like?  

I've been on a couple of dating sites myself at various points in my life and on initially signing up, threw myself with gusto into the whole thing.  I even went so far as meeting one guy many years ago and although nothing ever occurred between us, we are friends today, albeit long distance, sporadic ones.  He was really quite beautiful however had a penchant towards gorgeous Eastern European women, neither of which criteria I met.  It also turned out he'd got a couple of said ladies in the family way so friendship was definitely the only thing on my agenda. 

However three broken relationships later and having also turned 40 last year, I toyed with the idea of dabbling with the whole thing once more.  This was also at the insistence of one particular friend who had a very successful experience with eHarmony.  One year on, he and his lovely lady are not only living together in urban bliss, they're also expecting a baby this year.  That said, he did give the whole internet dating experience a whole new meaning.  Try several times before you buy definitely springs to mind and he certainly kissed more than his fair share of ummm, what's the term for a female frog? 

So very reluctantly and very grudgingly I signed up with eHarmony, sold on the idea of their "patented matching system....developed after extensive research into marital satisfaction", thinking with a small pinprick of excitement, that my "perfect partner" could be out there somewhere.  I answered every question as honestly as I could and even said I was willing to look at men up to 150 miles away, in fact I was flexibility personified.  More than 200 questions and probably more than two hours later, I sat back waiting for all my matches.  Only to be told:

"We're very sorry, but our matching system cannot predict good matches for you"

I'm sorry, what?

And then went on to say:

"Unfortunately, based on responses to our questionnaire, we occasionally find situations where our matching system cannot identify high quality compatible matches, and this has happened in your case. Please understand that it is a result of our matching process and in no way reflects on you as a person or your ability to be in a happy relationship".

Well why not shoot me now!  I may as well give up on my whole sad, miserable existence right now!  Believe me had I been prone to jumping, I may have gone overboard without a second thought.  I mean I was admittedly a bit nervous about being rejected by some likely or even unlikely suitors, but not an entire website!  

 As a consolation prize however, they very kindly offered me a "free Personality Profile" report.  Now some of you might be thinking what the hell is wrong with this woman?  Is she that unaesthetically pleasing that no-one unless they were blind, deaf and/or blind drunk would touch her with a barge pole?  Has she set her expectations on the Premier Division when she would in fact barely make League Two?  Is she that emotionally scarred that she is a complete basket case and again no-one unless they were blind, deaf and/or blind drunk would touch her with said barge pole?  I can see what is running through all your minds.  Well, let me put you straight.  While I may not be Elle Macpherson, I have had my fair share of George Clooney types out there let me tell you.  And I’ve been known to have a couple of relationships that have exceeded the five year mark. 

So I open my free personality profile and according to eHarmony, I am agreeable and open, focused and flexible, emotionally steady, have the right mix of outgoing and reserved, the list goes on.  I kid you not, there is not one single negative in there.  

So what am I to make of this?  If I am such a well rounded person as this profile suggests, does this mean that all the men on there are psychotic, deranged halfwits? 

So what is this moral to the story?  Do websites have a certain moral obligation to their members?  Well I don't know about that but I've since decided to let fate take its natural course.  I’ll let you know how I get on.    

Copyright material SJD.All rights reserved.2011

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Board of Deputies response to Methodist Conference report

The Jewish Board of Deputies response to the Methodist Conference paper Justice for Palestine and Israel

On Wednesday, 30 June 2010, the Methodist Conference will consider the paper, “Justice for Palestine and Israel and debate its resolutions. Our serious concerns about the paper and its potential impact include:
  • Its imbalance, omissions and inaccuracies
  • Disturbing theological assertions and recommendations
  • Its evasion of a proper consultative process
  • The risk that acceptance of such a fundamentally flawed and partial report will set the benchmark for Methodist policy which will, by association, be similarly flawed and partial
  • The likely damage that this paper’s acceptance will do to Methodist-Jewish relations

It is with profound disappointment that we, as representatives of the UK Jewish community, offer the following critique of the report, and in this way. We place a high value on our positive relationships with other faith communities and devote significant time and resources to creating spaces and opportunities for dialogue. Dialogue is far more preferable than a conversation through documents. However, whilst those who drafted this report spoke highly of interfaith dialogue with the Jewish community, they avoided any contact with us over the year of its development. They gave us no choice but to communicate in this way, and with so little time.

This was not the only dissonance between their word and their deed. They spoke of justice, then produced an undeniably biased report. They spoke of compassion, and then they ignored or brushed aside the suffering of those in Israel whose lives have been taken or ruined in terrorist attacks, and in wars for Israel’s survival triggered by her neighbours’ stark refusal to accept her right to exist. They spoke of a better future for Palestinians and Israelis, then advocated a narrative of delegitimisation promoted by Israel’s sworn enemies, and called for boycotts which will harm Israelis and the Palestinians that work with them.


We offer these comments in the hope that fair-minded Christians will ask for better. They will ask for a report which does not shirk from criticism of either Israelis or Palestinians, but does so on the basis of fair and impartial considerations of a range of perspectives. They will call for a process in which dialogue is not mentioned as a window-dressing, but acted on as a prerequisite. They will look to play their part in bringing about a solution which is not based on delegitimisation and divestment, but active investment and participation in projects that promote justice, peace and reconciliation for all the people of the Middle East

Our deepest disappointment comes from the fact that this tragic conflict is still ongoing after so many decades. The cycle of violence which pits populations against one another is a product of so many grievous errors and so much mistrust among both Israelis and Palestinians, underscored again in recent weeks. We share the pain that the 2009 Conference felt in its call for a Church-wide approach to the conflict, and should we be given the opportunity, we will gladly participate in prayer and action towards a fairer way forward for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Imbalance, Omissions and Inaccuracies
From the outset, the report takes a partial view of the conflict, contending that, “the key hindrance to security and a lasting peace for all in the region is the Occupation of Palestinian territory by the State of Israel” (2.1). The occupation is clearly a significant factor in the conflict, but it is not the only one. Indiscriminate terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and the refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist, which existed well before the 1967 occupation and underpins much of its military component, are at least as significant. Successive Israeli governments, including the present one, have always expressed a willingness to end the occupation, with the reasonable condition that the withdrawal be part of a settlement that brings peace and security to both Israelis and Palestinians. 

The clearest indicator of the lack of balance in the report is evident in its failure to live up to its own standards. It states: “Methodists are compelled to engage with the situation as it is, to bring compassion, a willingness to listen and learn from the stories of all those involved” (3.16). Of the thirteen powerful anecdotes it narrates, only one tells of the impact on Israelis of suicide bombings and indiscriminate shootings in its universities, buses, or religious seminaries. Unfortunately, this conflict has no shortage of heartbreaking tales, but this report has hardly included any of those that speak of Israeli loss, and lacks compassion for the horrors left in the wake of indiscriminate attacks by Palestinian militants on Israeli civilians.

This is a major omission not merely for the lack of balance it imputes, but also because it fails to understand the mindset behind Israeli government and public thinking.  Governments of the Left and the Right, and the electorates that voted for them, have developed policy in response to the existential threat that has faced Israel since independence, and Jews in the region even before that. To ignore this most basic fact is to cast Israel, its government and people as pantomime villains, acting without cause or compassion, and for only the most self-serving of motives.

The history section (4) and accompanying bibliography and filmography is obviously skewed. For example, the bibliography draws almost exclusively on academics known to support the outcomes recommended by the report. Other perspectives, such as those of Howard Sachar, Anita Shapira and Martin Gilbert could and should have been included if this report was to approach objectivity. Between them, various readers of the report have noted substantial omissions or partiality throughout the paragraphs in the report. Just a few examples include:

  • 4.4.2: The report describes a “massive increase in immigration, including from Arab states [where] Jewish and Muslim communities...had previously coexisted for many centuries”. But the report fails to mention that the reason for massive Jewish immigration into Israel from Arab countries was that a number of those Arab countries, including Iraq and Syria expelled their Jews in violent circumstances.
  • 4.4.4: The report omits that the context for the beginning of the Six Day War in 1967 was that Egyptian leader Gamaal Abdul Nasser had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, expelled the UN peacekeeping force and moved his troops to the border.
  • 4.5.3: In describing the 1973 War the report informs, “A full scale war developed [italics added, note the passive] between Egypt, Syria and Israel”. The active form might have explained that Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on the most holy day in the Jewish calendar, the fast day of Yom Kippur, with the explicit aim of totally destroying the Jewish state.
  • 4.6.4: Where the report offers, “A new Israeli Government was elected that was opposed to the Oslo peace process and violence from extremists on both sides spread mistrust. Frustration at a perceived lack of progress towards peace led to the outbreak of a second Palestinian Intifada in 2000”, it completely fails to mention the intervening Camp David Summit in 2000. At this summit, Israeli Prime Minister Barak (of the left-wing Labour Party) offered Palestinian President Yasser Arafat 91% of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and 100% of the Gaza Strip, which the latter rejected.
  • In discussing the current situation in Gaza, the report omits the corresponding context in Southern Israel, where 3,278 rockets and mortar shells were indiscriminately fired in 2008 alone, endangering the lives of a million Israelis.
  • Where the Report mentions the Palestinian Kairos document (section 6), it suggests that it was issued by Palestinian Church leaders. This is inaccurate. The leaders themselves signed a separate statement that was far more nuanced.

The analyses of both the Palestinian national cause and Zionism are seriously lacking. It does not mention that Hamas, as established by its overtly jihadist and antisemitic charter, is an organisation committed to the total destruction of Israel. The Israeli Government has repeatedly said that if Hamas renounced violence and its aim of destroying Israel, the blockade of Gaza would end immediately. Sadly, Hamas are not alone in these explicit aims and actions. For many decades, the PLO was also committed to the destruction of Israel by its own charter, and Arab states collectively said ‘no’ to peace with Israel, recognition of Israel or negotiation with Israel in the infamous Khartoum declaration of 1967. Whilst Israel now enjoys peaceful relations with Jordan and Egypt, the spirit of violent rejectionism still lives on in the public proclamations of Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon, including the Hizbullah militias.  

Meanwhile, while pains are rightly taken to stress that many Palestinians show an impressive, non-violent resilience towards their testing predicament (2.4, Story 1), the Zionist cause is characterised by reference to extremes (such as the testimony of the ‘religious Israeli settler’ in 5.1) and highly contentious assertions as to its origins. To claim that, “The roots of the political philosophy of Zionism – the idea that the Jewish people should have a homeland of their own – were largely a development from 19th Century Europe” (4.2.2), does not engage with the fact that, for almost two thousand years, Jews have repeatedly asked G-d to return His people to Zion three times a day in our liturgy.

Disturbing Theological Assertions and Recommendations

In one of its most alarming passages, the report asks the Methodist Conference, “To determine whether certain beliefs are acceptably held by Methodist members. The two areas of Zionism and Christian Zionism require exploration” (3.15). Aside from the fact that this moves towards the dangerous area of dogmatic censorship of many highly respected Methodists, it should be noted that Conference has only previously agreed to a Standing Order with reference to the Freemasons and the British National Party. It is a grim coincidence that the Hamas Charter also links a mainstream Jewish belief with freemasonry and fascism. Whilst this report tends to caricature Zionism as the preserve of the zealots of the settlement movement, ‘Zionism’, as many ideologies, denotes a wide range of views. The majority of these are fully compatible with a two-state solution, and most Jews believe in some form or other of Zionism. This document, therefore, seriously considers theologically proscribing a belief held in one form or other by most Jews. This is one of the many reasons why this poorly considered report is likely to cause a serious schism for Methodist-Jewish relations.

Furthermore, in requesting the Faith and Order Committee to come up with a response to Zionism and Christian Zionism (Resolution 14/5), it asks for particular consideration of ‘covenant’ and ‘possession’, approaches which form the basis of the theological outlooks of extremists and fundamentalists in all three Abrahamic faiths. The report even asks whether the Church should consider raising the spectre of supersessionism (3.4), a theological approach that it acknowledges has led to some of the worst excesses of Christian antisemitism. Whilst the Methodist Church can play a constructive role in ending this conflict, adding another fundamentalism to the mix is completely the wrong contribution.

Evasion of a Proper Consultative Process

The report is right to repeatedly call for inter faith dialogue with Jews and Muslims as a means of improving understanding of the conflict and developing joint work towards peace and reconciliation (3.2; 3.5; 7.4; Resolution 14/10). It is, therefore, deeply disappointing that no organisation representing either the UK Jewish or Muslim communities was consulted at any stage of this process. The polemic evident in the report’s treatment of history and theology might have been nuanced had the document gone through any kind of reasonable process of consultation. Readers will note that no mainstream Israeli or Jewish opinions are cited in the document, except for the Chief Rabbi, who is quoted out of context (3.7) in a way that distorts his well-known views.

It has been reported that the first draft of the report was severely criticised by a number of the external readers appointed by the authors; the Council of Christians and Jews; the Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine; and by Christians in the Methodist Church and other denominations. Tellingly, no further draft was shared with these parties, not to mention representative organisations of UK Jewry. In view of the criticisms already levelled at this early stage, it is na├»ve, if not disingenuous, for the ‘basic information’ section to suggest that this document could pose ‘no risk’ to the Church, especially when the report explicitly states elsewhere that, “In the context of the Middle East, every uttered word is analysed and dissected for hidden meaning and potential bias. Methodists need to think carefully about the words they use...in their engagement with parties in the region and their supporters in Britain” (3.13). The authors of such a report should have taken their own advice, and opted for sensitivity and dialogue instead of making a point of avoiding these considerations.

Conclusions
The Report submitted to Conference cannot be allowed to serve as the basis for ongoing discussion and policy making within the Methodist Church.  It is fundamentally and fatally flawed and should be rejected by Conference, to allow a balanced, comprehensive and meaningful consideration of the issues to take place, which will in turn lead to positive initiatives for reconciliation and hope for all people in the region
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As the Chief Rabbi has said, it is a cause of concern and distress “that the Methodist Church, which has previously worked alongside others to advance the cause of faith in 21st Century Britain, is prepared to consider this Report as an acceptable publication in its name. It failed completely to present Israel’s case in an even handed manner, and represents a one sided judgment of one of the most complex conflicts in the world.  The report will do nothing to advance the cause of peace and will do great damage to interfaith relations in this country.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council commented further that “This skewed Report is the consequence of what has been a flawed process throughout; using questionable and biased sources, failing properly to consult with impartial experts, adopting a highly selective narrative and ascribing theological positions to Jews and Israelis that would not be recognised by most people.  The result is a document replete with omissions and outright misrepresentations, which can only set back interfaith relations by years and does nothing to advance the cause of promoting understanding and reconciliation in the region.  If it serves any purpose, it is to give succour to those who demonise Israel and reject a two state solution, and that should not be a position with which the Methodist Church associates itself.”

Waiting for the revised report does not mean that the Church need be inactive. The Church can, and should, give its full support to initiatives that promote education, dialogue and reconciliation between Palestinians, Israelis and others. It can recommend the Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine is a vital resource for UK-citizens interested in learning more about the conflict, and support the Olive Tree peace project brings Palestinian and Israeli students, who cannot meet in the Middle East, to live and study together in London. The OneVoice movement is working hard in the region and beyond to build a consensus about a peaceful two-state solution. The Parents Circle – Families Forum, referenced in the present report, brings together the relatives who have lost loved ones to the conflict, who work together to campaign against violence on all sides and should be more widely promoted.

In both the Christian and Jewish faiths, we believe that there are few higher aspirations than the pursuit of peace. Accepting the bias and flawed attitude to inter faith relations that the report currently recommends would compromise the ability of the Methodist Church to act as a peacemaker. We hope that the Church will choose not to become proponents of one narrative in a complex and difficult debate, but rather to genuinely seek “Justice for Palestine and Israel”, with compassion for all people.


Monday, 25 October 2010

Terry Wynn - Pelvic piousness

Terry Wynn, a Methodist local preacher and former MEP writes: 

When, as a former MEP, I used to chair the European Parliament’s monthly Prayer Breakfast I soon learned that it’s hard to dislike someone who you pray with. I learned to accept differences of opinion amongst friends and colleagues of other political persuasions without falling out with them. So when I recently spoke at a men’s breakfast at my own church, I stressed that what I was about to say may not be to everyone’s liking but hoped that we could discuss such issues openly. We did and the response was quite enlightening. The subject was how the Church judges homosexual people.

I had recently been to New Zealand and the USA and between them I have come away strengthened by a line of preaching that I have been doing for some time. That is, the message of inclusiveness within our churches.

During HOPE 2008, the German/South African evangelist, Suzette Hattingh, led a week long series of events in Wigan. Of all her activities, two things became etched in my mind. She spoke about Christians not being judgemental, because Jesus wasn’t. Jesus would accommodate anybody, the woman at the well, the Roman officer, Samaritans, Tax collectors, prostitutes. In fact the ones he did have a go at were the Pharisees, as in Luke 11 v 46 where he criticises them for loading people with burdens they can hardly carry. That is the laws of the Old Testament that made such ritual demands.

The second thing was she said that Christianity is not about Religion, but about having a personal relationship with Jesus.

How does The Methodist Church measure up to these two statements?

Too many people outside the church, have been given the impression that the Gospel is all about “Big Brother is watching you” and he’s gonna get you. If you ever watch the religious channels on TV, and, in the UK, there are loads of them; too often the message is all about sin and God’s retribution. Theirs is the God of the Old Testament, the God of power, law, judgement, hell-fire and damnation, with God ready to zap you at any time.

Message


As Steve Chalke says, “What kind of message is that for the single mum trying to bring up her kids with little resources? What type of hope is that for the kids on our streets, some who have only known a life of abuse at the hands of those they thought they could trust? What kind of liberation does that offer the lonely, the redundant, the homeless, the forgotten, the cheated, the vulnerable or the countless individuals, young and old, who suffer from an acute sense of failure, or lack of self-esteem? What kind of good news is that for humanity as a whole? What often passes for the Gospel might lead to a faith to die by, but offers little hope to live by.” I would add, what kind of love does that offer people who are gay?

The worst part is, it’s hardly the message of Jesus when he said: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." (Luke 4:17-19 )



In today’s world the church doesn’t get publicity for all the good works it does. The Roman Catholic Church will be forever remembered for the cases of abuse in Ireland and the USA and indeed throughout the world, and quite rightly so. Few will write that just about in every slum in the world you will invariably find Catholic nuns and priests working with the poorest.

The established church is its own worst enemy. The things that make the headlines, and appear to be the main concern and focus of the church are issues such as women priests or women bishops, celibacy, contraception, gay issues, abortion or stem cell research. The established church is hung up on pelvic issues. That is all the outside world seems to hear about. 

Starvation

Last year the Pope proclaimed that homosexuality is the biggest threat to the future of humanity – an even greater threat than climate change or wars or starvation or overpopulation or the running out of energy sources or religious fanaticism.  Why? – Because he says gay couples don’t have children and, if everyone chose to be gay, this could lead to humanity dying out.  Well, apart from the facts that gays are a small percentage of the population and they don’t choose to become gay, they don’t have any fewer children than celibate priests do.  Is this really the prime message of the Catholic Church in the 21st century?  Is that the best hope it can offer to a world in desperate need of the message of love?  Why should modern generations want to get involved in what they consider to be hypocrisy and bigotry? 

When a U.S. Evangelical research group – the Barna group – recently asked a large sample of non-Christian young people in their 20s which words best described Christians, they were taken back by the responses.  91% felt that Christians were “anti-homosexual”; 87% thought they were “judgmental” and 85% “hypocritical”.  What shocked them even more was that, when they asked young church attendees the same question, the same three adjectives came out on top.  80% agreed with the anti-gay label, 52% said Christianity is judgmental, and 47% declared it hypocritical.  And these are our own young Christians. 

According to the summary of the study:
“Non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else.”

But the biggest surprise of all for the researchers was the extent to which respondents -  one in four non-Christians – said, without being prompted in any way, that modern-day Christianity no longer looked like Jesus.  So these young non-Christians who had such very little regard for the church had a great regard for Jesus.  Ten years ago, when a very similar survey was carried out by the same research group, the vast majority of non-Christians under 30 had generally favorable views of Christianity.  Now, that figure is just 16%.  When asked specifically about Evangelicals, the number is even worse: only 3% of these non-Christians have positive associations with Evangelicals.  

Inclusive

Thankfully the Methodist church doesn’t concentrate on pelvic issues. But how inclusive are we?

When I was in Washington recently, I went to Foundry United Methodist Church. An old type of building, as broad as it was long, (and it was long). It had pews, an organ and a robed choir. It had hymns that were sung to tunes you didn’t know. Yet given all this I thought it was brilliant because of the message they preached. The sermon was “Jesus and Poverty”, one of a series of based on the Economics of Jesus. But it wasn’t only that, it was the way they welcomed everyone. They believe in the full inclusion of all people and are part of the Reconciling Congregation Movement.

Within their statement of purpose they say

As we journey toward reconciliation with all, we proclaim this statement of welcome to all, including our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters: God loves you and we love you, we affirm you, and accept you, we treasure you. We welcome you.

At the same time, we recognize that there remain differences of opinion among us on issues relating to sexuality. We do not seek to erase our differences, but to journey together in faith toward greater understanding and mutual respect.

In becoming a Reconciling Congregation we believe that we are being reconciled to God and to one another.

I found it so refreshing and the reason is that I have become so fed up of the intolerance shown towards Gay people by so many Christians. 

Booklet

In 1993 Rev Stephen B Dawes wrote a booklet entitled “Why Bible-Believing Methodists shouldn’t eat Black Pudding”. It was to get some common sense into the debate about taking the Bible literally. If we did we take it literally we wouldn’t eat pork, shellfish, shrimps and a load of other things. We’d also stone people to death for a range of things from cursing your parents to gathering sticks on the Sabbath, from blasphemy to loss of virginity, from adultery to homosexuality.

When I gave my talk it was interesting that it was the usual suspects (good friends I have to say), those who take the Bible literally, who were the ones to stress that the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination and that it is not necessarily a genetic condition, (by the way, Jesus says in  Matt. 19 11-12, when talking about marriage “For some are incapable of marriage from birth”).
 Jesus gave us two great commandments and didn’t say we should keep these Old Testament laws that burden the people. When the adulterous woman was brought to him, he didn’t say “stone her”, when he was challenged that his disciples were picking ears of corn on the Sabbath, he didn’t say “stone them to death”.

In his first letter  to the Corinthians, Paul says women should be silent in church. He also says men shouldn’t have long hair but women should. And while Leviticus calls for homosexuals to be stoned to death, Jesus never gives a mention to it. Paul certainly does and you can understand why to some extent. In the Greek world in which Paul travelled, promiscuity was rife. But had Paul known then what we know now about our genetic make-up would he have been more understanding?

Inherit


He has a go at homosexuality in Romans and in 1Corinthians 6. Here he says “the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God”.  But amongst his list of those who are “wicked” are not only Gay people but “adulterers, thieves, the greedy and drunkards.” That would limit us all somewhat.
The question is why do we signal out gay people when God has made them the way they are?
Is an adult Gay person in some way sinful because of his or her sexuality? Most would, I assume, say no as long as they are celibate. Then what are they supposed to do with all that sexual energy that God gives us? Men,  know what it’s like. How many of us could remain celibate if we were born that way?

And what do we make of Jesus’ statement in Luke 16 when he says “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Do we agree with that? The beauty of the Methodist church is that divorcees can get married in our churches. People are given a second chance.

Why do we pick and choose the texts that suit us?

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a link to a European Christian website. As I opened it the first thing I say was “10 reasons why homosexual couples should not adopt.” I found this interesting because I’m on the Board of Trustees of Action for Children. When this issue raised its head some time ago the Catholic Church was up in arms.

Adoption

The attitude of  Action for Children, who are experts in adoption, is, “whatever is best for the child.” 

David Kinnaman, Barna Group president and author of the book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity commented: "When Jesus pursued people, he was much more critical of pride and much more critical of spiritual arrogance than he was of people who were sinful. And today's Christians, if you spend enough time looking at their attitudes and actions, really are not like Jesus when it comes to that."
Rick Warren, best-selling author of The Purpose-Driven Life and pastor of the massive Saddleback Church in California reflected that: "For some time now, the hands and feet of the body of Christ have been amputated, and we've been pretty much reduced to a big mouth.  We talk more than we do. It's time to reattach the limbs and let the church be the church in the 21st century."  He hoped that the church will become "known more by what it is for than what it is against.”


I would love to see our churches being as inclusive as that Church in Washington. When it was HOPE 2008, the promotional DVD that preceded events had Joel Edwards from the Evangelical Alliance saying, “Too often the church is seen as one million wagging, condemnatory fingers. We want it to be seen as two million welcoming, open arms.” 
What do you want?
At the end of my talk I was amazed (why? I’m not sure) at the vast number of men who came to me afterwards to congratulate me on what I had said. Others spoke of having Gay children or brothers and the hurtful things that clergy and fellow Christians had said to them. We need more advocates for the persecuted, not to be seen as persecutors ourselves.