On Sunday, July 2, 2017, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ approved a resolution that condemned Israel for allegedly mistreating Palestinian children in its detention centers in the West Bank. In addition to ignoring Israeli efforts to address concerns raised by UNICEF, the resolution made no mention of manifest crimes against children committed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Here are five things you need to know about the resolution and the church that endorsed it.
1. Supporters of the one-sided resolution enlisted young people in their effort to demonize the Jewish state.
During the deliberations regarding the resolution, one attendee of the UCC’s General Synod, a youth delegate, condemned the amount of aid sent to Israel by the United States, asking, “How can we be paying an incredibly high amount of tax dollars to a country that values the torturous interrogation of children?”
You read that right. A young member of the UCC, a teenager, portrayed Israel as valuing the “torturous interrogation of children.”
Such defamatory hostility coming out of the mouth of a teenager is a sad confirmation that the UCC is teaching its young people to regard the Jewish state (and ultimately Jews who claim it as their homeland) with unmitigated contempt. After the youth leveled their accusations at Israel, the smiling moderator of the synod declared that the children’s testimony gave her “goosebumps.”
The participation of children in the UCC’s attack on Israel should come as no surprise. Staffers who work at the denomination’s “Global Ministries” bureaucracy have woven an anti-Israel narrative into the Sunday school curriculum it offers to local churches for Lent, Advent, and even local vacation bible schools.
The Synod’s deliberations surrounding the vote, including the testimony of the youth delegates, can be seen in this Youtube video starting at about 47 minutes in.
2. The Jewish community has largely ignored the resolution, but one prominent organization, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), condemned the resolution’s failure to hold Hamas and the PA accountable for their sins against children.
The American Jewish Committee condemned the resolution in a statement the day after it was approved by the UCC’s General Synod. In a statement titled “United Church of Christ Continues Demonization of Israel,” the AJC declared, “The UCC resolution ignores the facts that Palestinian leaders continue to support violence against Israelis, regularly demonize Israel, and encourage children through textbooks and paramilitary camps toward violence against Israelis. Tellingly, the resolution fails to recognize Israel’s right to defend itself against Palestinian terrorism and incitement of their children.”
3. The passage of the resolution was met with very little resistance during General Synod.
The resolution passed with 79 percent support, well over the two-thirds vote needed to pass. One delegate moved that the resolution be table to allow its text to be checked for factual accuracy, but this motion was defeated by a wide margin. Another delegate from Massachusetts warned that the resolution might damage the denomination’s relationships with the Jewish community in the United States, but this argument did not carry much force with the gathered assembly.
It is time for people inside and outside the denomination to consider the possibility that the prospect that the resolution would offend Jews in the United States is, in fact, one reason why it passed by such a wide margin. As stated in this article about anti-Zionism in the Presbyterian Church USA, antagonizing American Jews is quite possibly a feature and not a bug associated with these resolutions. Anti-Zionist propaganda helps draw attention to dying churches like the UCC.
The ugly reality is this: Engaging in intermittent feuds with people from the various Jewish groups in the U.S. has, in recent years, become an essential part of the informal résumés of mainline denominational leaders in the U.S. Such feuds afford leaders a chance to portray themselves as struggling to find a balance between speaking prophetically about Israel’s failings and reassuring “our friends in the Jewish community” that their friendship is as important as ever. When Jewish leaders complain too loudly about Israel being singled out for criticism, these same leaders can tell their diminishing flocks that there is a price to be borne for peacemaking. And if the controversy gets too hot, mainline leaders can assert that the resolutions bubbled up from local churches, as if they themselves hadn’t stirred the pot and as if they hadn’t ceded control of the prophetic voices of their churches to irresponsible extremists.
About decade ago, the United Church of Christ had 1.5 million members and 5,600 churches. These days it has approximately 900,000 members (probably less) and 5,000 churches. The denomination typically loses about one church a week either through closures or departures to other denominations.
This is what the denomination’s statistical profile for 2016 states:
In the past five years (2011-2015), 195 congregations were removed from denominational records. Congregational decline has slowed in recent years, however. In 2006 and 2007, the UCC experienced a loss of nearly three congregations per week on average; but from 2008 through 2015, only one congregation was eliminated from denominational records per week on average.
It should be noted that the UCC adds a church to its roster every 2.5 weeks, but the overall decline is unmistakable and unsustainable, particularly in light of the fact that the denomination’s local churches are shrinking as well. The same report declares “the number of smaller membership UCC congregations increased over the past decade. Four in ten congregations (43.3%) reported a membership of 100 or fewer, compared with 35.9% in 2005.”
This doesn’t tell the whole story however. The same document reports that a greater number of churches qualify as smaller churches when the number of people who regularly attend worship services. The report states:
In 2015, eight in ten churches in the UCC (81.2%) had a weekly worship attendance of 1–100, which was an increase of 15.1% from ten years ago. Over time, the percentage of congregations with greater worship attendance numbers has decreased steadily, with the most dramatic decreases occurring in congregations of 101-400 worship attenders over the last 20 years. As a result, nearly half (47.8%) of all UCC congregations now have a weekly worship attendance of 1–50 individuals.
A similar decline is also evident in the Presbyterian Church USA, another mainline denomination with a similar history of assailing Israel. In 2005, the denomination had approximately 2.3 million members. By 2015, this number had dwindled to 1.6 million. Its membership loss is approaching 6 percent a year.