The following article is part of our ongoing effort to provide a variety of Christian perspectives on the Israel-Lebanon conflict.
In July, the World Council of Churches (WCC) released a statement expressing concern over the most recent acts of violence in the Middle East. It claimed that "the concept of the war on terror" puts "civilians at greatest risks" and argued that Israel's "illegal occupation of Palestinian territories" presents "the vortex of the region's violent storm."
While Israel attempts to secure its sheer survival, the member churches of the WCC express no word of compassion for Israel beyond a general regret for death and destruction "on all sides."
In the form of a pastoral letter, the general secretary of the WCC, Samuel Kobia refuses to name Hezbollah and ultimately defends the terrorists and reproaches the victims for their self-defense. The letter attacks democratic countries, shields militia groups from blame, and challenges "the concept of war on terror." The reader looks in vain for what is expected from a pastoral word of encouragement, consolation, or reconciliation. Without this, the WCC statement, intentionally or not, makes several points that, if followed, would strengthen terrorist groups.
The letter starts off with a reference to the Christian concept of "compassion" and "sadness at the shedding of innocent blood in the Middle East," identifying four of the numerous suffering parties in the Middle East, namely "the people of Lebanon," "citizens of Israel," "Palestinians and Iraqis." While all suffering is lamentable, this select list of sufferers is odd not only for naming only those few, but also for not making any effort to distinguish between the sufferings of those four parties. There are those whose pain is caused by terror, namely "the people of Lebanon" and the "citizens of Israel." There are those who are perpetrating the terror, namely "Palestinians." Strangely enough, the name Hezbollah as the instigator of the current conflict remains unmentioned throughout the whole letter. The "Iraqis," mentioned as one of the four groups of sufferers, is different again, as they suffer from an internecine war.
This pastoral letter, in spite of its Christian veneer, does not wish to console or reconcile opposing sides but to tell the reader that there is no difference between the victim and the attacker.
It's the West's Fault
Next, the author calls on the God of Job. "We must turn to God with our laments, seek comfort from each other, and offer signs of hope to neighbors in distress" (Job 19:7). Contrary to any Christian expectation that such a biblical word would be followed by words of prayer and reconciliation, the author expresses his "old frustration that so much is so dangerously wrong in the Middle East." He launches into a tirade against the world leaders who "met while bombs and rockets flew" and who went "home without uniting for peace."
Not only does the letter fail to condemn Hezbollah terrorists for their crimes, but it condemns G8 members who are seeking a solution to those crimes. Leaving aside the question of whether a pastoral letter should take such a condemnatory position against seekers of peace, there is the extremely disturbing fact that the WCC holds Western democratic parties responsible for failing to provide peace.
Next, the letter demands that "the international community" arrange "cease fires that end the spiral of violence, pressure to stop attacks on innocent civilians and protection for civilians according to international humanitarian law and the deployment of a multinational force capable of keeping peace." The general secretary of the WCC lectures military generals and political leaders as if he were a military strategist.
The WCC's phrase "spiral of violence" reveals an unwillingness to point to specific acts and lay blame on those who committed them. The expression pretends that violence develops almost by itself. Such language and shifting of responsibility protects Hezbollah from its culpability as the instigator of violence.
Flip-flopping the Blame
Hezbollah's rocket campaign against Israeli civilians seems, in the WCC's eyes, to be entirely Israel's fault.
Certain states seem bent on applying new and dangerous remedies to well-known problems in the region. Their leaders excuse uses of force that go well beyond the constraints of international law. They brand enemies as 'terrorists' even including assassinations from the air.
The Jewish state is portrayed as the root of the bloodshed. The letter instigates:
Militant groups adopt similar tactics, fuelling conflicts and spreading contempt for human lives. In Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel as well as Iraq, no amount of fear and anger can justify retaliatory targeting of homes, bombing of communities, and destruction of a nation's infrastructure.
In this account, the terrorists are nothing but "militant groups" that imitate the "tactics" which they learn first from Israel. The defenders against terrorism become offenders, and the victims turn into aggressors.
Submit to Terrorism
Having replaced the victim with the attacker, the message now blames the victim, and precisely not the terrorist, for the deaths caused in areas of terror, not only in Lebanon, but anywhere, as the next sentences states:
There, as in Afghanistan, deaths, injuries and damages inflicted through retaliation have far, far outnumbered the casualties and damage caused by the initial attacks.
The twisted tolerance of terror by the WCC reaches its peak. "Acts of terror do not give license to wreak terror in return." The WCC seems to advise Christians not to defend themselves, saying that Hezbollah requires protection, and beyond that, churches should submit to the rule of Hezbollah.
Protect the Terrorists
The current statement then refers to an earlier statement adopted by the WCC Assembly in February. One might wonder how any assembly could have ever agreed to such self-defeating actions. "Measures to counter terrorism must be demilitarized and the concept of the 'war on terror' must be firmly challenged by the churches."
This clause contains two measures which the member churches are expected to take up. The first imperative calls for the demilitarization of the defenders without requesting the same for the terrorists. It is clear beyond any doubt that this clause would lend the terrorists a secure victory. The second demand is similarly dim-witted and serves the same aim by asking churches to challenge the concept of the "war on terror." In addition to surrendering to the terrorists, churches now need to protect the terrorists from others who might fight them.
Playing the Dhimmi
The message of this communication is now clear. The WCC calls on member churches to take a hostile attitude against the democratic values of Western societies that put obstacles in the path of militant Islam. More precisely, the WCC invites its member churches to submit to militant Islam and to defend it from being fought against. Drawing the lines between the points, the picture of a perfect dhimmi appearsone who justifies the Muslim ruler's policy, blames non-Muslims for evil, and defends the Muslim ruler against attackers.
To this end, the WCC proposes three modes of action. The second of these acts calls on all churches to pay for the damage caused by Hezbollah terror. The WCC says:
Let us help. 500,000 people have already been uprooted by the attacks on Lebanon, the UN reports. Gaza lives under collective punishment, incursions, and siege. Dwellings and workplaces in Israel have been destroyed. Churches and related agencies are serving some of these needs.
While Israel is mentioned in this list of damages, it has yet to receive a penny from WCC member churches or related agencies. The damage to the State of Israel is enormous. A third of Israel's population, about two million people, have become dispossessed refugees in the middle of the summer heat. The land of Israel is destroyed by Hezbollah rockets. Business and harvest in northern Israel is severely ruined. Yet, not one of the member churches of the WCC has provided any kind of support geared toward easing the suffering of the Israeli people.
The WCC then condemns "the illegal 39-year occupation that is the vortex of the region's violent storms." The WCC is surely not ignorant that the bloodiest "regional storm" continues to be the inter-Muslim strife in Iraq. But the WCC statement refers to Palestinians and Iraqis in one breath, as if it is on account of the Palestinians that Sunnis and Shiites are murdering each other daily in Baghdad.
Israel's enemies, ad nauseam, have called Israel the "illegal occupiers," well-knowing that this is wrong. Having won the war against the Arab attacks in 1967, Israel seized the territory legally. At dispute are the kinds of action permitted to Israel in the territory concerned.
Blame the Jews
This contrasts with the text of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 adopted unanimously on August 11. The U.N. Security Council calls "Hezbollah's attack on Israel on 12 July 2006" the cause of the "continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and Israel." It further demands "the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers" and calls for the removal of non-governmental "armed personnel" south of the Litani river and "the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon."
Not only did the U.N. take the position of blaming Hezbollah for the current violence, the G8 summit statement in July and other international groups took similar positions. Hezbollah naturally complains and offers a well-known explanation, which it shares with Hamas, for why it receives the condemnation of the international community: The Jews control the whole world and manipulate events from behind the scenes.
Does the WCC have a better explanation for why its opinion is so out of line?
Rev. Dr. Petra Heldt, an ordained Lutheran pastor from Germany, has been the executive secretary for the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity of Israel since 1987. She has a doctorate is in patristics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As with all "Speaking Out" articles, the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of Christianity Today.
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
The Jerusalem Post profiled Heldt in 2005. The Post's website no longer has the article online, but it has been republished elsewhere.
Our full coverage of commentary on the Israel/Lebanon war continues.