Institute on Religion and Democracy
November 2, 2000
The President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has expressed concern that U.S. mainline churches are issuing unbalanced statements, siding with the Palestinians and against Israel in the latest Middle East conflict.
“U.S. churches are reflexively criticizing Israel, which is a democracy, and uncritically accepting the claims of Palestinian leaders, whose own commitment to human rights is less than clear,” said IRD President Diane Knippers. She contrasted this bias with a statement from America’s Roman Catholic bishops, which called for mutual restraint from both Israelis and Palestinians, and from the Southern Baptist Convention, whose missionaries in the Middle East have urged churches not to take sides.
Statements in recent years from U.S. mainline churches have portrayed Israel as the primary aggressor and human rights abuser in the Middle East. Ironically, these same denominational leaders continue to ignore human rights abuses by Palestinian leaders and by Arab governments, even when those governments persecute Christians and other religious minorities.
The recent violence between Palestinians and Israeli security forces has highlighted this bias by U.S. mainline churches. Palestinians began rioting in September after Israeli opposition party leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Palestinians decried Sharon’s visit to a Muslim holy place as a provocation. Israeli supporters noted that all visitors are supposed to be welcome at the site, which is also revered by Jews and Christians, and they claim that the riots are simply a Palestinian ploy to force Israel into more territorial concessions.
Mainline church officials have largely endorsed the Palestinian claim that the present violence can be blamed almost exclusively on Israel’s “heavy-handedness.” Most have called for a full Israeli withdrawal from all “occupied territories.” Some have called for a reduction in U.S. aid to Israel. None have mentioned significant U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, and none have mentioned incendiary statements by Palestinian authorities inciting violence and questioning Israel’s right to exist. Most have ignored Israel’s most recent offers of territorial concessions. None have mentioned the lack of democratic freedoms under the Palestinian Authority. None have raised concerns about access to religious sites by Jews and other non-Muslims if fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Recent statements about the Middle East have come from officials and agencies of the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.
“U.S. churches, when addressing public policy issues, must be fair and just. They should support democracy and respect for human rights, especially religious liberty, by all governments everywhere,” Knippers concluded. “These church officials need to shed their old Cold War blinders and examine the world from a new perspective, based on Christian realism, and not just the latest United Nations resolutions.”