WHEN the Anglican bishop-elect of Jerusalem, Riad Abu-Assal, stormed out of a theatre performance at the Lambeth Conference in late July, fellow clerics—including the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey—hurried to calm him down and apologise for causing him offence. Their detestable sin? Permitting the production of a play which used the name "Judah" for that part of the globe universally referred to as "the West Bank".
Abu-Assal took his hysterical departure after an actor quoted from a passage in Ezekiel in which the prophet is instructed by God to take two sticks, representing the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and join them together to symbolise the eventual reunification of the nation. To the man who would be bishop, this was nothing less than an assertion that God intended to unite Judea (which Palestinians see as an integral part of the first stage of an independent state) with the rest of Israel.
Having thus earned his brief moment of fame, Abu-Assal succeeded later in the once-in-a-decade conference to push through a resolution which saw the world's Anglican leadership call for Jerusalem to be declared the capital of both Israel and a sovereign Palestine. (In fact, he said he agreed to remain at the gathering after the row only after being promised that Middle East problems would be addressed.)
The Anglican Church, already badly compromised in its views on a range of moral and biblical issues, stooped to a new low, throwing core, immutable truths of Scripture to the winds in its eagerness to take the "politically correct" stance on a highly topical issue. After brief discussion, the 739 bishops from around the world adopted the resolution without amendment. Prominent Anglican leaders of earlier years, including such notable Christian Zionists as Lord Palmerston and Lord Shaftesbury, must have turned in their graves.
Back then, Anglicans supported the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in their ancient homeland, based on biblical and historic rights and the belief that it was an essential prerequisite for the return of the Lord. But this is a different age, the age of the Abu-Assals.
The new bishop of Jerusalem, an Arab holding Israeli citizenship, has long been an outspoken supporter of the PLO and an independent Palestinian state. He once stood for the Knesset as a candidate for a left-wing political party, and in 1985 visited Yasser Arafat in Tunis, when such contacts were illegal for Israelis.
The Israeli Ministry of Defence banned two nationalist factions Abu-Assal headed, because of their hostility toward the State of Israel.
A former parish priest in Nazareth, he has voiced contentious views, for instance, comparing Israeli settlement activity with Nazi policies. While stressing that he foresees peaceful co-existence between Israel and a Palestinian state, his open support for a movement built on terror reveals questionable judgement in a church leader, particularly when one considers that Arafat's regime is a Muslim authority committed to shar'ia law and prolonging the conflict with Israel until all the Land of Israel is brought into the "House of Islam".
Like his predecessor, Samir Kafity, he has sought to place the blame for the dwindling numbers of ethnic Christian Arabs in Israel-proper and the autonomous areas on the "Israeli occupation", rather than on resurgent Islam (despite the fact that Muslims have replaced Christians as the majority populations in Bethlehem and are becoming an increasing force in Nazareth). He is considered close to Arafat, whose honoured guest he was at an itfar banquet in Jericho during the last Muslim month of Ramadan. It was hardly surprising, then, that the top Anglican church man in Israel should get so worked up over the use of words in the Bible which offend both his sensibilities and the political views he so vehemently promotes.
Abu-Assal described the play as an "offensive misuse of the Bible". Yet one has to wonder how he finds it possible to read the Bible at all, considering the word "Judea/Judah" (the same word in Hebrew) appears almost 900 times (the word "Samaria"—the remainder of the disputed territory—appears 123 times; "Israel" appears more than 2,500 times.) And what do he and his fellow bishops make of the dozens of scriptures referring to God's eternal and special relationship with Israel, or of passages making clear that Israel's divine inheritance includes those areas claimed by the Palestinians (see Ezekiel 36)? Does he read the Bible armed with a thick black pen?
According to the official Anglican Communion News Service, Abu Assal introduced the Lambeth resolution on Jerusalem by "comparing Palestinians to the Samaritan who was left by the side of the road, robbed of everything including his homeland". Of course, the man left at the side of the road in Jesus' parable was helped by a Samaritan—an example of good neighbourliness. But then, biblical accuracy clearly isn't a strong point among today's Anglican bishops.