Dear Friends, It strikes me that Pentecost is a time for the church to focus on being the church. It is a time to look back celebrating all with which God has blessed us and to gaze forward to more clearly see the path God lays before us.
Below is a letter from Fr. Dr. Naim Ateek, the founder of Palestinian liberation theology and the Sabeel, Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, challenging the United Church of Canada us to continue to move faithfully along the path of our last General Council.
On this day, I remember back to 1988 when I entered the Atlantic School of Theology. A tremendous fear existed because of our decision that sexual orientation was not a barrier to ordination. Some complained that other churches and family members were calling the United Church a tool of Satan. Others were asked if the controversy was worth it. Meanwhile, a few and then many struggled to come to a deeper understanding.
Today, we celebrate with the Irish their decision that marriage should be open to gays and lesbians. We know the struggle continues for us and for the Irish to build a community where justice reigns and all feel welcome and safe.
Today, we look forward to the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I remember as chairperson of an Official Board those who were outraged by the legal risks taken by the denomination when we apologized to our First Nations brothers and sisters for the harm we had inflicted upon them. Meanwhile, others asked what can we do? We know the struggle for justice continues and there is a long way to go before it is achieved.
Today, I invite all of us to seriously reflect upon Naim’s letter and especially his invitation to us:
“As you have courageously done before, may you once again witness to the cause of Christ’s justice to free the oppressed and by so doing to liberate the oppressor so that these two peoples can finally be reconciled and live together in dignity, security and peace.”
It is important for us to deal with how we govern ourselves as a denomination. – But, it is far more important to follow along the path toward justice that God lays before us. We have begun the journey with other churches in the work for liberation and justice for our brothers and sisters in Palestine and Israel. Now we are being invited to deepen our commitment.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom, Paix,
My dear sisters and brothers in the United Church of Canada:
I thank you again for the decision of your last General Council to take action to support the end of the occupation of Palestine. Your Unsettling Goods campaign has helped to build awareness of the injustice of the occupation among Canadian Christians. The boycott of goods produced in illegal settlements by the United Church and other churches around the world has begun to bear fruit by bringing economic pressure on the Israeli government. Your commitment to a just peace has given us strength in the face of great adversity.
Since your last General Council the situation for Palestinians has deteriorated significantly. Settlements continue to expand as does settler violence and the theft of water and other natural resources. The destruction of olive trees and other crops by settlers and Israeli forces continues. There are increasing levels of abuses of power by the Israeli military including property confiscations, demolitions of homes and other structures, illegal arrests of under-aged children, illegal detentions, torturing prisoners, the use of excessive force up to and including deadly force against the Palestinian population. This is all backed by Israeli military courts with a conviction rate in excess of 99% against Palestinians. The injustice against Palestinians continues to deepen.
Beyond all of this was the horror of the war against Gaza last summer. Over 2,200 Palestinians were killed including over 500 children by Israeli forces. Current reports are stating that at the current pace it will take over 100 years to rebuild.
I therefore commend you to carry on with and expand your Unsettling Goods campaign. I urge the United Church of Canada to join with other denominations around the globe who have decided to boycott and divest from companies that benefit from the occupation. Also I urge you to recognize your own country’s complicity in Palestinian suffering under occupation. Please read and study the proposals before you that advocating furthering boycotts and divestment.
As you have courageously done before, may you once again witness to the cause of Christ’s justice to free the oppressed and by so doing to liberate the oppressor so that these two peoples can finally be reconciled and live together in dignity, security and peace.
God bless you all, as you as a Church wrestle to discern what God requires of you in this hour.
Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek