NOVEMBER 12, 2001
Staying at the Table in Boston and Israel
-- Martin E. Marty
Sightings does not usually "do" international politics. We report on domestic implications, but the two come together more frequently these days. During a late October trip to Boston, these four headlines appeared in The Boston Globe: "Bishops Join Pro-Palestinian Rally." "Three Episcopal Bishops Join a Pro-Palestinian Rally." "More Christian Leaders Voice Concern Over Israeli Actions." "Christian Concern Widens Over Israeli Actions." What are we to make of the stories that followed? How are we to relate actions in New England to those in Israel?
"I never thought I'd live to see the day when the front page would depict, in color, three smiling bishops 'protesting outside the Israeli consulate in Boston yesterday'" said a dinner partner there, a notable scholar of American religious affairs, himself a Jew. He has indeed lived to see that day. And we are likely to see more. By the second such day, the Globe was quoting top leadership of the local and regional United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, Greek Orthodox Church and Roman Catholicism.
There were, of course, reactions more vivid than the weary words of my friend. Jewish organization leaders were "outraged," "shocked," "pained," and "troubled." All said that they and theirs were open to criticism of Israel, but that the Christian protests were one-sided, and reckless in their advocacy of the Palestinian people.
While fundamentalist and other premillennialist Christians who support Israel uncritically for reasons Israelis do not--it must be there for Christ's second coming to occur--have not protested, mainstream Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox clerics and laity alike, on the scene in Israel and in the U.S., have grown increasingly restive about Ariel Sharon's policies in the face of, yes, call them that, Palestinian terrorists. These voices say that the indefensible actions of this second intifada are occasioned in no small way by the living conditions in Gaza, and by Israeli actions over the years.
Responding to the protests of Christian leaders, Nancy Kaufman of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Massachusetts said, "I was really shocked . . . There's never been any discussion about these issues of concern with these leaders." That reaction must be shocking to Christian leaders who thought they'd been bringing up these concerns, concerns shared by many Jews, all along.
Without doubt, a time of testing is upon us -- a time when nothing can be taken for granted in communication. These are terrible, confusing times for dealing with violence and repression, but they are the only times we have, and we have to deal with the troubling, decades-old issues flaring again for the last year in Israel. If there is to be any constructive dialogue between the divided parties in New England and the warring parties in Israel, all must be willing to stay at the table, to exert themselves in communication, and to do so against all odds.