The elites of Minnesota Methodism find an unsurprising distraction from their sad decline.
Minnesota Methodists, having decided that slamming Israel is central to their mission, have released a new special curriculum called “Palestine/Israel: Advocating for a Just & Lasting Peace.”
The 7.8 million member United Methodist Church’s Minnesota Annual Conference is one of the denomination’s most left-leaning and consequently fastest declining regions. It’s lost over 20 percent of membership just in the last decade and is now down to about 70,000 United Methodists in Minnesota. Evangelizing and reversing this membership decline might have been a logical response. But instead, the elites of Minnesota Methodism evidently believe that targeting Israel for ongoing condemnation is more urgent. Generously, they are disseminating their anti-Israel study guide across the denomination nationwide.
“We invite you to join us in a lifetime of learning, of experiencing spiritual vitality, and of an exhilarating way of life as you find yourself making a difference for peace,” chirpily chimes the new website of Minnesota Methodism’s “Palestine Israel Justice Project” (PIJP). The endeavor evidently traces back to 2001, when Methodist missionaries in “Palestine” challenged their Midwestern brothers and sisters to a “peace for Palestine” movement in Minnesota
PIJP’s September “prayer” alert for Minnesota Methodism encapsulated the project’s anti-Israel flavor. “We pray that we might be able to put ourselves in the place of Palestinians who cannot report to their work place because of 30 foot walls, permanent and temporary check-points,” the Minnesota Methodists plead, without also praying they might understand Israelis who still struggle for their nation’s survival after over 60 years. But the Minnesota Methodists did pray that “Israeli Jews will heed the warning of the Hebrew prophets that ‘Zion’ will be wrested away from them in the wake of perpetual injustice.” Is there any possibility that Palestinians don’t fully have their own nation because of their own “injustice” in not wanting to live besides Israel? If so, it’s unmentioned in this prayer. At least the “prayer” did cite the “negative persistence of Hamas,” in the context of praying for the “integrity of Palestinian peace efforts.”
Predictably, PIJP justifies its anti-Israel animosity by citing the voices of Palestinian Christians, who comprise a tiny minority of Palestinian Christians and whose public voices, whether from conviction or self-survival, are habitually anti-Israel and uncritical of the Palestinian Authority. “The curriculum raises the voices and concerns of Palestinian Christians,” explains Minnesota United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck in her introduction to the PIJP study guide. “Why wouldn’t we listen to the voices of our own Christian brothers and sisters, even if their perspectives might be different from ours or challenge us to see this part of the world from their eyes?” Convenient primarily as a talking point against Israel, Palestinian Christians are virtually the only struggling Christian community in the world of persistent interest to the Religious Left.
Occasionally striving for impartiality through “discussion questions,” the PIJP study guide still can’t help itself by asking, in loaded fashion, about the “inherent injustices” with the United Nations 1947 partition of Palestine and about the “ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland.” It also asks about the “so-called ‘peace process’” in Oslo in 1993 creating Palestinian self-rule that “discouraged Palestinians.” One question simply could not hold back by asking: “Why is the notion of a Palestinian government (in the form of the Palestinian Authority) under Israeli occupation an absurd idea?” Less judgmentally, the PIJP refers without comment to the Second Intifada of 2000, laconically noting that “suicide bombing began,” which was a “violent form of resistance that had not existed in past acts of resistance.”
The Methodist PIJP study guide devotes a couple sections to international laws, which, naturally, argue only against Israeli “violations against Palestinian lives” and seemingly are not concerned about Palestinian actions, like suicide bombing. Indeed, international law apparently speaks only to Israel’s “eviction” of Palestinians, to Israel’s blockade against Hamas-controlled Gaza, to Israel’s supposedly wanton destruction of Palestinian homes, to Israel’s purportedly unjust arrest of Palestinians, and to the restrictions and inconveniences created by Israel’s security wall.
“Why should we care?” the student guide asked in its conclusion. PIJP’s study guide’s suggested responses include: “Injustice is being served; “Our tax dollars pay for this;” “God commands us to love justice;” and [Methodism founder] “John Wesley implores us to do good and be involved in social concerns.” Various Scriptures about justice are cited, as are some Wesley quotes about “social holiness” and “doing good.” Ostensibly these general quotes are the theological justification for Methodists specifically to villainize Israel and wholeheartedly endorse Palestinian liberation irrespective of consequences.
PIJP’s study guide encourages Methodists to connect with radical anti-Israel groups like Sabeel and read Jimmy Carter’s infamous Peace Not Apartheid. Support for Methodist missionary in “Israel/Palestine” Alex Awad is also urged. A steadfast political activist for Palestinian advocacy, Awad was recently cited by Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard for declaring his own preference for Islamic Law in place of Israel’s “occupation.”
There seems to be no mention in PIJP’s study guide of Islamic Law and its impact on Christians. In his Weekly Standard piece, Barnes mentioned visiting a Christian orphanage on the West Bank, where babies and children go unadopted because Islamic Law bans Christian adoption, but Muslim culture is uncomfortable with adoption. What other aspects of Sharia would the Rev. Awad and the Minnesota Methodists prefer to any continued Israeli influence over the West Bank?
Suggestions from “Palestine/Israel: Advocating for a Just & Lasting Peace,” if treated seriously, would not result in either peace or justice. But Minnesota Methodists, or at least their elites, are maybe searching for a distraction from their sad decline, rather than any serious advocacy of a realistic peace in the Middle East.