How DARE you say the UCC was fair!
After being congratulated for being magnanimous and fair, key leaders of the United Church of Christ (UCC) are lashing out, in effect growling, “We most certainly were not!” The indignity expressed over the notion that perhaps UCC was being wise and evenhanded in a resolution approved at its recent General Synod meeting is a sight to behold.
In 2005, the UCC General Synod approved two resolutions aimed directly at reproving Israel: one about tearing down the protective separation barrier and one about divestment from Israel. Apparently in the intervening two years, some morally attuned UCC members have been following events on the ground and have had some second thoughts about singling out Israel alone from a whole cast of players for particular approbation.
Thus delegates to the General Synod developed a carefully worded resolution that supplied many sensible reasons to rethink the former policy and to ease back from one-sided advocacy. Parts of the resolution and its explanation imply that it is becoming clearer every day that the tragic situation in the Middle East isn't all that appropriate to pin only on Israel.
Read through the resolution, which was approved without amendment. You will see abundant indications in the wording that with this resolution, the UCC recognized its previous shortcomings and is turning over a new leaf. The resolution is clear and compelling in its argument. For instance, it states (emphasis added):
- The UCC “passed two resolutions focusing on the actions of Israel … and has yet to fully address other forces contributing to the ongoing violence, oppression and suffering in the region.”
- “In recent months violence has dramatically escalated between the Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, especially in the Gaza Strip, in spite of the fact that Israel disengaged from Gaza in September 2005.”
- “The escalating violence between Fatah and Hamas now calls us to consider whether we may have overlooked many aspects of an extraordinarily complicated situation."
- The UCC “recognizes the need for ongoing balanced study, commentary and critique related to the conflict in the region.”
- The study needs to look into “appropriate responses to the situation that may or may not lead to further support of economic leverage and removal of the security barrier.”
- “[T]he possibility for a brighter future for Palestinians is diminished not only by actions of Israel but also by violent internal battles being waged between Palestinian political parties and militias."
- “We cannot raise our voices only to point out the transgressions of one side.”
When a Jewish friend pointed me to this generous resolution, I realized that such fine work needed to be commended. All too often my organization, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), finds itself needing to blow the whistle on something going wrong. Thus, it was a joy to be able to actually commend the UCC, a group with whom we commonly have major disagreement.
The IRD press release was kind and generous. “I am impressed by the magnanimity of the United Church of Christ in this action,” I wrote. I said that “the IRD commends the UCC for its action.”
One might think that the UCC response would be in kind: “Well, thanks for the compliment. That’s good of you.” But that wasn’t the response at all. Instead, UCC President John Thomas “express[ed] outrage at how some outside groups are distorting a recent action on the Middle East by the United Church of Christ.”
What? The UCC gets complimented for being fair and generous, decent and noble--and it is outraged? People read and applaud the plain meaning of the resolution--and Thomas fumes about how the press releases “reveal an ignorance of General Synod parliamentary process as well as a distorted understanding the long history of engagement by our church related to the conflict in the Middle East.”
What is Thomas saying, that we should have known that the UCC would never be that reasonable? That the hierarchy would never allow such fine General Synod work to remain unmolested?
Although Thomas proclaimed alleged ignorance and distortion on our part, he didn’t bother to actually substantiate it. In fact he stumbled into confirming the interpretation the resolution itself made clear. “[T]he proponents of the resolution clearly believe that current UCC understandings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are too one-sided and need to be broadened,” he admitted. Yes, indeed. The words in the resolution definitely say that., and that meaning got enacted by the General Synod. What was he reading?
But even though the resolution said it and the General Synod approved it and the public at large recognized it as right and good, Thomas is not about to let such technicalities ruin a perfectly good ideological prejudice. He plans to plow ahead with the firm concept that “General Synod policy related to Israel and Palestine remains today what it was before our Synod convened." Well, yes. Of course. But a task force will be taking a second look at factors that complicate the current policy and may recommend changes. That much was clearly set in motion by the General Synod.
The UCC leaders also seemed unwilling to pass up a perfectly good opportunity to say something spiteful about the IRD, even though the IRD had just commended them. In an article distributed by Ecumenical News International, J. Bennett Guess, a UCC spokesperson “criticised the IRD,” wrote author Chris Herlinger. Guess “said that the institute's ‘repeated and ruthless attempts to attack, distort and demean the work and witness of mainline Protestant churches, including the United Church of Christ, are not to be trusted.’” (It must remain to be seen if other groups’ “ruthless attempts” can be trusted, instead.)
Here in the press--but not communicated directly to me in person as the writer of the IRD press release, or to the IRD in general--UCC President John H. Thomas has called on those of us who publicly commended the UCC “to correct misleading statements.” Okay. I’d be pleased to do so.
After reading Thomas’s statement and rereading the resolution approved by the UCC General Synod, I have to admit that I did mislead readers in two ways.
First, I had written that “I am impressed by the magnanimity of the United Church of Christ in this action.” That is not entirely true. I remain impressed with the magnanimity of the General Synod, which diplomatically asked for a difficult reassessment of a perhaps ill-conceived policy. However, I have become appalled at the quarrelsome deception of leaders like John Thomas and J. Bennett Guess, who will not let a virtuous decision go untwisted, or a kind commendation go unpunished.
Second, I had written that “The IRD commends the UCC for its action.” That part remains true. It was a much-needed and well-worded resolution. But sadly, I need to remove from that commendation any accolades for Thomas or Guess, who have fallen all over themselves to re-imagine the plain wording of the resolution, to misguide the public about its meaning and import, and finally to bite the hand that commended them.
Where our Lord said to bless those who curse you, oddly, Thomas and Guess must have decided to curse those who blessed them.