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Left-Wing Churches for Hamas By: Mark Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) victory in the Palestinian elections may have given pause to anti-Israel Mainline church officials in the U.S.  But do not expect these officials to criticize the new radical Palestinian regime, even though Hamas’ brand of radical Islam is hostile, and sometimes deadly, to Christians.

The 3.2 million member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has especially pushed hard against Israel, having endorsed divestment in firms doing business with Israel.  And the 1.3 million member United Church of Christ has similarly endorsed “economic leverage” against Israel.  Some officials of the 8.2. million member United Methodist Church are also pondering divestment possibilities aimed at Israel.

Often when forced to choose between good relations with Jewish groups and hostility towards Israel, officials of these church groups often choose the latter.  Characteristically, the leftist leadership of the 1.3 million member of the United Church of Christ immediately urged continued U.S. financial support for the Palestinian Authority, even under Hamas.

“The U.S. should honor its financial commitments made in recent years to alleviate Palestinian suffering and back up U.S. policy to seek a two-state solution,” declared UCC President John Thomas and UCC missions executive Peter Makari after the Hamas victory.

According to the UCC officials, “Hamas ran under the banner of ‘Reform and Change,’ not on terrorism or religious conservatism.”  Note that Thomas & Makari refer to the euphemism of “religious conservatism” rather than directly acknowledge that Hamas is an exponent of radical Islam and an advocate of theocratic Sharia law, under which Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims do not typically fare well.

The UCC statement faulted the Israeli “occupation” and “U.S.-supported Israeli unilateralism” for Palestinian problems.  And it urged the U.S. Congress not to adopt “punitive legislation” to cut off direct U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.

“Palestinians have voted with hope to improve their worsening condition, including progress toward achieving a state,” the UCC officials opined.  And, oh yes, Hamas should stop condoning terrorism and denying Israel’s right to exist, which is “imperative,” the UCCers helpfully also noted.  They did not say anything about Hamas’ Islamist agenda.

Neither did Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) officials in their letters to the Hamas leadership and to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.  PCUSA Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick and Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase urged Mahmoud to champion a “non-violent resistance to the occupation” that would “capitalize on a growing critical mass of those among the Palestinian and Israeli populations who are weary of the vicious cycles of violence and terror.”  It is not clear why the clerics discern a growing mass of Palestinian support for non-violence, since the victory for Hamas would seem to indicate the opposite.

To the Hamas leadership, the Presbyterians, with typical understatement, called that party’s dedication to Israel’s destruction “clearly a barrier to finding peaceful solutions.”  They proudly noted that the PCUSA has faithfully opposed Israel’s “illegal occupation,” “the daily humiliation of the checkpoints,” and the “separation barriers.”

The Presbyterians also obligingly told Hamas that they oppose rocket attacks and suicide bombings against Israel, just as they oppose Israel’s shooting of children and youth during protests, without noting that the suicide bombings deliberately blow up civilians, while the Israeli police shootings are accidental.

“All forms of violence, whatever their purported justification, have only hardened the resolve of the victims on every side and rendered lasting solutions ever more remote,” the Presbyterians laconically observed, making no moral distinctions about the various “forms of violence.”

The Israeli “occupation of Palestine has not only devastated your community; it has also fed the growth of radical militancy in many parts of the world, and has undermined the security and well-being of Israel,” the Presbyterians told Abbas.  It is the closest they ever come to acknowledging that Hamas is a movement of radical Islam that desires to make non-Muslims second class citizens.

In the words of Ecumenical News International (ENI), the news agency of the World Council of Churches, “Hamas, sworn to Israel’s destruction, seeks to establish a strict Islamic state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and on the ruins of Israel.”  ENI quoted Hamas legislator Mahmoud Ramahi:  “We are making efforts so that the Sharia will be the source of legislation, but in order to implement Islamic rule, this needs a state.”

With equal clarity, Religion News Service (RNS) observed that Hamas, “which advocates the destruction of Israel and Islamic domination of the world, is on the U.S. government’s list of terror organizations.”  RNS quoted a Palestinian professor at Jerusalem-based Al-Quds University:  “There is much concern that they might use the political system to impose restrictions on religious freedom.”

But no mainline church officials in the U.S. seem to be openly concerned about this.  “To date, life is difficult under Israeli occupation,” noted United Methodist chief lobbyist Jim Winkler to RNS.  “They live in a virtual prison.  That’s one of the reasons Hamas won in the first place.  I’m concerned about Hamas and what they stand for, but so far we haven’t heard that it’s made things worse.”

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries chirpily reported on a team it sent to the West Bank during the elections.  “It realigned the way I think about Israel-Palestinian relations,” said team member Linda Bales.  “We can see clearly what we in the United States are doing – our responsibility, our culpability for the oppression of the Palestinians.”

Said Methodist missions executive David Wildman:  “A key to ending the occupation is changing the U.S. government policy.” He noted that the United Methodist Church opposes “the settlements, the occupation, the targeting of civilians [by Israel] – that is all wrong.”  The Global Ministries website account of its team described its agency’s opposition to the “violence of the military occupation of Palestine” but said nothing directly about the Hamas election.

Christian leaders in Jerusalem, though traditionally critical of Israel, were understandably not as wooly-minded about the threat posed by Hamas.  A post-election statement from the Patrariachs and Heads of churches in Jerusalem carefully urged Christians not to be “afraid or troubled” and urged respect by the new Palestinian government for the “rule of law” and “full religious freedom.”

Even more revealingly, Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan of Jordan and the Holy Land, urged “Palestinian people, especially Palestinian Christians, not to panic and arrive at hasty conclusions but to persevere and remain steadfast in this land.”

The admonition “not to panic” often indicates that panic is in fact in order.  Mainline church officials in the U.S. like to quote the anti-Israel denunciations of Christian leaders in the Middle East, where such denunciations are obligatory. 

But do not look for these Mainline church officials to denounce with vigor any Hamas clamp down against the Palestinian Christian minority.  The Religious Left in the U.S. ignored persecution of Christians under the old Soviet Empire and continues to ignore such persecution by Islamic regimes.  For these officials, too often, the priority is not preserving the Gospel around the world but rather evangelizing for their own preferred anti-Western liberation theologies.

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Mark Tooley is president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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