Methodist breach not enough

This latest, hostile declaration by a Christian sub-denomination exposes the futility of ‘interfaith work’


I have never believed in withholding praise where praise is due. So I applaud the decision of the Board of Deputies to break off all dialogue with the leadership of the Methodist church.

But I have two reservations. The first is that this breach is not as comprehensive as it should be. The second is that other Christian denominations have not been included in the sanction.

The breach with the Methodists is to be welcomed not simply because they have enthusiastically embraced a report on the Middle East that is a catalogue of lies and half-truths.

If that alone had been the case, I might have been inclined to have counselled continuing dialogue in the hope of correcting errors of fact and interpretation.

Meaningful dialogue is impossible while the Methodists say Judaism is racist

The breach is to be welcomed because, behind that report, informing its contents and laying the groundwork for its adoption, is a philosophy of utter contempt for both Jews and Judaism. At last, this malignant mind-set has been laid bare for all of us to observe.

For some years a number of Christian sub-denominations, in this country and around the world, have vied with each other in their projection of Judaism as a contaminated creed, and of Jews as an accursed species.

This attitude is not merely medieval. It is pre-medieval, resurrecting and echoing as it does the view of the early church fathers that, in rejecting Jesus as the messiah, the Jews had forfeited their special relationship with the Almighty, whose favours had - as it were - been transferred to the Christians. This mind-set is fully reflected in the Methodist report. Although innocently entitled, "Justice for Palestine and Israel", the report's starting point is, as one of its authors, Nichola Jones, candidly admitted, the rejection of the Jewish view of God - "a racist God," she claims, "who has favourites."

"It sits uncomfortably with many modern Methodists," the report itself declares, "to imagine a God who singles out individuals or groups in order to promise possessions."

What struck me about this declaration was the reference to "modern Methodists". This hostile view of Judaism and of Jews was not always the Methodist view.

Charles Wesley, who with his more famous brother John practically founded the Methodist movement in the mid-18th century, was a pronounced and unashamed philosemite.

It may have come as an unwelcome surprise to Ms Jones, a Methodist clergywoman, to learn that Charles, a celebrated writer of hymns, was an early Zionist, who in 1762 penned a hymn calling (admittedly within a Christian framework) for the restoration of Jews to Israel and for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

This is not the philosophy that informs the report she so passionately commended to the Methodist conference earlier this month. It is her view, and the view of her co-authors - and now evidently the view of the Methodist movement as a whole - that Jews have no right to regard themselves as "heirs of Abraham" and that, insofar as Judaism, in whatever form, declares that is "in Covenant" with God, it is simply racist.

There is no point in maintaining a dialogue with a movement that espouses such hatred. The Deputies are quite right, therefore, to have nothing more to do with it.

But why stop there? While breaking off all contact with the Methodist leadership, the Deputies have (as reported in last week's JC) decided to maintain a dialogue with Methodists at a local level and to continue what is referred to as "interfaith work."

I cannot for the life of me understand why. Methodists - and I mean at the grass roots - need to understand that they cannot have their cake and eat it. They need to understand that no meaningful dialogue of any description is possible while their official stance is that Judaism is a racist creed and that Zionism is its malodorous offspring.

Which brings me to the larger issue of "interfaith work," and to ask whether this concept any longer serves, for us Jews, any useful purpose.

What actually is "interfaith work?" Meetings of the Council of Christians and Jews? Colloquia held under the auspices of the Three Faiths Forum? Joint Chanucah/Christmas parties?

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for hearing what the other chap has to say. But we do not need grandiose structures for achieving this end.

Certainly not so long as our Christian friends adhere to quite unacceptable and essentially barbaric prejudices against us.

    Last updated: 2:24pm, August 13 2010

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