British Church consultation could be a BDS turning point
The Methodist consultation on BDS is a most welcome change to what has become the normal attitude to Israel-related issues in the church
Following a controversial vote by the British Methodist conference in 2010 to support BDS (boycotts, divestment & sanctions against Israel), the denomination decided this year to open up a discussion on the subject and give it a wider airing.
To do this, non-Methodists were invited to contribute to an open consultation by answering an online questionnaire, which closed on Monday morning. A Christian perspective on BDS by Christian Middle East Watch – our submission to the consultation – can be found here.
What the Methodists didn’t specify, however, was whether the consultation was open to secular sources or just to those of other religions. Thanks to the Internet, the Methodists may have received more feedback than they originally expected.
The Methodist Church’s leaders must be congratulated on their openness to debate on this thorny issue. Other British denominations have not been so open in past considerations of BDS. The Church of Scotland in particular produced a document last year that caused great offence to both the Jewish community and Christians from all branches of the church; something that could have been avoided by some dialogue as part of the preparation of the report.
That portion of the British Church that claims to be “pro-Palestinian” commonly makes two errors.
The first mistake is to buy-in to the language and mindset of the secular BDS and delegitimisation groups. This assumes that nothing Israel says or does is good and ignores all the blatant corruption, incitement and human rights abuses taking place under the Palestinian Authority. Some Christian groups have been drawn into exhibiting distinctly un-Christian attitudes through these “unholy” alliances.
The second mistake is to make wide-ranging false assumptions about the “pro-Israel” branch of the British church. Unfortunately, these assumptions are made while refusing to enter into dialogue with those they malign (speaking as someone who tried to open such dialogue on previous occasions).
Because of this, “Christian Zionism” has become a derogatory title, an accusation even, to much of the Church.
The Methodist consultation is a most welcome change to what has become the normal attitude to Israel-related issues in the church; that is, to listen only to one side of the story and to ignore approaches from the “other side”. It has to be said that both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel Christians have been guilty of this at one time or another.
Hopefully, such openness will start a trend in the British Church, where more dialogue and understanding is desperately needed, both between Christians within the Church and between Christians and Jews.
A final point of optimism is that the Methodist leadership also met with the British Board of Deputies, leaving open the possibility of a change in policy on BDS.
Nick Gray is Director, Christian Middle East Watch, a British organisation dedicated to objective and factual discussion of Middle Eastern issues, especially of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nick blogs at cmewonline.com
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