The Church of Scotland Takes the Low Road

Delivers a report of the most anti-Semitic kind.

church-of-scotland-logo1Even if you're in the habit of thinking a lot about Europe, it can be easy to forget about Scotland. This is curious, perhaps, given that Scotland arguably played at least as significant a role as England in shaping the culture of the thirteen colonies and of the early American republic. The Western world owes a major debt to such seminal Scottish thinkers as Adam Smith and David Hume (not to mention that great theorist of liberty, John Stuart Mill, who, while born in London, was the son of a Scotsman). Scotland was a hub of the Industrial Revolution, and the homeland of some of the most beloved writers in English, from Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott to Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Yet the recent history of Scotland, like that of Quebec, has been dominated not by great authors or thinkers or businessmen but, rather, by mischief-makers who have kept themselves busy agitating for Scottish independence. Although it could be argued that modern capitalism was born in Scotland, today it's a firmly socialist country, where the Parliament currently includes 41 Labourites and only one Tory, and where the welfare state is even more comprehensive than in England.

Then there's the Church of Scotland. Unlike the Church of England, which was shown off, in all its glory, at the Margaret Thatcher funeral – and which is, of course, the Mother Church of the Anglican Communism, to which to the American Episcopal Church belongs – the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian. It is, moreover, one of those churches that have taken it upon themselves to be very active in international leftist activism. For years, its longstanding habit of expressing poisonous hostility toward Israel and mindless sympathy for the “Palestinian cause” didn't distinguish it significantly from any number of other left-leaning ecclesiastical bodies around the world. That changed a few days ago, with the publication of a report – intended to be discussed and voted upon at the Church's general assembly, which begins on May 18 – that was so blatantly anti-Semitic that it truly separated the Church of Scotland from the rest of the Israel-bashing pack.

Indeed, “The Inheritance of Abraham: A Report on the Promised Land” proved to be an instant classic of the most reprehensible kind – a brand-new core text in the annals of Christian Jew-hatred.

The report takes on supporters of Israel – both Jewish and Christian – who justify their Zionism by citing passages from Genesis in which God promises the Holy Land to Abraham's descendants.  It challenges these biblical arguments from many directions – arguing, for example, that they're irreconcilable with the warnings by prophets against the “pursuit of power and wealth” and that Israel has betrayed the justice that “is a major theme in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.” Quoting a famous line from Micah – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” – the report essentially maintains that Israel isn't living up to the mandate of Jewish scripture, and that the Jewish state doesn't deserve the support of Christians who seek to live up to the mandate of Christian scripture. For good measure, the report mocks the very idea that the creation of modern Israel is a “miracle,” sneering: “What is meant by ‘miracle’? Was Al Nakba a ‘miracle’ – driving people from their ancestral land and property with no right of reclaim; the creation of the Gaza Strip; all the refugee camps; the occupied Palestinian territory with the destruction of community life; and the impoverishment of the Palestinian people?”

The thrust of the report is crystal clear: “To be critical of Zionism is not anti-Semitic.” It quotes Christian theologians who oppose Israel – and one Jew, Mark Braverman, who rejects Zionism.  Obviously because the report's authors think that by citing a Jew they're insulating themselves from the charge of anti-Semitism, they place Braverman front and center in outlining their core argument, noting, in short, that:

Braverman is adamant that Christians must not sacrifice the universalist, inclusive dimension of Christianity and revert to the particular exclusivism of the Jewish faith because we feel guilty about the Holocaust. He is equally clear that the Jewish people have to repent of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians between 1947 and 1949. They must be challenged, too, to stop thinking of themselves as victims and special, and recognise that the present immoral, unjust treatment of Palestinian people is unsustainable.

Braverman challenges, too, what he calls “revisionist Christian theology,” more widely known as Western post-Holocaust theology, i.e. theology which takes away Jesus’ radical critique of Jewish theology and practice in order to provide no excuse for Christian anti-Semitism. In this approach, he claims, the Jewish people are and remain God’s chosen. This gives them the right to land, to triumph over enemies and a sense of specialness.

After a while the report sets Braverman aside, but continues along the same lines:

Jesus offered a radical critique of Jewish specialness and exclusivism....If Jesus is indeed the Yes to all God’s promises the promise to Abraham about land is fulfilled through the impact of Jesus, not by restoration of land to the Jewish people. Jesus gave a new direction and message for the people of God, one which did not feature a special area of land for them....Jesus’ vision of the kingdom is not for one limited area of territory, it is a way of anticipating how things can be if people are obedient to God....  Our Church points to the Kingdom, which cannot be tied to any earthly kingdom. Jesus said before Pilate that he was indeed a king but “my kingdom is not from this world.”

There's much more in the report, but suffice it to say that every single word of it is intended to bolster a theological case for the dissolution of Israel.

In short, it's a breathtakingly offensive piece of work. Yes, all the stuff about Jesus' message and vision and so forth is a fair enough representation of the Christian understanding of the New Testament. But as a statement about Israel and Jews in the twenty-first century, it's beyond offensive. In its blithe, supercilious application of Christian theology to a contemporary Jewish situation, it's breathtakingly arrogant, and – yes – cold-bloodedly anti-Semitic. Early in the document, its authors make a point of spelling out their opposition to Western colonialism and imperialism; but their smug articulation, in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of the doctrine of supercessionism (also known as replacement theology) – which posits that the New Covenant under Jesus replaces Jehovah's covenant with the Hebrew people – is offensive in precisely the same way as colonialism and imperialism, only on a far larger scale. Although the report, like most such products of left-leaning churches today, is full of pretty language about mercy, kindness, reconciliation, and “God's universal, inclusive love,” it resurrects official Christian attitudes toward Jewish people and Jewish belief that one would have hoped were buried with the Holocaust.

Gratifyingly, the Church of Scotland got hammered for issuing this disgusting document. Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Daniel Taub, thundered that it “belittles the deeply held Jewish attachment to the land of Israel in a way which is truly hurtful.” Ephraim Borowski, head of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (there are about 6000 Jews in Scotland), complained that the report “reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism....The picture it paints of both Judaism and Israel is barely even a caricature. The arrogance of telling the Jewish people how to interpret Jewish texts and Jewish theology is breathtaking.” Abraham H. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League called the document “stunningly affront to Jews around the world and to the State of Israel.” And the Jerusalem Post said that the Church of Scotland “owes the Jewish people an apology for this incendiary text that is more fitting to the 13th Century than to this one.”

In response to this chorus of outrage, the Church quickly buckled, yanking the report from its website and agreeing to meet with Jewish community leaders. After the meeting, the Church described the dialogue as “very positive,” insisted that its report had not been intended to deny Israel's right to exist, and promised that “a new introduction” would be added “to set the context for the report and give clarity about some of the language used.” Scotland's Jews seemed satisfied. They shouldn't be. No sensible person who has read “The Inheritance of Abraham” in its entirety report would find the mere addition of a new introduction (whatever its contents) sufficient to render this monstrosity inoffensive; the only decent move for the Church would be to withdraw the entire document, apologize for it profusely, and commit itself to an intense examination of its own collective conscience vis-à-vis Israel and the Jewish people. But that, apparently, isn't about to happen. The stink of Jew-hatred, then, remains – no more fetid in Scotland, alas, than in many other corners of today's Europe.

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