A Surreal Experience Today
I was in a surreal meeting today.
About monthly a group of clergy and ministers who have ministries on campus get together. The meeting is actually coordinated by the UCONN Dean of Students Office and almost always run by someone from their office. Generally, the meetings range between interesting, fun, a bit repetitive, interesting, etc. It is a nice way to build trust and relationships between the university and us as well as amongst each other.
Today's meeting was truly strange.
The person who normally leads it wasn't there so we were left leaderless and without an agenda. This is always potentially dangerous.
One pastor from one of the churches said they had an issue to raise. It turns out that they were (still) very upset about the signs and fliers we hung around campus (and on Facebook and in the Dining Halls) this August-September. I've posted about these fliers before. We did a series of eight of them. They had catchy lines like "With faith, hope, and love, Church Sucks!" and "On behalf of Christians everywhere We're Sorry for being so judgmental." You get the idea.
They were (hopefully) provocative and generated conversations and connected with people who have given up on institutional religion, but not on God. In fact, they are the most successful outreach of that type that we have ever done. They resonated with people and really connected. I am big believer in addressing the tension and naming the elephant in the room. That is what these fliers were designed to do.
Anyway, this one pastor was very upset. I apologized if he was offended and explained our intention was never to offend. He said he didn't want an apology but wanted to essentially tell us that we weren't allowed to do things like this. He was getting pretty worked up about it and pretty indignant. For the record, others in the room defended the posters. But this guy was pretty worked up.
Finally, the director of the Jewish center on campus spoke up and tried to bring some reason (and closure to the discussion). She then said she had an issue to raise and that she had written a statement out because it was so hard to talk about.
She then read her statement about how offended and hurt she and her staff and students were about the anti-semitic speakers that one of the churches had hosted the night before. (Ironically, this church was the same one that just slammed me for using the word "sucks"--which by the way is not as harsh as what Martin Luther's words when he said "the church is a whore, but she is my mother."--but I digress).
The speakers were pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist. Both speakers are well-known in the Jewish community and predictably filled their message with slams against Israel, Zionists, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), etc. One of them even compared the Jewish Star of David to the swastika. Crazy stuff!
Here is the description of the speakers from the churches bulletin:
"What is really going on in Palestine and what is the US role: eyewitness accounts." Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh and Stanley Heller, founder of the Ct-based Middle East Crisis Committee, report on their 2007 trip to Palestine and examine the US role there. Both men have traveled to the Middle East many times.
Stanley Heller is a school teacher in West Haven, CT. As a Jewish activist for human rights since 1982, he believes each of us can make a difference. He is founder and chair of the Middle East Crisis Committee. He is the producer of a weekly show: The Struggle Video Network. (http://thestruggle.org).
Mazin Qumsiyeh, (UConn ’82) PhD is a Palestinian Christian and US citizen. He was born in Beit Shour, near Bethlehem, home of his ancestors. He is a medical geneticist and has served on the faculties of Duke and Yale Universities. He is on the Steering/Executive Committees of a number of organizations including the Wheels of Justice, US Campaign to End the Occupation, the Palestinian American Congress, Middle East Genetics Association, and AcademicsForJustice.org. His third and latest book is titled "Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle" in which he explains non-violent strategies to achieve peace based on human rights and justice. Web http://qumsiyeh.org.
Here is an example of the kind of rhetoric being used, from Qumsiyeh (from his website):
"The horrors of what happened in Europe as a result of 19th century nationalism fed the ethnocentric nationalism known as Zionism, and was used to justify the ethnic cleansing and destruction of Palestinian society. It is now destabilizing Western Asia and encouraging other narrow chauvinistic ideologies..." [SOURCE]
[Here is an interesting article about Qumsiyeh to put things in context. Also, most of the organizations these folks are affiliated with are on the list of known anti-semitic groups by the Anti-Defamation League.]
Anyway, it sounds like the event was pretty offensive. As the woman from the Jewish Center pointed out, there is a fine line between critiquing Israel and the anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitic rhetoric that had been spewed the night before. (For the record, I was not at the talk and so do not know what was said. I do know from experience that this particular church has brought in other anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian speakers, some of which have been peaceful and fine others of which were offensive and also anti-semitic). Apparently, one representative from the Jewish Center spoke to the senior pastor at the church and was pretty much dismissed. The woman asked "I thought we were spiritual partners on this campus" to which she was told "no... you are not. We don't see anyone as spiritual partners on this campus..." (Nice!)
To say the least, this new conversation shifted the attention off of our signs---which I was happy about.
At this point things got a little crazy. The two representatives from the Muslim Student Association started defending the speaker and things got very heated and ugly. It is amazing to me how quickly anti-Israel politics becomes blatant anti-Semitism.
From there, both the Muslims and the representatives from this church started talking about how the truth was being hidden by the US media. They kept talking about the media.
This was disturbing to me because historically language like that is very clear code. It is code for things like "the Jews control the media" etc, and is deeply rooted in this country's long history of anti-semitism---often spurned on by churches. Here is an example of the rhetoric often heard:
"These are the facts of Jewish media control in America. Anyone willing to spend several hours in a large library can verify their accuracy. I hope that these facts are disturbing to you, to say the least. Should any minority be allowed to wield such awesome power? Certainly, not and allowing a people with beliefs such as expressed in the Talmud, to determine what we get to read or watch in effect gives this small minority the power to mold our minds to suit their own Talmudic interests, interests which as we have demonstrated are diametrically opposed to the interests of our people."And here is another one:
"By permitting the Jews to control our news and entertainment media, we are doing more than merely giving them a decisive influence on our political system and virtual control of our government; we also are giving them control of the minds and souls of our children, whose attitudes and ideas are shaped more by Jewish television and Jewish films than by their parents, their schools, or any other influence." [SOURCE]
""However, where the discussion threatens to touch upon issues considered 'sensitive' to the judaized establishment which controls TV and radio, it is carefully stage-managed so that 'dangerous' viewpoints are excluded. s particularly noticeable where discussion concerns matters of the Jewish State of Israel and its not so very glorious aspects, when relating to doubts concerning the alleged mass-slaughter of Jews during WWII and when some one tries to discuss the power wielded by the Jewish minority." [SOURCE]
I was offended as a a Christian. I was also offended as a Jewish person who's grandparents survived the Holocaust (though most of the family perished).
It was a pretty unbelievable scene to watch.
It makes you realize how complicated these issues are, how far we still need to come--and why so many people have given up on the church.
One of our fliers some of the churches found offensive was the one apologizing on behalf of Christians for the long history bigotry, discrimination, sexism, racism, anti-semitism, etc.
I'm surprised anyone would try and defend those parts of our history or pretend like confession isn't needed.
I am passionately in love with the Church (universal!) and believe that the church is the hope of the world, the Bride of Christ! I have given my life to the cause of the local church--and do so without apology or regret.
But the Church is flawed and has failed in its mission over and over again--in both big ways and small. The Crusades... the Spanish Inquisition... slavery... silence during the Holocaust... just to name a few.
We must repent. We must own our sin. We must seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
If those outside the church will ever take us seriously, we must own the sins of previous generations of Christians.
I am shocked sometimes at how little progress has been made.
And I am reminded by WE NEED A SECOND CHANCE, why we must say that WE'RE SORRY, and why WITHOUT FAITH, HOPE & LOVE church sucks!