When Christian peacemaking institutions discover they are providing institutional support to people who advocate or condone violence, the proper response is to apologize, distance themselves from the people in question and try not to make the same mistake again. The last thing Christian organizations can afford to do is to allow their peace activism to become a smokescreen for radicals who promote hate, violence and totalitarian ideologies. Sadly, all too many radicals have learned how to use Christian institutions to legitimize their violent and hateful messages.
One vulnerable target is the World Council of Churches, an umbrella organization headquartered in Geneva that represents approximately 350 churches worldwide. The WCC has been a vocal promoter of the Kairos Palestine Document, a text issued by Palestinian Christians in 2009. In addition to calling for supporters to boycott Israel, the text condones Palestinian terror attacks against civilians by passing off Palestinian violence as “legal resistance” aimed at ending the occupation — without acknowledging Israeli peace offers which, if accepted, would have resulted in the creation of a Palestinian state.
By publicizing the Kairos Palestine Document at the behest of anti-Zionist Christians (who rely on Israel for their safey), the WCC has embraced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and condoned Palestinian efforts to achieve by violence what has been offered to them at the negotiating table. That’s irresponsible.
The WCC’s irresponsibility doesn’t end there. The WCC has also maintained a relationship with Yusef Daher, who leads the WCC-sponsored Jerusalem Interchurch Center. Contrary to his calling as a peacemaker, Daher has praised a well-known Christian terrorist, George Habash, a now-deceased member of the Popular Front for the Liberation for Palestine. (For information about Daher’s social media postings, go here and here.)
The WCC’s failure to forcefully address these and numerous other examples of anti-Judaism and anti-Zionism lends credence to the concerns raised by Rabbi David Sandmel, Interfaith Director for the ADL when he spoke to the organization in 2016. “I have to wonder to what extent the persistence of antisemitism predetermines and distorts the WCC’s approach to this conflict. I have to wonder how much the presence of antisemitism contributes to global antisemitism, which has real world implications for me and my people.”
The National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization for Evangelical Protestants in the U.S., may have a problem similar to that of the World Council of Churches. Its charitable wing, World Relief, has been a regular sponsor of Justice Conferences, an annual event that take place in a number of countries, including South Africa, where so-called peace activists spew ugly anti-Zionist rhetoric.
Clint Le Bruyns, a theologian who teaches at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, has engaged in the same type of rhetoric we see from the WCC-supported Yusef Daher, but that hasn’t prevented him from speaking at the Justice Conference in March in Cape Town.
Le Bruyns, like Daher, has posted an image on his Facebook Page that promotes rock throwing. He has also posted images of Che Guevara, a Cuban revolutionary responsible for the summary executions of hundreds of his political opponents, on his Facebook page. Clearly, Le Bruyn’s agenda is not one of peace and reconciliation, or justice, but one of anti-Israel hostility and the valorization of violence. (For another troubling image posted on Le Bruyns’ Facebook page, go here.)
Le Bruyns’ involvement in the 2017 Justice Conference in South Africa is particularly troublesome in light of his anti-Zionist activism. In 2015, he participated in an anti-Israel flotilla to Gaza. At a 2014 rally in Durban, he called on the South African government to expel the Israeli Ambassador, sever all ties to the Jewish state and boycott all Israeli products. In sum, Le Bruyns supports economic and political warfare against Israel. He is not somebody that a Christian development organization should help publicize. But with its support for the Justice Conference, that’s what NAE’s World Relief has done.
The ties between the Justice Conference movement and the NAE’s World Relief organization have historically been pretty strong. Stephan Bauman, who served as World Relief’s President/CEO from 2011 to 2016, is the founder of the Justice Conference movement and World Relief has sponsored Justice Conference events. On its website World Relief declares that it “partners” with the Justice Conference “so that the lives of the vulnerable can thrive and grow.”
Exactly what does all this mean financially? It’s tough to know because World Relief is not saying. An inquiry to the National Association of Evangelicals press office about World Relief’s current involvement with the Justice Conference movement, and in particular in South Africa was met with a referral to the press officer at World Relief (who has not responded to a phone and email inquiry).
Regardless of how much financial support World Relief provides to the Justice Conference, its involvement with the movement provides cover for anti-Israel and pro-violence messaging from folks such as Le Bruyns.
Christian organizations should not be sponsoring events or “partnering” with organizations that give the podium to people who lionize rock throwers and murderers like Che Guevara.
How will World Relief and its parent organization, the National Association of Evangelicals, respond?