How the Board of Deputies secured a veto on theological debate in the Methodist church

Vivian WinemanJonathan ArkushDavid Giffordstephen_pollard1

No denomination has suffered more under the weight of the hasborafia treatment than the Methodists.  Inevitably they have been worn down by the sheer grinding intensity of it.  As we write (late June), the 2013 annual Methodist conference is a matter of days away and there are indications that the Board of Deputies have managed to bully and blackmail themselves into a position from which they have insidiously and outrageously influenced the business of the conference.

The BoD/Methodist story proper begins in the run up to the 2010 conference.   The papers for the conference included a report from a working party entitled “Justice for Israel and Palestine“.  As you can imagine, the BoD were spooked by the very title, before they even got to the content, given that they, themselves, had refused to accept a resolution before THEM, citing as a major reason, that they couldn’t accept the wording “the welfare of all the people of the region.”

The report called for an end to the illegal occupation, a lifting of the siege of Gaza and a boycott of West Bank settlements.

If that wasn’t enough to persuade the BoD that the end  of the world was nigh, it went on to direct the Methodist Faith and Order Committee to prepare a report on how theological issues might impact on the situation in the Holy Land, making particular reference to Christian Zionism, and asking whether it was compatible with Methodist beliefs.

All leave was cancelled and the hasbarafia prepared for war.  An online and offline assault was launched on the Methodists, employing all the well worn tried and tested blackmail avenues.  It was all there once again.  Jon Benjamin, CEO of the BoD, demanded an urgent meeting (as per) and amidst  all the usual melodrama, dissembling, hyperbole and smearing of the reports sources and authors, was the incredible assertion by Benjamin, that what was particularly troubling  was ………

“…the assertion that the Methodist Church would investigate expelling Zionists.“

He simply made that up of course, for melodramatic effect.  They do that a lot. In the days and weeks leading up to conference, there had been meetings between BoD members and the Methodists at Methodist Church House in which, it is reported, the BoD members were much given to banging the table and engaging in scarcely believable boorish behaviour.  On the morning of the debate on the report at conference, the hasbarafioisi made their presence felt in the hall, loudly demanding that the report be dropped without a vote.  Upon realising that this wasn’t going to happen, they demanded to address the conference.  Upon realising that this outrageous demand wasn’t going to be met either, they were apoplectic.

The report was overwhelmingly accepted.

As you might expect, the  maelstrom of faux outrage immediately following the conference, made what had gone on immediately before seem like ringa ringa rosy.  Yet again all the tried, tested and trusted elements were there.

The anti-Semite smears…

Further smearing of the report’s authors and their sources.

The “inter- faith relations” blackmail.

Jon Benjamin, CEO  of the BoD, and Jeremy Newmark, the notorious perjurer and the then CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council, issued a joint statement asserting that…

” …..the Methodists have abused the goodwill of the Jewish community”   What ?

Geoffrey Alderman, the weekly Jewish Chronicle columnist declared that…

“Cutting off relations, doesn’t go far enough.”

Another favoured Jewish Chronicle columnist, Robin Shepherd, demands that…

“ …war be declared on the Methodists ………..Ban their officials from entering (Israel), deport their missionaries, block their funds, tax their churches.  If it’s war, it’s war.”

Stephen Pollard, the cry baby editor of the Jewish Chronicle sobbed..

”We now know where we stand“

The Jewish Chronicle cheerfully hosted a blog post by one Joshua18, who tells us that John Wesley thought Jews were worms, and goes on to say

“ it is therefore, not surprising that delegates at the Methodist conference overwhelmingly passed every recommendation of the report…”

The seeming collective severe narcissistic personality disorder of the BoD inevitably rears its ugly head.

……. “What is particularly hurtful is that the report was compiled without consulting US.” 

They think that they are entitled to input on the compilation of an internal Methodist discussion document.

And……….

We are troubled that the Methodists went ahead, despite being warned of its likely impact by the Council of Christians and Jews“.

Maybe the Methodists were quicker off the mark than the rest of us in spotting the CCJ as an extension of the BoD, which in turn, is an extension of the Israeli embassy.  The ludicrous David Gifford, CEO of the CCJ, pitched in with a typically inane comment.

It would have been far better to direct people to support co-existence projects for Israelis and Palestinians.”

In other words, let’s forget that it is an occupier/occupied situation and let’s work for co-existence within this context, rather than work to change it.  Let’s direct our energies to encouraging the Palestinians to know their place.  Stop demanding an end to the occupation and work on getting the Palestinians to like it.  Not for nothing is the CCJ dismissively referred to as Christian Zionists For The Occupation.

And of course, there are the usual linguistic sleights of hand.  The occupied territories become “Israel“ and Israel becomes “the Jewish people“ (not withstanding that when it suits them equating The State of Israel with “the Jews“ is declared to be anti-Semitic).

This neatly opens the door to “the hurt, pain and grief of the Jewish community“, and the Methodists riding rough shod over this. The formula is always the same and entirely predictable.

As we have pointed out elsewhere on this site, if all you knew of the UK Jewish community is what you see when you look at the Board of Deputies, you could be forgiven for thinking that they consisted of nothing but a bunch of whining, self pitying narcissists.

The three year (to date) campaign has been a jaw dropping example of the machine in action.  Much of it has been more calculated than mere faux hysterics.

The Community Consultative Committee, a liaison forum for the United Synagogue, Reform, Liberal and Masorti agreed to form what one member called a “high powered group” of scholars and Rabbis.  The group would seek to put its point of view across at a meeting with Methodist representatives.  Jon Benjamin, CEO of the BoD, detailed it further as

they will explain the theological centrality of Zionism in the Jewish faith and (inevitably) express the anger and pain felt across the Jewish community”. 

That is, a modern sixty five year old political entity has a central place in a several thousand year old faith. This kind of political Zionism is, of course, just that, political.  A point made emphatically by the tribunal in the FUCU case.

This is the first indication that it is not so much the boycott aspects of the resolution that now concerns them, but the theology.

But now, the really scary bit.  Lucian Hudson, the chair of Liberal Judaism, spoke of “red lines”  and clearly  feels that it is within the remit of Jewish organisations to instruct Christians on what theological issues they will be allowed to discuss within their churches.

He chillingly added:

We also want to make sure that these red lines are understood by other Christian groups“.

That is, the Methodists are to be given a good kicking pour encourager les autres.

So far as the Methodists are concerned, it succeeded.

Very quickly after the 2010 conference, the BoD announced that all relations with the Methodists were to be broken off.  This was of course, merely a piece of melodramatic posturing.  Broken off?  Not quite.  The CCJ were charged with making sure  there was a bridge that they could slink back over.  Gifford announced that he had asked all 40 of CCJ’s local branches to engage with their local Methodist organisations so that they might hear the “other side”.  In other words ,  David Gifford, “Christian” CEO of the CCJ, is asking Christians in their localities, to lean on other Christians, to encourage sympathy for the political stance prevalent among the hasbarafia, and assumes that they will.  Clearly, for Gifford, this is all a matter of “sides” and he is in no doubt which side his troops are to be on.

The pincer movement was completed by Baroness Kathleen Richardson , a Methodist Vice President of the CCJ,  writing to all the Methodist Districts offering the help of the CCJ in “repairing” relationships with their local Jewish communities.  This, despite Jewish communities in the localities probably being blissfully unaware that they had a problem with Methodists.

Some way into the campaign, Jonathan Arkush posted a whine on the BoD web site and the Jewish Chronicle complaining that the Methodists had plans to reorganise their staffing structure, which would have abolished the positions occupied by people that he had been “engaging” with.  He complained that these proposals had been drawn up without informing HIM.   It’s that narcissism again.  He thinks he’s entitled to input on how the Methodists should organise themselves.

It is scarcely believable, the time, and the scale of the resources, that the BoD have put into their attempt to get the Methodists into line over a period of three full years.

Well, it isn’t for the sake of getting back to being nicey nicey for its own sake, since, as we have seen elsewhere,  inter- faith relations niceties are strictly on their terms.  So, what are their terms, in this particular case, outside of the general one of securing a “correct” attitude to Israel?

It is the references to theology.  They are terrified of anti-Christian Zionist theology, and  still to play for is (was) the provision in the resolution requiring the Faith and Order Committee to produce a paper on Christian Zionism.

14/5 “The Methodist Conference directs the Faith and Order Committee to undertake further work on the theological issues, including Christian Zionism, raised in the report that are needed to guide and support the approach of the Methodist Church to the Israeli/Palestinian situation and to bring a report to Conference.”

In a very real sense, this was the most important element in the 2010 resolution.  While those parts pertaining to the boycott of settlements, etc. are symbolically important, they don’t have much of a dynamic.  The parts pertaining to Christian Zionism on the other hand, are potentially lethal.  The smarter ones among them know that while Christians as part of the general population support Israel to a greater or lesser degree for reasons shared by the general population, those that, as Christians, offer unqualified, unquestioning, non critical support “at all times“ (the kind of support the BoD would impose on us all) do so from a theological Christian Zionist perspective, particularly in America, but increasingly elsewhere.  This highly dangerous basket of ideologies is a major foundation of the American uncritical support of Israel.

The Christian Zionists and the BoD are on all fours in their attitude to criticising Israel.  It should never happen.  It will be recalled that the BoD expressly FORBIDS themselves such criticism.

The Board of Deputies realise that any document critical or dismissive of Christian Zionism, would have far reaching implications, particularly if there is any hint of it being incompatible with Methodist beliefs.  Imagine the potential domino effect among the churches.

This explains the time and effort that has gone into the pursuance and persecution of Stephen Sizer.  No one could seriously believe it was about a careless link to a web site.  It is all about his being an effective critic of Christian Zionism and being of global importance in this respect.  He must be gagged.

All the time and resources expended over the last three years vis-a-vis the Methodists, has been about killing the paper, due from the Faith and Order committee.  The style is the usual one.  The initial hysterics are put aside, and it becomes dialogue, understanding and inter-faith relations, carefully managed by the CCJ.  The blackmail is still there, but it’s tempered with a sugar coating.  Every once in a while, sorrowful hints are dropped about how regrettable it would be if the Faith and Order committee were to produce an “offensive” paper and all this painstaking work were sabotaged.

The Faith and Order committee were commissioned by the 2010 conference. While no one thought it reasonable to get the job done by the 2011 conference, it seems the hope and expectation was that it would be ready for 2012.  It wasn’t  ready for 2011, nor was it ready in 2012.  Nonetheless, the commissioning of the Faith and Order committee to produce the report was REAFFIRMED in both years.

So 2013 is the year, right?  Well, no.  The papers in advance for 2013 declare the dumping of the commission.  Rather than the originally commissioned paper, Methodists are provided with a reading list and told to read the stuff and make of it what they will.

They inadvertently tell us why.

“The theological issues raised in the report are no less complex and rank among the most contentious aspects of interfaith relations.”
That is, aspects that are likely to piss off the Board of Deputies.
Inter-faith relations?  We have here a quite remarkable state of affairs.  The Faith and Order committee have spent three years working on a report commissioned in 2010 on certain theological issues including Christian Zionism.  The commission was reaffirmed in 2011 and 2012.  After three years’ earnest deliberation, they report in 2013 that, on inter-faith relations grounds, they have nothing to say on the matter.
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IN OTHER WORDS, THE BOARD OF DEPUTIES SECURE A VETO OVER THEOLOGICAL DEBATE INSIDE A CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
The degree to which abject fear of the BoD is, by this time, a fully internalised part of the Methodist leadership condition, is clear from the  assertion that any discussion of Christian Zionism should only take place “in an ecumenical context “.
That is “we are not willing to be out there on our own on this one”.
POSTSCRIPT
At conference itself, many delegates were less than pleased at what one described as “the leadership chickening out” over the Christian Zionism issue.  A notice of motion  was tabled expressing regret that the report as envisaged, had not materialised.  This put the leadership in a great panic and ranks were closed.
Alison Tomlin, who had been President at the time of the 2010 boycott of settlements motion, and an erstwhile supporter of the motion, was unrecognisable as her old self.  She refused to back the Notice explaining that “we will be accused of being anti-Zionist” and “thought of as anti-Semitic”.  Thought of by whom ?
The Notice was also sat on by the outgoing President, Mark Wakelin, and interestingly, by the General Secretary Martyn Atkins.  This was highly unusual.  General Secretaries rarely speak, but when they do, people tend to listen.  Clearly the leadership were very, very frit and were taking no chances.
anoth
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