Methodist relationship with Israel has come a long way

Methodist relationship with Israel has come a long way

By Revd Bruce THOMSON, Chair of Methodist Friends of Jerusalem

Bruce Thomson
The Revd Bruce Thomson

The path to justice is long and challenging. It was ever thus. Overcoming the misconceptions and misrepresentations of Israel and the Palestinians seems longer and more wearisome than most.

It is certainly frustrating. I took up my role as chair of the Lincolnshire Methodist District in 2011. This means I have responsibility for the 160 churches and their ministers across the counties of Lincolnshire, North East Lincolnshire and North Lincolnshire.

It also means that I’m an ex-officio member of the annual Conference of the Methodist Church. At each of the three conferences I have attended I sought to bring an alternative voice to the one that caused the 2010 Conference to receive the contentious Justice for Palestine Israel Report (JPIR).

Over that time I have seen a growing respect for those who have disagreed with the process and content of that report. Three years ago JPIR passed almost without a challenge. At this year’s Conference there was a growing awareness of the complexities of the issues that Israel and her neighbours face. This was evident in the reaction of many members of Conference to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s measured response to a question about the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel.

It was also present in a debate on Christian Zionism when two former Presidents of Conference urged caution. Conference had been asked to support a motion calling for the Faith and Order Committee to produce a paper on the theological issues arising from JPIR, with reference to the impact of Christian Zionism. I was delighted to see the motion substantially defeated.

Later in the week a motion called for the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) to produce a document on the arguments for and against the Boycott Disinvestment Sanctions Movement. It was only passed after a chunk of the draft was removed; a preamble claiming that the situation on the West Bank was deteriorating had given many within Conference concern over its accuracy.

Measures put in place after the JPIR of 2010 will ensure that JPIT have to consult widely and any working party has to be truly reflective of the wide range of viewpoints held within the Church. As chair of the recently formed Methodist Friends of Judaism (MFJ) I hope we will continue to make a difference. Our three aims are easily stated but they carry a weight of responsibility.

Our first duty is to recognise and celebrate the wonderful contribution of Judaism not only to the Christian faith but also the wider world. Second, we seek to raise awareness of the deeply hurtful and utterly regrettable anti-Judaism within the theologies and practices of the Church over centuries. Finally we are committed to challenging anti-Semitism in whatever guise. I take from the 2013 Methodist Conference not a little hope.

The Faith & Order report had a number of positive features; it not only acknowledged the complexity of Israel-Palestine but stated that there was concern for the content and process of JPIR. This year as many people spoke with an appreciation for Israel as others did for Palestine. This is no mean feat. There was recognition among representatives that Israel is located in a volatile region with uncertainty on her borders.

Keeping the momentum up is not always easy but I do believe that we have come a long way since 2010. The path ahead is long. We pray that we draw in travelling companions along the way, whether they are Methodist or Jew. For this to be so we need more friends – real friends not pretend ones.

The book Philosemitism in History begins as follows: Q: Which is preferable – the anti- Semite or the philosemite? A: The anti-Semite. At least he isn’t lying. We need honest, critical friends who will help us destroy the mistrust, misunderstandings and misrepresentation between our communities;. In short, companions who will travel together, eat at the same table and learn from each other.

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