The Church of England’s General Synod isn’t exactly known for tackling global injustice.
Instead, it’s caricatured by navel-gazing and internal bickering. At the latest synod, everyone had expected the Anglicans to be squabbling over the question of whether women should be allowed to become bishops.
With the economy in a funk, the City in crisis and global injustice taking place around the world some feared the Church would come away looking self-obsessed and out of touch.
But the adjournment of the decision on this controversial topic meant the issue of Israel and Palestine was bumped up the agenda as – unexpectedly – the Church of England made a stand on an issue of global significance.
Dr John Dinnen introduced a private members motion which called for the Church to back the work of Israelis and Palestinians working for justice and peace and, in particular, support for two organisations, the Parents Circle and the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
It’s the inclusion of EAPPI which kicked up a bit of storm.
One bishop argued that it was seen by many to be pro-Palestine and so its name should be dropped from the motion to avoid controversy – a point which was later defeated and the motion passed.
I’m struck by this issue of balance and impartiality. In an age of social media, facts and hard news are often replaced by comment and opinion. If it’s just about opinions then offering equal weight to two competing points of view is valid. But when it comes to facts we need truth, not ‘balance’. As former Guardian publisher C.P. Scott said in 1921: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”
This point was picked up in the Synod debate by Canon John Witcombe who said the “primary function” of EAPPI was “to bear witness…if they appear to speak more of suffering on one side, that is to reflect the situation”. In the same debate Dr John Perumbalath said: “There is nothing called neutrality; no one is neutral; neither am I, neither the Lord in whom I put my trust when it comes to questions of justice and human suffering”.
Former BBC director Richard Sambrook makes this point in a recent report: Delivering trust: impartiality and objectivity in the digital age. Here he says there’s an important distinction between ‘impartiality’ and ‘objectivity’, even though they are often used interchangeably: “Impartiality relates to absence of bias and objectivity to identifying facts and evidence.”
Some have misrepresented the decision as a one-sided Christian attack on Israel or Judaism. But that ignores the many Jewish groups who have spoken out in favour of EAPPI and strongly backed the motion. These include Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Independent Jewish Voices and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Last year I spent some time in the region. I met Rabbis in Jerusalem, Palestinian church leaders in Nablus, Jewish settlers in the West Bank, politicians from Hamas and Fatah, soldiers-turned conscientious objectors and relatives of Israeli captive Gilad Shalit.
This situation can be complicated. It’s hard for us to be impartial. Or objective. But that doesn’t mean we should shy away from wrestling with issues of injustice.
Image by Christian Aid.