A group of leaders from the Christian Reformed Church, including pastors, denominational staff, and lay people, traveled for 10 days in Israel and the West Bank last summer. They released a report in February urging the CRC to get more involved in the Middle East, specifically in response to the “plight of Palestinian Christians.”
The ad hoc Middle East study team of 16 people interviewed Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, and Israelis. Peter Vandermeulen, director of the CRC’s Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action, led the group.
The report calls the Israeli control of the West Bank “oppressive, pervasive,” and “dehumanizing.” It continues: “The restrictions on mobility, the ruthless expropriation of land held for generations by Palestinian farmers, and the pervasiveness of the wall were all much more oppressive than anything we expected. . . . It appears to be a systematic attempt to make life in the West Bank miserable, much more than an attempt at genuine security for Israelis.”
That’s a controversial statement to make in North America, study team members admit.
“Here in the U.S. we’re led to think it is Israelis who are being persecuted,” said Rev. Esteban Lugo, director of the CRC’s Race Relations office and a member of the team. “Being there, you see it’s not as it’s posed to be here. You see the obvious mistreatment of the Palestinian Christian. The Christian narrative is really dwindling.”
“It seems to me that many CRC people are influenced by the Zionism of popular TV fundamentalist preachers, and that concerns me deeply from a Reformed perspective,” said Rev. Mark Vermaire of Crossroads CRC in San Marcos, Calif. “I wish that the CRC would think carefully and theologically about Zionism and offer a Reformed counter position.”
Vermaire is a member of the denomination’s Board of Trustees, which received the report for information in February without taking any of the recommended actions, such as sending letters to government leaders and partnering with organizations working for “a just peace” in Palestine.
Vermaire said that in order for the board to take any action, it would have to start within the church as an overture (request) to synod.
Meanwhile, team members hope that CRC members will learn about the side of the story that they say is not being told in the North American media.
“You can’t do anything until you learn,” said Carrie Elzinga of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.
To view the study team’s report, see www.crcna.org/pages/justice_front.cfm.