Thursday 24 June 2010

Madness in their Methodism

Linking to my recent Engage post, Bob describes me as 'taking on the Catholics'. Well, in the interests of ecumenical fairness, it's my turn to provide a link - to a post by Joseph Weissman over at Seismic Shock, in which he scrutinises the anti-Zionist and pro-boycott tendencies of certain Methodists.

It seems that Dr. Stephen Leah, a Methodist minister and a member of its Israel Palestine Working Group, is also chair of the York PSC and an advocate of complete divestment from Israel, not just of the West Bank. Leah's group recently got itself into hot water by suggesting that Zionism might be incompatible with Methodist beliefs.

It gives me no pleasure to draw attention to this example of political naivety on the part of Methodists. I was brought up a Methodist and there's an unbroken history of involvement in the church on my dad's side of the family, going back to at least the 1840s. Methodism was a key influence on my political formation, as it has been for many others: my East End grandfather, for example, combined his lifelong Methodism with trade union activism and support for Labour.

But it seems modern Methodists are as prone as other Christians (see Seismic Shock, passim) to a dangerous gullibility when it comes to Middle East politics. Their sympathy for the plight of Palestinians may arise from spontaneous Christian compassion, but that same religious outlook tends to divide the world simplistically into villains and victims. Somehow, they are unable to grasp that Israelis under constant threat from neighbours who don't recognise their right to exist might also be victims. And they fail to see that among the apparently passive 'victims' of Gaza, and manipulating their plight and the sympathies of westerners, might be forces whose ideology is deeply hostile to the tolerance and compassion in which Methodists claim to believe.

This analysis, of course, gives these Methodist activists the benefit of the doubt. I'm trying to avoid the conclusion that behind this recent upsurge in Christian anti-Zionism lurks something more sinister - the whiff of anti-Jewish prejudice that has dogged the church (though, to be fair, not usually Methodists) for centuries.


modernity said...

"dangerous gullibility when it comes to Middle East politics."

I think you sum it up perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Joseph W said...

Well said - ironically Wesleyan hymns contained proto-Zionist lyrics, you wonder if the current Methodist establishment would ban Wesley too...