Sabeel Conference on Christian Zionism

An essay for Quaker-B and for my web log.

This was the second part of an essay which I have now split in two. The first I have called Flexible Organisation - an Oxymoron?

The concern I have at present is that we as a Yearly Meeting should take part in a forthcoming conference in Jerusalem, on "Challenging Christian Zionism - Theology, Politics, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict". It is being convened by Sabeel, the Palestinian Christian ecumenical liberation theology centre. I and many other British Quakers are members of Friends of Sabeel. I have heard lectures including one to my M.M. by Sabeel and others (I recently went on an intensive study tour in Israel/Palestine) about the situation in Palestine, and in particular about the effects of Christian Zionism on American foreign policy, and therefore on Israeli policy and on American and, sadly, British activity in the entire Middle East, including wars and threats of more wars.

We are members of EMES - the European and Middle East Section of world-wide Quakers. As such we should attend. Moreover I think EMES itself should consider sending a representative.

I believe that Christian Zionism is not just another of the many evils in the world which arouse us as Quakers to anger and sympathy, but that we have a responsibility, an obligation or maybe a Call, to take an active interest in this particular perversion of religion. We Quakers corporately are respected and accepted by (and indeed drawn in by) the other Christian churches in Britain and Europe, and we have after prayerful consideration decided to become or continue as members of several interfaith organisations. We have special relevant experience and a unique, potentially crucial attitude to Christianity and other Faiths. We should be sending a strong delegation to this conference for two reasons. First, so that we can contribute to their debate, make inspired suggestions on action to be taken, and secondly so that Friends can return to Britain and Europe to inform us all of this problem and how we can help resolve it.

Our representatives should be Friends of substance (e.g. not me!) such as our Quaker theologians (one at least of whom is or at least used to be on Quaker-B), our leading clerks, the clerks and or General Secretaries of QL and QPSW, members of our Christian and InterFaith Relations Committee, the EMES representative on the European Council of Churches, etc.

I have suggested to Friends House that QPSW should be represented for instance by the manager of its Middle East programme, if not by its General Secretary and/or its Clerk, and that similarly Quaker Life should be strongly represented both for its possible, theological role in informing the conference and for its role as one of the sources of our spiritual learning. I also suggested to Woodbrooke and to EMES that they consider sending representatives, mentioning our Palestinian Friends, one of whom is a noted civil rights activist. (Though she would probably be prevented by the occupying army from attending the conference.)

Of all these departments only one has even replied to me, other than by computer generated acknowledgements, and that with 'got no budget' or 'try another department' responses.

As our established organisation seems unable to respond to this call then should we not create an ad hoc informal group calling on suitable Friends to offer to represent Quakers at this conference, and report back to us via The Friend and Quaker-B? Could our YM Clerk be asked to act as such but outwith the Friends House bureaucracy? (Actually I think he should be one of our representatives.)

Two problems. Money. If these representatives ask we should be willing to collect funds to pay their expenses (approx. $1000 each). It would be half of all Quaker-B subscribers giving on average 7. There are also Quaker Trusts anxious to use their funds.

Secondly, accountability. To whom is a delegate responsible, what is their authority?. Would a Minute from one's Monthly Meeting (or from CIR) be adequate?

Since returning from Palestine I have spent much time writing about it. See my web log.

P.S. The conference to which I refer is to be held in and near Jerusalem on 14 - 18 April by Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian ecumenical organisation using liberation theology in its work for peace and justice in Palestine and amongst Israeli Arabs. Many British and other Friends are members of Friends of Sabeel. As you may be impressed by status I will tell you it is to be attended by Rowan Williams (though Sabeel is not Anglican.)

For an essay (by a Catholic) about our failure to rise to this occasion, see my blog.

A final P.S. I appear to argue this with conviction, but please regard it as a plea for consideration and discussion. Am I led, or is this just a notion? I think I may ask for a Meeting for Clearness about this, but, meanwhile, what sayest thou?

Stephen Petter E-mail me

Bristol & Frenchay MM, BYM.