Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A new ecumenical Youth Leadership training programme in South Africa


22 May 2016 to 31 July 2016

A new opportunity to train young adults for leadership has arisen within South Africa.

For ten weeks during the winter of 2016, a group of 25 – 30 young adults between the ages of 18 – 30 years will undergo training that will equip them to play a significant role in the church and society over the next few years. This programme will be repeated every year for a new group of young leaders.

The setting for this course will be the beautiful “Hemel en Aarde” valley close to Hermanus, at the Volmoed Retreat Centre.

A formal launch of the programme will take place at Volmoed ( on Youth Day, June 16, which will also be the 40th Anniversary of the June 16 1976 Soweto riots, when young people took a stand against apartheid education.

The training programme will adopt the five-theme rhythm of the Volmoed Community, viz. Creation, Healing of memories, Justice and peace, Community (Church and society) and Reconciliation. The young people will plan a weekly Taize service and will take part in the Thursday Eucharist service at Volmoed, where John de Gruchy usually delivers an excellent meditation.

Different facilitators and speakers will lead the young people in these themes over the ten weeks. Practical courses in social media, social entrepreneurship, art, etc will also be offered in the afternoons.

The course will have a theoretical and practical component, and the young people will be immersed into the surrounding communities in Hermanus and will also visit Cape Agulhas and the Moravian Mission stations of Genadendal and Elim.

Young adults who wish to apply to be part of this pioneering course, may apply on this electronic form at

Those who see the importance of this initiative and wish to contribute to this programme in cash or kind, are welcome to contact the Centre office on . One of the needs will be for transport, and we hope to approach corporate sponsors for a 30 seater bus.

For any more information, you are welcome to email Rev Edwin Arrison at or Prof John de Gruchy at



Revelation 22: 16-21

Luke 2:1-8

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

The words are so familiar that we don’t give them a second thought. But this is how the Christmas story begins: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” We don’t know when this census took place, or its reason, but it was probably confined to Judaea for the purpose of taxation and control. King Herod had to raise taxes on behalf of Emperor Augustus in order to control a turbulent country regularly threatened by the uprisings of Jewish zealots. Herod was nervous and fearful. Any talk of a messianic leader sent shivers up his spine. So he decreed that everyone should be registered in their home town. Mary and Joseph set off from Nazareth for Bethlehem, a town as crowded then as it often has been since, but they had not gone on line to book accommodation. So Jesus was born in stable in a town occupied by foreign troops that would soon massacre all the children born at that time, out of fear that what the Wisemen from the East had told Herod would come true.

Fast forward to Bethlehem today, a town that is normally bustling with Christian pilgrims from across the world at Christmas. As usual, the massive Christmas tree has been erected and lit on Bethlehem’s Manger Square, but the crowds are not there as in previous years because of the unrest in Israel-Palestine. There are fewer pilgrims from elsewhere and fewer Palestinian Christians born and bred in Bethlehem. Many have left to escape the military occupation and others cannot get to Bethlehem because of all the check points. If Jesus was meant to be born in Bethlehem today, Mary and Joseph would have been turned back by soldiers long before they got there.

Bethlehem is no longer that little town in the Christmas carol that lies still in “deep and dreamless sleep” as the silent stars go by. But the final lines of the carol remain true: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I am not sure what Philip Brooks had in mind when he penned those words, but it is undoubtedly so that the birth of Jesus brought fear to Herod and others in the hierarchy of power just as his coming brought hope to all who were looking to God for deliverance. Sadly after two-thousand years fear and hope continue to confront each other in Bethlehem as they do across the globe — the fear of those who refuse to heed the cry for justice and peace, and the hope of those who bear witness to the Prince of Peace. But sadly, even many Christians are losing hope.

Father Jamal Khader of the Latin Patriarchy, which traditionally leads Bethlehem’s Christmas celebrations, wrote on-line this week. “We cannot forget what is going on, that there are people suffering. People are losing hope in a future of peace.” Those words have seared my soul since I read them. “Losing hope in a future of peace.” Does this mean that fear for the future is winning the struggle against hope? Even though we live in relative peace, there are many of us who also fear for the future having lost hope in a future of peace. And yet, is it not true that Jesus was born at a time when fear was rampant and hope a rare commodity?  It was in the midst of an oppressive occupation that the angels sang their protest song “Peace on earth, goodwill to all.” It is, in fact, precisely because the world is in the mess it is, that the message of Christmas is so important.

To celebrate Christmas today as yesterday is an act of protest, an act of defiance against all the powers that are threatening our future, and that of our children and grandchildren. That is why Christians in Bethlehem have again raised a huge Christmas tree in testimony to the Prince of Peace, a sign of hope in a fearful world. Think of it. Every Christmas tree that we erect in our homes or churches or civic spaces is, rightly understood, an act of protest: of faith against despair, of love against hatred, of hope against hopelessness. That is what the celebration of Christmas is all about.

This too, is why, during Advent as we journey towards Christmas, our celebration of the Eucharist concludes with the shout “Maranatha!” a word with which the New Testament ends. It means “Come quickly, Lord!” At a time of intense persecution and suffering, the early Christians were expressing their hope that a new day would dawn, a day of justice and peace. They looked forward in anticipation to the time when the peace of Christ would reign, when fear would cease and their hopes be realised. Maranatha was a cry of defiance, a protest action. Such “hope against hope” remains at the core Christian faith, it is the hope that tyrants will be overcome and violence cease, a hope that keeps us from despair, a hope that empowers us to act for justice. For to lose hope and stop working for peace and justice is to surrender to evil, to allow ugliness to conquer beauty, and hatred trump love. It is to give the king Herods of this world the victory. It is to stop celebrating Christmas.

So we continue on our journey to Bethlehem in solidarity with all the Christians gathered there even if we can’t be there physically. We stand with them in Manager Square before the Christmas Tree, we enter the Church of the Nativity and visit the place where Jesus was born. And we do so because we refuse to stop believing in Jesus who came to bring a just peace to the world, a peace that the world cannot give us. In the darkest of times we shout “Maranatha” in protest against everything that stands against the coming of the Prince of Peace.

I conclude with another Advent sonnet written by Isobel:

He first came as a vulnerable babe,

Rejected then for how he claimed God’s word,

They killed him but he rose up from the grave.

He comes a second time to each one’s heart –

Who opens it, the Lord comes in to stay

To cleanse and make it new in every part.

But we await that great and glorious day –

He’ll come in power to renew the earth,

Yet in our waiting do we just okay

The status quo or do we help to birth

The new in everything we do or say?

God knows our world is full of pain, of need:

Come, Lord, bring peace and justice now indeed.


John de Gruchy

Volmoed 10 December 2015

Text of Pope Francis’ address at the UN office in Kenya

Full text of Pope Francis’ address to the United Nations Office at Nairobi


I would like to thank Madame Sahle-Work Zewde, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi, for her kind invitation and words of welcome, as well as Mr Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, and Mr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat.  I take this occasion to greet the personnel and all those associated with the institutions who are here present.

On my way to this hall, I was asked to plant a tree in the park of the United Nations Centre.  I was happy to carry out this simple symbolic act, which is so meaningful in many cultures.

Planting a tree is first and foremost an invitation to continue the battle against phenomena like deforestation and desertification.  It reminds us of the importance of safeguarding and responsibly administering those “richly biodiverse lungs of our planet”, which include, on this continent, “the Congo basins”, a place essential “for the entire earth and for the future of humanity”.  It also points to the need to appreciate and encourage “the commitment of international agencies and civil society organizations which draw public attention to these issues and offer critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests” (Laudato Si’, 38).

Planting a tree is also an incentive to keep trusting, hoping, and above all working in practice to reverse all those situations of injustice and deterioration which we currently experience.

In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues.  It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects.

In this international context, we are confronted with a choice which cannot be ignored: either to improve or to destroy the environment.  Every step we take, whether large or small, individual or collective, in caring for creation opens a sure path for that “generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings” (ibid., 211).

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all”; “climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods; it represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” (ibid., 23 and 25).  Our response to this challenge “needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged” (ibid., 93).  For “the misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion” (Address to the United Nations, 25 September 2015).

COP21 represents an important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency and makes use of energy sources with little or no carbon content.  We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development.

The Paris Agreement can give a clear signal in this direction, provided that, as I stated before the UN General Assembly, we avoid “every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences.  We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective” (ibid.).  For this reason, I express my hope that COP21 will achieve a global and “transformational” agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity.

For all the difficulties involved, there is a growing “conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home” (Laudato Si’, 164).  No country “can act independently of a common responsibility.  If we truly desire positive change, we have to humbly accept our interdependence” (Address to Popular Movements, 9 July 2015).  The problem arises whenever we think of interdependence as a synonym for domination, or the subjection of some to the interests of others, of the powerless to the powerful.

What is needed is sincere and open dialogue, with responsible cooperation on the part of all: political authorities, the scientific community, the business world and civil society.  Positive examples are not lacking; they demonstrate that a genuine cooperation between politics, science and business can achieve significant results.

At the same time we believe that “human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good and making a new start” (Laudato Si’, 205).  This conviction leads us to hope that, whereas the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, “humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities” (ibid., 165).  If this is to happen, the economy and politics need to be placed at the service of peoples, with the result that “human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life”.  Far from an idealistic utopia, this is a realistic prospect which makes the human person and human dignity the point of departure and the goal of everything (cf. Address to Popular Movements, 9 July 2015).

This much-needed change of course cannot take place without a substantial commitment to education and training.  Nothing will happen unless political and technical solutions are accompanied by a process of education which proposes new ways of living.  A new culture.  This calls for an educational process which fosters in boys and girls, women and men, young people and adults, the adoption of a culture of care – care for oneself, care for others, care for the environment – in place of a culture of waste, a “throw-away culture” where people use and discard themselves, others and the environment.  By promoting an “awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of the future to be shared with everyone”, we will favour the development of new convictions, attitudes and lifestyles.  “A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal” (Laudato Si’, 202).  We still have time.

Many are the faces, the stories and the evident effects on the lives of thousands of persons whom the culture of deterioration and waste has allowed to be sacrificed before the idols of profits and consumption.  We need to be alert to one sad sign of the “globalization of indifference”: the fact that we are gradually growing accustomed to the suffering of others, as if it were something normal (cf. Message for World Food Day, 16 October 2013, 2), or even worse, becoming resigned to such extreme and scandalous kinds of “using and discarding” and social exclusion as new forms of slavery, human trafficking, forced labour, prostitution and trafficking in organs.  “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty aggravated by environmental degradation.  They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever” (Laudato Si’, 25).  Many lives, many stories, many dreams have been shipwrecked in our day.  We cannot remain indifferent in the face of this.  We have no right.

Together with neglect of the environment, we have witnessed for some time now a rapid process of urbanization, which in many cases has unfortunately led to a “disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities which have become unhealthy to live in [and] inefficient” (ibid., 44).  There we increasingly see the troubling symptoms of a social breakdown which spawns “increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, loss of identity” (ibid., 46), a lack of rootedness and social anonymity (cf. ibid., 149).

Here I would offer a word of encouragement to all those working on the local and international levels to ensure that the process of urbanization becomes an effective means for development and integration.  This means working to guarantee for everyone, especially those living in outlying neighbourhoods, the basic rights to dignified living conditions and to land, lodging and labour.  There is a need to promote projects of city planning and maintenance of public areas which move in this direction and take into consideration the views of local residents; this will help to eliminate the many instances of inequality and pockets of urban poverty which are not simply economic but also, and above all, social and environmental.  The forthcoming Habitat-III Conference, planned for Quito in October 2016, could be a significant occasion for identifying ways of responding to these issues.

In a few days, Nairobi will host the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization.  In 1967, my predecessor Pope Paul VI, contemplating an increasingly interdependent world and foreseeing the current reality of globalization, reflected on how commercial relationships between States could prove a fundamental element for the development of peoples or, on the other hand, a cause of extreme poverty and exclusion (Populorum Progressio, 56-62).  While recognizing that much has been done in this area, it seems that we have yet to attain an international system of commerce which is equitable and completely at the service of the battle against poverty and exclusion.  Commercial relationships between States, as an indispensable part of relations between peoples, can do as much to harm the environment as to renew it and preserve it for future generations.

It is my hope that the deliberations of the forthcoming Nairobi Conference will not be a simple balancing of conflicting interests, but a genuine service to care of our common home and the integral development of persons, especially those in greatest need.  I would especially like to echo the concern of all those groups engaged in projects of development and health care – including those religious congregations which serve the poor and those most excluded – with regard to agreements on intellectual property and access to medicines and essential health care.  Regional free trade treaties dealing with the protection of intellectual property, particularly in the areas of pharmaceutics and biotechnology, should not only maintain intact the powers already granted to States by multilateral agreements, but should also be a means for ensuring a minimum of health care and access to basic treatment for all.  Multilateral discussions, for their part, should allow poorer countries the time, the flexibility and the exceptions needed for them to comply with trade regulations in an orderly and relatively smooth manner.  Interdependence and the integration of economies should not bear the least detriment to existing systems of health care and social security; instead, they should promote their creation and good functioning.  Certain health issues, like the elimination of malaria and tuberculosis, treatment of so-called orphan diseases, and neglected sectors of tropical medicine, require urgent political attention, above and beyond all other commercial or political interests.

Africa offers the world a beauty and natural richness which inspire praise of the Creator.  This patrimony of Africa and of all mankind is constantly exposed to the risk of destruction caused by human selfishness of every type and by the abuse of situations of poverty and exclusion.  In the context of economic relationships between States and between peoples, we cannot be silent about forms of illegal trafficking which arise in situations of poverty and in turn lead to greater poverty and exclusion.  Illegal trade in diamonds and precious stones, rare metals or those of great strategic value, wood, biological material and animal products, such as ivory trafficking and the relative killing of elephants, fuels political instability, organized crime and terrorism.  This situation too is a cry rising up from humanity and the earth itself, one which needs to be heard by the international community.

In my recent visit to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, I expressed the desire and hope that the work of the United Nations and of all its multilateral activities may be “the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations.  And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good” (Address to the UN, 25 September 2015).

Once again I express the support of the Catholic community, and my own, to continue to pray and work that the fruits of regional cooperation, expressed today in the African Union and the many African agreements on commerce, cooperation and development, may be vigorously pursued and always take into account the common good of the sons and daughters of this land.

May the blessing of the Most High be with each of you and your peoples.  Thank you.

Meditation on the question of vengeance: John de Gruchy


Romans 12:9-21

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Dear Presidents, Prime Ministers and Chancellors of the West, and everyone else in their premier league of world politics.  I, John of Volmoed, was lying in my bed early one morning and thinking about the terrible and tragic events that have recently occurred in Paris and elsewhere, and I decided to write this letter to you. Greetings!

I know you probably won’t receive this letter but if somehow it lands on your desk, please know that the saints at Volmoed daily pray for you as you exercise your awesome responsibility in times like these when everything seems to be falling apart.  We would not want to be in your shoes, and nobody would want us to be.  We also know that politics is about the art of the possible not the impossible dream, and that you have to weigh up many conflicting interests in making your decisions — those of the people who vote you into power, big business, the military and armaments industry, international relations and national pride, and your own values, hopes and ambitions.

We understand that when the enemy strikes and innocent people are slaughtered, then the response the people want, and the gut response of most political leaders and every nation under the sun since Cain took vengeance on Abel, is, to retaliate.  The more threatening your response, the less you will lose face amongst your peers and people.  Therefore  war must be declared and bombers launched to destroy the strongholds of the enemy.  This has invariably happened in history and most people support such action.  In this climate of fear and revenge, daily fed by the media, it is unlikely you will want to read the Bible or listen to the pope before you respond, though you might get religious support from those who are ready to give you their divine blessing.  But if by chance you do listen to the prophets and open the Bible you will find this passage written by Paul to Christians living in Rome, the heart of the Empire, the ancient equivalent of Washington DC.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Of course, these words were not addressed to political leaders responsible for taking care of the weighty affairs of government but to a small congregation of Christians  who were suffering persecution.  They could not really have taken vengeance on the Empire persecuting them; they were powerless.  By contrast you have the power to play God, and your oath of office does not include making a commitment to ,love your enemies. Who can possibly love ISIS, except those thousands of angry, alienated and vengeful Muslim young people and former Sunni soldiers of Saddam Hussein?

Even though not all of you would claim to be Christian, for political reasons at least it is convenient at such a time to evoke the historical myth of Western Christian Civilization.  Our leaders did that during the dark days of apartheid.  We were engaged, they told us, in a life and death struggle against godless Communism.  But in the end we discovered that we were not defending Christian civilization, we were defending our own interests and that the way we were doing so was anything but Christian.  In fact, Western civilization is not necessarily or normally Christian at all if by Christian we mean following the teaching of Jesus.  After all, the so-called Christian nations of Europe which are now united in a fragile alliance fighting terrorism  have often been at war with each other, killing and maiming millions for the sake of honour and revenge, or control of resources.  There was nothing Christian about the bombing of Coventry or the vengeance that then led to the destruction of the city of Dresden.  We at Volmoed are particularly aware of this because we are part of the Community of the Cross of Nails which grew out of these terrible bombings and the decision of the Dean of Coventry Cathedral to forgive and work for reconciliation.  Vengeance was not Christian; forgiveness and reconciliation was.  You see, to defend Christian civilization means defending Christian values, and acting accordingly. The issue is not about protecting your citizens, that is your duty, but the danger of fostering a culture of fear, hate and revenge in which humanity and dignity is eroded in a spiral of violent reprisal.  The only victors are those who manufacture weapons, which are increasingly used against all of us.

You cannot always govern according to “Christian principles, turning the other cheek when terrorists blow up taverns.  Hitler had to be stopped in his tracks as does ISIS.  But if vengeance is the driving motive in doing so, it will devour you as much as it devours your enemies, for vengeance begets retaliation.  The bombing of Baghdad begets terrorism in Boston, London and Paris.  So consider the consequences.  The more jihadists you bomb the more are born.  Today’s terrorists are the grandchildren of those who suffered from brutal wars in Algeria, Palestine, Iraq, and other countries that were once European colonies, even though these disillusioned and dangerous young men and women have grown up in Europe and now have European passports.   Why is it that after living in and being educated in Europe they have turned against Europe and the West?  What has gone wrong?  Has Western civilization failed in convincing them about the values which we all cherish?  Has the Christian West lost its soul in trying to gain the whole world?

The only long term solution to the crisis we face and defeat the ideology that is threatening to destroy civilization, is one driven by moral values that transcend selfish national interests.  The alternative, the path of vengeance, is war without end.  Is that the kind of world we and future generations really want to live in?  Maybe those who manufacture armaments don’t want wars to end, maybe terrorists don’t, and maybe those religious extremists who are wanting Armageddon to erupt don’t, but sane people do, and those who seriously follow Jesus do.

So our prayer for you is that you may be able to see beyond the immediate challenge and count the longer term cost and consequences of your actions.  Our prayer for you as you search for solutions is that you do not compromise your own moral integrity.  Our prayer is that you and we together may cherish those values which are fundamental to human flourishing even in these critical times of terror: justice, compassion, tolerance, hospitality, and a respect for human dignity among them.  If we lose these even in fighting a just cause, we will lose our souls just as empires and nations have lost their theirs the more they have expanded and conquered. That is why the words of St. Paul, even though written to a small band of powerless Christians in the belly of the Empire still speak to all of us today.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


John de Gruchy

Volmoed 26 November 2015


Pope Francis’ opening speech in Nairobi

Pope Francis’ full speech at State House Nairobi, Kenya

Nov 25, 2015


Mr President,

Honourable Government and Civil Leaders,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

My Brother Bishops,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am most grateful for your warm welcome on this, my first visit to Africa. I thank you, Mr President, for your kind words in the name of the Kenyan people, and I look forward to my stay among you. Kenya is a young and vibrant nation, a richly diverse society which plays a significant role in the region. In many ways your experience of shaping a democracy is one shared by many other African nations. Like Kenya, they too are working to build, on the solid foundations of mutual respect, dialogue and cooperation, a multiethnic society which is truly harmonious, just and inclusive.

Yours too is a nation of young people. In these days, I look forward to meeting many of them, speaking with them, and encouraging their hopes and aspirations for the future. The young are any nation’s most valuable resource. To protect them, to invest in them and to offer them a helping hand, is the best way we can ensure a future worthy of the wisdom and spiritual values dear to their elders, values which are the very heart and soul of a people.

Kenya has been blessed not only with immense beauty, in its mountains, rivers and lakes, its forests, savannahs and semi-deserts, but also by an abundance of natural resources. The Kenyan people have a strong appreciation of these God-given treasures and are known for a culture of conservation which does you honour. The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature. We have a responsibility to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received. These values are deeply rooted in the African soul. In a world which continues to exploit rather than protect our common home, they must inspire the efforts of national leaders to promote responsible models of economic development.

In effect, there is a clear link between the protection of nature and the building of a just and equitable social order. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature, without a renewal of humanity itself (cf. Laudato Si’, 118). To the extent that our societies experience divisions, whether ethnic, religious or economic, all men and women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and healing. In the work of building a sound democratic order, strengthening cohesion and integration, tolerance and respect for others, the pursuit of the common good must be a primary goal. Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust, and the despair born of poverty and frustration. Ultimately, the struggle against these enemies of peace and prosperity must be carried on by men and women who fearlessly believe in, and bear honest witness to, the great spiritual and political values which inspired the birth of the nation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the advancement and preservation of these great values is entrusted in a special way to you, the leaders of your country’s political, cultural and economic life. This is a great responsibility, a true calling, in the service of the entire Kenyan people. The Gospel tells us that from those to whom much has been given, much will be demanded (Lk 12:48). In that spirit, I encourage you to work with integrity and transparency for the common good, and to foster a spirit of solidarity at every level of society. I ask you in particular to show genuine concern for the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young, and a just distribution of the natural and human resources with which the Creator has blessed your country. I assure you of the continued efforts of the Catholic community, through its educational and charitable works, to offer its specific contribution in these areas.

Dear friends, I am told that here in Kenya it is a tradition for young schoolchildren to plant trees for posterity. May this eloquent sign of hope in the future, and trust in the growth which God gives, sustain all of you in your efforts to cultivate a society of solidarity, justice and peace on the soil of this country and throughout the great African continent. I thank you once more for your warm welcome, and upon you and your families, and all the beloved Kenyan people, I invoke the Lord’s abundant blessings.

Mungu abariki Kenya!

God bless Kenya!

SA Unions call on Woolworths to end Israeli ties

PRESS STATEMENT: Unions call on Woolworths to end Israeli ties or face dis-investment

25 November 2015

Six trade unions with membership of over half a million have signed a statement calling on Woolworths to end its Israeli trade or face dis-investment.

The unions who have signed the statement include NEHAWU, SADTU, POPCRU, CWU, SACCAWU and LIMUSA. Some of the signatories are significant and large contributors to the Public Investment Corporation (via the GEPF and UIF). The PIC in turn is the largest institutional shareholder at Woolworths. The joint statement reads as follows (also find attached):


Israel is guilty of apartheid and gross violations of Palestinian human rights.

In 2005 Palestinians in their absolute majority called on the international community to boycott, divest and impose sanctions against Apartheid Israel until it complies with international law. This call by Palestinians for BDS was based on the successful boycott and divestment of Apartheid South Africa.

When this Palestinian call was issued for BDS, COSATU and its affiliates were some of the first international trade union federations to endorse the BDS call.

Woolworths Holdings Limited, a publicly listed company on the JSE, has the Public Investment Cooperation (PIC) as one of its largest shareholders. In turn, the PIC has, firstly, the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) as its largest contributor (the GEPF accounts for 88.81% of the assets under PIC management) and, secondly, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), as its second largest contributor ( the UIF accounts for 6.21% of the assets under PIC management).

We are demanding that Woolworths immediately terminates its trade links with Israel until such a time that Israel complies with international law and ends its oppression of the Palestinian people.

If Woolworths does not end relations with Apartheid Israel and Israeli companies then we will lobby (via the GEPF, UIF and through other avenues that we have representation) for the PIC to divest from Woolworths Holdings Limited because of its involvement with Israeli companies in general and Israeli agricultural companies in particular. 

The demand that Woolworths ends its relations or face divestment is similar to the actions of trade unions, churches and pension funds across the world who are divesting from Israeli or Israeli linked companies. Furthermore, the strategy of divestment was used by churches, trade unions and pension funds in the 1980s in the struggle against Apartheid.

As unions who are in solidarity with the Palestinian people and other oppressed groups, as internationalists, we cannot be silent as contributions of the working class are going towards a company complicit in the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

We will continue to advocate for the right of self-determination of Palestinians and their right to live free from a brutal Israeli military occupation because as Nelson Mandela: “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians”

Endorsed by National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), South African Democratic Teachers Unions (SADTU), Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU), Communication Workers Union (CWU), South Africa Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU), Liberated Metalworkers Union of South Africa (LIMUSA).

The #BoycottWoolworths campaign is expected to form part of discussions at COSATU’s current 12th elective conference taking place at Gallagher Estate in Johannesburg. Activists are calling on Woolworths to dump its Israeli products and instead source locally or from other African countries.


NEHAWU: Thulani Skosana, 0824552289

SADTU: Nomusa Cembi, 0713551566

POPCRU: Richard Mamabolo, 0796700274

CWU: GS Aubrey Tshabalala, 0817408921

SACCAWU: GS Bones Skulu, 0823365015

LIMUSA: GS Cedric Gina, 0844245026

BDS South Africa: Kwara Kekana, 074054 3826



The “Religious Roots” of Palestinian Violence: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

Shalom Rav


Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent comment at the World Zionist Congress attributing the Final Solution to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was stupid and ignorant – and he has been justifiably ridiculed around the world for making it. But those who think these kinds of crazy comments will somehow prove his downfall should think twice. Netanyahu has long been willing to take his lumps for his silly behavior as long as it ultimately serves his political purpose. In this case, his purpose is clear: he is attempting frame Palestinian violence as the result of religious (read “Muslim”) intolerance of Jews.

And those of us who delight in ridiculing Bibi the Clown should take heed: there is every indication that his attempts to shift this particular narrative are starting to gain traction.

Just a few days before Netanyahu’s comments, for instance, Jeffrey Goldberg, a well-known mainstream media journalist, published an article in The Atlantic entitled “

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Palestinian Christian Views of the Current Conflict | A Report

An Okie Abroad

Herewith, a report of the meeting of Palestinian Christians convened by Co-Moderators of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches.
— Meeting Report —

On 7 October 2015, a group of local Christians met at the invitation of the Co-Moderators of the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum. The goal of the meeting was to assess the current situation and then to discern what Christians should be saying in the local context and on the international level regarding the situation.We anticipate that this will not be the last such gathering to discuss challenges faced by Palestinians, including Christians.

Our group stressed that the present conflict is between the Palestinian people and the Israeli occupation. In other words, the conflict will not end until the occupation ends. Many commentators are wondering if this is the beginning of another so-called intifada. Our group agreed that naming this moment or speculating how long…

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#WallWillFall: Breaking down the Walls of a Conflict or a Rape?


What do we ask for when praying for Palestine Israel? Do we ask God to end the conflict? Do we ask for reconciliation and strive for a balanced approach? The answer is a definite ‘NO’ to all of these.

I raise these points as we are preparing for the annual World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel (20 – 26 September 2015)

To talk about ‘balance’ or a ‘conflict’ in the context of Palestine Israel presupposes equal sides. Nothing can be further from the truth. David Wildman (Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church) writes as follows:

Too many churches rushed to embrace interpersonal reconciliation projects without any examination of the inequalities in power between the Israeli state and Palestinians. Churches stressed the need for balance when there was nothing balanced about the situation. This is a key value of “church theology” that must be challenged. […] Israel has had a…

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A Biblical and theological rationale (and some actions taken) for BDS against Apartheid Israel – David Wildman

What Does the Lord Require of the Ecumenical Movement Today?  Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions as Nonviolent, Loving Actions

by David Wildman, Executive Secretary for Middle East, Human Rights & Racial Justice, Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church,

2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).  The call for BDS as nonviolent, moral, economic actions has sparked a vibrant and growing global movement seeking justice, freedom and equality in solidarity with the Palestinian people: justice for Palestinian refugees long denied the right of return and reparations; freedom from Israel’s military occupation; and equal rights for Palestinians living inside the green line who comprise 20% of Israel’s citizens.  The movement now includes universities, trade unions, human rights organizations, churches, municipal governments and even some corporations as well as countless grassroots community groups and individuals.

For decades churches in the United States have issued statements and denominational resolutions calling on Israel, Palestinian leadership and the international community to support a two-state solution.  We have had decades of high level delegations and thousands of holy land pilgrimages that visited, and many creative grassroots actions seeking just and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine.  Yet only with the rise of the BDS movement have US churches begun to examine the “log in our own eye” of economic complicity with ongoing Israeli settlement expansion and systematic discrimination and dispossession against Palestinians.  As churches join the BDS movement, we have begun to answer the question, “what does the Lord require of us” with actions rather than only statements calling on others to act.

This year also marks the 15th year since the outbreak of the second intifada and the 30th anniversary of the Kairos South Africa document that condemned apartheid as a sin and called on churches to reject both “state theology” that sought to give theological justification to apartheid and to reject “church theology” that sought to make peace with apartheid by only seeking reforms of its most egregious aspects.  Kairos S. Africa gave inspiration to the Kairos Palestine document launched in Bethlehem in December 2009.  Both of these documents more accurately embody ecumenical liberation movements that have inspired and catalyzed prophetic actions for justice, freedom and equality in the global ecumenical community.

The Power of Nonviolent Resistance in the Face of Expanding Israeli Land Theft & Racism

“If your brother or sister is being injured by what you consume, you are no longer walking in love.  Do not let what you consume cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died.”  Romans 14:15

The first intifada sparked a powerful, grassroots nonviolent resistance to expanding Israeli settlements and ongoing military occupation.  Palestinian mass strikes, stone throwing, and noncooperation were met with Israeli policies of ‘broken bones,’ mass imprisonment without trial, and continued land theft at gunpoint (armed Jewish settlers defended by Israeli soldiers).  The first intifada exposed the one-sided nature of violence, dispossession, discrimination and demonization that Palestinians in the occupied territories faced.  With the Oslo peace process in September 1993 there was a sense of immediate relief from the intensity of violent repression.  Yet the noted Palestinian intellectual, Edward Said, as well as BTselem, an Israeli human rights organization, among others warned of the apartheid-like bantustanization of the Areas A, B, and C implemented under Oslo.

The shift from the first Intifada’s nonviolent resistance in the face of increasing Israeli state violence and repression to the priority on a negotiating process of the Oslo period had a profound impact on US churches in reframing the violence and injustice in Palestine.  For many US churches, the Oslo process served to transform a nonviolent liberation struggle against injustice into a peace process to end conflict between two sides.  Too many churches rushed to embrace interpersonal reconciliation projects without any examination of the inequalities in power between the Israeli state and PalestiniansChurches stressed the need for balance when there was nothing balanced about the situation.  This is a key value of “church theology” that must be challenged.

 During the Oslo so-called peace years (1993-2000) Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank doubled.  Yet many portrayed settlements as a temporary setback rather than a systemic state-sponsored crime of land theft.  In the US the framing of the situation as a conflict invariably invoked our cultural tendency towards dualistic division of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’  Dominant US culture still evaluates conflicts around the world as between cowboys (good, settlers, white) and Indians (bad, natives, people of color).  I would argue that US churches, like most of the global ecumenical community, never fully analyzed their affirmation of a two-state solution in the face of glaring inequities of power.  Israel has had a state since 1948 while Palestinians were largely refugees and civilian populations living under military occupation and unending dispossession from their land.

A Nonviolent Revival in confronting violence & discrimination

“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  1 John 3:17-18

In September 2000, Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, visited al Aqsa with several hundred Israeli soldiers and the second intifada erupted in protest.  The second intifada marked the collapse of the so-called Oslo peace process, though it took years before the US and other governments fully acknowledged this collapse.  Under the Oslo framework from 1993-2000 as the number of Israeli settlements doubled,   Palestinians faced mounting frustrations over a captive economy and continued dispossession from their land.  During the Oslo period there was also a key shift in international discourse from a framework of longstanding Israeli military occupation, dispossession and discrimination against Palestinian struggle for self-determination, to a framework of a political conflict between two sides – Israel and a Palestinian Authority.

As Palestinian resistance to intensified Israeli military operations of closures, curfews and collective punishment grew, so did international solidarity actions.  A new generation of young Palestinians in diaspora communities in North America and Europe became active on campuses and communities often for the first time.  Groups such as Christian Peacemaker Teams and the International Solidarity Movement drew people from around the world to join Palestinian communities in nonviolent resistance against home demolitions, uprooting of trees and expansion of Israeli settlements.  Many grassroots church people became active through CPT, ISM, and campus activism in 2001 and brought these advocacy efforts back to their respective denominations.

In May 2001 some church advocates gathered in New York with other longtime human rights advocates in an effort to build a campaign based on upholding international law and focused on challenging US policies that helped sustain and defend Israeli aggression.  This meeting led to the formation of the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation that had corporate divestment and military sanctions (i.e., ending US military aid to Israel) as two key action areas.  See Then in July 2001 the WCC convened a meeting in Geneva of Palestinian Christians and ecumenical leaders that led to creation of EAPPI as part of the Decade to Overcome Violence year on Israel/Palestine.

At the NGO Forum of the UN World Conference Against Racism (Durban, South Africa, September 2001) the Ecumenical caucus played a crucial role in retaining language condemning “foreign military occupation” as a form of racism in the NGO declaration. The US and Israel delegations later walked out of the governmental meetings in an attempt to discredit and delegitimize global anti-racism efforts as anti-Israel.  Only a few days after the WCAR closed came the attacks of 9/11. The US and Israel continued to mobilize former colonial governments of Europe to vilify and marginalize the outcomes of the WCAR and shift global framing to a war on terror.  Suddenly the racial profiling of the global war on terror displaced a growing global anti-racism movement.

A series of events in spring 2002 – the siege of Church of Nativity, the levelling of Jenin refugee camp area by Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer, and the rapid rise of closures, curfews and suicide attacks – catalyzed greater nonviolent actions among grassroots and US church activists.  A high level NCCCUSA delegation was in Jerusalem and among the first internationals to visit Jenin but made no mention of US policy or of role of CAT.  Frustrated by fearful church leaders retaining values of ‘balance’ and a conflict between supposedly equal sides in the face of escalating violations of international law, grassroots activists in churches, campuses and local communities globally began to focus corporate campaigning against CAT.  At the US Campaign to End the Occupation first national organizing conference (June 2002), members committed to increasing corporate campaigning with CAT as a major focus.

Construction beginning in 2003 on the hafrada (apartheid or separation) barrier/wall in various parts of West Bank & East Jerusalem also involved levelling thousands of olive trees, shops and seizing of Palestinian land as a buffer zone.  Growing numbers of divestment movements on US university campuses and at community level started researching which corporations were involved in construction and in military contracts supporting the wall and settlements.  As the US government mobilized for an invasion and war of aggression against Iraq, the anti-war movement struggled to include Palestinian rights in the movement.  Many US church officials opposed war in Iraq but in their desire to broaden anti-war efforts as widely as possible they resisted linking war on Iraq with ongoing Israeli aggression and collective punishment against Palestinians.  In March 2003, just days before the massive US assault on Iraq, Rachel Corrie, a US activist with ISM, was killed by a CAT D9 bulldozer that was destroying many Palestinian homes in Gaza.  As the US invasion and military occupation of Iraq unfolded, more and more grassroots and church activists articulated the connections with Israel’s occupation and settlement expansion.  Soon United For Peace & Justice, the largest anti-war coalition in the US, made the connections explicit at every demonstration with signs like: “Occupation: wrong in Iraq, wrong in Palestine.”  Yet the NCCCUSA and denominational leadership remained reluctant to voice publicly such connections.

Two key decisions in 2004 greatly accelerated US church involvement in economic efforts that would become the BDS movement.  First, in June the Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUSA) voted to take up a process of “phased selective divestment” from companies supporting violence and the occupation.  Hate mail, death and arson threats soon flooded PCUSA phones, faxes and emails from pro-Israel sources.  But the decision initiated concerted research and shareholder advocacy by the Presbyterian Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee.  MRTI identified several companies among their holdings that were complicit with settlements, the occupation, and violence against civilians: CAT, Motorola, ITT, United Technologies, and Citigroup.

Second, in July, the International Court of Justice issued its opinion confirming that the wall violated international law and should be dismantled with reparations paid appropriately.  These two decisions contributed to a growing movement among churches towards divestment from international companies profiting from business activities supporting Israeli settlements and military occupation.  At the same time, secular and grassroots groups steadily increased calls for boycott of settlement products and a boycott of Israel. (I will address the issue of boycott in more detail below).

Putting our Words into Actions

“But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.”  James 1:25

Here are some recent actions in the growing push among churches for divestment.  In mobilizing church support for divestment, church advocates initially avoided the boycott part of BDS but gradually became more active on that as well.


  • World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee issues call urging churches to take up economic measures as part of seeking to end the occupation.
  • US Campaign to End Occupation holds 1 day meeting on boycott & divestment strategies on Caterpillar (CAT).
  • Two United Methodist annual conferences adopt divestment resolutions & New England Annual Conference forms a Divestment Task Force that researches and engages companies profiting from occupation.
  • Palestinian civil society organizations issue BDS call on anniversary of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling against the wall.
  • United Church of Christ & Episcopal Church USA debate divestment, positive investment & shareholder advocacy regarding companies profiting from occupation.
  • Sabeel issues booklet, “Morally Responsible Investing” addressing responsibility of churches to take actions on companies profiting from occupation.
  • Friends of Sabeel Canada holds conference on Morally Responsible Investing in Toronto.  It’s denounced by major Jewish organizations before it starts.


  • At the February 2006 WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil a strong Palestinian Christian contingent called on US churches to take up economic measures.  As a result, an Ecumenical Action Group of US church shareholder advocates and pension funds held its first meeting to take up the call from Palestinian Christians. EAG continues to meet 2-3 times/year.  For nine years it has met with companies, filed shareholder resolutions with CAT, Motorola, HP, ITT, United Technologies, and others.
  • Several more United Methodist Annual Conferences adopt calls for divestment.
  • Under enormous pressure, PCUSA General Assembly retracts “phased selective divestment” wording but continues corporate engagement seeking only companies that make positive contribution to peace.
  • Starting in 2006 to present, Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign to End the Occupation & other allies join with PCUSA and UMC advocates at each of their respective church wide meetings to support divestment resolutions.
  • Anglican Church, Methodist Church of Britain and other European churches take up corporate engagement and divestment from CAT, and other companies involved in occupation.


In June 2007 the WCC convened what became known as the Amman Call.  It included an economic measures workshop, but the majority of churches present kept BDS from being included as an action in the call.  The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) formed out of the Amman Call with economic measures as 1 of key work areas from its beginning.  The next year the PIEF Economic Group met in London where for the first time European and US advocates of economic measures met and shared strategies.


  • Diakonia Sweden issues report on Assa Abloy operations in an Israeli settlement industrial zone.  Within 24 hours, Assa Abloy announces that it will withdraw its factory from settlement and relocate inside Israel.
  • American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) adopts investment screen to bar companies profiting from the occupation, but fearing violent threats from pro-Israel groups is nervous about publicizing their action.
  • PCUSA & UMC debate and fail to adopt divestment but the movement in each church grows.


  • Diakonia Sweden works with other civil society advocates to get Stockholm city council to reject Veolia bid on light rail in large part because of its operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  Ethical criteria for the decision: “Stockholm political officials listen to the ground and we made the ground tremble.”  In the six years since, Veolia has lost billions in contracts around the world in part because of grassroots activism (that often involved local church folks) against Veolia’s continued involvement with Israeli occupation and settlements.  Veolia has now ended almost all its contracts with Israel in the OPTs.
  • US church advocates meet with Norwegian advocates & Norwegian Oil Fund divests from Elbit.
  • Kairos Palestine launched in Bethlehem.  Includes call for churches to join in BDS actions.


  • First Kairos groups in Netherlands, United Methodist Kairos Response, and other countries form as faithful response to the call in Kairos Palestine.
  • British Methodist Church issues report that calls for boycott of settlement products.
  • Church groups work with Israeli women’s group Who Profits on documenting corporate complicity with settlements, the wall and occupation.


  • Both UMC & PCUSA fail to adopt divestment but both adopt boycott of settlement products (and UMC also a boycott of companies involved in occupation & settlements).
  • Friends Fiduciary votes to divest.
  • United Church of Canada adopts boycott of settlement products.


  • WCC Assembly at Busan calls for an ecumenical BDS working group.


  • PIEF Working Group on BDS convenes several skype calls & 2 face to face meetings.
  • United Methodist Church Board of Pensions divests from G4S.
  • PCUSA votes to divest from CAT, Moto Solutions, and HP.


  • The United Church of Christ (UCC) in US votes to divest from CAT, HP, Motorola Solutions, Veolia.
  • United Church of Canada votes to implement a divestment strategy.

Churches Take up Boycott as Nonviolent action against discrimination

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:21

2015 also marked the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama and the assassination of Malcolm X.  In a context of continued protests around police brutality and racial violence against the Black community with cries of “Black Lives Matter,” it is important to reflect on calls for boycott of settlement products and a broader boycott of Israel in the context of US church involvement in boycotts as part of the struggle for civil rights in the US as well as the global anti-apartheid movement.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham jail was in direct response to a letter from white clergy in Birmingham.  The white clergy labeled King as an outside agitator who was bringing trouble to their city.  They warned King against bringing extremist, radical ideas that would only provoke violence.  King in his 1963 prophetic letter asked, “was not Amos an extremist for justice [?]  So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.  Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”  In the face of attacks today that label boycott as an extremist, anti-Semitic threat to Israel, we need to join King and affirm: Yes!  Boycott, divestment and sanctions embody extremely passionate actions for nonviolent, moral change; and we in the churches must become more involved if we hope to continue following our biblical mandate of love and justice.

Invariably, churches and other civil society groups turn to BDS when they are blocked by governments from pursuing justice and equality.  The civil rights movement was blocked by unjust Jim Crow laws of segregation and so they took up nonviolent direct action and boycotts.  Since 1970 when the US government cast its first veto in the UN Security Council, it has used the veto more than the other four permanent members combined.  This constitutes a huge log in the eye of US churches that we must seek to remove through nonviolent action.  One third of US vetoes were to block international criticism of apartheid regimes in southern Africa and half were to block international criticism of Israeli government violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and nearby countries.  When efforts by the international community are repeatedly blocked, civil society turns to nonviolent actions of boycott and divestment.

Churches are particularly key communities in the efforts of boycott and divestment because they have used them so effectively as nonviolent acts of conscience and of solidarity in many human rights struggles for years.  Historically, boycotts are nonviolent moral tools of noncooperation used primarily by colonized and oppressed communities and their allies to challenge unjust governmental power and unjust laws.  Colonial expansion and land theft is inherently racist in that it divides so-called civilized citizens from barbaric natives and treats them differently.  Thus economic, cultural and academic boycotts are primarily tools of noncooperation and non-participation in the systemic racist practices of so-called democratic, colonial governments.

Gandhi, for instance, led a national movement in India in a series of boycotts that included boycotts of schools, cotton, and salt.  He described the boycott of government wrongdoing as an act done out of love!  Kairos Palestine and churches take up this same notion of boycott as an act of love to end wrongdoing.  Churches and grassroots activists boycott unhealthy relations in order to seek justice and equality for all.

The anti-apartheid movement also used cultural, academic and sports boycotts to challenge white rule in S. Africa.  The S. African Kairos document insisted that white S. Africans had to make a choice: to renounce their white privilege and join in resistance, or face a boycott.

Invariably, when the oppressed challenge power structures, they get attacked.  Almost every boycott movement has been accused of being violent, racist and a threat to peace.  In fact, the reverse is true: boycott movements seek to end longstanding violence and racist discrimination imposed by the powerful.  Yet the attacks of the Israel lobby can be quite threatening and intimidating.

While the Palestinian civil society BDS call is for boycott and divestment and sanctions, churches initially worked only in the area of divestment from international companies.  From the first Presbyterian resolution calling for divestment in 2004 up to 2012, church advocates in various denominations pressed only for divestment from companies.  In 2012 both Presbyterians and United Methodists added additional petitions calling for boycott of settlement products, and Methodists also included companies operating in the settlements, but the organizing was almost entirely focused on divestment.  While church-wide divestment did not prevail in 2012, both Presbyterians and Methodists adopted boycott language as acts of conscience by consumers that are part of longstanding church tradition of nonviolent actions.  Both denominations had recently endorsed farmworker-led boycotts to bring about better wages and working conditions in the fields.  In these boycotts, farmworkers – many of whom are undocumented – were landless and subject to racist discrimination yet they took the lead in nonviolent boycott actions.

Loving our Enemies by rejecting attacks on BDS

“So do not let your good be spoken of as evil.”  Romans 14:16

Part of our task as churches is to challenge and reject fearful and often vicious accusations made by pro-Israel attack groups.  I call them attack groups because their main agenda is to silence moral nonviolent actions and voices within the churches.  They do not offer alternative nonviolent actions; they seek only to block boycott and divestment actions.  However, it’s important to note that attack groups of the Israel lobby are not against boycott and divestment per se.  The very same organizations were among the leading exponents of divestment from companies in Sudan and Iran.

The Israel lobby falsely seeks to equate BDS nonviolent actions today with the identity-based boycott of Jewish stores under Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  On the contrary, boycotts of Israeli settlement products and even the economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel are nonviolent actions opposing any identity-based, systemic discrimination.  It is the discriminatory, racist apartheid policies of the Israeli state that are being boycotted.   Similar to boycotts against S. Africa, a boycott of Israel is challenging the vast majority of Jewish Israelis — who repeatedly vote for these racist policies of settlement expansion and discrimination against Palestinians – to join in nonviolent resistance or face a boycott.

The Montgomery bus boycott was not against buses, or even against the bus company but against its practice of segregation and discrimination.  Boycotts of S. Africa were not anti-white or anti- South Africa but against the laws and practices of apartheid.  So too, the BDS movement today opposes both anti-Semitism and the identity-based discrimination of the Israeli state: checkpoints, Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land, segregated roads and the many other Israeli identity-based laws.  When there is a law of return for Jews that’s protected and a right of return for Palestinians that’s denied, churches are starting to say, that’s wrong!  We should have equal rights for everyone, and nonviolent BDS actions are necessary tools to realize full equality.

Reclaiming a Prophetic Faith of Justice & Love: BDS as a Call to Repentance

“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.  Why will you die oh house of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord.  Repent and live!”  Ezekiel 18:31-32

Let us reflect on the biblical concept of repentance in relation to the call to join the BDS movement.  Sin is when people turn away from God and away from loving their neighbors in need.  Repentance is a call to turn back to God and back to one’s neighbor.  Turn away from unjust practices!  Turn away from violence against one’s neighbors.  Repentance is like a boycott: give up those awful practices; stop robbing your neighbors; stop discriminating!  It really is a call to boycott and divest.

John the Baptist as a voice in the wilderness invited people to repent: to turn away from the ways of empire.  He challenges people who come out as spectators to reject any identity-based ethics and instead take action!  “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.  Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor.” (Luke 3:8)  When the crowds ask John what they should do, he offers specific actions to people in different positions to break with the unjust practices of the empire: people should share; tax collectors should practice fairness; and soldiers should stop extorting money, stop using threats and false accusations (see Luke 3:10-14)

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in effect offers Jesus’ call to boycott both the ways of violence and the ways of submission by “turning the other cheek” and standing face to face on one’s ground.  It is a powerful call to nonviolent resistance out of love.  Kairos Palestine as a movement invites us all to take up the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians (faith, hope and love) as our guide in seeking justice in Palestine/Israel today.

In 18th chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet challenges the notion of collective punishment.  In many biblical stories, the whole family or a whole community suffers for the wrongdoing of one person.  Here Ezekiel rejects collective punishment and instead declares that each person is judged by their actions, not their identity.  “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord.  “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)  Boycott and Divestment today, like the call in Ezekiel, is urging us to turn from our complicity as churches, and it also calls on companies to turn, on the Israeli government to turn, and on the international community to turn, to repent and to live.

In the text above (18:31-32), Ezekiel challenged the people and government of his day, out of deep love, to stop discriminating, to stop taking others’ land, to stop going the ways of the empire and the ways of ‘might makes right.’  Today, it is the same challenge that Palestinian Christians and the BDS movement are pressing churches and everyone to take up when they call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against injustice.

It’s time to Boycott & Divest ourselves of Fear-based, Discriminatory readings of the Bible

“Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the Great!… Then I heard another voice from heaven say: ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins.” (Revelation 18:2a, 4a)

Christian Zionists have repeatedly distorted the theology in the Book of Revelation as being only about the end times thousands of years after John lived.  There are many critiques of Christian Zionism, but I also hope we can reclaim the powerful critique John offers in Revelation of the ways of empire in his day.  When he wrote, Babylon was already part of history, but if he named the Roman empire he likely would have been killed.  Here in the 18th chapter of Revelation, John invites people to “come out of” Babylon, that is, to stop cooperating with the unjust and violent practices of the empire.

What happens when people join together in noncooperation, when people boycott and divest from the ways of empire?  In Rev. 18:11 we read, “the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore.”  John goes on to state, “the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flutists and trumpeters will be heard no more.”(Rev. 18:22)  That is like a cultural boycott!  But churches today, like the early church in John’s day, are fearful of taking on a cultural boycott of Israel.

John’s challenge to boycott empire is one of many texts that gives theological grounding to boycott movements in colonized India, in apartheid S. Africa, in Jim Crow United States, and to today’s economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.  It will not be easy, but a full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel invites churches to confront the log of racism that is still in our own eye, in our ecumenical institutions, and even in our reading of the Bible.  If we in the global churches fail to take up cultural and academic boycott of Israel at this moment, then like the white moderate clergy in Birmingham, Alabama who accused Martin Luther King of going too fast, we will be tacit supporters of the racist policies of Israeli government and our own respective governments.

We don’t have to reach consensus on each and every boycott of Israel action.  What matters is affirming that economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel challenges the Israeli public, companies, and the international community to break all ties with the racist practices of the Israeli state.

The Bible calls cultural cooperation with unjust state powers whitewashing!  Biblical condemnations of false prophets are similar to a call for cultural and academic boycott of unjust practices.  For instance, Ezekiel declares: “Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace’ when there is no peace, and because when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall.” (Ezekiel 13:10-11)

In Matthew 23, Jesus urges the crowds and disciples to reject/boycott the cultural captivity of leaders in his day.  “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead people’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-8)  It is not the religious/ethnic identity of Pharisees, but rather their unjust ways and accommodation with the empire’s evil practices that Jesus condemns.  Part of a cultural and academic boycott of Israel involves boycotting the theological whitewashing ways of years of Christian-Jewish dialogue that repeatedly silence criticism of injustice.

ore than anything, we in the churches need to stay on message that the BDS movement is a nonviolent moral movement to end longstanding suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of a discriminatory system that continues daily to seize more and more land.  And the time to act is now!  Last year the number of home demolitions and new settlements were higher than in years, and there was a devastating war on the 1.8 million people of Gaza (half of whom are children).

 It’s time for global churches to stop whitewashing racism by joining the BDS movement, including a cultural and academic boycott of Israel.  Churches will be attacked when we speak up and take actions, so it’s vital that we start somewhere! And it’s vital we support one another as we seek to follow Jesus in the struggle for dignity and justice for all.  When we boycott injustice we express our love for Palestinian sisters and brothers, for Israelis, and for ourselves.

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