First South African Church to commit to BDS
In a historic step the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) issued a clear statement in support of the non-violent Palestinian struggle. The church’s national conference approved the resolution on 10 July 2016.
The declaration names the danger of Christian Zionism and its literal reading of the Bible which confuses the Old Testament’s Israelites with Jewish Israelis. ‘We hear the Palestinian Christians’ appeal for help,’ they say, and we commit our support to the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign.
The statement is the first of its kind by a South African church.
Earlier South African Methodists also urged their circuits to “study the Palestinian Kairos Document that calls for divestment of Israel to end the occupation by Israeli in Palestine” (2013 Yearbook, 3.4:93-95). They also encourage those who undertake “Holy Land Pilgrimages” to have meaningful engagements with the Palestinian community. Yet the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) does not ask people to consider the requests of the Palestinian Kairos Document. UCCSA acknowledges their requests, it affirms the call for creative, non-violent resistance and it commits publically.
What makes it even more historic is the fact that UCCSA was the only South African church who publicly supported the now historic South African Kairos call of 1985. In it South African theologians asked the world to help end apartheid. The world listened and it helped. In recent years the churches of the world have started to speak up about fundamentalist, Zionist readings of the Bible that support Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
The statement by UCCSA on Palestine is a welcome prophetic step. It reads as follows:
We pledge our support to the Palestinian people as follows at this 8th South African Synod Conference of UCCSA in George, South Africa:
We recognize that the Palestinian struggle is not simply a conflict, but an asymmetric struggle between an oppressor and the oppressed. The oppression entails a decades’ long institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territories of Palestine and also against those within Israel and those in the diaspora who are not allowed by Israel to return.
We hear the call of our sisters and brothers from Kairos Palestine who asked the world and in particular Christians to take a public stand against injustice in ‘A Moment of Truth – a Word of Faith, Hope and Love.’
We do not take an anti-Semitism position. However we are extremely concerned about fundamentalist and progressive Christian Zionism which conflate the Biblical Israel with the modern state of Israel. We call on all Christians to read the Bible responsibly so as to not trample on the human rights and the dignity of the Palestinians. We ask Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land to meet with and to listen to the Palestinians in Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and other cities in the occupied Palestinian territory.
We acknowledge with gratitude the support of our Palestinian sisters and brothers in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.
With this resolution we join other churches in the world such as the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ in the United States of America as well as the United Church of Canada. With them we stand in public solidarity with the Kairos Palestine’s appeal for help and the Palestinian civil society’s call for creative non-violent resistance.
We pledge our support to the international Boycott Divestments Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The United Congregational Church of Southern Africa is one church in five countries –Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The UCCSA was formed in 1967 but traces its origins back more than 200 years to the arrival of the first missionaries sent by the London Missionary Society to Southern Africa. Today over 500,000 members worship in over one thousand local churches across the five countries.