The United Church of Canada's recent report on Israeli and Palestinian policy made front-page news this week. But Shimon Fogel's reaction in Tuesday's National Post gets it wrong, when he suggests the report hurts the United Church's reputation.
I've read the report, and its content is not what makes it noteworthy. I'm reasonably certain that you could find a bunch of similar-calibre papers from C-range students in first year political science courses in universities across the country. No, what makes it noteworthy, and the reason it made front page news, is that it was produced by something described as a Christian church.
It's difficult to find any marks which are specifically Christian in the report. It claims to offer a biblical and theological vision for its findings, but these are difficult to find. The closest thing one can find is this:
While much of this history has been clouded by violence and oppression, empires and occupation, exile and return, this land has also been shaped by an awareness of the sacred and transcendent. Whether it is the night journey of Muhammad, the vision of Solomon, or the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, here heaven and earth have come close to each other. The integrity of the three world faiths represented by the land of Israel/Palestine is at stake in how this conflict is resolved.
That's a little thin, isn't it? In fact, the four paragraphs dedicated to "biblical and theological vision" are among the most weakly written and banal bits of the whole report. The report as a whole reads like more like policy proposals from a political party or think-tank than the work of a church. The effect is similar to that of Christian rock and roll. Take the music, hairdo, leather jackets, and electric guitars of an eighties rock-band, replace "girl" with Jesus, and you've got church music. The result in policy is as confounding as Stryper. It leaves me wanting to say, "You're not making Christianity better; you're making public policy worse." It has media cachet only because it's connected with Canada's (supposedly) second largest church.
No, this report doesn't hurt the reputation of the United Church. After their wholly serious exploration of "Post-Theistic" Christianity and other such (non)theological adventures, the United Church does not have much of a reputation left. It's the reputation of broader Canadian Christianity that takes the blow, by the United Church's lingering association.
What of those who want the apostolic faith to be taken seriously for public life? The minimalist and weak way this report treats scripture and Christian tradition to speak to an important issue, combined with the highly disputable policy proposals it unabashedly advances, communicate to a Canadian public that scripture and biblical tradition aren't important to public dialogue. The church, in this instance, becomes just another voice in the cacophony of think-tanks, university professors, politicians, and lobbyists.
Perhaps it's time for the United Church to stop speaking as a Christian church, and for the National Post to stop covering them as one. Might it not be more helpful to the public to describe them as a collective of independent spiritual beings with political opinions? Sounds less newsworthy, doesn't it? Perhaps we'd all be better off.