On Wednesday September 3rd, a group of mainline churches and Christian organizations organized a National Service of Mourning in remembrance of the lives lost in the recent Israel-Gaza conflict at Calvary Baptist Church. Located in downtown Washington, D.C., Calvary has long had a history of religious and political liberalism, to the extent that its current pastor is Allyson Robinson, a transgender female.
The cast of characters was unsurprising. Sponsors include the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society, the Alliance of Baptists, and the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries. Others lending their supports included the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde performed the benediction) Friends of Sabeel, Washington National Cathedral, Kairos USA, and Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace.
Although in theory the service remembered Israelis and Palestinians both, the press release announcing the service seemed to only fixate on the losses on one side:
The loss and suffering resulting from the latest conflict between the Israeli military and Palestinian groups in Gaza is staggering. More than 1,400 civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been displaced. Weeks of overwhelming destruction have devastated land, homes, and infrastructure. The siege of Gaza and the military occupation of Palestinian territory cripple normal life…
Note the characterization of the most recent outbreak of violence being between the Israeli military and Palestinian “groups.” What kind of groups? Was the local rotary club launching thousands of missiles into Israel? Or did the press release rather transparently downplay the fact that the Gaza Strip is run by Islamist terrorists?
The prelude to the service was a projection of the name of everyone who had died in the two months of conflict. Everyone meant everyone: Israeli civilians, Palestinian civilians, Israeli military… and members of Hamas. In an email exchange with one of the organizers, he confirmed to me that it simply isn’t possible at this early stage to separate civilians from militants. “Additionally,” he said, “we thought it appropriate to remember loss of life regardless of what role people played in the conflict.”
The part of the service of mourning most emblematic of its one-sidedness was the “voices of the region In the interest of fairness, a Palestinian voice and then an Israeli voice would share their testimonies. But somehow, the Israeli voices were never one of the 90% of Jewish Israelis who supported the intervention. In fact, they were more rabidly anti-Israel than the Palestinians.
The Palestinian voices included an innocent sixteen-year-old girl, a health worker, and a pair of hospital directors. Meanwhile, the Israeli voices were:
- A conscientious objector who called Israel a “military society, a violent society, and a chauvinistic society.”
- Israelis for a Sustainable Future, who spoke directly to American Jews. “We encourage you as American Jews to tell your community leaders to critically examine Israeli government policies.” (Incidentally, as a group of Israelis “living in the U.S.”, it’s a little disingenuous to offer them up as an Israeli perspective to a conflict which posed no danger to their personal safety.)
- Journalist Gideon Levy, who called for an end to the Israeli “occupation regime,” comparing it to the Berlin Wall, apartheid, and the Soviet Union. Levy is something of a pariah in Israel, where his anti-Israel views have even led to top government officials demanding he be arrested for treason.
- Another journalist named Amira Hass, who spoke out on behalf of the Palestinian people. For some reason, the peace service decided not to read from her article commending Palestinians for throwing stones at Israelis.
The Israel voices were read by members of Jewish Voice for Peace, a self-described pro-Israel peace organization. So pro-Israel, in fact, that the Anti-Defamation League recently rated them as one of the “Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups In America”.
The highlight of the service of mourning were the lamentations, in which the congregation listed a serious of grievance, followed by “How much longer, O Holy One, how much longer!” The lamentations, it should go without saying, were mostly concerned with deaths in one region.
- “How much longer do children of Gaza have to endure the ravages of war, trauma, terror, and confusion, wondering what they did to deserve such fear and dread?”
- “How much longer do they have to endure the insecurity of homelessness, displacement, and the lack of basic elements of ordinary life such as water, electricity, medicine, and schooling?”
- “How much longer do parents have to search through rubble to look for children they thought were safely in a shelter, in a school?”
- “How much longer does a mother have to wail primal cries of anguish at the inhuman conditions of the blockade that are heaped upon her family?”
Credit given where credit is due, the lamentations almost, kind of included a verse that could be construed to condemn terrorism.
- “How much longer will terror grip families, towns and nations, terror that is caused by violence and by structures and systems contributing to the oppression?” [Emphasis added]
So even when terrorism is (ambiguously) denounced, there still needed to be a disclaimer that it’s basically Israel’s fault. Unfortunately, even when it comes to praying for and remembering the dead, many mainline and liberal churches can’t help but turn events dedicated to “peace” into a one-sided Israel bash-fest.