Jewish – Methodist Relations: Concerns Re-Surface
In 2010 the Jewish community reacted with hurt and anger as the Methodist Church accepted many of the provisions of the Justice for Palestine and Israel report. This document presented a highly selective account of the history of the conflict, misrepresented Zionism and sought to reintroduce the discredited theology of supersessionism, abandoned by mainstream churches because of its ugly legacy of millennia of anti-Semitism. It was hardly helped by the fact that the motion that started this process in 2009 explicitly and deliberately excluded the addition to the document of any views, either from internal voices or external sources, that would have given it some accuracy and balance
The report, as well as the shameful manner in which it was produced shattered the good relations between the Jewish community and the Methodist Church. The Board made it clear that normal relations would not be resumed until we saw specific signs that the church was prepared to listen to other views and take them seriously. When the church signalled that it was willing to do so, an important new dialogue began between the Board, on behalf of the Jewish community, and the Methodist Church, primarily with the Secretary for External Relations and the Inter Faith Officer. One and a half years on, we can say that the dialogue has not always been easy, and some very frank views have been expressed on both sides, but a new and honest mutual understanding is emerging from which we are drawing many positive signs.
And now all this is threatened, without any warning given to us, by proposals laid before the Methodist Annual Conference starting on 28 June to abolish the posts of Secretary for External Relations and Inter Faith Officer and make their incumbents redundant.
If the proposals are accepted by conference, the Methodist civil servants with whom we have been in dialogue will no longer have jobs. They are individuals whose skills won our respect, which was never diminished by them putting forward the Methodist perspective robustly. They have succeeded in returning our relationship to a surer footing. But while personal relationships are the bedrock of good interfaith relations, the proposals are a matter of concern for wider reasons beyond individuals. To remove both the positions that have helped our communities to make progress might effectively derail us from this positive course. It is imperative that this is avoided.
At the same time, to my astonishment, we are hearing reports (like thisone) that some in the Church claim that the resolutions of 2010 have actually helped to improve Methodist-Jewish relations ! The wider Methodist family should be under no illusions about this claim, which is disingenuous and mischievous. The resolutions that received and sought to implement the report caused serious damage to the relationship that breeds mistrust even to this day. The hurt in our community was echoed by anger and surprise among other Christian denominations.
What put our relations back on track was an honest, frank, dedicated, sensitive project of dialogue and joint action, the success of which depended almost entirely on the skills of the Secretary for External Relations and the Inter Faith Officer. If the situation were to repeat itself with the Jewish, or indeed any other faith community, I am worried that the Church would have no route to repair relations. Had there been no such occurrence in recent history, perhaps this could have been seen as a luxury that could be foregone. But in the present circumstances, where healing wounds are still fresh, and progress is observable but fragile, I am very concerned indeed if the view is taken by the Methodist Church conference that it can afford to forego this vital resource.
We are keen to continue to develop our dialogue and action with the Methodist Church, finding common ground and overcoming suspicion. I pray that, over the coming week, the Methodist Conference will send a signal to the Jewish community – and to those of other faiths – that it too remains willing to reach out, to seek understanding, and to work together for the good of all in our diverse society.