Thursday, 6 September 2012

Comments about the General Council decision regarding Israel and Palestine

It’s likely that by now you’ve seen a few headlines or heard something about a decision the United Church of Canada made this summer to do with Israel and Palestine. Some of the headlines have declared the decision shocking and controversial.

Maybe you have been wondering just what happened and what does this decision mean for me? Maybe other people who know you are connected to the United Church have asked you questions. Maybe you’re curious to know a bit about what happened or maybe you’re deeply concerned about the decision and struggling to understand why the church took this action.

In August the 41st General Council took place in Ottawa. The General Council meets every three years to do the work of the church; to make decisions and create policy for the church. There are over 300 elected people who vote, called commissioners. They are ministers and lay people from all across the country.

This year there was a report from a working group on Israel/Palestine that was released in May. You can see an overview and read the full report here:

The most controversial part of the report called for a boycott directed exclusively against settlement products that can be identified as produced in or related to the settlements or the occupied territories.
As soon as the report was released there were those in the media as well as those within the United Church of Canada who became very vocal against the report, especially the proposed boycott.
There were a variety of reasons why people were against it. One of the reasons cited several times was that this is would greatly damage our inter-faith relationship with Jewish people.
At the General Council meeting there were several groups lobbying the commissioners and presenting them with papers and articles to encourage them to vote in favor or to vote against the recommendations from the report. There was extensive debate on the floor of the council and in fact the debate spread over more then one day. There were several amendments to the recommendations, but in the end the recommendations passed.

In the days and weeks since the council there have been those both in the church and outside it who have both praised and widely criticized the church for taking this action. There are those who are in favor of the boycott but who are concerned about the logistics. The Canadian government does not require goods that are produced in the settlements to be labeled in this way. So there is no simple way to know which products are produced there. Additionally, it’s hard to know if the average Canadian actually regularly buys something that is produced in a settlement and therefore it’s impossible to stop buying that product.
However in the days and week since the council there have been both clergy and lay people in the church, people of deep faith who are struggling with this decision. Most site damage to the relationship with Jewish brothers and sisters but there are variety of reasons why some United Church people are deeply upset and concerned.

For those who are concerned I encourage you to read the full report and some of the responses by former Moderator David Guiliano who chaired the working group. At times like this it is important to rely on the documents themselves and not media headlines.

However there are still many who have the facts correct and are still upset. The United Church of Canada is a church that covers this vast Canadian landscape, in some ways we are the same as each other and in many ways we are very different from each other. I’m proud to be part of a church that can be so diverse and yet do its best to live together in that tension. We all don’t have to think the same things and we all don’t have to agree. It’s clearly made harder when the highest court of the church makes a decision that seems to speak for all of us. However there is always room at the table for those who disagree, even those who strongly disagree. And that diversity I think is one of our greatest strengths as a church.

As Christians we have a responsibility to care about these lands of our ancestors. Each week we read stories from the Bible about people from this region; walking in these lands and having encounters with the Holy. Many wonder weather any action the United Church of Canada takes can have any kind of difference in such a complicated place as the Middle East.

So lets continue to hold each other in prayer and lets continue to have this discussion about the role of the people of faith in matters such as this, about inter faith relations, about how we live in these tensions. Let us talk together holding in mind God’s dream of justice and love for all creation.

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