Mainstream Christian leaders sometimes make headlines by bashing Israel. Just two months ago, Jewish leaders across the denominational and ideological spectrum were shocked by a letter signed by 15 leaders of Christian churches calling on Congress to reconsider aid provided to Israel because of alleged human rights violations.

In July, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted yet again on a motion calling to divest from companies whose products are supposedly used “in violations of Palestinian human rights.” As was the case in previous anti-Israel votes of this kind dating back to 2004, Presbyterians rejected the proposal.

Earlier this year during their quadrennial General Conference, Methodists rejected a proposal by anti- Israel elements in the Church to divest Church assets from companies doing business in Israel. And while Methodists and Presbyterians have the most aggressively anti-Israel lobbies among liberal Protestant denominations, Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans, Anglicans and members of the United Church of Christ have debated policies intended to bring direct or indirect pressure on Israel to compromise with Palestinians.

That is why it is so refreshing to read the “Jerusalem Declaration” released this week in the capital by representatives of mainline Protestant churches calling themselves the Protestant Consultation on Israel and the Middle East (PCIME). In a remarkably evenhanded description of sectarian tensions in the Middle East, representatives of Methodist, Anglican and Lutheran churches, among others, from Europe, North America and Africa rightly noted that “the forces that refuse to tolerate the existence of a Jewish state are fiercely intolerant of other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.”

The document cited Coptic Christians in Egypt and Assyrian Christians in Iraq as examples of religious minorities that are regularly persecuted at the hands of “aggressive Islamist movements.”

In contrast, Christian citizens of Israel “enjoy equal rights of citizenship and a good standard of living despite occasional frictions.”

Members of PCIME also said they were “distressed to see how certain European and North American church officials approach the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as if it were a zero-sum game.” And they repudiated the “replacement theology” that claimed Israel had no further place in God’s plans. Special mention was made of the “Kairos Palestine” document, which was signed in December 2009 by over 2,000 leading Palestinian priests and laymen from all the major Christian denominations. PCIME rejected Kairos for placing all the blame for the conflict on the shoulders of Israel and for advocating a one-state solution, and suggested that “intended or not” such a stance encourages “the forces that have vowed to destroy Israel.”

Unlike more fundamentalist Protestants, clergy in the mainline denominations tend to have a less literal reading of the New Testament. They are, as a result, more likely to contemporize the fight to establish the kingdom of God as a call to support progressive political causes. This “evanescing into secularism,” as Walter Russell Mead once referred to it, leads many liberal Protestant clergy and officials – many of whom with a sincere desire to pursue justice – to fall under the sway of organizations and movements with rabidly anti-Zionist or anti-American agendas.

But it could be that while mainline churches’ clergy and officials tend to adhere to “progressive” political agendas, the rank-and-file are far more moderate and evenhanded when it comes to issues such as the plight of Christians in the Middle East or the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. This would explain the repeated failures by anti-Israel lobbies within the Presbyterian and Methodist churches to pass divestment resolutions.

PCIME’s “Jerusalem Declaration” probably better reflects the sentiments of the vast majority of mainline Protestants throughout the world. We hope that when PCIME’s representatives return to their respective congregations they will set in motion a discourse that will lead to a fairer, more evenhanded treatment of Israel within mainline churches.

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