Meanwhile, while purporting “to help British Methodists understand better some of the complexities that surround the current situation”, the report’s list of recommended books exploring the conflict from a Christian perspective consists of the usual pro-Palestinian Israel critics, namely Naim Ateek, Colin Chapman, Gary Burge and Garth Hewitt. Thus it is clear there is no intention whatsoever to help Methodists understand the complexities of the conflict, but rather just one particularly simplistic view of it. As such, the report represents a top-down strategy, an attempt by intellectual elites (Cadre? Vanguard?) to indoctrinate the
But why should anyone care what the Methodist Conference has to say about the Arab-Israeli conflict, or indeed any other issue for that matter? After all, reminiscent of some of the off-the-wall motions proposed at past LibDem conferences by a party never quite believing it would really ever secure political power (how things change!), some of the issues discussed at previous Methodist Conferences have been on the periphery. More significant is how some within the denomination's hierarchy have moved firmly away from historical orthodoxy and the proclamation of the gospel, much to the chagrin of Methodist Evangelicals who remain faitful to the gospel. Tragically, such liberalism has arguably resulted in much of this once-great denomination becoming largely irrelevant as a revivalist Christian force, and the Wesley brothers would roll in their graves. So why should it matter what the Methodist Conference votes for?
But an attempt by elites to impose their views upon the rest of the denomination aside, this report and vote do matter, for several reasons. First, in one foul swoop it has caused massive and lasting damage to Jewish-Methodist relations painstakingly developed over many years. Second, this report oversimplifies a hugely important conflict, while its blatant partisan politicking simply adds fuel to the fire, polarising opinion rather than contributing anything constructive. It is deeply ironic that, in the name of peace and justice, this report contributes to neither, but rather the complete opposite. Moreover, given the Church’s chequered history of its relations with the Jewish people, the report merely reinforces the view among many Jews that Christians are inherently suspicious of Israel and the Jewish people (which is actually not the case among millions of Christians who likewise challenge such theology). Most tragic for a Church driven by the need to share the gospel with all peoples is how such an ill-conceived and ideologically-driven polemic makes Jewish evangelism that much more difficult. If some complain that extreme Christian Zionism is theologically unsound, the rabid anti-Israel and politicised supercessionist tones (unlike the less polemical, non-political supercessionism of older Reformed Protestantism) emanating from some Protestants quarters is equally damaging, making it far more difficult to share the gospel with Jewish people. But that shouldn’t really come as any major surprise. After all, Jewish evangelism is quite far down the list of priorities of many of those who demonise Israel. So make no mistake, this issue is not just about boycotting settlement-produced goods, or even seeking a wider total boycott of Israel (which one of the committee members openly calls for - this is clearly a piecemeal strategy). It has far wider ramifications.
But what I found deeply ironic in this whole saga is how the committee’s report draws on John Wesley’s thought in support of its stance on Israel, perhaps unaware that apparently Wesley espoused a distinctly Zionist theology. Consider the words of the hymn Almighty God of Love (especially the last three verses), written by Charles Wesley and endorsed by his brother John:
1. ALMIGHTY God of love,
Set up the attracting sign,
And summon whom thou dost approve
For messengers divine;
From favoured Abraham's seed
The new apostles choose,
In isles and continents to spread
The dead-reviving news.
2. Them, snatched out of the flame,
Through every nation send,
The true Messiah to proclaim,
The universal friend;
That all the God unknown
May learn of Jews to adore,
And see thy glory in thy Son,
Till time shall be no more.
3. O that the chosen band
Might now their brethren bring,
And, gathered out of every land,
Present to Zion's King!
Of all the ancient race
Not one be left behind,
But each, impelled by secret grace,
His way to Canaan find.
4. We know it must be done,
For God hath spoke the word:
All Israel shall the Saviour own,
To their first state restored;
Rebuilt by his command,
Jerusalem shall rise,
Her temple on Moriah stand
Again, and touch the skies.
5. Send then thy servants forth,
To call the Hebrews home;
From East, and West, and South, and North,
Let all the wanderers come;
Where'er in lands unknown
The fugitives remain,
Bid every creature help them on,
Thy holy mount to gain.
6. An offering to their God,
There let them all be seen,
Sprinkled with water and with blood,
In soul and body clean;
With Israel's myriads sealed,
Let all the nations meet,
And show the mystery fulfilled,
Thy family complete! (1)
You don’t get much more Zionist than that. Might this saga be another example of modern Methodism ditching yet more of its Wesleyan roots?
(1) For further discussion of this hymn and revision over time, see a discussion here.