Anglican Israel and the Influence of Episcopal Church in Palestine

In the 19th Century, coinciding with world-wide Western missionary endeavours, improvements in transportation, and paralleling European Colonial expansion in this strategic staging post to Africa and Asia, there was a renewed interest in Palestine among the major Protestant denominations. At the beginning of the 19th Century the only representatives of Western Christianity to be found in Jerusalem had been the Franciscans and only the Orthodox and Armenian traditions were resident in significant numbers. From the mid 19th Century, Protestant denominations began to found their own churches, not so much from a separatist spirit but because of the animosity and ostracism of the Eastern traditions. Their reformed theology, emphasis on personal conversion and lay leadership were anathema to Eastern Orthodoxy.178

This ecclesiastical fragmentation coincided with increasing inroads from Western Europe into the politics, economy, and culture of the Ottoman caliphate and of those parts of it which enjoyed varying degrees of independence. After the arousal that accompanied Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, the Western scramble for influence, and competition to wield it, quickened in the apparent, or actual, deterioration of Ottoman imperial competence in the nineteenth century.179

The Church Missionary Society (CMS) was among the earliest to show an interest from 1821, but it was the London Jews Society (LJS) who established the first permanent mission station in 1831. Their aim was the conversion of Jews to Protestant Christianity.

The influence of Christian Zionism within Anglican Evangelical circles was boosted by the support of

Charles Simeon (1759-1836), who in later life was consumed with a passion for the conversion of Jews and the work of the London Jews Society, looking for 'a full and imminent restoration of God's chosen people'180

Whilst Way and others evangelized on the Continent, Simeon at home acted as a kind of one-man general staff, preaching for the Society, recruiting workers, spreading propaganda, collecting funds, advising on overall strategy. He did so with even more than his usual sense of urgency. He lived to see the work prosper remarkably. An annual income of £7,000 in 1815 was doubled by 1836. Episcopal patronage was bestowed on the Society... In that progress Charles Simeon had no small part.181

The British Consul was also the first to be appointed in Jerusalem in 1838, and the Anglican church, Christ Church, was dedicated in 1845. A Protestant bishopric under joint British and Prussian auspices had been founded in 1841. Solomon Alexander, the first bishop and a former Jewish rabbi did not survive long in the post and was succeeded by Samuel Gobat, a Swiss Lutheran. The arrangement with Germany then lapsed and the bishopric became solely Anglican in 1881.182 Initially Alexander and Gobat co-operated with the Eastern Churches, concentrating on the circulation of the Scriptures and opening what were termed 'Bible schools'.

As Eastern Christians bought the Bibles and sought help in reading them, teachers were supplied and more schools opened. The first two CMS missionaries arrived for this purpose in 1851 and were based in Jerusalem and Nablus. The local leadership of the Eastern Churches felt threatened and excommunicated those who read the Scriptures offered by the Anglicans.

Consequently Bishop Gobat felt compelled to protect them and from the 1860's small Anglican congregations based on a loose parish structure and led by Palestinian clergy were formed in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jaffa, Haifa, and Salt. The transition from a colonialist Anglican church dominated by expatriates to a Palestinian Anglican church was a significant but slow process which is still continuing. According to Bishop Rennie MacInnes, writing in 1925,

The work of the CMS in all its missions is to train those who join her in the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England, with the ultimate object of aiding in the establishment of a self-supporting, self-governing and self-extending system.183

The self-governing Palestine Church Council, also known as the Episcopal Evangelical Church in the Holy Land was officially established in Jaffa in 1905. By then it already included twenty Palestinian clergy serving in Jaffa, Kefr Yasif, Bir Zeit, Ramleh, Shefaamr, Nablus, Acco, Salt, Nazareth and Jerusalem. However, it was not until 1958 that the first Palestinian Bishop was appointed.

For all their will to autonomy, the local recruits to Protestant mission were beholden in various ways to its Western sources, beneficiaries of its educational investments and conditioned by the vicissitudes of external politics.184

However far this process of assimilation has come and still needs to go, is a matter of healthy debate. Unfortunately this commitment has sadly been misunderstood and maligned by many, especially by Christian and Jewish Zionists.

Crombie's partisan history of the Anglican Church in the Holy Land, in keeping with the provocative title 'For the Love of Zion', is an example of this.185 While its sub-title Christian Witness and the Restoration of Israel, makes an assumption as to what Christian witness should lead to or support, Crombie never clarifies his geographical definition of Zion and therefore where this 'restoration' is to take place. Throughout the book however, he is patently unsympathetic with the present indigenous Anglican leadership, and the claim of the Palestinians to the Occupied Territories. The final chapter of his book is entitled 'The antithesis of Alexander - a PLO Bishop'. The book, not surprisingly, has aroused a good deal of criticism among leading Palestinian Anglicans.

I found reading it that it was written by a person who really harbours resentment against the Arabs and against Palestinian Christians... it reflects his prejudice, his resentment, his deep dislike of the local Christians as if they really have nothing to say. Anything that Jews do somehow is always put in the right light and anything Arabs would do is somehow always judged as being wrong... why doesn't he see the presence of so many Zionist Bishops and clergy, those are OK but once you have any person who loves the land God has chosen to give him, an indigenous Palestinian, that's taboo. 186

The same kind of Zionist prejudice from a Jewish perspective can be seen in the views of Teddy Kolleck the mayor of Jerusalem. In 1992 he criticised the leadership of the Church of England for allowing the Diocese in Jerusalem 'to fall into the hands of the Arabs.' 187

The termination of the British Mandate in 1948 further accelerated the transition from expatriate to Palestinian control of Anglican mission schools, hospitals and other church assets, although the Zionist agency, the Churches Ministry Among Jewish People (CMJ) has remained strongly independent of, and resistant to, the indigenous leadership of the Diocese of Jerusalem . The elevation of the Anglican episcopate in Jerusalem to the status of an archbishopric in 1957 and its renaming as the 'Episcopal Church in the Middle East' was another important step in this process of naturalisation.188

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