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Friday, March 4, 2005
IsraPundit Interview with Prof Paul Charles Merkley concerning the WCC divestment decision
By Joseph Alexander Norland
IsraPundit has had the privilege and honour of posting several articles contributed by history professor emeritus Prof Paul Charles Merkley (to see these article, enter the word "merkley" in our search engine, at the middle of the right-hand column).

In this post, we bring to our readers an e-interview centered on the WCC divestment decision. Prof Merkley, my fellow-Ottawan, is eminently qualified to elucidate the issues involved, since Prof Merkley is at one and the same time a professional historian, a practising Lutheran, and an expert on Israel-Christian affairs.

Readers who wish to pose additional questions are asked to post the questions as comments, and I will ask Prof Merkley to respond.

Using a Canadian understatement, I extend my heartfelt thanks to Prof Merkley for agreeing to grant this interview to IsraPundit and for responding expeditiously.

E-interview with Prof Paul Charles Merkley, History Professor Emeritus, Carleton University, Ottawa

Question: IsraPundit readers are familiar with the formal description of the WCC, as given in such websites as http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/who/mch-e.html. From your personal perspective, however, as scholar and church-member, how would you describe and characterize the WCC? How does the WCC keep out the Evangelical churches?

Answer: A quick reminder: the WCC was founded in 1948 (a few weeks AFTER the State of Israel was founded!) as the inclusive voice of all of what were in those days regarded as the “mainstream” Protestant churches, including the Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. (All of these churches, incidentally, while still designated as “mainstream” by lazy-minded journalists today, began almost immediately to decline, not only proportionately but in terms of absolute numbers of members, and in the 1980s and 1990s they went into a tailspin. It is they who are now marginal, and the despised Evangelicals and Pentecostals (non-members of the WCC)– which, along with Roman Catholics, are truly mainstream in America.)

The WCC eventually expanded to include 347 member denominations worldwide, including the Orthodox Churches and others, but not the Roman Catholic Church; there is however close cooperation between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church when positions are taken on major issues arising in world affairs. RC and WCC statements on the evils of U.S. policy, on armaments and security issues, and notably on attitudes towards Israel, are virtually identical.

It is not correct to say that the WCC “keeps out” the Evangelical and Pentecostal church bodies. The WCC still has its heart set on becoming the One Big Church, but long ago it decided that the conservative wing of the Church is so deplorably lacking in intellectual credit and so anti-progressive on all the major social and moral issues (abortion, same sex marriage, etcetera) that its presence in its own camp would discredit the WCC as a liberal and progressive voice, capable of combining in the world-political arena with other progressive forces. But WCC revulsion for “fundamentalists” is more than matched by Evangelical and Pentecostal revulsion over the betrayal, as they see it, of Christian witness by the WCC. These theologically-orthodox churches recognize the incompatibility between the liberal-relativist theology and philosophy pursued by the WCC and their own Biblically-based theology.

Question: Why, in your opinion, did the WCC come out now with the divestment decision? Israel has done nothing special in the last year, other than improve her relations with the PA – so, why now?

Answer: On the face of it, the WCC’s pronouncement is behind the curve of recent events. It comes at the very moment when, after four years of intifada and discontinued diplomacy, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have resumed serious negotiations, having now the encouragement of virtually the entire world – except the terrorists and their sponsors. Instead of applauding this long-hoped-for initiative, the WCC chooses now to cast doubt on the viability of diplomacy by clinging to the one-sided anti-Israel invective that has hitherto subverted hopes for diplomacy.

I see three possible explanations for this:

1. The WCC takes a long time to write its documents. It is possible that their in-house journalists simply haven’t got the energy to re-write the text which has been moving up within its massive bureaucracy for so many months.

2. WCC thinking has become so adamantine that change is no longer possible. External reality is no longer consulted by these deep-thinkers. In recent months, the Universities – from which the WCC got the fashionable idea of divestment – have started backing away from divestment.

It is typical of the WCC that it joins in on left-wing habits of thinking only after everyone identifying as a progressive has picked up on them – by which time, the wave has begun to recede and the rhetoric shifts. We find an earlier example of this in the late 1930s, when these same “mainstream” Churches (then clustered in the Federal Council of Churches, in the days before the inauguration of the WCC) were still making Common Front noises about the Peace-loving Soviet Union while simultaneously preaching pacifism and the need for understanding towards the diplomacy being pursued by Adolf Hitler.

If this intake of history is too much for people with normal political interests and limited historical memory, we need go back no further than the Cold War years, when WCC dignitaries were taking Communist-government-funded tours of the Communist world, and returning to denounce rumour-mongers in our midst who pretended that there were restrictions of freedom, including the freedom of worship, in the Communist world. To my knowledge, we have never received from the WCC any public and formal recantation of their sinful assistance to Communist tyranny. Nor should we expect to live to see similar recantation of their present celebration of the alleged record of religious tolerance in Muslim empires of the past or present. People who are confident of their total righteousness cannot be changed by arguments deriving from fact.

3. The most sinister explanation – and I fear the most likely – is that the WCC is now panicking in face of the real prospect of a diplomatic solution of the Israel-Palestine dispute, which could result in the Palestinian side settling with the State of Israel. The WCC leadership has been drinking disinformation for decades from the well of the Middle East Council of Churches, and is committed to Israel’s illegitimacy. In its statement of February 21, the WCC implies that the real boundaries of Israel – the boundaries that now need to be re-negotiated, are not those of 1967 but those of 1948. WCC supports the unlimited right of return of “Palestinian refuges”, fully cognizant of the fact that if any substantial part of that multi-million population is canted back inside the 1948 boundaries, then the Jewish state will not be able to contain them. It is my considered belief, reached through careful study of dozens and dozens of WCC statements on this issue, that the WCC will not let up on Israel until it is no more. Righteousness has made these priests mad. It has not registered with them that soon after Israel is no more, the Church will be no more. The slogan that keeps Muslimists alive is the one that runs: “After the Saturday people [the Jews], will come the Sunday people [the Christians]”.

Perhaps in some minds it will mitigate the criminality of WCC thinking to reflect that it is not “anti-Semitism” but self-loathing that has made the Church so hostile to Israel. In my mind, however, it makes it worse.

Question: The treatment meted out to Christians under the PA control is well known. The death penalty prescribed for Moslems converting to Christianity, for example, is no secret. The Prism Group (http://www.theprismgroup.org/TreatmentChristianArabs.htm) has posted a long indictment in this regard. How do you explain that the WCC turns a blind eye to the suffering of its own, while condemning Israel?

Answer: In scriptural language, it is because they prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.

The educated leadership of the WCC is totally out of touch with attitudes of the laity, while totally attuned to attitudes in the secular world. It is a point of pride with these people that they see relative virtue and partial truth in everything. They have given up on the notion of the Bible as a book of revealed truth and on the Creed as a body of truthful propositions in light of which other beliefs and other propositions must be judged. To keep themselves credible in the great world of learning it is essential (they believe) for them to get to the head of the global army of deconstruction and antinomianism. They never miss an opportunity to put on pagan clerical garb and join in solemn festivities of all the anti-Christian religious groups, in order to establish their bona fides as friends of all spirituality.

From its beginning in 1948, it has been the policy of the WCC to deny the plainest evidence of anti-Christian activity in foreign lands and simultaneously to discount anti-Christian expression wherever it appears. To join in recognition of the extent of Christian martyrdom in our time, they believe, would undermine their credentials as impartial friends of all seekers of truth. Christian people who escaped Communist persecution in the Soviet world have live to tell us that their sufferings were made especially acute by their jailors’ publication of the denials of their situation made by visiting Western Church leaders. Persecuted Christians in China, North Korea, and in nations that have governments committed to the enforcement of Quranic law, have unbridled contempt for the WCC.

Question: In the course of the media debate on the WCC decision, certain interesting factors concerning the WCC have surfaced. For example, a Jpost report (http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/Printer&cid=1109387976122&p=1006953079865) mentioned that the WCC supported violent terrorist groups in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, and that “between 2000 and 2003, the WCC issued 36 human-rights complaints against Israel and two about Sudan, where close to two million black Africans, many of them Christian, were killed”. I wonder how the Christian rank and file in Canada and the US can stomach such known facts?

Answer: The fact is that they don’t stomach it. The rift between laity and the elites who turn out “official” statements for the Churches is widening with every passing day.

Question: In your opinion, does the divestment decision of the WCC hierarchy reflect the sentiments of the rank-and-file? If not, is there a way in which the rank-and-file can make their voice heard? What are “mainstream” church-members saying about the divestment decision?

Answer: It is a mistake to think of the laity as innocent in this matter. It is the duty of every person who belongs to any organization to be informed about what the leaders of his organizations pronounces on his behalf. The nub of the problem in the Church is that the laity persist in ignorance of the published “official” opinions of their churches. This is just one consequence of the limited and half-hearted character of the commitment which most Christians have to the Churches to which they nominally adhere.

There is a tendency for hard-working politicians to prefer to have opinion wholesale, and this is what inspires leaders of organizations to line up at their doors offering wholesale opinion – the opinion of the medical profession, the opinion of women, the opinion of children, the opinion of taxpayers, and so on. There are organizations that will deliver all of this to you wholesale. The easy path for the politician is to take WCC documents at their face value, and quote them as “Christian opinion.”

Christian laity bear a terrible moral responsibility here. I don’t know what is helpful to say here other than that Christians ought to be Christians – they ought to be active in the determination of their denomination’s views, and they ought not to let pass as the expression of their own views what are in fact the attitudes of elites.

Here’s a modest thought: It might be a good beginning if every individual who ever stood up in his Church, at Baptism or Confirmation and said, “I am a Christian”, would actually turn up in Church next Sunday. On the way out, he might pick up the denomination’s newsletter, and when he gets home, he might read it. What else can I say.

Question: What, in your view, can Israel's supporters, Jews and non-Jews alike, do to oppose the WCC divest met plan? Can bloggers assume any useful role?

Answer: In this as in so many recent public matters, bloggers have played an absolutely indispensable role, drawing attention to the emperor’s new clothes, as professional journalists (afraid to appear uninformed or unsophisticated) will not.

Question: What are the implication of the WCC decision vis-a-vis the Christian churches in Canada? I understand that the Canadian Council of Churches as a whole is a member of the WCC?

Answer: The line breaks within the Canadian Church precisely as it does in the Church in the U.S. -- except that the non-WCC side of the Church (Pentecostals, especially) are a somewhat larger component there than here.

Question: Do you believe that there is any chance that the WCC will rescind the divestment decision? If yes, under what circumstances?

Answer: I have a poor record as a prophet. I can’t help thinking, though, that, this initiative might well run out as the pure meanness and the mindlessness of it registers.

I would hope that, while recollection of long-ago theology instruction may be growing dim, arithmetic still lives on in most clerical minds. Declining numbers of members means lesser contributions to the pension funds of presently active clergy. Divesting the pension fund of some of its best assets, at a time when so many of these denominations are bearing the burden of adverse court judgements arising out of alleged child abused cases and other matters, is – morality aside – more than heroic, it is suicidal. Re-inventing the Gospel to allow homosexual ordination and marriage has already cost Anglicans and others hundreds of thousands of members. I cannot understand how the rank and file of clergy, whose pension funds are at stake, would agree to deliberately ruing the solvency health of their pension funds by simultaneously divesting the accounts of some of their best assets, and driving out of the ranks of their laity the many hundreds of thousands who regard themselves as friends of Israel.
© 2005 Divestment Watch