One aspect of the disparate family that now constitutes the Methodist Church in New Zealand is starting to concern me. Don’t get me wrong. I rejoice in a Church which is sufficiently “family” to encompass progressives and conservatives. We find among those who call themselves Methodist, those who work to break down barriers with inter-church dialogue, and a home where both liberals and evangelicals can find a place. The Maori and Pakeha bicultural partnership has widened to encompass Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, Indian, Korean and a growing variety of other significant ethnic groups.
Where I do have more of a problem is when the tolerance for diversity morphs into a tolerance for bigotry together with a form of fundamentalism which identifies followers of other religions as doomed to perdition. Part of my dilemma, is that for example I am genuinely puzzled as to why a hopefully small sector of New Zealand Methodist evangelicals see themselves comfortable with a prosperity gospel that leaves the wealthy an excuse for not offering practical help for the poor. From what I have read, John Wesley never taught that Lazarus was meant to be kept at the gate. If it comes to that, a gospel which is designed to offer no hope for followers of other religions and can thereby keep the refugees at a safe distance is not the same faith that I assume should encourage us to offer genuine welcome to the stranger.
In terms of foreign policy I would, for example, like to hear some of the Trump supporters amongst our New Zealand Methodist Bible literalists give some clear explanation to the wider Church as to why they recently aligned themselves with the US and approved the recent move to open an American Embassy in Jerusalem. Hopefully I have been misinformed that the reason why a significant section of the pro-Trump evangelicals have supported strengthening the Israeli hold on Jerusalem was because, in their minds, strengthening the Jews position in Israel will hasten the arrival of the Apocalypse and the return of Christ, after which the Jews who don’t convert will burn in hell for ever(!)
That President Trump supports such a view is hardly in doubt when he had Robert Jeffress (a megachurch pastor from Dallas) deliver the first prayer at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Pastor Jeffress is not only famously quoted as responsible for the aforementioned prophecy, but had further insisted that religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism lead people into an eternity of separatism from God in Hell. John Hagee, the “man of God” chosen to give the final benediction at the same ceremony was similarly (at least in my mind) a curious choice. Hagee, who has preached extensively on end-times, is probably best known for his public utterance that God had sent Hitler to drive the Jews back to their ancestral homeland.
Just in case we might have thought that at least President Trump himself had concern for the Palestinians, it turned out that other than to blame Hamas, he raised no protest when some nearby stone throwing Palestinians, demonstrating their anger at the opening of the embassy, were shot by Israeli soldiers from the safety of their watch towers. It was scarcely a fair fight, in that although no Israelis were wounded, 68 Palestinians died (including a fourteen year old in a wheel chair!), while a further 2600 Palestinians plus were wounded. The American PR was probably not helped by the news coverage of the opening which not only showed no acknowledgment of the Palestinians’ death toll but instead highlighted a picture of Ivanka (nee Trump) and Jared Kushner who were shown smiling with their equally delighted Israeli hosts.
The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, insisted the deaths were entirely due to unreasonable behaviour on the part of the Palestinians encouraged by Hamas, and invited the UN members to congratulate the Israelis for showing so much restraint. By blocking a collective UN call for an independent inquiry, Ambassador Hayley, further upset the majority of UN observers. Having directed her accusations to the Palestinian camp Ambassador Haley demonstrated what some of the observers called arrogance by refusing to stay to listen the Palestinian reply.
An outraged Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has made it clear that as a consequence the US will not be playing a part in future peace negotiations. As he put it Washington is “no longer a partner and a broker.” “We will not sit with them,” Erekat said. “They have become part of the problem not part of the solution, a big part of the problem. Trump’s administration is the biggest problem.”
Just for the record, I for one am concerned that any Christian group would offer their support for this recent act by the Trump administration which I can only see as destabilizing the Middle East. In my version of an ideal New Zealand I would like to see the New Zealand Methodist Church leadership send a note to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to recommend they do not award the Nobel Peace Prize to President Donald Trump. Do others agree?