July 2, 2015 : A Sad Day for the Episcopal Church

DSC_4733On July 3 I awakened and began my  perusal of my email, often beginning with the daily meditation from Fr.Richard Rohr, and the internet blogs and newspapers that I read daily. I had read, with great satisfaction, that the United Church of Christ had voted in a landslide to approve divestment and boycotts targeting  Israeli occupation-complicit businesses. I really didn’t expect my Episcopal Church to follow a similar path in a vote at their general convention. For some reason I turned to Facebook and saw a post by the former rector of my home church in Ft.Wayne, now  Bishop of Hawaii, Robert  Fitzpatrick. He referred to this story by the Episcopal News Service, Bishops overwhelmingly oppose divestment in Israel, Palestine

and said this:

I think the key item to note in the article is: “Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has urged the Episcopal Church not to adopt a policy that would make it more difficult for him to manage his congregations and the more than 30 social service institutions throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. Those institutions include schools, hospitals, clinics and centers for people with disabilities and serve people of all faiths.” There was grave concern about the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and money is included in the budget for investment in support of Palestinians.

I disagree with Bishop Fitzpatrick regarding the “key’ to the article being Archbishop Dawani’s objection to BDS.  Archbishop Dawani must comply with the increasingly racist Netanyahu government or risk severe consequences.From a Haaretz article in September 2011:

Israeli authorities have granted a residency permit to Jerusalem’s Anglican bishop, Palestinian Suheil Dawani, after months of legal wrangling, the clergyman said in a message to his supporters on Tuesday.

Dawani was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem in 2007 and as a non-Israeli is required by Israeli authorities to obtain a temporary residence permit. This was granted in 2008 and 2009, but he was turned down in 2010.

“It is with great pleasure, and with God’s help, that I and my family have received our ‘Residency Permits’,” Dawani said in his e-mail message to followers .

Oh, the pathetic irony here. Archbishop Dawani, a Palestinian born in Nablus in the West Bank,  who lives with his family in East Jerusalem which is increasingly being cleansed of its Palestinian residents by Jewish settlers, is being oppressed by the increasingly racist occupying Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu . But his  Episcopal 
Church doesn’t dare support non-violent BDS against the human rights abuses of the State of Israel against Palestinians, a tactic that led to the fall of South African  Apartheid and Jim Crow in the U.S., for fear of further oppressive reprisals against Archbishop Dawani and his ministry. Huh?

Perhaps we ought to listen to our own Nobel Laureate Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s statement on this issue and the powerful statement by The New Episcopal Group.  An excerpt from Tutu’s forward :

Even a decade or more ago when I was in the Holy Land I saw the marks of apartheid in the policies of the Israeli government…. I looked at this and I saw the ugly face of apartheid and the racism within it. I have been vilified numerous times for making this comparison to apartheid. I shrink not one step backwards. I saw and I name what I saw: apartheid, separation, segregation. I might add that these settlements are illegal under international law, as is the occupation itself, and an affront to the world.

I wonder when we will listen to Tutu, who lived through South African apartheid and states that the Israeli version is worse. Many of the comments on this article in the Episcopal News Network  that Bishop Fitzpatrick quotes refer to MLK Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Here is a quote from that famous letter : [my additions are in bold ]

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation [Israeli Occupation ]. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro [ Palestinian ] with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” [ Note, Netanyahu has always declared “never” to a Palestinian state or justice for Palestinians.] And  “But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

And we wonder why the Episcopal Church is dying.

I am a life- long, “cradle” Episcopalian who vows in my baptismal covenant to  “…strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”

There is another bishop quoted in the ENS article with whom I am quite familiar, Bishop Ed Little of the Diocese of Northern Indiana. About ten months after returning from my life -changing trip to Palestine in 2012, where I viewed the brutal, oppressive Israeli occupation first hand, while reading several books and countless articles about this occupation, I stumbled across an article in The Living Church by Bishop Little called “This Wall Saves Lives.” To my deep disappointment, it was basically a screed echoing the State of Israel’s propaganda justifying the hateful separation Apartheid wall that Bishop Little and Israel justify for Israel’s “security.” An excerpt:

Perhaps especially during the Advent and Christian season, many Episcopalians prayed for the security barrier around Bethlehem to come down. And I too pray for the day when the barrier will no longer be necessary.
Our hearts reach out to people whose lives are disrupted daily, some of whom are separated from their own agricultural fields, some who wait for hours each day to cross into Israel for their jobs. “But that time,” as the Israeli Defense Force colonel said, “is not yet.” Why? Because we cannot be assured that suicide attacks would cease if the barrier came down. Until a just and permanent peace is achieved, with a viable state for Palestinians and effective security measures in place for Israelis, the Israelis believe — with justification — that to demolish the barrier would place them once more in grave danger.

The bishop’s arguments for “the security wall” are almost word for word out of the Jewish Virtual Library’s spin on the occupation.

I wonder, how much more security does the State of Israel gain when they harass Archbishop Dawani and threaten to revoke his residency pass , just because he is a Palestinian.

 After reading his article, I began an email debate with Bishop Little over Israel / Palestine. I used Archbishop Tutu’s writings as arguments, but to no avail. Bishop Little would say that not all agree with Tutu  and would cite Dawani. I would be so frustrated. But then I discovered an earlier article by Bishop Little in The Living Church  called “Is the Episcopal Church Anti-Semitic?” As I read it then and as I read it now, I began to understand Bishop Little. In this article he tells the story of his mother , who was a Lithuanian Jew , who told her kids not to tell anyone about her Jewishness.  He goes on to basically say that Israel is the one , shining hope for the  Jews of the world and to equate criticism of the State of Israel as antisemitism. So I wrote Bishop Little, after reading his article and told him I now understood: he is a committed Zionist. I did not use the term in a pejorative sense; just what seems to be an obvious observation.In his reply he certainly did not refute my assertion.

So when you see quotes of Bishop Little, like the following:

Bishop Ed Little of Northern Indiana said the text of the resolution “clearly and unmistakably advocates boycott and divestment, and we must reject it. … As Anglicans, we have the gift and ability to reach out to people on both sides in the conflict. That is what The Episcopal Church is doing in the Middle East. Our current leadership under the presiding bishop is allowing us to be peacemakers.” or

Little also acknowledged Executive Council’s rejection of boycotts, divestment and sanctions through its CSR committee, which affirms “positive investment” and “corporate engagement” to encourage positive change in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

just remember he is not objective in his assessment of the situation. And yet he is voting in the Episcopal House of Bishops against BDS , unwavering in his support  for the State of Israel’s brutal occupation, under the guise of Jesus – “loving, praying and bridge building”,  positive investment and never-ending peace talking, not peace making. He is a political Zionist and not even a liberal one , like the J-Streeters.

I subscribe to what my friend and mentor Mark Braverman has taught me:

“Zionism is understandable, forgivable and a catastrophic mistake.”

I would like to reproduce here an anguished comment on the ENS article posted at 2:51 a.m. by delegate to the Episcopal convention Vickie Gray:

I spent a week in Salt Lake City and the last six years of my life striving to honor the plea of a child in Balata refugee camp – “Don’t forget Palestine” – and to get the Episcopal Church to see his face and ease his pain.
The reaction of the Church or, more properly, the powers-that-be represented by the bishops was steely eyed coldness from representatives of the Presiding Bishop and the Church Pension Fund who made it clear that they prefer to put the Church’s money in that place where moths consume and rust destroys rather than in the service of justice.
And, again and again, we were told by the blue suits, the green eyeshades, and the purple shirts that we had to look away from the manifest injustice of the current situation in the Holy Land, because Jerusalem’s Archbishop Dawani insists that any action will complicate his life. Never were we told how or why. But those of us who have visited Israel/Palestine know that the life of the Archbishop and his family will not be complicated by any action of ours, but rather by the reaction of the neo-fascist Netanyahu Government which holds over his head the threat that it will rescind his Jerusalem residency permit. He has been told to shut up or get out. And we have seen just this week how, in the case of Greek Orthodox Bishop Hanna, Israel deals with bishops who stand tall and speak out for their people. They are silenced by arrest.
And, speaking of jail, it would be well this week of church burnings in Galilee and our own South for our bishops, who cling to their via media of inaction and advise discretion over valor, to re-read “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.” If not now, when?
And, in the halls of Episcopal power, policy vis-à-vis Israel/Palestine continues to be dictated by fear – fear of conflict, fear of being called anti-Semites, and, under threat, fear that our dialogue of the deaf with the Jewish Establishment will be ended.

Yet, I have found that our strongest allies in this struggle have been the growing number or rabbis and young Jews, from, for example, Jewish Voice for Peace, who agree that criticism of the recalcitrant Netanyahu government is in no way anti-Semitic. And, with them, the dialogue with Jews who believe in the universal justice-seeking ideals of the prophets flourishes.
I left Salt Lake City yesterday, ashamed of a Church whose moral fire has grown cold; angered by the orchestrated obstruction of the Presiding Bishop and her staff; searching my soul for direction; and, literally, in tears.

In my sadness, I re-read Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry’s 2012 convention sermon “Crazy Christians.” In it, he alluded to Mary Magdala. And that reminded me of a poem by the late Jane Kenyon – “Woman, Why Are You Weeping?” In a boat on the Ganges, as she watches the bodies of dead babies floating by, she’s asked that question. She replies “I have lost my Lord and I don’t know how to find him.”

As I left Salt Lake City yesterday, I did so with a similar feeling. Oh, my Lord – Jesus – is closer than ever. But I have lost my Church and I don’t know how to find it.

I couldn’t say it any better.

This week three of my four Jewish mentors wrote excellent articles on various aspects of this injustice in Palestine.

The first is Mark Braverman. You can read his post here. An excerpt :

The problem, as I pointed out in my 2011 blog post about Peter Beinart and his brand of “progressive Zionism,” is not the occupation, nor is it the religiously-based racism of fundamentalist Jewish settler-colonists; the problem is a state founded on an ethnic nationalist ideology. “The late and deeply mourned Tony Judt,” I wrote then, “got it exactly right in his NYRB piece back in 2003: ‘The problem with Israel [is that]…it has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a ‘Jewish state’ — a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded — is rooted in another time and place.'”

When the history of this time is written, church leaders will be held accountable for their actions, as they are now with respect to black liberation in this country and in South Africa. Someday, when we look back on this period in our history, we Jews will be in deep mourning. We will be on our knees in contrition for what we have done in the name of our own survival and our own redemption. We must honor the memory of the Jewish community of Europe that perished by committing ourselves to “never again” for all peoples. If we are to be true to our prophetic tradition and our demonstrated commitment as a community to human rights, we must come to the realization — and soon — that today, it is the Palestinian story that is our story.

The next is by Robert Cohen, British Jew, whose wife is an Anglican priest. This is a powerful analysis of BDS and why it is not antisemitic. An excerpt:

While some that support BDS want to target just the Settlements themselves or the companies that aid the Occupation, others promote a full boycott of the State of Israel. Whether you agree with it or not, there is a clear logic in the full boycott stance since it is not the Settlers themselves that either maintain the Occupation or allow for more Settlements or the expansion of existing ones. It’s the government of Israel that does all of that. And if the the Israeli government stopped the Occupation, addressed the rights of Palestinians and agreed a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue then the boycott, divestment and sanctions would end.

And Rabbi Brant Rosen’s post here, about his new congregation forming in Chicago.An excerpt:

…a Judaism beyond nationalism

While we appreciate the important role of the land of Israel in Jewish tradition, liturgy and identity, we do not celebrate the fusing of Judaism with political nationalism. We are non-Zionist, openly acknowledging that the creation of an ethnic Jewish nation state in historic Palestine resulted in an injustice against its indigenous people – an injustice that continues to this day.

We reject any ideology that insists upon exclusive Jewish entitlement to the land, recognizing that it has historically been considered sacred by many faiths and home to a variety of peoples, ethnicities and cultures. We oppose Israel’s ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people and seek a future that includes full civil and human rights for all who live in the land – Jews and non-Jews alike.

And finally, the last word to my ultimate Jewish mentor, Jesus. He really has said it all already, such as

“Blessed are the Peace Makers”, not the endless peace talkers.

But Jesus is remaining silent.

He just weeps.







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