A Time for Christian Realism
“Our dreams of bringing the whole of human history under the
control of the human will are ironically refuted by the fact that no group of
idealists can easily move the pattern of history toward the desired goal of
peace and justice. The recalcitrant forces in the historical drama have a power
and persistence beyond our reckoning.”
From The Irony of American History, by Reinhold Niebuhr Charles
Scribner’s Sons (1952)
precisely Niebuhr’s nuanced, realistic understanding of humans and history that
is lacking in the report of the Middle East Study Committee (MESC). The report will be reviewed by the 219th
General Assembly of the PCUSA. In perhaps
one of the most naďve statements ever presented to a General Assembly, the
report claims, "If there were no occupation, there would be
no Palestinian resistance. If there was no Palestinian resistance, Israelis
could live in peace and security." Really? If the
Israelis withdraw from any interference in Palestinian affairs, all the ancient
enmities as well as political, economic and social issues will disappear and
peace will break out?
Such a black
and white analysis of the situation is not only an affront to the Calvinist
approach to reality. It is an affront to
Palestinians and Israelis alike who live in a situation fractured by highly
complex and complicated issues that the report would reduce to one issue: the
occupation of Palestinian territories. We
can do better as a denomination.
The lack of
Christian realism is evident throughout the MESC report. First, the MESC creates a clear villain
(Israel). However, as Niebuhr and
history teach, such an idealized approach (the Israelis are oppressors and the
Palestinians are the oppressed) will get us no closer to peace. The only thing that moves us toward peace and
justice is a very humble, realistic appreciation for the way injustice and
violence become interwoven over decades and centuries. Undoing the effects of injustice (from terrorists
blowing up buses in Israel to innocent civilians dying in Gaza) will require
far more than an end to the occupation.
It will require large constituencies within Israel and Palestine demanding
that their leaders seek peace, not conflict.
It was changes within Northern Ireland, for example, that created the
foundation for its current peace.
Committee calls on the United States to stop foreign aid to any nation “where
civil, religious and other freedoms of their peoples are (not)
fully exercised.” If done, this would
mean the end of the U.S. foreign aid effort which has helped create economic
development and build peace and justice in many countries. Indeed, one can argue, the United States
could not meet the committee's standard for aid.
Third, the report
calls for an end to the Gaza blockade.
While Israel certainly needs to find a way immediately to increase the world's
flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, if the blockade is stopped unconditionally,
the flow of rockets and other armaments to Hamas would also increase dramatically. Rocket attacks on Israeli civilians would
follow in days.
historically, has had a very realistic approach to peacemaking in the Middle
East. We have affirmed the desires of
the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to live autonomously next to one
another. We have criticized what we
consider to be injustices perpetrated by each side on the other. At the same time, we have had a very clear
understanding about the limits of our own ability to impact the outcome.
Concerned for Jewish, Muslim and Christian Relations calls on the 219th General
Assembly to reject the MESC report and stand on the PCUSA's existing policy
recommendations for this troubled region of the world.
John Wimberly, PCJCMR Steering Committee
information about PCJCMR please email Charles