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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Anti-Zionism and the Churches: The Canadian Scene

Filed under: Anti-Semitism, International Law, Israel, Peace Process, World Jewry
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

No. 94,

  • Mainline Canadian churches, like their counterparts in the United States, have addressed petitions seeking commitment to the Durban indictment against Israel.
  • The outcome of contests during the summer of 2009 within two major Protestant denominations in Canada reflects some similarities and some contrasting features in the religious situation in these neighboring countries. These differences are related to differences between the histories of the United States and Canada.
  • The significance of these differences has become more apparent in the light of recent shifts on the Canadian political scene. Since entering office in 2006, the Conservative Harper government has pursued a policy much friendlier toward Israel than that of any Liberal government of the past. Much of the Harper government’s base consists of Evangelical and Pentecostal groups with marked pro-Israel tendencies.
  • The laity of Canadian Protestant churches is generally pro-Israel and they, along with pro-Israel Jewish organizations, are ultimately a stronger factor than these churches’ often anti-Israel leadership.

A General Overview: Pro-Israel and Anti-Israel Attitudes within the Churches

Christian attitudes toward the state of Israel vary greatly. On the one hand, there is the World Council of Churches (WCC), the collective voice of all the major Protestant denominations, which stood in the vanguard at the UN conference at Durban in August 2001. There Israel was stigmatized for “systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.” The WCC issues declarations that echo the anathemas given currency by the Durban II conference and the Goldstone report.[1]

On the other hand, there are the Christian Zionists, perhaps the most reliable supporters of Israel’s cause today. They are more consistently pro-Israel, in fact, than the general constituency of those who, in the United States, Canada, and the Western democracies, identify themselves to the census-takers as Jews.

Christian Zionism reflects a basic pro-Israel disposition among North Americans, most of whom, despite the superficial secularization of the culture, believe that the state of Israel came into the world in fulfillment of promises found in Holy Scripture. These North Americans believe that their collective wellbeing requires their leaders to display a preference for Israel’s cause in the face of the threats to its life that have continued without abatement since 1948.[2]

Over recent years, leaders of major Protestant denominations have been conducting vigorous educational campaigns directed at discrediting Christian Zionism as “heresy.” These campaigns are paid for out of general revenues of the various denominations and usually take the form of weekend study sessions directed at discovering solidarity with the “Christian people of Palestine.” Their principal speakers are usually bishops representing the main denominations in the Holy Land (Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, etc.) – all of whom are Palestinian Arabs. No place is ever permitted on such programs for pro-Israel response. All of the study materials and recommended readings are derived from anti-Israel sources, disseminated by the publication houses owned by the particular denominations.

Two closely linked factors are involved in this alienation of church hierarchies from laity on the matter of attitudes toward Israel. The first is the ambition of leaders of the major churches to be taken seriously as the vanguard of moral leadership in the world. With respect to Israel, this means conformity to the lockstep anti-Zionism that governs thinking in the universities and colleges. Equally, it requires solidarity with Third World progressivism – the spirit that routinely informs declarations about the world’s problems emanating from committees and commissions of the United Nations.

The second is the fact that membership in almost all the bodies that make up the WCC in North America has been declining steadily since at least 1960, both in absolute numbers of members and, more dramatically, as a proportion of the entire churchgoing population.

Leaders of the churches affiliated with the WCC have lost the place they used to occupy on public platforms, as public life has become secularized and as the popular culture has turned pagan. This has left clergy desperate for opportunities to prove the “relevance” of the moral teaching of the church, seeking an audience larger than their own membership, an audience outside the walls, an audience among enlightened people around the world.

Thus the collective desire of the WCC is to be recognized as the conscience of mankind. And where is the will of mankind expressed? In the United Nations, of course. This explains the affinity of thought and vocabulary between, on the one hand, WCC statements and Roman Catholic statements on most world issues and, on the other, UN declarations and resolutions.

Another circumstance fueling the WCC’s anti-Israel rhetoric is the increasingly close connection between the WCC and the churches that are predominant in the Middle East. A minority of these are Roman Catholic; others are rooted in the missionary efforts of Protestant churches of the nineteenth century; and others are thoroughly indigenous, going back to the days when Greek Orthodoxy was predominant in the old Byzantine Empire. Indeed, some go back further – to local “Oriental Orthodox” (pre-Chalcedonian) bodies that the Greek Orthodox Church failed to assimilate during the days of their own supremacy in the area and whose leaders were subsequently cultivated by the Muslim masters.

All of the Eastern Christian bodies (members of the Middle East Council of Churches, MECC) adhere to a theological understanding under which the Church of Christ has become the plenary inheritor of all the promises that God is seen to be making to the Jews in the “Old Testament.” This is called “replacement theology” – the doctrine that makes it impossible for Eastern Christians to come to terms with any understanding of Israel’s continuance as part of the Purpose of God.

In these Eastern circles today, Christian Zionism has been pronounced heretical. Western Church leaders have cheerfully acquiesced in the anathema against Christian Zionism as one of the conditions of full cooperation between the WCC and the MECC.  Simultaneously, they have adopted the anti-Western, anti-imperialist narrative that informs the self-understanding of Eastern church communities, thereby securing secular absolution from the sins of the Crusaders and imperialists.

Anti-Israel Mobilization in the Denominations

The Durban Declaration of 2001 provides the mottos for a concerted campaign being conducted within member denominations of the WCC for the purpose of depriving Israel of its right to life. The anti-Israel forces won spectacular initial victories at several Protestant denominational annual meetings in 2004 and 2005, securing support in principle for their  divestment campaign. But in the interval between these meetings and the next annual or biennial meetings of the same denominations, pro-Israel lobbies were organized within the denominations, parliamentary procedures were studied in the ranks, and in all cases the basic pro-Israel spirit among most of the laity turned back the divestment resolutions.[3]

At the beginning of 2009, the anti-Israel campaign within the denominations started up again, with a somewhat different agenda. The catalyst for renewed anti-Israel activity was Operation Cast Lead, the war that Israel undertook in late December 2008 and which lasted for a few weeks with the aim of stopping assaults on its life directed from Gaza. During the summer of 2009, several North American churches held their annual conventions. And at several of these, leadership brought forward for consideration and adoption by their members Resolutions on the Holy Land, demanding condemnation of Israel in the familiar Durban terms.

Dexter Van Zile gives an authoritative account of how this story played out in U.S. Protestant denominations.[4] Van Zile is the Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), and his essay’s content represents the fruit of his daily scrutiny of anti-Israel activity in the ranks of the American churches. The present essay is intended to fill in the rest of the North American story by means of a similar review of the Canadian church scene, within the same approximate time frame.

Some Generalizations about Religious Life in Canada

A useful rule of thumb for any outside student beginning research on any of the major categories of Canadian life is that Canadians are usually to be found occupying a middle ground between the experience of the British and that of the Americans. In political matters, for example, Canada has a parliamentary system (rather than the congressional one), but it is a federal system (like the American one.)  Study of Canadian political science, therefore, requires some triangulation between these two systems. With respect to the religious scene, the observer will find some residue from Canada’s experience as a colony within the British Empire — and later the Commonwealth –, some significant impact in church life of the British legacy, reflected, for example, in a larger presence of Anglicanism.

The academic historiography in the history of the churches in Canada in recent times is sparse – certainly as compared to the American literature. A realistic strategy for any student of the Canadian religious scene is to study the American literature first, as most of the issues in church life in Canada are best understood as variations on the themes that are more thoroughly explored in that more abundant literature. This is especially true of denominational history.

Standing alone as a thoroughly researched and broad account of relations between the churches and the state of Israel, from the days that led to its founding until about ten years ago, is Haim Genizi’s The Holocaust, Israel, and Canadian Protestant Churches.[5] It is based on research in the archives of all the denominations and the interchurch bodies, research in the religious press, interviews of a great range of participants, and an evidently exhaustive review of the periodical literature. As the present essay focuses on recent anti-Israel activities in the Canadian churches, Genizi’s work is not a source of information for this story, but the historical background that he provides is essential to understanding of the issues.

Canadian churches affiliated with the WCC, like their American counterparts, have declined drastically in membership since 1960. At the same time, churches outside the WCC have grown – some modestly (notably, Roman Catholics), others sensationally (notably, the Pentecostal Assemblies.) According to the official Canadian government census of 200l, Roman Catholic membership was just under thirteen million (out of a total national population of about thirty million.) At the same time, membership of all Protestant churches in toto was 8,700,000. (The most rapidly growing religious community by far is Islam – by 128.9% since the last census.)

Canadian Christians attend church less frequently than do Americans, but more frequently than do the British. The best sources say that about 25% of Canadians attend church “regularly.” By contrast, weekly church attendance in the United States has stood around 40% since the end of the Second World War. Regional differences under this heading are more conspicuous in Canada than in the United States. Participation rates are highest in the western provinces – except that in the westernmost of all, British Columbia, the inhabitants share the prize for least frequent attendance with the Province of Quebec. For comparison: according to the World Values Survey, about 10% of the British attend church regularly; on the European mainland, attendance starts at 10% in France and then declines as one proceeds eastward through Western Europe, with the lowest participation being in the northeast among the Scandinavian countries (where 4%-5% is the median).[6]

The Roman Catholic Church in Canada

The fact that in Canada Roman Catholic numbers have been greater than Protestant numbers has always been relevant to the makers of government policy toward Israel and the Middle East. In Canada’s history, Roman Catholicism did not gradually intrude itself into the political scene in company with successive waves of minority immigration, as was the case in the United States. Instead, the Roman Catholic Church was part of the British North American religious establishment from the beginning. It had been the church of the French colonists, originally imposed and nurtured by the French monarchy, but subsequently given a preferred position in public life as a result of a deliberate policy decision by the British government. One outcome is that most of Canada’s twentieth-century prime ministers were Roman Catholics – all of those who were of French background, and most of those who were of British extraction.

The Roman Catholic Church, being hierarchical – despite the existence of advisory bodies and task forces in which laity are represented – does not hold national conventions at which delegates representing the whole body of members study and agree on major policy matters. Therefore, the only way to discover attitudes of the Roman Catholic Church on major issues is to consult the published statements of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.[7] As the WCC, MECC, and the various Roman Catholic commissions routinely coordinate their statements on these matters, there is no surprise in finding that the language in these documents echoes that in the WCC documents and those of the various denominations.

One gets the impression that Roman Catholic laity, and probably the clergy for the most part too, are better disposed toward Israel than are the leaders of most of the mainline Protestant denominations. Still, while Liberal governments ruled and while Quebec was voting for Liberals at the national level, government policy toward Israel was affected to a considerable degree by two aspects of Quebec’s peculiar history: its predominantly Catholic identity and its intense commitment to isolation from international commitments. One current effect of these two interconnected historical forces is that Quebeckers are not easily moved by the notion of Israel as having God’s particular favor – the notion that Christian Zionists promote with such considerable success within the Evangelical and Pentecostal parts of the church, both in Canada and the United States.

Declining Roman Catholic Influence, Increasing Evangelical Influence on Policy toward Israel

Generally speaking, Christian Zionist organizations are strongest among Evangelicals and Pentecostals and least strong among Roman Catholics and Anglicans. The present prime minister, Stephen Harper, an Evangelical Protestant, is the first Protestant prime minister in about a half a century if one overlooks the pitiful few weeks of the tenure of Kim Campbell in 1993. Harper represents today a corner of the country with exceptionally large representation of Evangelicals and Pentecostals.

There is a deep political logic in the circumstance that the Conservative Harper government, since entering office in 2006, has pursued a policy much friendlier toward Israel than that of any Liberal government of the past. Among its first acts was to put Canada at the head of the line of governments that pledged not to acknowledge the Hamas-led regime that had been elected throughout the Palestinian Authority. Since then, Harper and his government have resisted complaints from the media and from academics that it has stained Canada’s reputation for evenhandedness by so frequently supporting Israel at the United Nations.

The ramifications of this fact are too many to be pursued here. Suffice it to say that, over the past six years or so, while American national politics has been shifting to the left – back to a Democratic majority – Canadian national politics has been shifting the other way. One might even say that Canada’s policy toward Israel today resembles more the policy pursued by George W. Bush – until, at least, the last year of his presidency – than it resembles that of Barack Obama up until now.

Interdenominational Church Bodies

It is this author’s impression that attitudes of laity on such matters of high policy as the Middle East conflict are not much affected by the declarations and pronouncements that emanate from the WCC, the MECC, and the various Catholic bodies. Indeed, few laypersons are aware of the publicly stated official views of their denominations on such issues. It is only on those very rare occasions when the leadership brings to the conventions of their denominations resolutions seeking to commit the particular denomination to the positions of the major world bodies that the laity are required to take notice.

Equally mysterious to most laity are the commitments that leaders of their denominations take in connection with the many interchurch and interfaith bodies that have formed over the past half-century or so to promulgate a “Christian” consensus on many matters of “social ministry” and “justice ministry.”

The principal interchurch body in Canada is the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC). The CCC is, at least nominally, a more inclusive body than the WCC. It began life in 1947 as a voice of the Protestant churches, but gradually it brought on other voices. Today it is the largest ecumenical body in Canada, representing twenty-two churches of Anglican, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic traditions. “We are,” the officers of this body rightly claim, “one of the few ecumenical bodies in the world that includes such a range of Christian churches. The officers and staff of the council are drawn from the whole diversity of traditions represented by the member churches.” The CCC yields nothing to the WCC, or for that matter to the MECC, in hostility toward Israel.[8]

The Peace Churches: Mennonites and Friends

The Mennonite Church of Canada is a small denomination with only thirty-seven thousand members, meeting in 235 congregations. Yet its leaders have always had greater interest in the issue of “peace and justice in the Holy Land” than the other larger denominations have. This is partly owing to the lengthy history of that church as a missionary presence, but also because, as a church within the pacifist tradition, it has aligned itself with the Palestinian side right from the beginning, seeing the Palestinians as the vulnerable party in the conflict with state power.[9]

Like the Mennonites, the Quakers (Society of Friends) derive from the radical pacifist left-end of the Reformation. (The Society of Friends in Canada reports about three thousand members.) A recent article posted on the Friends’ website sets forth this organization’s attitude toward issues in the Holy Land. It works the same themes as are found in WCC documents but it phrases its critique of Israel in language characteristic of the Quaker tradition of nonresistance. Israel cannot expect to receive the approbation of the Friends because, simply, it has power and the other side has not, and it is the Quaker duty (as its founder pronounced) to Speak Truth to Power. “Israel is the more powerful party in the conflict with the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal and the fifth largest production of arms…. Israel is the occupying power and is pursuing occupation as a pro-active policy.” The Quakers seek “a win-win, rights-based agreement which asserts the inadmissibility of attacks on civilians, whether as state- or non-state terrorism.”[10] An interview with Van Zile deals with the historic peace churches and their animus against Israel.[11]

The Canadian Friends Service Committee and the Mennonite Central Committee draw financial support from the broader public as well as from their members. Both are participants in the phalanx of religious NGOs that have standing as expert witnesses before Canadian parliamentary committees and before the several UN commissions that are so preoccupied with denunciation of Israel.

Interdenominational Organizations

Government ministers regularly receive advice from the CCC on all issues currently on the national agenda. As well, they find in their daily email inboxes declarations and position papers from other bodies that represent interdenominational cooperation on many issues of national and international importance and that typically claim to speak for “the Christian conscience.”

These organizations are too numerous to catalog here, but all have open files in the offices of ministers of foreign affairs, of international trade, and of international development. Until recently, one of the most effective of these seemed to be Kairos, which describes itself as a “solidarity organization” and is supported financially by eleven church groups. Up until late 2009, it could also claim that it was supported financially by the taxpayers of Canada, through a continuing grant from the Canadian International Development Agency.

In recent years, Kairos has taken criticism from letters to the editor for its advocacy of rigidly left-international positions on many public policies. In particular, it has drawn the ire of Israelis and friends of Israel for its support of Israel Apartheid Week events at Canadian universities, for its policy statements and publications that adopt uncritically the Palestinian narrative about the nakba and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, and for its description of Zionism as an “ideology of empire, colonialism, and militarism.” The previous Liberal government had always been deaf to complaints of friends of Israel about Kairos, but the current government has given notice that public funding will soon end.[12]

Executives of the mainline churches are now cooperating with the various interfaith groups (CCC and the others) to front a campaign alerting Canadians to the need for “Urgent Action to Restore CIDA Funding to KAIROS.” Archbishop Tutu of South Africa has lent his prestige to the cause of redressing what he says is an “unparalleled setback for the poor, vulnerable and disenfranchised.”[13]

The Summer Season of Denominational Church Conventions in Canada, 2009

For over sixty years, Roman Catholics, Mennonites, Quakers, and leaders of many other denominations have sought to direct the mind of Canadian governments in the matter of Israel.[14] Although it is impossible to weigh that influence, it is worth focusing on the story of two major Canadian Protestant denominations – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and the United Church of Canada (UCC.)

These two denominations hold conventions – usually lively ones – and they go on record about everything. Their laity, in both cases, are notoriously assertive. Although the Lutherans are nominally an Episcopal body (that is, governed by bishops who are recruited within a rather small coterie), ecclesiastical authority is not as imposing as that of Roman Catholics. Lutheran congregations are essentially self-governing. As for the UCC, they are essentially a lay-run organization whose national presiding officer is not usually a clergyperson. For these reasons, at meetings of these bodies the full range of attitudes toward Israel among church members are exposed for the world to see.

Both the ELCIC, Canada’s fifth largest Protestant denomination, and the UCC, Canada’s largest Protestant denomination, held conventions during the summer of 2009 and, in the midst of much other business, both considered Resolutions on the Holy Land, proffered by their leaders.

The sociological profile of ELCIC membership closely resembles that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The UCC is best understood, sociologically and theologically, as an amalgam of the worshippers who, in the United States, belong to the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Churches of Christ. The leadership of both of these denominations is every bit as ill-disposed toward Israel as is the leadership of these American counterparts.


Some months before the June convention, members of the ELCIC were indoctrinated in Durban-derived animosity toward Israel by a feature article. Titled “Fear, Frustration, Separation: Travelling through the West Bank, our bishops glimpse the challenges of daily life for those living in this troubled region,” it appeared early in 2009 in the denomination’s national journal Canada Lutheran.

In brief separate articles, four bishops described their in-depth experience of “the Holy Land,” acquired during a weeklong tour. They speak of the outrage that came over them as their tour bus moved alongside the separation fence. They reflect on the pain of separation of families, the seizure of Palestinian lands, and the impediments to travel that the fence has caused, while mocking Israel’s strange “claim” that the fence exists to save Israeli lives. All four embrace the Arab-Palestinian dogma that the sole purpose of the fence is to seize land and harass the oppressed.

The bishop who goes furthest in vilification of Israel is Susan Halmarson. She shares the sudden inspiration she had at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial that Hitler’s final solution and Israel’s separation barrier against “the people whose land they had come to inhabit” are, after all, “similar policies” – a shocking echo of the rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The partiality of the leaders’ proposed Resolutions on the Holy Land is easily discerned. It appears in the prefatory section, as expression of appreciation to the local Middle East churches – primarily churches serving within the aegis of the Palestinian Authority – and it appears in the frequent citations of documents issued by the WCC and the MECC, statements of the Lutheran bishop of the ELCJHL (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land), and quotations from anti-Israel advocacy organizations, including Israeli left-wing groups. No reference appears in these documents to any consultation with such obviously interested parties as the state of Israel, Canadian Jewish organizations, or pro-Israel organizations, either Christian or secular in character.

Many delegates arrived at the convention armed with contrary argumentation and proposals for amendments, provided by pro-Israel advocates within the congregation and disseminated in advance on contrarian websites. Yet, when it came time to vote, several amendments intended to moderate the anti-Israel bias were defeated, and the leaders’ proffered resolutions were passed without significant changes.

Among a sheaf of resolutions called “Accompanying Peace Builders,” the convention “commend[ed] companies and investors who are supporting community based economic development and fair trade organizations in Palestinian areas and who are not making investments in goods or services that support the police, military, or occupation administration.” The convention also “commend[ed] the Ministry of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel under the auspices of the World Council of Churches.”

Under the heading “Advocating for Peace,” “the convention… communicates to the government of Canada…[its] support for an end to terrorism and violence by individuals, organizations and states against innocent civilians and bringing justice to those who commit such crimes.”  This language conveys the WCC’s habitual message about the equivalence in moral worth of force used by states and their armies in defense of civilian life and force employed by terrorists. It regrets both types impartially.

Under the same heading, the ELCIC summarizes what it regards as Canada’s official position and endorses it:

[The ELCIC] reiterates to the government of Israel, Canada’s continued opposition to the occupation of territories (Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank) as called for in UN Resolution [sic] 446 and 465…. [It] reiterates to the government of Israel Canada’s position that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and [it] call[s] for a cessation of all settlement activities and a withdrawal from settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory to the 1967 armistice boundary (the “Green Line”)…. [It] reiterates to the government of Israel, that while Israel has a right to assure its own security, Canada’s position is that the presence of the “Security Wall” as it has been constructed on Palestinian lands is contrary to international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention and that Canada is strongly opposed to Israel’s illegal “expropriations and the demolition of houses and economic infrastructure  carried out for this purpose” (Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade).

In keeping with WCC dogma, the convention “recognized…that theological distortions of Christian faith (such as Christian Zionism) result from a misreading of the Bible and the current situation.”[15]

Over the months since the convention, the bishops have continued their agitation for stronger witness against Israel’s sins through the denomination’s regional newspapers and by means of speaking tours of major centers.[16]


The leaders of the UCC were not able to duplicate at their denominational general meeting the victory on the issue of the Holy Land that ELCIC leaders enjoyed at their convention. It may well be paradoxically because they overplayed their hand in the preconvention season.

A few days before the annual convention of Canada’s largest Protestant church was due to meet in Kelowna, British Columbia on 9-15 August, the church’s head offices sent the delegates copies of resolutions that it intended to propose for adoption by the entire body of that church. These resolutions would call upon the church as a body and all members as individuals to participate in a wholehearted boycott – economic, professional, cultural, and moral – of Israel, until “Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination.” Canadian Jews and non-Jewish friends of Israel throughout Canada were appalled to find in the intended resolutions themselves, and more blatantly in the accompanying justifying documents, vilification of Israel couched in familiar Durban language, including repeated references to Israel’s “occupation of Palestinian land” and its “apartheid regime.”

The UCC leaders, inspired by recent Israel Apartheid Day events at several Canadian universities, took the gloves off, using inflammatory language reminiscent of the spirit of medieval libels. In these same documents, Canadian Jews in general, and certain unnamed Jewish members of Canada’s parliament in particular, were denounced for disloyalty to Canada on account of their loyalty to Israel. This over-the-top rhetoric caught the attention of mainstream Canadian media, which do not often take notice of church events. On the eve of the convention, the Ottawa Citizen published an editorial, “Pray for the United Church,” that went to the heart of the matter by stating that “anti-semitism is a virus…masking itself as anti-Zionism.”[17]

Undoubtedly this advance scrutiny of the convention by the secular press brought a degree of heat upon the UCC leaders that ELCIC leaders were spared. Indeed, the ELCIC convention appears to have been entirely ignored by the national media.

On the first day of the UCC convention, voices were heard from the floor deprecating the bias and the hateful spirit of the proposed resolutions. Incredibly, the parties responsible for the original resolution evidently went silent, as the convention’s records will show that the convention passed unanimously a resolution repudiating and regretting the “provocative, unbalanced and hurtful” language of the proposed resolutions.

When the convention turned to voting, proposals calling for a national boycott of Israel and others calling for divestment were turned down by comfortable margins. At the same time, individual members and local congregations were encouraged, in another resolution, “to study, discern, and pray and undertake their own initiatives, which may include an economic boycott as a means to ending the occupation.”[18] B’nai Brith Canada made clear that “it [had] expected much more “from this body of Christians.[19] Still, most Canadian friends of Israel took satisfaction in the fact that the UCC leadership’s campaign of vilification against Israel had been trimmed down to the single resolution endorsing voluntary boycott.[20]


In this recent history, both in Canada and in the United States, there has been a pattern. It has been the Jewish groups – with B’nai Brith or the Simon Wiesenthal Center usually in the lead – that have alerted the media, in advance of the various conventions, to anti-Israel resolutions being prepared for adoption. Then Christian Zionist groups (such as the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem) and pro-Israel media watchdogs (notably CAMERA) have compelled critical examination of these resolutions through press releases and letters to editors. Friends of Israel among the laity have then circulated on independent websites statements of opposition to the prepackaged resolutions and have organized opposition on the floor of the convention. While they were at it, they apprised the media of the news value of the forthcoming action at the convention.

By the time the resolutions were ready to be put to vote, the dynamics had changed: leaders who had fashioned the hostile motions were now on the defensive. By the time that the conventions were ready to vote, pro-Israel voices had prepared their arguments against the prepackaged resolutions, and the basically pro-Israel spirit that is characteristic of most laity was galvanized to allow reconsideration of the official resolutions. In some cases, entirely fresh motions went to the floor and were passed, expressing a more fair-minded approach to the issues.

The case of the ELCIC demonstrates that where there is no extra-ecclesial scrutiny of discussion within a denomination – the normal state of affairs, given the media’s indifference to church matters – the biases of clerical leadership will prevail against the attitudes of the laity in internal debate. The case of the WCC demonstrates that where a denomination’s deliberations come under media scrutiny, the anti-Israel bias of the leadership gets exposed, the leadership becomes uncomfortable and defensive, and an alerted laity will defeat their resolutions.

Abusive language and tendentious resolutions, replete with the spirit of Israel’s enemies among opinion elites, and distributed in wholesale bundles by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, will not pass the test of commonsense and fairness with the laity of Protestant churches in the United States and Canada.

*     *     *


[1] The author’s previous work on this theme is reflected in: “The Role of the Churches in the Current Rise of Anti-Semitism,” lecture presented at the International Conference on Confronting Global Anti-Semitism, sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem, 24-25 February 2008. Text at Also “Christian Support for Israel,” lecture presented at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel, 20 May 2007. Published as a chapter in Eytan Gilboa and Efraim Inbar, eds., US-Israeli Relations in a New Era: Issues and Challenges after 9/11 (London: Routledge, 2009).

[2]  See Paul C. Merkley, Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001), esp. Ch. 7. See also Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Christian Friends and Foes of Israel,” interview with David R. Parsons, Changing Jewish Communities, 1 March 2009.


[3] See Eugene Korn, “Divestment from Israel, the Liberal Churches, and Jewish Responses: A Strategic Analysis,” Changing Jewish Communities, 1 January 2007.


[4] Dexter Van Zile, “Mainline Christian ‘Peacemakers’ against Israel,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 15 November 2009.

[5] Haim Genizi, The Holocaust, Israel, and Canadian Protestant Churches (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002).


[7] Recent statements include “Stop the Violence, Start Building Peace,” a communiqué in support of the church in the Holy Land, Bethlehem, 15 January 2009; and “Letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel,” 9 November 2009.

[8] The most developed CCC statement on record found by this author on the theme of the Holy Land is “Eleven Canadian Christian Leaders Call for Peace with Justice in the Middle East,” January 2001. Recent comments about Israel and Palestine appear in the context of statements on other issues, and can be found by searching for the term “Israel” or “Palestine” at

[9] Mennonite statements can be found at Recent news-release statements include: “Mennonite Originated Schools in Holy Land Remain a Strong Witness,” September 2009.

[10] “Are There Effective Advocacy Strategies to Bring Peace to Israel/Palestine?”


[12] See Gerald Steinberg, “Canadian Government Denies Kairos Grant Application,” NGO Monitor, 8 December 2009,; “NDP Says Kenney Owes Religious Group an Apology,”, 23 December  2009; “Fury Grows over Anti-Semitism Charge,”, 21 December 2009.

[13]  Liberal Party of Canada website,, 16 December 2009;, 16 December 2009.

[14] On the Anglicans, see Genizi, 189-214; on the Presbyterians, 215-230; on the Baptists, 231-240.

[15] ELCIC Convention 2009 Minutes, 25-28 June 2009.


[16] See “Holy Land Brings Bible to Life,” The Lutheran (Eastern Edition), July/August 2009, and “Bishop Johnson to Speak on the Holy Land,” September/October 2009,

[17], 12 August 2009.

[18] Paul C. Merkley, “Deja Vu at the United Church of Canada,” Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, September 2009.

[19] Press release, “United Church of Canada Resolutions Insult to Grassroots Canadian Jews,”, 14 August 2009.

[20] Paul C. Merkley, “Déjà vu at the United Church of Canada.”. .

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Paul C. Merkley is professor emeritus in history at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and the author of many books and articles on various aspects of Christian attitudes toward Zionism. His most recent book is American Presidents, Religion and Israel (Praeger, 2004).