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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

An open letter to Rowan Williams

Dear Dr Williams

When the Church of England was in the process of selecting a successor to George Carey, I had my fingers tightly crossed. When the news came that you really had got the job, I was over the moon. So you will, I hope, appreciate that this letter gives me absolutely no pleasure to write.

I am also very much aware of the weight of responsibility on your shoulders at this time of crisis in the Anglican Communion, and that it’s very easy by comparison for people like me to play the armchair critic. You deserve the prayerful support of all Anglicans, whatever their stance on the controversies within the church.

On the question of the ACC’s resolution on Israel, however, I am really convinced that silence is not an option for me. Whilst ‘prophetic witness’ seems to me to be a phrase that is much too lightly used, I do have a certain sense of the burning coal having touched my lips.

On 20 August last year I wrote to Dr Daleep Mukarji, Director of Christian Aid, to complain about that organization’s anti-Israel bias, and I sent you a copy of the letter. I received an acknowledgment from your office, but have not received the promised reply from you. That in itself would be no more than a small but salutary mortification of my vanity. However, apart from the fact that a visitor to my website reports having the same experience, what I am now finding really troubling is this: I particularly wanted to draw to your attention the way Christian Aid News had quoted a sentence out of context from a lecture you gave in Jerusalem, making you appear to be criticizing the security fence without also condemning terrorism. I find it hard to conceive that if, as Patron of Christian Aid, you had asked them to print an apology, they would have felt able to refuse you. Should I conclude that you are content for your words to be used in this way?

Coming to the ACC’s proceedings, do you really believe it is acceptable for the Anglican Communion to ‘welcome’, even if it does not ‘receive and adopt’, a report which compares the ‘concrete walls of Palestine’ with ‘the barbed-wire fence of the Buchenwald camp’.

The Church Times quotes you as saying of the situation in Zimbabwe, ‘I think effective intervention is bound to come in African terms, rather than in any sort of pseudo-colonial framework… That has been a great weakness in some ways: criticism from outside can so easily be interpreted as colonialist.’ That suggests that you would not think a week-long visit to the country qualified you to make sweeping pronouncements about the solutions to its problems. Here, however, is New Zealander Dr Jenny Te Paa proposing the AJPN resolution following an 8-day visit to Israel: ‘We claim to represent to you the absolute truth we witnessed’.

Again from the Church Times: ‘Sylvia Scarf, one of the representatives from the Church in Wales, described her visit to a Palestinian home destroyed by the Israeli army, and summed up the feeling of the group: "You feel angry, and you feel impotent, and you feel so many emotions that you have to do something."’

It would appear that the party did not witness body parts being picked up off the street after a suicide bombing, but even that is not the most crucial point here. You would, I hope, agree that one of the glories of the Anglican tradition is that it grants reason equal esteem with Scripture and tradition. How low have we fallen if we are prepared to order our relationship with the brothers and sisters of Jesus, as Bonhoeffer called them, on the basis of this dogmatic, self-righteous and emotionally self-indulgent kind of indignation tourism?

Here is part of what Canon Andrew White, who was until recently Director of the Peace Centre at Coventry Cathedral, and is the Church of England's principal peace-maker in the Middle East, had to say about the resolution:-

'Making peace is not quick or easy work. The Israeli Palestinian conflict has been going on for years. Despite the difficulties in the progress toward peace at long last things are moving in the right directions. If the leader of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazin was prepared to sit down last week with Ariel Sharon, why was this group not prepared to meet with the Government of Israel? All too often delegations come out for a few days and write definitive reports. I have spent years in the land and even now do not understand many of its complexities.

'This is not a prophetic action but the corporate action of a group of people who are too scared to take seriously the challenge to be true peace makers. This action will be seen as being not only anti Zionist but also anti-Semitic and I know for certain I will never be party to such action.'

Don’t you think these words of a dedicated and experienced peace-maker carry a lot of weight? The reaction from both Jews and Christians to my website confirms the truth of his last sentence.

I read that ‘Bishop Riah told the delegates “the resolution has nothing to do with punishing Israel” as “Israel has enough support from the American Administration and the Jewish lobby”.’ How did you feel hearing a bishop use this language? Bishop Riah has also been quoted as saying: ‘We are the true Israel… no-one can deny me the right to inherit the promises, and after all the promises were first given to Abraham and Abraham is never spoken of in the Bible as a Jew…He is the father of the faithful.’ I don’t imagine for a moment that you share these views, but what I want to ask you is: do you believe that a church which fails to repudiate them at its highest level can avoid catastrophic damage to its trustworthiness in the eyes of the Jewish people?

You responded to a question on bridge-building with the Jewish community by saying ‘I don’t see this at all as an issue between the Church and the Jewish community. There are many members of the Jewish community who understand these issues really profoundly. There are people in the Israeli government who understand these issues. I would be very sad if I thought this shut off the dialogue.’

Can you understand my feeling that this comes across as distinctly patronizing? Is the Chief Rabbi one of those who understand the issues profoundly, or has his understanding not quite reached the level achieved by Dr Te Paa and Ms Scarf after their 8-day fact-finding tour? As the campaign in the AUT to overturn the academic boycott has demonstrated, a great many Jews understand all too well that Israel has failings, but are not willing to see it assigned a unique status as a pariah state on the basis of ignorance, prejudice and gross double standards.

Your opening address to the ACC talks of the tension between prophetic witness and unity. I find it hard to avoid the impression that, having over-indulged in dissension over the sexuality issue, the Council was seeking to compensate by uniting in criticism of Israel. Given the historical precedents, this is a profoundly frightening perception. If it is not too hypocritical of me to indulge in a little emotionalism myself: a comment was left on my website by a Jewish woman who relates that her father was in Auschwitz, where most of his family perished, whilst her mother was driven out of Nasser’s Egypt. How do you think the Anglican Communion looks to her right now?

Your address reflects thoughtfully on how Christians should deal with deep differences of opinion in such a way that they can be held within the Body of Christ. That is excellent as far as it goes. It seems to me, however, that there is a challenge to post-Holocaust Christian theology that is still far from having been fully addressed: how do we reach an understanding of the concept of the Body of Christ which does not make it a pretext for exclusivity and for being satisfied with a lesser standard of relatedness with our Jewish brothers and sisters? I hope and pray that we may see future gatherings of the ACC concerning themselves with that question.

Yours sincerely,

Cyrus

4 comments:

Paul M. said...

Beautifully stated: Thank you.

It's not clear to me whether you sent this letter to Dr. Williams, or only posted it here. Either way, it is not too likely that you'll get a reply from Dr. Williams or anyone else of authority, though the lack of response to such a clear, reasoned letter would also speak volumes.

Anita Steiner said...

Cyrus,
Thankyou for the letter you wrote, it was excellent. In your second to last paragraph you mentioned about my family from a coment I wrote on your blog and you asked.."How do you think the Anglican Communion looks to her right now?"
I've always in the past wondered how the Holocaust was allowed to happen but today I can't come to any other conclusion that there is wanton anti-semitism that no-one even bothers to conceal.
The Holocaust happened because not enough good people spoke out - often for fear of death. Today we live without the fear of death and the silence is scary.
When the new Yad Vashem was recently opened in Israel to commemorate those killed in the Holocaust and the Righteous Gentiles that protected Jews, there were debates about also honouring Jews that helped save Jews. It was said that for Jews, it is expected. Therefore they only honour the Righteous Gentiles.
You Cyrus, are one of those.
G-d bless you.

Anonymous said...

I am a Jew. I take the resolutions of the United Church of Christ (UCC), the AUT and the Anglican authorities as nothing but the worst kind of anti-Semitism. It is cloacked in all kinds of self-riteous justifications, but in the end, the result is to kill more people. The UCC thinks Israel shouldn't have a separation wall but doesn't bother to ask the Palestinians to stop having their children explode on busses.

What the Europeans fail to realize is that this Jihad is world wide and is against them, too.

It is scary.

N. Friedman said...

To "Anonymous said..."

I could not agree more.

The failure of Europeans to recognize that the European support of Jihad against Israel provides cover for Jihad against Europe is one astounding.