At its convention in Orlando, Florida earlier this month, the Mennonite Church USA adopted a resolution to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. When I first heard the news, I thought it most welcomed, particularly since the measure passed by an overwhelming majority, and also because it came so close on the heels of a similar resolution passed by the United Church of Christ earlier that same week.
But after reading the resolution passed by the Mennonites (you can find a copy of it here in PDF form), I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s something of a mixed bag. Yes, it does call for disinvestment, and it does contain strong criticism of the occupation, noting that this has consisted of, among other things, “land confiscation, rapidly expanding Israeli settlements, home demolitions, checkpoints, walls, travel restrictions, extended administrative detention, arrest of children, and extra-judicial killings.”
Yet the measure also contains passages in which the Mennonites engage in what I would describe almost as self-flagellation over the issue of anti-Semitism. For instance, one section reads:
The Jewish people have suffered violence, often at the hands of western Christians, including the Inquisition, pogroms, and the atrocities of the Holocaust. Jews continue to experience antisemitism and violence in many countries today.
The resolution goes on to assert that, “As Western Christians, Mennonites, and U.S. citizens, we confess and lament the ways we have participated in harms against Jewish people.” Among the things they fault themselves for are “failing to do the hard work of examining our participation in antisemitic belief and practice” and also “bearing complicity in the Holocaust” as well as “failing to respond to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe, and failing to fully examine the historic record of Mennonite complicity in these atrocities.”
They also chastise themselves for “ignoring the gravity of ongoing antisemitism and acts of violence against Jewish people” as well as for “neglecting to build relationships with Jewish representatives and communities in the United States and to recognize the diverse expressions of their hopes and fears.”
With regard to the latter, they commit themselves to organizing future conferences to address the issue of “Mennonite involvement in the Holocaust and how we read scripture in light of the Holocaust” and they also encourage local Mennonite congregations to “reach out to a local synagogue in their community to build relationships, listen deeply to their experiences, and learn from them.”
So what is all this beside-the-point scribble doing in a church resolution on Palestine? Do the Mennonites seriously believe that the occupation of the Palestinians, in all of its odious aspects, described above by the Mennonites themselves, is nothing more than a one-time aberration in Jewish behavior? Do they truly believe that in century after century of expulsions, from multiple countries in various regions, Jews were never, ever anything other than innocent lambs?
Perhaps the Mennonites feel Jesus himself was an anti-Semite. After all, he did use terms like “hypocrites” and “vipers” when referencing the Pharisees. And what pray tell might be the likely outcome of future church discussions on “how we read scripture in light of the Holocaust”? Maybe the Mennonites will decide to simply delete all those passages from their Bibles. Perhaps it could even be argued that Jewish leaders were justified in conspiring to bring about Christ’s crucifixion. After all, we should have zero tolerance for anti-Semites, should we not?
A press release that appears on the Mennonite website says that the team of church members which helped draw up the resolution worked on the effort for two years, during which time they consulted widely with “Palestinian and Jewish partners.” A pastor who was involved is quoted as saying he and his congregation have enjoyed “a robust set of interfaith partnerships” with their local Jewish community and that “already this resolution has opened up space for conversation that didn’t exist before.”
If ever a church denomination had the guts to do it, I would strongly advocate issuing a clerical decree forbidding its members from engaging in “interfaith dialog” with Jews. I say this because such discussions never turn out to be anything other than a one-way street, with Jews gaining all the concessions, and Christians giving up all of them–and in the process eroding and diluting their church doctrine, and, consequently, their faith as well. This is how “interfaith dialog” between Christians and Jews invariably goes. It should be outlawed.
While the resolution talks about Christian “anti-Semitism” toward Jews, it of course makes no mention of Jewish hatred for Christianity. Did the Mennonites go into these meetings with their “Jewish partners” with blinders on their eyes as to the contents of the Talmud…and specifically with regard to the Talmud’s abhorrent portrayal of Jesus and his mother, Mary? Are they aware of Christians being spat upon in Israel? Do they know about the desecration of Christian churches by Jewish settlers–or were they completely oblivious to these things when they had these meetings?
Or, on the other hand, if they were aware of these things, why didn’t they mention them in the resolution, at least for the sake of balance? But instead they write:
Mennonites, like most western Christians, have been parties to the antisemitism of the prevailing culture. As members of an Historic Peace Church, many Mennonites may assume that our tradition responded differently at critical historical moments. Significant scholarship, including recent research, highlights ways some Mennonites were complicit in the Holocaust. As a faith community, we have not done the hard work of examining our historic complicity or the ways antisemitism has shaped our perspectives and life, including how we read the Bible. Uncovering, confessing, and repenting for our antisemitism and historic complicity in bringing harm to Jewish people is critical for our own integrity and faithfulness. We pray it may also contribute to healing and to the cause of peace.
There has been more than enough “confessing and repenting” for alleged Christian anti-Semitism. Christians should stop it. It’s getting to the point of absurdity. And most Christians engaging in this relentless, unflagging repentance don’t even know what they’re apologizing for. It’s just been drummed into them that they’re guilty…of something.
On a more positive note, the resolution also calls on church members to “engage” with Christian Zionists within their own congregations, this with a view toward helping them understand the brutal realities of life under occupation–and here we may have a clue as to why the Mennonites have chosen to belabor the issue of anti-Semitism as they have. Apparently there is a problem with Christian Zionism within the Mennonite Church (and the Mennonites are certainly not alone in this, for there is a similar problem in virtually every other Christian denomination), and the resolution does read more or less as if considerable effort was poured into producing a document that would be acceptable to people on all sides of the issue.
And to that extent, it looks like they succeeded. The resolution passed by a margin of 98 percent. But at what cost? For when a church demeans its history, does it not also, at least to some degree, demean its own faith in the process?
My message to the Mennonites is: the occupation of Palestine is bad enough. Don’t let the Jews (or their Christian Zionist allies for that matter) occupy your minds as well. You might also wish to read an article I posted back in May entitled My Reply to Lisa. The article is one I wrote in response to a Jewish reader named “Lisa,” who posted a comment here at this blog expressing contempt and hatred for Christians.