Within the last few years, there have been rather alarming, well-documented waves of expressions of hatred and violence against Jewish persons, with several indications that such anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.
As a somewhat uniquely global denomination that has long prided itself for being outspoken on issues of social concern, the United Methodist Church had a great opportunity to specifically acknowledge and speak out against this social evil and assure our Jewish friends and neighbors of our solidarity with them in the face of it during our 2016 General Conference, held last May in Portland, Oregon. The General Conference is the only body that can make official statements in the name of the entire United Methodist Church, and it generally meets only once every four years.
And if basic fair process had been followed, there is little doubt that we would have done so. But our denomination ended up embarrassing ourselves by dropping the ball on this very important matter, thanks to the extraordinary intervention of far-left Bishop Minerva Carcaño into General Conference’s legislative process, and the very blatant misrepresentations of the truth by a former General Board of Global Ministries missionary named Sandra Olewine.
Here is what happened:
I prepared a resolution that would have added to our denomination’s many resolutions on social and political issues a very nonpartisan, well-documented, and carefully researched statement detailing and expressing alarm at the rise of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world, particularly in the few years since our last General Conference.
I shared a draft with several friends from Jewish organizations, to make sure this statement would do no harm with unintentional insensitivities or omissions. But the initiative, composition, and final wording of this all comes from this longtime United Methodist.
As a duly elected General Conference delegate, I followed the proper procedure to “bring the petition to the floor” for consideration in the plenary session in the second week. I had been told ahead of time by a General Conference official that as the one doing this, I should expect to be given a chance to give a brief speech in support of the petition. So I had my little speech prepared.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño, then of the California-Pacific Conference, was in the presider’s chair when this petition came up. This bishop doubtless has not appreciated my criticisms of some of her public actions, such as her lamenting the failure of African United Methodists to “grow up” by embracing her liberal theology and her actions to reward and pander to LGBTQ activists who disrupt church meetings.
But in a healthy, well-functioning system, anyone selected to manage a General Conference legislative session could be trusted to be exceptionally fair-minded and consistent in how s/he treats others, with past disagreements not mattering.
But in this case, they really did seem to matter.
Bishop Carcaño chose the rather extraordinary action of actively preventing me from giving my speech in favor of my petition.
I began to speak, but after I had used only a small minority of my allotted time, she abruptly cut me off before I could speak to the heart and substance of why it was important to pass this petition, and before I could deliver my prepared preemptive rebuttals of some misrepresentations that had spread about my resolution.
The official transcript shows that Bishop Carcaño told me I needed to “please make your motion first, and then speak to it” (emphasis added). So then after I said the proper words moving adoption of the petition, I expected her to then give me a chance to speak to it.
But instead she used her power as presider to immediately move the conversation to others and prevent me from continuing. She even refused to recognize me in the electronic queue after I rushed to get in there to speak to my own resolution. And when I then tried to raise a point of order for why I was being denied a chance to give my prepared speech, as others in my situation had been invited to do, page 2795 of the transcript shows that Bishop Carcaño publicly noted that I was trying to raise a point of order but declared that she was going to use her power to not recognize me and rush to a vote.
In every other instance I recall of a petition being brought to the floor in this way at this General Conference, the bringer of the petition was given the opportunity I was uniquely denied.
If I had been given the expected chance to speak without premature interruption, I would have explained how adopting this petition would NOT be redundant of other resolutions related to our relations with our Jewish neighbors, but would parallel the way our denomination has adopted multiple resolutions to promote general principles for good Muslim-Christian relations while separately decrying specific trends and instances of mistreatment of Muslim people.
I would have noted that when a vulnerable minority is facing very specific, current, and pressing attacks, it is not enough to have general statements briefly touting inter-group harmony in general terms, but that it is important to also make specific recognitions of present problems and corresponding expressions of solidarity with victims of such injustices. I would have noted the imbalance of how our Book of Resolutions does both for victims of anti-Muslim prejudice, while its statements addressing anti-Semitism are largely limited to more abstract denunciations.
I would have pointed out how this resolution took great care to avoid some of the controversial theological and political matters that have sunk previous attempts at anti-Semitism resolutions, and how this resolution had even garnered support by United Methodists who have been leading advocates for opposing positions on the Israel divestment issues addressed in other petitions.
And yes, I had carefully prepared a way to do all of this succinctly, within the rather narrow time limit for such speeches.
But Bishop Carcaño’s rather unusual interference into the legislative discussion ensured that delegates did not hear any of this.
Other speakers were called on, and some gave good general points for why our church should speak out against anti-Semitism, although without the same deep familiarity with the petition that I as the author had, and which I would have been able to share if Bishop Carcaño would have been willing to treat me the same way as I recall every other delegate in similar situations being treated.
But what seemed to have really turned the tide against the petition was a speech from a very liberal clergy delegate named Sandra Olewine from the California-Pacific Conference, who ominously declared that my resolution “has tied together anti-Semitism with any sort of critique of Israeli State policies or actions in Palestine and the Occupied Territories” and would “blanketly limit” criticism of the Israeli government in attempt “to stifle conversation.” This characterization of the resolution was echoed in another speech by Oklahoma delegate Sarah Nichols, who also delivered one of the most humorously memorable, albeit non sequiter, lines of General Conference, “Trust me, I’ve dated plenty of Jews….”
This characterization of the resolution was a complete and extreme misrepresentation of the truth.
If Bishop Carcaño, had not silenced me in favor of Olewine (whose annual conference was led by Bishop Carcaño at that time), I had planned to pre-emptively refute such arguments I had heard were made in committee by highlighting how my resolution very explicitly “reject[ed] over-simplifying rhetoric that calls all criticisms of actions of the Israeli government anti-Semitic” and made clear that “[t]he Israeli government, like any other government in the world, is led by fallible human beings who need prophetic challenge at times.” The resolution made no mention of Israel-related divestment. It simply included one small section broadly noting that some negative singling out of the world’s lone Jewish state could go too far, and suggested broad principles for avoiding crossing that line.
But apparently speaking out against anti-Semitism in this way was so offensive to the Rev. Olewine that she thought it was worth not only killing the entire resolution (rather than suggesting amendments to delete sections she found objectionable), but also rather blatantly misrepresenting the truth about it.
To most people, this is known as “lying,” or choosing to bear false witness. It simply strains credibility to the breaking point to think that Olewine might have chosen to go out of her way to publicly speak against a resolution she had not first taken the time to read. And assuming she read it, she was well-aware of the fact that a resolution that explicitly “reject[s] over-simplifying rhetoric that calls all criticisms of actions of the Israeli government anti-Semitic” cannot be truthfully characterized as “blanketly limit[ing]” criticism of the Israeli government.
When Bishop Carcaño prevented me from speaking, ensuring that such false witness was allowed to stand as the last word, I knew that the resolution was done for. It was a bit of a pleasant surprise that it still received as much as 43 percent support.
But this incident, and others I have noted, made clear how we have much work ahead of us if we want to do General Conference better.
There is something very fundamentally wrong when some (but not all) presiding bishops go beyond being fair referees to instead blatantly use their power to hurt proposals they apparently dislike, and when a delegate can stand before the whole body and so blatantly bear false witness in order to “win” a vote, with no opportunity for correction or accountability.
And are there no United Methodists who would generally support the positions of the liberal caucuses but who are willing to publicly call out fellow liberals when they blatantly mispresent the truth as noted above?
If even basic fairness and honesty are also matters on which “we are not of one mind,” what do we have left?
In the meantime, our denomination had a wonderful opportunity to assure our Jewish friends and neighbors that we are painfully well aware of the disturbing anti-Semitic intolerance and violence on the rise in much of the world. But thanks to Bishop Carcaño’s active intervention into the normal legislative process and her clergywoman’s choice to blatantly misrepresent the truth, our church dropped the ball and failed our Jewish friends and neighbors.
And many of them noticed.
A statement from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) is worth noting. Rabbi Noam Marans, the AJC’s Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, responded, “The UMC Conference refusal to confront the resurgence of anti-Semitism is painful” and further declared that “the UMC missed an opportunity to join in solidarity with the Jewish people in confronting the resurgence of the oldest form of hatred in the world, anti-Semitism, and that is disturbing.”
For the sake of encouraging fellow United Methodists to do more to understand and combat the ancient evil of Anti-Semitism in today’s global context, I place the entirety of my above-discussed resolution here:
Confronting Twenty-First-Century Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism – the targeting persons of Jewish faith and/or heritage for hatred, violence, or mistreatment – is a continuing social evil that has been called one of the oldest forms of group hatred.
The United Methodist Church strongly opposes anti-Semitism and any other form of racism. In Resolution #3125: Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah) and Resolution #3146: Strengthening Bridges in the 2012 Book of Resolutions, our Church has expressed its general goodwill towards our Jewish friends and neighbors.
Upsetting developments in recent years make it important for The United Methodist Church to again speak out at this time.
The United Methodist Church emphatically rejects anti-Semitism and racism. At the basis of this stance is the truth that all women and men are lovingly created in the very image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and that all people share a common, God-given ancestry and humanity (Acts 17:26). As Christians, we recognize the inescapable Jewish foundations of our faith, and affirm the continuing importance of the Hebrew Scriptures for our Church.
We also recognize with profound sadness the tragic history over the centuries of Christian violence, hatred, and mistreatment directed against Jewish people, and our ongoing collective responsibility to re-build bridges of mutual trust, peace, and understanding with the Jewish community today.
The United Methodist Church acknowledges and views with alarm outrageous incidents and disturbing trends of anti-Semitism in recent years.
In November 2014, speakers at a Berlin, Germany gathering of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported that anti-Semitism is globally increasing, with spikes seen at times of greater conflict and tension in the Middle East. A recent survey conducted by the EU Fundamental Rights agency found that 25 percent of Jewish respondents in eight countries had been victims of an anti-Semitic incident within the past year (Lisa Palmieri-Billig, “OSCE Conference in Berlin announces increase in anti-Semitism,” Vatican Insider, 17 November 2014; available from: http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/world-news/detail/articolo/osce-berlino-berlin-berlin-37555/; accessed 13 October 2015).
The April cover story of the respected American magazine, The Atlantic, provocatively asked “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?,” citing anti-Semitic bullying and street harassment in parts of England, France, Sweden, and Hungary, widespread anti-Semitic sentiment in Greece, statistics showing Jews disproportionately being the victims of racism-driven assaults in multiple European countries, and open talk and action among Jewish people in various parts of Europe towards leaving the continent (Jeffrey Goldberg, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?,” The Atlantic, April 2015; available from: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/is-it-time-for-the-jews-to-leave-europe/386279/; accessed 13 October 2015).
Among the recent episodes of targeting Jewish people and institutions in Europe:
- On March 19, 2012, in Toulouse, France, a gunman murdered three children and a teacher at a Jewish School (David Chazan, “Toulouse school shootings traumatise French Jews,” BBC News, 22 March 2012; available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17456582; accessed 13 October 2015).
- On May 24, 2014, a gunman opened fire in the Brussels Jewish Museum in Belgium, murdering four people, including an Israeli couple (Julia Fioretti, “Brussels Jewish Museum opens its doors four months after shooting,” Reuters, 14 September 2014; available from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/14/us-belgium-shooting-museum-idUSKBN0H90DP20140914; accessed 13 October 2015).
- In France, anti-Semitic incidents in the summer of 2014 included the burning of a kosher grocery and a Jewish-owned pharmacy in Sarcelles, as well as a Paris synagogue being besieged by a mob that was heard chanting “Death to Jews” (Celestine Bohlen, “Gaza Conflict Seen as Providing Cover for Anti-Semitic Attacks in France,” New York Times, 28 July 2014; available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/29/world/europe/gaza-conflict-seen-sparking-anti-semitic-attacks-in-france.html?_r=0; accessed 13 October 2015)
- Rallies critical of Israel in the summer of 2014 in Germany and elsewhere featured such hateful slogans as “Death to Jews,” and “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas” (Jeffrey Goldberg, “Does Human Rights Watch Understand the Nature of Prejudice?,” The Atlantic, 21 September 2014; available from http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/09/does-human-rights-watchs-kenneth-roth-understand-the-nature-of-prejudice/380556/; accessed 13 October 2015).
- In November 2014, a city council member affiliated with the “Die Rechte” political party, which has been described as neo-Nazi, requested a census and a list of the home addresses of all Jews in Dortmund, Germany, which for many eerily echoed that country’s Nazi past (Allan Hall, “Nazis demand Jews’ addresses: Extreme political party in Germany evoke chilling memories of people-hunting in 1930s,” Daily Mail, 14 November 2014; available from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2835488/Nazis-demand-Jews-addresses-Extreme-political-party-Germany-evoke-chilling-memories-people-hunting-1930s.html; accessed 13 October 2015)
- On January 9, 2015, a gunman attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris, France taking hostages, four of whom were ultimately killed (Vivienne Walt, “Paris Jews Reel After Deadly Kosher-Supermarket Attack,” Time, 11 January 2015; available from: http://time.com/3663060/paris-terror-attack-jews-kosher-supermarket-siege/; accessed 13 October 2015).
- In Denmark, a gunman went on a February 14-15, 2015 rampage that wounded several people and killed two, including a security guard at a Copenhagen synagogue (Griff Witte and Karla Adam, “Danish attacks echo France,” Washington Post, 16 February 2015; available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/danish-police-kill-copenhagen-shooting-suspect/2015/02/15/8bed7a70-b50a-11e4-9423-f3d0a1ec335c_story.html; accessed 13 October 2015).
- Ugly anti-Semitic incidents have erupted around European professional soccer matches, some of which were caught on video, including some fans chanting such hateful slogans as “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” and “Kill, Kill the Jews” (Michael E. Miller, “Nazi chants at Dutch soccer game expose an ugly blot on ‘the beautiful game,’” Washington Post, 10 April 2015; available from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/10/nazi-chants-at-dutch-soccer-game-expose-an-ugly-blot-on-the-beautiful-game/; accessed 13 October 2015);
But the problem is not limited to Europe.
In the United States, anti-Semitism is not nearly as much of a “thing of the past” as many Americans would like to believe. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and the American Jewish Committee hosted a 2015 Capitol Hill briefing decrying “The Rise of Anti-Semitism in the United States and on College Campuses,” at which speakers cited Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics showing that over 60 percent of victims of crimes driven by religious hatred were Jewish (“Senator Gillibrand, AJC Hold Congressional Briefing on Rising Anti-Semitism,: American Jewish Committee, 18 June 2015; available from: http://www.ajc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=7oJILSPwFfJSG&b=9286319&ct=14736621¬oc=1; accessed 13 October 2015). The Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents (assault, vandalism, and harassment) increased by 21 percent in the United States in the year 2014 (“Audit: In 2014 Anti-Semitic Incidents Rose 21 Percent Across The U.S. In A ‘Particularly Violent Year for Jews,’” Anti-Defamation League, 30 March 2015; available from http://www.adl.org/press-center/press-releases/anti-semitism-usa/adl-audit-in-2014-anti-semitic-inicidents.html; accessed 13 October 2015).
In South Africa, in early 2015, Durban University of Technology’s Students Representative Council formally called for the expulsion of, in words attributed to its secretary, “Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle” – a call thankfully rejected by the university administration (Mpathi Nxumalo, “DUT Jewish call outrage,” Daily News [Durban, South Africa], 11 February 2015; available from: http://www.iol.co.za/dailynews/news/dut-jewish-call-outrage-1.1816334; accessed 13 October 2015).
In many majority-Muslim nations, Jews and other minorities face systemic discrimination and exclusion. A 2014 survey by the Anti-Defamation League of 100 nations, in which 85.9 percent of the world’s population lives, found the Middle East and North Africa to be the world region with by far the widest prevalence of negative attitudes towards Jewish people, while finding much anti-Semitism in every major region of the globe (“ADL Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism,” Anti-Defamation League; available from: http://global100.adl.org/public/ADL-Global-100-Executive-Summary.pdf; accessed 13 October 2015). On its website, www.palwatch.org, Palestinian Media Watch – whose work has been publicly appreciated by people of diverse political beliefs, including left-leaning U.S. political leader and prominent United Methodist laywoman Hillary Clinton (“What They’re Saying About Us: Senator Hillary Clinton and PMW in joint press conference introducing report on Palestinian schoolbooks,” Palestinian Media Watch, 8 February 2007; available from: http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=92&doc_id=101; accessed 13 October 2015) – has documented numerous number of examples of Palestinian media sources going far beyond criticism of the Israeli government to very broadly direct hatred, dehumanization, and lethal violence against Jews.
The above represents a far from comprehensive overview of the hatred, violence, and marginalization directed against Jewish persons around the world today.
Relation to Middle East Conflict
It is important to be careful in how we talk about the relationship of anti-Semitism to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In seeking to understand root causes of any hatred or violence, we must take care to avoid blaming the victim or rationalizing the wrong decisions of perpetrators. We also reject over-simplifying rhetoric that calls all criticisms of actions of the Israeli government anti-Semitic. The Israeli government, like any other government in the world, is led by fallible human beings who need prophetic challenge at times. But it would also be morally irresponsible and intellectually dishonest to ignore the fact that some criticism of and opposition to Israel is truly anti-Semitic.
We believe it is helpful to consider the following as actions and rhetoric that cross the line from criticisms of Israeli government actions that are within the realm of legitimate disagreement to immoral anti-Semitism:
- Careless echoing of historic anti-Semitic rhetoric, stereotypes, or conspiracy theories in criticisms of Israelis;
- Singling out Israel, the world’s lone Jewish state, for condemnation, isolation, punishment, or de-legitimization, according to a harsher standard than is used with other nations;
- Legitimizing, approving, or participating in indiscriminate violence against Jews and/or Israelis;
- Callous dismissal of Israeli concerns about the violence that claims and threatens Jewish lives; or
- Any sort of “collective punishment” or collective blame against all Jews or all Israelis.
The United Methodist Church’s Response
In the face of such threats and attacks against our Jewish friends and neighbors, The United Methodist Church must not be silent. We call on our members to:
- Express their sincere, deep solidarity to their Jewish friends and neighbors in the face of the evil of anti-Semitism;
- Find and support the efforts of others in combating anti-Semitism in and beyond their communities.
- Share copies of this resolution with members of their local churches.
We further call on the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Global Ministries, and the Office of Christian Unity and Inter-Religious Relationships to seek out appropriate opportunities to:
- Support efforts of others who are actively fighting anti-Semitism around the world;
- Promote education about the Holocaust (including encouraging visits to Holocaust museums), about Christianity’s sad history of mistreating Jewish people, and about the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism today;
- Respectfully challenge our ecumenical partners and others with whom we have cooperated if and when they have crossed a line in their political advocacy related to Middle East issues;
- Share copies of this resolution with leading, representative Jewish organizations, and invite their advice for how The United Methodist Church can be a better ally against anti-Semitism.
Finally, we call on governments around the world to be proactive in working against anti-Semitism, and particularly to protect people from any threat of hateful violence.
At a time when much of the Jewish community is feeling threatened and under attack, it is important for our Church to speak out against these disturbing new developments and to assure our Jewish friends and neighbors that we stand strongly in solidarity with them against all anti-Semitism.