It’s always interesting to read “the small print”. It often tells you what a business most fears a customer asking or claiming. It is the “get out clause” to avoid otherwise legitimate claims.
There’s a bit of “small print” that has found itself onto the Methodist Church website following the catastrophic debacle over the Isreal/Palestine issue at the Portsmouth Conference.
Question 6 of a Questions and Answers on the “Methodist boycott of goods from the illegal Israeli settlements” (that in itself a gross simplification of what was said and enacted at the Portsmouth Conference) has a very handy answer:
Q. Do all the things said during the Conference debate represent the Church’s views?
A. Not necessarily. The section 7.4.1 which was adopted by the Conference is an agreed position of the Methodist Church. The report to the Conference and speeches made are there to stimulate debate following which the Conference votes. The resolutions are not binding on Methodist Church members but are there to give guidance for informed action.
So now I understand. However inflammatory and discriminatory the speeches from the floor, however biased the report, however “stitched up” the working party writing the report, however dubious the offered Further Resources in Appendix 8, however outrageous the comments from carefully selected guest speakers, however, however…..
Conference was actually offered the equivalent of a balloon dabate. It was all just a bit of fun really after which conference was free to make up its mind.
Let’s start with the star speaker, Naim Ateek. I’m curious about how he came to be in Portsmouth. Did he pop into conference because he was visiting his brother-in-law in nearby Fareham? Was he asked to step in at the last minute because lunch had been delayed and they had a spare half hour?
Or was Mr Ateek, especially invited? Did the Methodist Church pay his airfare from Palestine? Did he stay in a hotel at the expense of our charitable funds?
And what sort of debate was he intended to “stimulate” when he dismissed the Holocaust as “a Zionist tool”, making the grotesque statement that there was “Holocaust industry” from which the Jews made money, and expressing his “appreciation” of Hamas. Who actually was responsible for this invitation? And is the mealy mouth “answer” above the nearest our Methodist leaders will ever get to distancing themselves from such shameful statements? Or are these views shared by most, if not all Methodists?
I just wish I could say that at least one delegate walked out in protest or that someone lodged a complaint about the tone of this speech. Not so,some Methodist bloggers were even promoting the speech online.
Then there’s the working party which drew up the report. Earlier this week I got my ear clipped because I dared to suggest that the proposed working party on Christian Zionism would be a “stitch-up”. The working party that drew up the report to the Conference actually was a stitch-up, so we have form.
Read the small print: Methodist Coumcil document MC 09/80 says: Requests have been received that the group should be “balanced” and contain members who are not in agreement with Conference statements. This is not believed to be a constructive approach given the remit of the group.
So before the working group put pen to paper those Methodists who had a view counter to that of the proposer and seconder of the motion to the previous conference The Revd Nichola G Jones, and Seconder, Dr Stephen Leah were excluded. It was a “stitch up”.
Nicola Jones believes that the Jews have broken their covenant with God. In a bizarre speech she told conference: Who are they and what are they chosen for? Genesis tells us again and again that God choose Abraham and makes a covenant with Abraham and his heirs. A covenant being a two-sided agreement with obligations on both parties, like marriage. God’s covenant with the Children of Israel, Abraham’s heirs, is that he will be their God and they will be his people if they walk humbly before God, obey God’s laws and are a light to the nations.
So the people of Israel are to be dispossessed of their land because Niclola Jones believes they no longer walk humbly before God, obey God’s laws and are dimmed as a light to the nations? On that basis no nation on earth would be entitled to sovereign territory. Every nation would be under the same judgement. But of course we are talking about Jews, and some Christians believe that Jews are subject to different judgments than the rest of humankind. Why the discrimination?
Nicola Jones was not a random delegate speaking after a good lunch. She was the instigator of the whole project. Her words and attitudes matter.
Stephen Leah must have been disappointed with the eventual outcome of conference. He wanted to go much further saying, but not to Conference: “I personally would like to have divestment going a little bit further into the full boycott of Israel, but I know how much I can get away with in the churches sometimes. […] Churches are paranoid about being critical of Israel sometimes, they want to be balanced all the time, we must put pressure on church leaders.”
So Stephen Leah was pushing the Church as far as he thought the Methodist Church would go. In recent days Church spokespeople have fallen over themselves to point out that the boycott is only of goods from “illegal Israeli settlements”. It seems to be a sensitive matter. Stephen Leah would have preferred a boycott of all Israeli products. Why not? After all his colleague Nicola Jones told conference that Jews no longer obeyed God’s laws.
Bibliographies and “further resources” are always a welcome appendix to any document. Each informs the reader of the material used in the production of a report and where the authors would like to go next.
Appendix 8 of the conference report makes such an offering. The resources are all from just one direction. Where resources are offered from Jews they are carefully screened to ensure that they continue the general discriminatory narrative of the main report.
One author caught my eye: Stephen Sizer. Now I’ve heard that name somewhere before. Hasn’t he got a few dubious friends? He does seem to have some controversial views. Its worth following a few links here. Why were these “further resources” so one sided? Surely they should “stimulate” debate, not smother it?
Is it any wonder that many Jewish friends feel that the Methodist Church is now exhibiting the same anti-semitism that has been the curse of Christianity for centuries?
Let us hope in the next few months we can rescue Methodism’s well deserved reputation for fairness, generosity and openess.