Sunday, July 17, 2011

where are the Methodists?

A few months ago I read about the resolution of the United Methodist Church at their general conference in the year 2000, formally calling for the end of the Israeli occupation.

This took me by surprise. In the eleven years since, though I have seen many synagogues with "We Stand with Israel" prominently on display for the public, I have yet to see any evidence whatsoever of the Methodist Church standing against the occupation. As we all know from hearing our current president, lofty words are easily spoken without any action to back them up.

Because I was raised in a Methodist family (my father was ordained and his career was in church administration), I thought I would take advantage of my background and investigate the situation locally.

First, I composed a letter to the largest Methodist congregation in the area. In my letter, I suggested that, in light of the national church position, even the smallest act of recognition of a great wrong would be positive - perhaps just mentioning the Palestinians from the pulpit.

A few weeks went by with no response. I called the church office and nobody had seen the letter.

So I sent the same letter in again, only this time addressing it to the pastor.

A few weeks went by with no response. I called the pastor and left a phone message asking if the letter had been received.

No response.

So, I put on my Sunday best and went to church for the first time in decades. I knew that it is traditional for the pastor to greet the congregation after the service and saw that as an opportunity to meet the pastor in person. During the service, I discovered that there is a junior pastor as well.

After the service I waited in line, greeted the pastor, mentioned my name and asked if my letter had been received. "Yes", he said, "I intended to write you back, but you didn't provide a return address." Though I was tempted to exclaim, "WHAT!!??", I didn't intend to put him on the spot, I simply handed him my card and thanked him for the sermon. He told me that he would get in touch with me.

Upon return home, I composed a cover letter to the junior pastor, attached a copy of my original letter and emailed them.

Now, a week later, months since I wrote my first letter, there has been no response by phone, mail or email. I suspect there will never be any.

Why did I do this? I know from my years of association with the Methodist Church, back in the tumultuous Vietnam period, that it is politically timid, but I thought that possibly my close connection with Methodism would put anyone at ease in responding. If so many Jews are working so hard for justice, I can't sit doing nothing. If Palestinians have suffered over 60 years, couldn't I at least write a letter on their behalf to "my own people"?

A major reason I left the church in my young adulthood was that I felt it was pointless to listen to anodyne weekly lectures only to spend one's life ignoring the whole philosophical foundation of the religion, if not actively going against it. There are many good things the church does, but the risk factor in all of them is essentially nil. I'm an atheist, but whether or not one believes the accounts in the Bible, one must admire the stories (in the old or new testament) of people staking life itself for a cause.

Given the lack of response to my mild letter, you can easily imagine the intimidating power the charge of anti-Semitism, which Zionists are wont to use, would have if even the mildest support for the Palestinians were attempted.

I will close on a positive note, minor as it is. At the church service I noted with pleasure that there is now a cantor, by that very title. Things do change, but oh so slowly and cautiously. There are people in boiling water around the world. They suffer as most of us wait for the water to become tepid before putting a toe in.

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