The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem was founded in March 1990 by a Palestinian, Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek. For almost three decades, Dr. Ateek and his colleagues at Sabeel have been engaged in a ministry of education, dialogue, and advocacy, not only in regard to the political dimensions of the Israel and Palestine conflict, but to its religious, biblical and theological dimensions as well. Sabeel is Arabic for “The Way.”
A conference called Seeking the Peace of Jerusalem: Overcoming Christian Zionism in the Quest for Justice was organized by the Canadian Friends of Sabeel and co-sponsored by the Anglican Church of Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada and the United Church of Canada and was held in Vancouver BC April 23-25, 2015. The conference examined the prevalence of Christian Zionism, its influence in mainstream churches and its adverse impact on the realization of a just peace in Israel and Palestine.
What is Christian Zionism? Why is it having an adverse influence on the prospects for achieving a just and secure peace for the peoples of Israel and Palestine? The Rev. Dr. Ronald Wallace explains:
Christian Zionism is a form of politicized theology that is based on a hyper-literal interpretation of selected Old Testament prophecies as pre-recorded history, and then applied to the modern State of Israel, which is believed to be both divinely ordained and to have a central role to play in preparing the way for a series of end-time events leading to the Second Coming of Jesus. These events include the return of the Jews to the whole of the biblical land of Israel, the building of a Third Temple in Jerusalem, a Rapture of the Saints, a Great Tribulation, the Millennium, the coming to power of an Antichrist, and a final battle of Armageddon, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ.
Not all believers in this particular end-time scenario are necessarily Christian Zionists. There are many Christians who believe in the end-time sequence of events narrated above and are content to let God work out end-time events in God’s own time and by God’s own means. Christian Zionists are not content to wait on God. They actively engage in political actions, which they believe are necessary to prepare the way for and facilitate the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies related to these end-time events. For these reasons Christian Zionists actively lobby both Canadian and American governments on behalf of any and all actions of the State of Israel, including support for the expansion of illegal settlements, the rejection of a two state solution to the conflict and by seeking to thwart the efforts of those who sincerely believe in and work towards a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.
The Rev. Wendy Adams also attended the conference and reports that: The State of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and activities such as the building of settlements by Israel on occupied Palestinian territory is a violation of international law. When these actions are critiqued or questioned, accusations of anti-Semitism are often levelled at those who raise these questions. This was carefully addressed at the conference. For example, those who believe that international pressure through boycott, divestment or sanctions, is a peaceful option to bring about change, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, may be accused of being anti-Semitic. Furthermore, there are Jewish organizations calling for these economic measures.
A contextual understanding of the impact of Christian Zionism includes discussion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement or “BDS”. In 2011, the Israeli government passed legislation making it a civil offense to call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of people or institutions in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Anyone making such calls could face lawsuits and other financial penalties. Ms. Hind Awwad is the national coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee and spoke at the conference. She says Palestinians call on the international community to embrace the BDS movement in order to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories. Bob Ross, from the Presbyterian Church (USA) urged that the power to invest be used in socially responsible ways.
Churches have different positions on BDS. The Presbyterian Church in Canada has long supported a two-state solution – Israel’s right to exist and an independent Palestinian state – two states living as peaceful neighbours.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada opposes general boycotts and sanctions against Israel. This policy was adopted by the 134th GA 2008. The 138th General Assembly (2012) rejected Christian Zionism because leaders in the Palestinian Christian community have stated that Christian Zionism poses a significant obstacle to a just peace between Israel and Palestine and because Christian Zionism is inconsistent with Reformed doctrine. For articles and books on Christian Zionism, contact Justice Ministries.
—The Rev. Dr. Ron Wallace is a former Associate Secretary for International Ministries. The Rev. Wendy Adams is the convener of the International Affairs Committee.
Rev. Iona MacLean, minister at First PC in Pictou NS, and Rev. Jeff Lackie, minister at Union PC in Thorburn NS, attended a train-the-trainer workshop on the Blanket Exercise and then facilitated the activity in May 2015 at Union PC in Thorburn, NS. Rev. MacLean reports: “We had a very good experience with the Blanket Exercise…eighteen people gathered from churches and the wider community. Two First Nations elders, Cathy Gerrior and her mother Rose Little, joined us. After the exercise, they did a smudge ceremony and led a talking circle. It was profound and moving.”
Vivian Ketchum attended an ecumenical train-the-trainers workshop in Winnipeg. Ms. Ketchum writes: “about 25 people attended. We did a sharing circle after the Blanket Exercise. Participants shared their impressions and feelings. One woman said she was scared of stepping off the blankets and concerned that she would lose what little ‘land’ she had. Some of the participants were teachers and wanted to learn how to teach the Blanket Exercise to their students. One teacher said she thought that her students should learn about residential school history from a Native person. All in all, it was a great experience for everybody who attended.”
—Vivian Ketchum, Place of Hope PC, Winnipeg MB. Vivian is an Anishinabe of Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation.
Hearts for Reconciliation
Presbyterian Sunday schools across Canada made Hearts for Reconciliation. Some of these hearts were “planted” on church property; many others were sent to Ottawa. Over 1,000 Hearts for Reconciliation were made by children from different denominations. On June 3, these were planted at Rideau Hall by Ottawa area school children in a public tribute to students who died at residential schools. The Hearts remained on the grounds of Rideau Hall from June 3 to June 7, 2015. Consider planting your own heart garden this summer.
In the photo, Delores Werchola, a Presbyterian from Prince Albert SK and member of Mistawasis First Nation in SK, leads Ottawa school children to the Heart Garden panted at Rideau Hall. Justice Ministries thanks churches for making Hearts for Reconciliation: Varsity Acres PC (Calgary), Thornhill PC, St. Andrew and St. Paul (Montreal), St. Columba by the Lake (QC), St. Andrew’s PC (Ottawa), Varsity Acres (Calgary), Knox (Tiverton), St. Andrew’s-Chalmers (Uxbridge), Rosedale (Toronto).
Morningside-High Park PC Wins 2015 Greening Sacred Spaces Award
“I believe that
[Morningside-High Park] is a community committed to taking care of the planet. This congregation embraces God’s will to nurture our place on earth” said Donna Lang, Toronto Animator of the interfaith initiative “Greening Sacred Spaces” as she presented the congregation with its annual award for leadership and action-based creation care.
Morningside-High Park formed its Green Team in 2005. Hildy Stollery, member, writes: “we led a process of congregational learning and discernment about how best to develop an ethic of creation care in our church mission and ministry. This happened as a series of steps. In 2011 we upgraded our lighting system to low-energy lighting. In 2012 we replaced our boiler with a more energy efficient model.
In December 2012 the congregation voted to install 40 solar panels on the flat roof. It took more than a year, but we connected them to the grid on April 5, 2013. Over 2013 and 2014 we updated all the lights in the Sanctuary to energy efficient LEDs, and set up an edible community garden on the church property, with a grant from Friends of the Environment Foundation. Produce from the garden supports the food bank at Evangel Hall Mission, and members of the community.” A video of Morningside-High Park PC’s edible garden is online.
Trafalgar PC in Oakville Was a Finalist for the Greening Sacred Space Award in 2014.
A video about the congregation’s greening activities is online.
Free Prior and Informed Consent Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Be Ignored
Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a set of guidelines for consultation with Indigenous communities about projects that can impact their lands, territories and resources. FPIC principles are enshrined in international law but there is no consensus on how specific parts of FPIC are defined or implemented. FPIC is not yet acknowledged in Canadian law. FPIC matters. It is named in 11 of 46 articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Earlier in April, I attended a day-long meeting of representatives from the churches and from the mining industry to discuss FPIC. The purpose was to provide an opportunity for direct communication between Canadian mining companies and faith organizations. The churches and religious communities are shareholders in many of these companies. They work with and support Indigenous partners affected by mining operations. Shareholders—religious investors—seek to uphold a biblical ethic of creation care.
The meeting opened with prayer. There were three presentations on FPIC by academics and lawyers. They discussed FPIC in light of: 1) international law and its use by international courts and human rights tribunals; 2) Canadian law; and 3) the ambiguous space between FPIC as a right (according the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and FPIC’s application.
One mining industry representative felt that FPIC’s legal ambiguity was a barrier to its implementation. While there is no enforceable legal requirement in Canada that companies adhere to FPIC principles, there is research that outline how FPIC can be implemented. There is no legal reason companies can’t voluntarily implement FPIC principles. There were people at the meeting asking these questions. There are some industry consultants that would and do advise the use of FPIC principles.
The worst thing to do is ignore FPIC. There are moral and practical reasons for its implementation that are increasingly recognized by companies in the extractive sector even though there remains much ambiguity about FPIC’s implications. Too often those who are either opposed to or are uncomfortable with FPIC argue that FPIC grants Indigenous communities veto power over a mining or oil and gas project. It is more complicated than this.
Recognizing the importance of evidence-based research that documents how and why FPIC can improve what is often (although certainly not always) a tense and even antagonistic relationship between Indigenous communities, corporations and governments, KAIROS has prepared a study on why FPIC is important to Indigenous church partners in Guatemala entitled KAIROS Participatory Research on Free, Prior, and Informed Consent: CEIBA Experience in Guatemala.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada owns shares in a number of corporations in the resource extraction sector. More than 50% of all mining companies in the world are headquartered in Canada, making Canada a global industry leader. The extraction industry contributes billions of dollars to the economy. Many resources are on Indigenous territories and can be a source of conflict between Indigenous communities, companies and governments. Better consultation practices can improve these relationships. Drawing attention to and supporting FPIC principles is one way the church can walk with Indigenous peoples.
—Katharine Masterton, Program Coordinator, Justice Ministries.
Witness Blanket Unveiled in Ottawa
I represented The Presbyterian Church in Canada at the launch of The Witness Blanket exhibit in advance of the closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His Worship Jim Watson, Mayor of Ottawa, Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Master Carver Carey Newman, creator of The Witness Blanket, each spoke, following a prayer offered by an Indigenous elder. Justice Sinclair gave an excellent overview of the history and legacy of the residential schools and the work of the Commission in seeking to hear and tell the truth, and Mr. Newman’s address explaining his motivation for the project was very moving. He has incorporated 887 historical artefacts into the carved double-layed wooden blanket, which will be shown in communities across Canada, following its exhibition in Ottawa beginning May 22 through early July.
An online application offers information about each artefact in the blanket, including items such as a child’s lost shoe, the door handle from one of schools, and poems and verses written by students who attended the schools. I found one item belonging to the Birtle School, one of two schools operated by The Presbyterian Church in Canada after 1925. The item is part of the school strap, and the carver pointed out its location to me on the exhibit.
In addition to Mayor Watson (who is a member of Knox Church, Ottawa), Rev. Gordon Williams, and myself, Presbyterians in attendance included Rev. Tony Boonstra (interim minister of St. Giles Church, Ottawa) and Stanley Currie (representative elder for St. Giles Church, Ottawa). The photo is of Rev. Gordon Williams, standing in front of the blanket. Rev. Williams is a retired Presbyterian minister and a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Survivor Committee.
—The Rev. Dr. James T. Hurd is the minister of Parkwood PC and Clerk of the Presbytery of Ottawa.
Prayer for Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women and Girls
We pray for families that have lost loved ones
Through violence or have gone missing in Canada
God hears even unspoken prayers
We lift those prayers to you
God sees every tear shed in grief
We lift up those tears to you
We pray for comfort and answers to the questions from family members about their missing loved ones
We pray for the mother that walks the highways searching for her missing daughter
We pray for the mother that continues to put up missing posters for her daughter
We pray for the mother waiting for her daughter to come home
We pray that you continue to strengthen them
In their resolve to find their loved ones
We pray that others will reach out to help those seeking loved ones
Let them know they are not alone
In their quest to find their loved ones
To their question
—Vivian Ketchum is Anishinabe from the Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation.
“God in Great Love for Us Lent Us This Planet”
Frogs, bees and butterflies, all integral to our ecological early-warning systems, are rapidly disappearing. Since the Industrial Revolution we have “mastered the art of polluting and conspicuous consuming.” Some of our scientific and industrial developments have had serious if unanticipated consequences—climate change is among the most severe of these. The Rev. Dr. Charles Fensham spoke compellingly about this in his workshop, The Community of Cherishment: The Church in the Face of Ecological Destruction.
During worship Fred Parry Green’s powerful hymn reminded us: “God in great love for us lent us this planet.” Participants considered the two creation stories: Genesis I with its exhortation to subjugate was compared to Genesis II’s call to good stewardship. Prepared questions were debated, followed by group sharing. We then reflected on the Parable of the Mustard Seed. We viewed David Roberts’ TED talk on climate change: in the past 10,000 years our planet’s average temperatures have varied by (plus or minus) one degree Celsius. In the last 150 years we have caused perhaps irreversible global warming which will negatively impact humans, animals, land and sea.
Is there hope? Dr. Fensham told the story of women and men who are sowing seeds of hope, including Vandana Shiva, who received her PhD in Nuclear Physics from University of Western Ontario. She returned to her native India where she is hailed for her work on preserving local seed varieties. Some large corporations are not pleased with her actions.
The challenge for The Presbyterian Church in Canada is to become cherishing communities that encourage moral decision making regarding our planet while bringing comfort to the victims of ecological disasters. We must prod and prompt others to act, while remaining cognizant of the power of prayer. Our congregation, Thornhill PC, was challenged to take part in an act of rebellion by planting something and watching it grow. Thornhill PC member Laura Culley is replanting the church gardens. She is determined to source plants that are bee and butterfly friendly. One young participant wondered about a garden in her home and, assured that she could plant on her balcony, acquired a mystery seed from a congregation member to start her garden. Perhaps it’s a mustard seed.
—Maggie Dickson, Thornhill PC ON.
The workshop was sponsored by Thornhill PC, hosted by the Justice Committee and the Women’s Missionary Society. The Rev. Dr. Charles Fensham is Professor of Systematic Theology, Knox College, Toronto. His latest book is The Mustard Seed Conspiracy.