By speaking out against a United Church working group’s recommendations on Israel, Rev. Andrew Love said he was hoping to swing the church back toward a more balanced and “positive” approach to the Mideast conflict.
The situation in the Middle East is complex, and taking sides only causes friction with the Jewish community, he said.
“I’m concerned that in the name of being in solidarity with the Palestinian people we may be undermining our relationship with the Jewish community,” said Rev. Love, pastor at the Grace St. Andrews United Church in Arnprior Ont., west of Ottawa.
Rev. Love was reacting to a recent report by a church committee that called for a boycott of products from Israeli settlements. The group’s document, which will be debated at the church’s General Council in August, also declared that the deepest meaning of the Holocaust was the loss of dignity for Jews – a statement quickly followed by one saying Palestinians also suffer a loss of dignity under Israeli occupation. The document conditionally rejected the use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel, but left open the possibility it could be applied if circumstances changed.
“The heart of the issue for me is that I’m concerned the church is eroding the commitment it made in 2003 to strengthen ties to the Jewish community,” Rev. Love said, referring to a document adopted that year by the General Council, Bearing Faithful Witness.
Rev. Love said the church should focus on positive ways of bringing Israelis and Palestinians together and not take positions on complex political issues.
He recently launched a website, faithfulwitness.ca, “to gather support from other people concerned about the United Church’s drift away from the commitment it made in 2003 to strengthen its ties to the Jewish community.”
The site urges others to “join me in calling on the General Council to adopt a more balanced policy. To borrow words from rabbis-letter.org, the Working Group report ‘shamefully paints Israel as a pariah nation’ that is solely responsible for the violence and conflict with the Palestinians. The authors of the report never hold Palestinians or surrounding Arab nations to moral accountability’,” the website states.
Rev. Love, who’s been associated with seven churches since being ordained in 2009, believes that “the views reflected in the working group report do not line up with [churchgoers’] views. The average person in the pews is just like me in the sense of looking for more balance and a less one-sided judgment, in this case, a judgment against the State of Israel.
“They feel we should come with more humility and play a more positive role and a less divisive role.”
Rev. Love said he “reluctantly came to the conclusion that there’s a radical agenda working here, and the folks behind that agenda are better at influencing policy than I am.”
Rev. Love said he does not plan to attend the General Council. “I’m not planning any kind of organized effort. I’m just trying to lift up the voice that was behind the 2003 effort to the Jewish community.”
He said that since he voiced his opinions in a National Post article, he’s received 16 calls from Jews who thanked him for his position.
“I didn’t anticipate that, but what it tells me is that it speaks to the real feeling of isolation in part of the Jewish community in Canada, that they’re not hearing from the Christian community support, understanding and sensitivity.
“If all I can do here is to say to the Jewish community that there are some of us trying to understand your perspective, then that will be useful.”