Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jews, Turks, and the Armenian genocide

More about the Armenian-Turkish controversy later, but in the meantime here is an excerpt from today's Times which illustrates why we love the Jewish people and value with our very lives the gifts that God has given to the world, through them, as the very foundation of our Western values. Point: passionate debate is not only permitted but assumed. Second point: strength emerges from such debate. Third point: embedded in the Judeo-Christian tradition is our central religious value: the defense of the defenseless, whoever they may be.

The argument among American Jews concerns the recent uproar in Turkey about the proposed US Congressional resolution identifying the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League has taken a stand against the resolution, infuriating many Jews.

Jews in Lexington, Mass. pulled out all the stops at their recent selectmen's meeting. Here is an excerpt from today's article by Neela Bannerjee, "Armenian Issue Presents a Dilemma for U. S. Jews":

Dr. Jack Nusan Porter, the genocide scholar, said the differing views among Jews on the resolution stemmed in part from whether they saw Israel as particularly vulnerable. “I see Israel as a strong nation,” Dr. Porter said, after speaking for cutting ties to the Anti-Defamation League at the Lexington [Mass] meeting. “Jews are strong. They don’t have to be intimidated by politics.”

The complex of considerations weighed heavily on Rabbi Howard L. Jaffe of Temple Isaiah, who after weeks of thought decided to back the genocide resolution. “It’s very hard for me to support a position that could be detrimental to Israel,” he said. “But for me as a Jew, I have to take seriously Jewish values, and they require us to do what is right and righteous.”

Some Jewish residents pointed out that the local Anti-Defamation League chapter took a stand for the resolution and should not be punished for the national leadership’s policy; but Vicki Blier, another member of Temple Isaiah, said in a phone interview that the Anti-Defamation League had to be held accountable for its views.

“If this were an organization that were denying the Holocaust, would they be allowed to do anything in town, even if what they are doing is the most beneficial of programs?” Ms. Blier said. “In my experience, Jews are at the forefront in the recognition of injustice. Jews have always stuck their neck out for others.”

Monday, October 15, 2007

Al Gore's cause and the social cost of pollution

“A river runs through” my home town of Franklin, Virginia, and almost any day when I walk down to Barrett’s Landing I see someone fishing, sometimes a father with a child. It is a pleasing sight.

Therefore, an article in the local newspaper this week shocked me deeply (we should never be surprised at bad news, but often shocked). The banner headline trumpets, “Contaminants Found in Fish.” The Virginia Department of Health has warned that our local rivers are full of mercury and the fish should not be eaten. The leader of the local Riverkeeper program issued a lament: “A lot of people from this area supplement their diet with the fish they catch, especially the poor.” Southampton County still has a significant population of very poor people, so this is a serious matter, not to be shrugged off. The Riverkeeper spokesman pointed to the Everglades as an example; mercury contamination levels dropped sharply when the state of Florida shut down the nearby coal-fired power plants.

As a very early supporter of the environmental movement (I marched in the first Earth Day demonstration in 1970 and was a charter member of the Friends of the Earth), I remember very well that for some years the movement was derided as a pet cause of the privileged and leisured classes. One has not heard this accusation for a while. Its disappearance should be a timely reminder that the issue of global warming is not just about polar bears.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The choices of the Church

A combination of articles in The New York Times prompted a series of thoughts. One of them, a front-page feature, described the horrific violence against women and female children in the Congo. This violence is a calculated tool of war and is being carried out with impunity. Another article reported the conviction and sentencing of a Roman Catholic priest who cooperated with the "dirty war" in Argentina (1976-1983), when the military regime murdered and "disappeared" its leftist opponents, also with impunity. The article ends this way: "Argentina's past stands in stark contrast to the role that the church played during the dictatorships in Chile and Brazil, where priests and bishops condemned the government and worked to save those being persecuted from torture and death." (Article by Alexei Barrionuevo, 11/10/2007)

We need to reflect on this contrast and ask ourselves about our own role. Will it be said of the Anglican Communion that we were so preoccupied with homosexuality that we did not even notice when hideous crimes and massive human suffering was going on all around us? Is our relationship with Anglican bishops in sub-Saharan Africa going to be determined by our fixation on this one issue? In some circles you would never know that there were horrific human rights issues at stake in the world.

Congo story:

Friday, October 05, 2007

A challenge for us all

The excellent David Van Biema, religion editor for Time magazine, has a brief article in the October 2 issue--"Christianity's Image Problem." He reports that the Barna polling organization (which is admittedly rather quirky) has ascertained that the image of the Christian church in America has plummeted in just 10 years. The chief accusations against American Christianity today, coming from Christians and non-Christians alike, are "homophobia," "hypocrisy," and "too involved in politics." This last category seems to be directed against the so-called "Christian Right" and its endorsement of candidates based on their views of hot-button issues such as abortion and stem-cell research; most people polled would not have the Civil Rights Movement--for instance--in view, or the anti-torture campaign of our own time. This is indeed unfortunate, and it is part of our calling, in these troubled times, to remind our congregations and Christian friends of these movements of the Spirit.

The Christian Church should never be poll-driven. It is part of our job description that we should be counter-cultural. Yet we want to be counter-cultural for the right reasons. No one can lay a hand on people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, or even Billy Graham with all his weakness for Presidents, because of the transparency and integrity of their lives.

The question of homosexuality is not settled. Yet surely it is more important to stand for a radical embrace of all "the ungodly" (Romans 4), including oneself first of all regardless of one's sexuality, than it is to maintain an absolutist stance on the issues that must be rethought in our time, in the sight of God.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A moral hero

Today's lead article on the front page of The New York Times tells a long, sordid story of secrecy and deception on the part of the Justice Department with regard to "interrogation techniques" and definitions of torture. What is particularly striking in the midst of this tale of sycophants who would rather be Bush's close confidantes than tell him something he does not want to hear, is the rather heroic example of James Comey, deputy attorney general, who said to his colleagues in the department that they would all be "ashamed" when the world learned of what had been secretly done. Mr. Comey left the department after this, having had enough even before this particular scene took place. If only we had more people like him in government!