Today Nick Howard, son of the former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, has published a lengthy article on a well-known political website severely criticising anti-Semitism in the Anglican Church. The essay is noteworthy for several reasons.
First, it demonstrates how the Middle East situation continues to be propelled up the religio-political ladder. Seen as a fringe theological issue several decades ago, Christian responses to Israel, the Arabs, Islam and Middle East Christianity are increasingly a key issue for believers today. That it emerges at a time when Evangelicals are firmly ditching private faith in favour of engaging with the public square is no coincidence. Thus, Christians who fail to search their Scriptures and engage theologically with this issue, preferring instead to bury their heads in the sand, are in danger of appearing irrelevant when it comes to one of the big issues of the day.
Howard's essay also suggests some Anglicans have not capitulated to the anti-Israel narrative so embraced by some of the Church of England's elites. If in doubt, visit the Anglican Friends of Israel website or the Archbishop Cranmer blog, one of the best known political blogs in the UK. (Indeed, within Catholicism, not noted for its longstanding historical sympathy towards the Jewish people, there's even a Catholics for Israel group.) I've met lots of Anglicans who are deeply uneasy by some of their fellow Anglicans' intense dislike of Israel.
All this raises another issue, namely, how anti-Israel public proclamations by Christian elites are not necessarily echoed by grassroots believers within the same circles or organisations. Consider, for example, the many anti-Israel and Palestinian nationalist declarations emanating from within a particular segment of Palestinian Christianity. Such statements, signed by leading Palestinian clerics, are often light years away from the views of many everyday Arab believers who express theological views about Israel and the Jews quite at odds with those of their leaders. Indeed, some Palestinian believers I've interviewed express considerable frustration at how their everyday spiritual and pastoral needs are ignored or downplayed by their leaders who are more interested in playing politics, or else demonstrating to the Palestinian Authority that they're good nationalists.
Such proponents of Palestinian liberation theology do well to note the failure of another form of liberation theology, in Latin America (where the movement originated). It also quickly became a vehicle for elites to express religio-political ideology rather than ameliorating the very constituency - the poor - they originally professed to champion. Thus, as Latin American liberation theology became the preserve of anti-establishment academics and revolutionary priests set on ideological and class warfare who claimed to opt for the poor, the poor looked elsewhere for spiritual and material succour. As one observer famously stated, "While liberation theology opted for the poor, the poor opted for Pentecostalism".
But perhaps the most significant aspect of this article is how it demonstrates just how serious the whole issue is becoming for the Church. Note this is not your everyday blogosphere tittle-tattle, but instead a rather well-known Christian making some very serious accusations of fellow Christians. It's certainly far from the typically wishy-washy language we've come to expect from the Anglican establishment (which the author seems to acknowledge early on in the essay), and as such it absolutely demands careful consideration and further research to determine its veracity. It is incredible that given the horrors of the Holocaust which took place just a few years ago we're still talking today about the existence of anti-Semitism in the Church.