NCC and WCC


Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary of some inconsequential religious organization in Geneva, weighs in again on the conflict in the Gaza Strip:

The World Council of Churches is deeply saddened and gravely concerned by the continued escalation of the military operations in Gaza, human devastation on every side, and the disproportionately high number of Palestinian civilian casualties, including women and children.

The expression he’s looking for here is “human shields,” the purposeful placing of civilians in harm’s way by Hamas in order to use their deaths and injuries for propaganda. He never does come up with the right phrase, however, because doing so would suggest that Israel is not the sole cause of those casualties. Can’t have that, now.

As well as the Israeli strikes against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, the Council condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets against Israeli civilian targets by Hamas and the positioning of rocket launchers in close proximity to civilian populations.

They put rockets in schools, for goodness’ sake. Their headquarters is currently in a hospital. Why are people like Tveit so stubbornly incapable of being precise and specific in their condemnations of Hamas’ depredations? I suppose it is an improvement that he’s finally acknowledging that Hamas is targeting civilians. What he fails to note is that Hamas hits civilians on purpose, while Israel warns civilians about their attacks in an effort to minimize civilian casualties. But that distinction seems lost in him.

The Council appeals to all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. The indiscriminate and disproportionate killing of civilians in the context of an armed conflict is strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law.

That is aimed only at Israel, and says nothing about Hamas telling its people to ignore Israeli warnings so as to maximize civilian losses.

The World Council of Churches calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza, and for restrictions on the movement of persons and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip to be lifted so that urgent humanitarian needs can be dealt with.

And if this were done, does anyone suppose that Hamas wouldn’t take advantage of it to bring in more weapons and send out more terrorists? I wonder if Tveit is even aware of the attacks that Hamas has been attempting using tunnels that open up in Israel itself.

This latest resort to armed conflict – and the consequent intolerable suffering inflicted on families and communities – can do nothing to promote a just and sustainable peace for Israelis and Palestinians. On the contrary, it serves only to perpetuate the deadly cycle of violence, stoking the fires of mutual demonization and division, and further diminishing the vision of two peoples living side-by-side in peaceful co-existence.

Peace in Israel and Palestine will come only through the restoration of compassion between human beings, through seeking together common paths towards justice and peace, and through a genuine commitment to creating the basis for future generations of Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side in peace.

Fine words. If only one of the sides in this conflict wasn’t determined to annihilate the other and kill all of its Jewish inhabitants. What Tveit doesn’t seem capable of understanding is that Hamas doesn’t want “peaceful co-existence.” It wants Israel, and all Jewish Israelis, to die. Everything Hamas does must be seen in that context, but Tveit simply closes his eyes, sticks his fingers in his ears, and cries, “peaceful co-existence! peaceful co-existence!”

Not that it matters much. No one is listening to his gibbering anyway.

I was beginning to wonder if any of the usual suspects were going to express their usual outrageous outrage at the depredations of the Israelis in Gaza. Then, this morning, World Council of Churches General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit finally came through:

We strongly condemn the indiscriminate attacks by Israeli military on the civilian population in Gaza, as we absolutely condemn the absurd and immoral firing of rockets by militants from Gaza to populated areas in Israel.

The attacks by Israel in Gaza are not “indiscriminate,” nor are they on civilians, of course, except in the fevered imagination of Geneva bureaucrats. Israel has been contacting Gaza civilians through various means to let them know that attacks are coming because there are Hamas fighters on the premises or in the neighborhood, and that they should evacuate.Hamas’ response is that they should stay right where they are and die for the sake of turning world opinion against Israel. The use of human shields, like the intentional targeting of civilians, is a war crime, but one that Hamas will never be charged with, nor will it be acknowledged in the cultured salons of Geneva. I do think it’s a nice touch to refer to the artillery fire directed by Hamas at Israel as “absurd,” though.

Since last Monday, Israeli aerial bombardment of Gaza has killed 86 Palestinians and injured more than 550 people. Most of the dead are reported to be civilians, including the elderly, women and children. There are many who are mourning the loss of their loved ones among families and friends. We join them in prayers, so that God bestows his love and mercy upon them and comforts them during these difficult moments of sorrow.

What really bothers Tveit is that Hamas has not succeeded in killing some Jews. If some of Hamas rockets actually found living targets, at least it would be a fair fight. The fact that it is Hamas intention to kill as many Jews as possible with their rocket fire is beside the point. The fact that Hamas has fired rockets at the nuclear power plant at Dimona, a direct hit on which might kill tens of thousands, is beside the point. Human shields are being killed in Gaza, and there are no Israeli casualties to balance the spreadsheet.

Both Israelis and Palestinians require their well-being, security and a just and genuine peace.

Which is never going to happen as long as an organization with the goal of destroying Israel and killing or expelling every Jew from the Holy Land is in charge in Gaza and part of the Palestinian government.

The recent failure of the negotiations and the loss of prospects for a two-state solution and the end of occupation, as well as a just peace and vision of a common future have led to the unbearable and infernal cycle of violence and hatred that we are witnessing today.

No statement on the Middle East from the WCC would be complete without a reference to the “cycle of violence,” a cycle that just happens to always get set into motion by one or more of the various Palestinian terror groups. Daniel Pipes noted on NRO this morning that there was a cease-fire agreed to by Israel and Hamas after the last round of action in November of 2012, and that on June 11 Hamas broke it without any provocation whatsoever. Maybe their stock of rockets had gotten too big, and they needed to draw down inventory. Whatever the reason, pretending that this is part of some unending “cycle,” one that flips repeatedly between the two sides, is ridiculous and dishonest. In other words, par for the WCC.

What is happening in Gaza now is not an isolated tragedy. These events have to be seen in the context of the occupation of Palestinian territories that began in 1967. The WCC has always called for an end to this illegal occupation and the continuous blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel. Without an end to the occupation, the cycle of violence will continue.

Please note that apparently nothing of any note happened before 1967. Pogroms against Jews in the Levant in the 1920s and 1930s, the rejection of the United Nations partition plan and five nation invasion of Israel in 1948, the planned invasion of Israel in 1967 that resulted in the occupation–none of that actually happened. The Garden of Eden existed in the region until Israel just took it into its collective head to capture Sinai, Gaza, and the West Bank in 1967, because Jews really like having to deal with the daily headache of ruling over a hostile people. And it can’t be denied that the Garden would be restored if only Israel would leave the West Bank. Then everything would be rainbows and unicorns, and Hamas would be shown to be the community organizing outfit it really is.

I can’t wait.

If there is any doubt that the leaders of the World Council of Churches have learned nothing from the last ten years, General Secretary Olav Tveit dispels it in a statement he has made on the anniversary of 9/11. After starting out with a call to prayer for those effected by the events of that terrible day, he continues:

Terrorism in all its forms – whether committed by individuals, groups or states – is to be condemned. But one may reasonably ask how best to respond. Perpetrators should be brought to justice and security measures devised to prevent the repetition of such trauma. Many of us remain convinced that nonviolence can be the most helpful long-term response to violence and the most effective means toward a lasting peace based on justice.

“Perpetrators should be brought to justice.” And how exactly is the victimized nation supposed to do that? Should the NYPD have been dispatched to Tora Bora with warrants for the arrest of al-Qaeda leadership? Should we have perp-walked the leadership of the Taliban through Kabul (on their way to Riker’s Island) and charged them with being accessories after the fact? Ten years on, and Tveit still doesn’t understand that terrorism is not about crime, it is about asymmetrical warfare, and must be dealt with as such.

As for nonviolence, if he was talking about a Christian witness to the ethics of the Kingdom in the face of sin I would agree whole-heartedly. As it is, he’s talking about national policies. Last time I checked, the kingdoms of this world were charged with protecting their citizens from evil-doers, if necessary through the application of the sword (Romans 13:1-7). If Tveit believes that participation in such sword-wielding is contrary to Kingdom ethics, he may abstain. For him to advocate that worldly governments act as though the Kingdom of God has come in its fullness is a category error that, if followed by those governments, would result in a much more dangerous and ultimately more violent world.

We in the ecumenical movement have dedicated ourselves to dialogue among people of different faiths, and in this context especially to dialogue among Christians, Jews and Muslims. There is great power and importance in religion, yet on this anniversary we must admit that belief can be twisted and perverted to fuel hatred, terror and war. The World Council of Churches is preparing for its 10th Assembly in 2013 and has adopted an assembly theme in the form of a prayer: “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.” Life, justice and peace are high ideals in every religion deserving of the name, and we appeal to religious leaders and people of goodwill to join us in building strong relationships based on human dignity and mutual respect.

This is commendable, certainly (though it also does not take into account that Muslims have differing definitions of “justice” and “peace” from Christians and Jews). It also has nothing to do with combatting Islamic extremism, which is an effort that, religiously speaking, has got to be undertaken by Muslims alone, though we can offer our prayers and moral support for their efforts.

In October 2001, the World Council of Churches commissioned an ecumenical “Living Letters” team to visit the United States and help to comfort its grieving people. At the conclusion of this visit, the team spoke in a pastoral letter of building “a culture of peace”. On this anniversary we re-dedicate ourselves to dialogue and cooperation in search of Just Peace. Establishing peace is the surest path to true victory over those who on 11 September, 2001 sought to inaugurate an era of division and death. Together, let us proclaim that their aims have been rejected.

Well, of course their aims have been rejected, but let’s be clear what those aims are. They do not seek “division and death” for their own sake, but in the service of a religious ideology that requires them to seek the imposition of an Islamic regime on the entire world. They particularly oppose with every fiber of their being the very existence of what is usually called “Western civilization” as it is defined by its political, economic, moral, and social arrangements. To speak of “rejecting their aims” without at the same time resolving to use whatever necessary and moral means to defeat them is to demonstrate the fundamental lack of seriousness with which the WCC takes the threat.

Perhaps someone in Geneva reads this blog, or more likely, reads CAMERA, or maybe just woke up and turned on the news. In any case, the World Council of Churches has finally noticed that things are not going well in Syria, and urges everyone to just calm down:

On behalf of the World Council of Churches, I express my deep concern in this time of conflict for the people of Syria from every background and belief. I appeal to all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic to renounce violence at once, and to re-dedicate themselves and their country to the pursuit of dialogue, healing and peace.

All parties? Last time I checked, this was pretty much a one-way slaughter. But false even-handedness is the WCC way.

In the wake of so many deaths, it is particularly urgent that the army and government security agencies cease the indiscriminate use of force, ensuring the citizens’ rights to free assembly and expression, pursuit of political progress and basic human dignity. All governments have an obligation to protect the lives and dignity of their citizens, and to protect their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

From the government and on all sides there has been a stated desire for national reform. Now is the time to end the violence and enter a process of dialogue leading to democratic change.

Naivete in dealing with dictators is another part of the WCC way. Bashar Assad has no “desire for national reform.” He’s looking for a way to save his neck and his power. In the process, he’s used a handful of words that tickle the ears of the WCC leadership. You’ve got to wonder what it is about the ecumenist bureaucracy that renders some people so incapable of perceiving reality beneath the surface that they find so pleasing.

At the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, convened by the World Council of Churches in May 2011, in Kingston, Jamaica, more than 1,000 participants included these words in their message to the world:

“With partners of other faiths, we have recognized that peace is a core value in all religions, and the promise of peace extends to all people regardless of their traditions and commitments.”

It is in that spirit that we call upon all who have been caught in the tragic cycle of confrontation within Syria: Stop the violence and killing. Seek a just peace for all.

There is no “cycle of confrontation” in Syria (in Geneva, they must do microsurgery to implant these cliches in your brain when you go to work there–I can’t think of any other reason to use such a mindless expression to describe the situation in Syria). There is a dictatorial government, there are people protesting in the streets demanding change, and there is that same government using guns and goons to try to destroy those protesting and squelch any inclination to further dissent on the part of the oppressed population.

Well, at least they did call on the army and state security agencies to stop killing people in the streets. I’m sure Assad will get on that right away.

Sometimes its not what a person or organization says but what it doesn’t say that speaks volumes about its priorities and ideology. Dexter Van Zile of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) points out that the World Council of Churches, normally so vocal about violence in the Middle East (especially when it can point fingers at Israel) has been completely silent about the slaughter of thousands of people in Syria. He writes:

The World Council of Churches, an umbrella organization that seeks to unite Christianity and offer prophetic words of peace and justice on behalf of almost 350 denominations worldwide, has said almost nothing about the brutal crackdown by the Assad regime in Syria.

A visit to the organization’s front page on August 3, 2011 and a review of the organization’s news archive indicates that the violence in Syria has not made it onto the organization’s radar. The organization has simply been a bystander to this violence.

The only place one can see any reference to the brutal crackdown is on the WCC’s “twitter” feed where it has offered a couple of “tweets” about the violence which has cost 2,000 people their lives. The tweets do not condemn the Assad regime for the violence, but merely offer prayers for peace. This is odd given that the WCC has routinely condemned Israel for its efforts to defend itself against Palestinian rockets. A search for the word “Gaza” on the WCC’s website reveals the extent to which it has focused its condemnations on Israel. In fact, the WCC’s Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) has a website devoted to highlighting the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

The Assad regime is murdering its own citizens on a regular basis and the WCC has said virtually nothing.

It’s not as if the WCC has been silent about world events over the past few months.

Since the violence began in Syria, the WCC has, among other things, issued a call for NATO withdraw nuclear weapons from Europe, drawn attention to the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, issued a statement about the fighting in Libya, lamented violence inSudan, called for an end to the food blockade of North Korea and lamented the attack in Norway.

It has only been silent about events in Syria.

It’s not as if the WCC is completely unfamiliar with what’s going on in Syria or the workings of the Assad regime – about which it has said nice things in the past.

It makes one wonder whether Assad has dirt on WCC officers or employees. Actually, according to Van Zile, it’s because of the status of Christians in Syria:

The WCC’s failure to condemn the Assad regime is related to one crucial fact: WCC member churches located in Syria rely on the Assad regime to keep them safe from Muslim extremists in that country.

This reality is one of the keys to understand the WCC’s notoriously lopsided witness about the Middle East. While the organization routinely condemns Israel (and the United States) for their actions, the WCC is reluctant to condemn authoritarian regimes in the Middle East for their misdeeds for fear of putting Christians in danger.

Given what’s at stake – the safety of Christians in the Middle East – it is uncharitable to condemn the WCC too harshly for making this calculation, but the next time the WCC assails Israel for its policies, it seems right to ask why the organization has been so vocal and focused in its condemnations of Israel and so obsequious in its dealings with the Assad regime. If this were the Gaza Strip, the PIEF would have another link to put on its page.

This is certainly true, though it doesn’t answer the question of why the WCC has been so reluctant to criticize loathsome regimes where the protection of Christians is not a consideration. For instance, North Korea (where there are probably fewer than 20,000 Christians, virtually all of whom are deep underground) and Saudi Arabia (where there are none except guest workers, who have no religious freedoms anyway), two of the most oppressive countries on the planet, rarely if ever feel the sting of WCC criticism. Israel, on the other hand, is subject to more scrutiny for its treatment of the Palestinians than pretty much all other nations put together.

I agree that protecting Christians is part of the WCC’s agenda. But that doesn’t by itself explain the overwhelming obsession of the WCC with the Jewish state as opposed to any other human rights violator.

Oh, wait. Did I say Jewish state? Could that have something to do with it?

Could be. But that’s a side issue for the moment. The real issue is, when is the WCC going to speak up for the rights of the Syrian people, and especially for the right to not be shot down in the streets by a tyrannical regime? Christians, after all, are among those being killed.

I wasn’t able to get to this last week when it appeared (and I’ve been away from Internet access so I haven’t been able to get to much of anything the last few days), but I didn’t want it to slip by without notice. Seems the World Council of Churches held a “peace convocation” last week to mark the end of the Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence (I know, you probably missed it, but then so did Moammar Qaddafi, Bashir Assad, Hezbollah, the criminals running northern Sudan, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jung-il, the mullahs of Tehran, the generals of Burma, the Chinese Communist Party, and lots of other folks whose violence has escaped the WCC’s notice while it was hammering away at Israel and the United States). Anyway, the WCC put out a press release about the shindig, and there were a few things about it that struck me. It begins:

What does “God’s security” look like?

As a 10-year-old schoolgirl, on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., Setsuko Thurlow, then Nakamura, suddenly saw a brilliant bluish light flash outside her schoolroom window. “I remember the sensation of floating in the air. When I regained consciousness, in the total darkness and silence, I found myself in the rubble.”

She began to hear her classmates’ faint voices: “Mom, help me. Dad, help me.”

Thurlow is a “hibakusha,” a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, one of two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan by the United States toward the end of World War II. She is also a lifelong advocate against armaments.

Her vivid and painful memory washed over participants at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) May 23 in Kingston, Jamaica, on a day when a panel discussion explored the theme of Peace among the Peoples, examined critical concerns about obstructions to peace at the international level, and considered what real security looks like.

I would never want to minimize or take issue with the suffering of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They experienced something that no human being should ever have to undergo, and they stand as testimonies to man’s inhumanity to man. But when we start talking about security in the context of international relations (as opposed to personal security or individual conduct), we have to ask the question: where do Japan’s actions in starting and fighting World War II come into the equation? At the same time the WCC participants were shuddering at the memory of Hiroshima, should they not also have have taken some time to shudder over the rape of Nanking? Pearl Harbor? The Bataan Death March? Japanese medical experiments? The use of Korean and other Asian women as sex slaves? Where was their security? And might it be possible that a stronger international response to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, one that didn’t simply involve League of Nations resolutions and diplomatic tut-tutting, might have dissuaded Japan from continuing with its plans for conquest, plans that eventually led to the first and only use of atomic weapons? These questions lead directly to this:

Even though Thurlow’s presentation was a recorded video, as she was unable to attend the convocation in person, it remained a stark reminder of how recent the use of the atomic bomb really was. It was only a generation ago and since then the major world powers have developed and proliferated nuclear arsenals that are, at best, mutually destructive.

That is simply, totally, and willfully, ignorantly, wrong. The nuclear arsenals of the major world powers have not been “mutually destructive.” They have, in fact, likely prevented enormous destruction since 1945. I think it would have been a virtual certainty that the Soviet Union would have invaded and sought to forcibly impose friendly regimes in Western Europe within ten years of the surrender of Germany if it weren’t for the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Yes, that deterrent, and the Soviet nuclear forces, threatened mutual destruction, but that didn’t happen, now, did it?

Since the end of the Cold War, the world has become a more dangerous place, one where nuclear weapons are now in the hands of people who may turn out to be suicidal enough to use them. That means that we need to think long and hard about the ways that such weapons are deployed under new and potentially horrendous circumstances. But wishing them away, and acting as though the world would be a safer place if the relatively sane people disarmed and left the crazies in sole possession of nukes, is not the mark of a serious politics or ethics.

Governments tend to attempt to justify large-scale military action – at its worst, nuclear warfare – in the name of “security,” pointed out Dr Lisa Schirch, professor of peace-building at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., United States. She called into question what security should mean to Christians.

“Jesus doesn’t use the word ‘security.’ The language of the church is much more about justice and peace than about security,” she said.

That’s true. Jesus does not use the word “security.” And guess what? He also didn’t speak about international relations in a multilateral world (which makes sense since He lived in a world empire of then unprecedented scope and power). When He spoke of “justice and peace,” He was addressing the way His followers were supposed to live in every aspect of their lives. At no point does He address Augustus or Tiberius and tell him how they ought to run the Roman Empire.

“Security does not land in a helicopter.”

This is a favorite phrase of Dr. Schirch, whom I’ve quoted saying this before. Yet the truth is that security does land in a helicopter sometimes. The use of force sometimes does bring security–as well as peace and justice–in the face of evil. Just not when the United States or Israel employs such force. Keep in mind that the WCC is an organization that loves United Nations peacekeeping missions, and puts out pleas for support for them whenever they are authorized. Last time I checked, UN peacekeepers generally aren’t social workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, agronomists, etc. (which is not to say that there isn’t a place for any of them in the establishing and keeping of peace). Rather, the guys in the blue helmets tend to be [undermanned, underarmed, and undertrained] members of the armed forces of nations that volunteer them. Canada–hardly one of the world’s hegemonic powers–has been one of the countries most willing to see its military used in this way. I suppose they may all arrive on the scene, wherever it may be, in rowboats, gondolas, and minivans, but you’d better believe that they arrive with weapons in hand, and that the locals will welcome their presence, if they can keep their hands off the local women and children and actually do what they’ve been tasked to do.

So, the long and the short of it is that the WCC held confab at which it was agreed that everyone should be nice to everyone else, and that if they did God would be pleased. That’s a great sentiment, folks. Tell it to Bashir Assad or Kim Jung-il, and see what kind of reception you get.

I said I’d put up any response to the death of Osama bin Laden without comment. So here’s the first official reaction, from the usual suspects at the National Council of Churches (also signed by the leaders of the ELCA, UCC, Disciples of Christ, Church of the Brethren, and the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops–apparently Gradye Parsons of the PCUSA and Katharine Jefforts-Schori of the Episcopal Church were MIA):

The death of Osama Bin Laden is a significant moment in the turbulent history of the past decade. It does not eradicate the scourge of terrorism nor does it bring closure to the grieving and pain the world has endured since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, for which he was the primary architect. The National Council of Churches deplores and condemns the extremism he personified, the twisted illusions that wrought years of violence and evil in the world.

Now the member communions of the National Council of Churches pray for God’s help as we commit ourselves to moving forward together as witnesses for God’s love and peace. In November 2001, as the world reeled from the terror attacks, the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service challenged their communions to take the lead:

It is time [we said then] for us as an ecumenical community to make a renewed commitment to a ministry of peace with justice, and to make real in these days the call of Jesus, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) In his Beatitudes, Jesus calls us, his followers, to be merciful if we are to receive mercy; he reminds us that the peacemakers are blessed and will be called children of God. And, he proclaims us “the light of the world”; our good works should be a beacon to others so they may give glory to God. (Matthew 5:14-16)

We lift up “Pillars of Peace for the 21st Century,” a 1999 Policy Statement of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. We reaffirm and highlight the Statement’s call to build a culture of peace with justice characterized by these convictions:

1. “the transcending sovereignty and love of God for all creation and the expression of that love in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, whose mission was to reveal understanding about that divine presence, to proclaim a message of salvation and to bring justice and peace;

2. the unity of creation and the equality of all races and peoples;

3. the dignity and worth of each person as a child of God; and

4. the church, the body of believers, whose global mission of witness, peacemaking and reconciliation testifies to God’s action in history.”

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Just as Christians must condemn the violence of terrorism, let us be clear that we do not celebrate loss of life under any circumstances. The NCC’s 37 member communions believe the ultimate justice for this man’s soul — or any soul — is in the hands of God. In this historic moment, let us turn to a future that embraces God’s call to be peacemakers, pursuers of justice and loving neighbors to all people.

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