Stanley Knowles

Editorial: On the side of real justice

  • January 18, 2024

It’s hardly The Catholic Register’s place to editorially sermonize our separated fellow Christians in the United Church about their theology.

Yet even in this time of Prayer for Christian Unity, we can’t suppress expressing our dismay at its leadership’s recent public letter attacking Israel.

Nor can we help pondering what great figures from the United Church’s past would make of the missive current moderator Rev. Michael Blair sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other Canadian parliamentarians last week.

More than memory lane is in play. When Canada’s largest Protestant denomination was popularly known as the NDP at prayer, its clergy and leaders served as key political voices of the Main Street left in Canada’s politics.

Among them was Stanley Knowles, an ordained United Church minister and long-time CCF-NDP MP still revered as Canada’s “dean of parliamentarians” for his gracious comportment and unparalleled knowledge of House of Commons procedure.

We picture Knowles spinning in his grave over current Rev. Blair’s cheerleading for the propaganda libel that Israel stands guilty of “genocide” in its existential battle against the murderous, rapist thugocracy Hamas.

As Eleanor Stebner, of the University of Winnipeg’s faculty of theology, wrote in a 1998 biographical essay on Knowles, he was a “staid soul” for whom cheerleading itself was “of merit only in tempered measure.” Would that the spirit of Knowles had stayed the current moderator’s hand from publishing last week’s intemperate anti-Israel epistle.

In his 1981 PhD thesis on Canadian pacifism from 1900 to 1945, Thomas Paul Socknat makes the case that Knowles and his post-war Social Gospel circle rejected the absolutist pacifist claim that war is always antithetical to justice and mercy. Their  reckoning doubtless followed the irrefutable evidence of the Second World War, especially the Holocaust, that violent militarism must at times be met with superior force.

Meeting and defeating bloodthirsty Jew-haters is precisely what Israel has done since its founding. It is what Israel has been doing since the Oct. 7 slaughter of innocents unleashed by Hamas in a militarily purposeless evil frenzy. It is what the Jewish State must do given insistence by Hamas leaders they are intent on raping, slitting throats and beheading Jews whenever given the chance.

Yet what says the moderator of the United Church of Canada? He sides with the South African government’s legal circus act at the International Court of Justice seeking to declare Israel guilty of “genocide.” Genocide? When the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust were the reason the word “genocide” was coined? For the United Church moderator, apparently so. Without evidence, without context of cause and effect, the Jewish people are put in the dock and condemned.

“As Israel’s war on Gaza intensifies, I write to amplify the voices of people of The United Church of Canada and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians urging the government to take moral and decisive actions to support justice and peace,” Rev. Blair writes.

Despite his stated appeal for justice, the sentence stands as gaslighting unbecoming a man of the cloth. Israel’s war is not against “Gaza,” i.e., the horribly suffering Palestinian people. It is against Hamas. It is war that Hamas leaders would have spared Palestinians by a) not invading Israel, b) not ravaging the Jewish population, c) not running back to Gaza with hostages or d) coming out with their hands up to surrender and face justice for their wicked crimes.

Nowhere in the letter’s appeal for justice and mercy is there any counterbalancing acknowledgement of the 1,200 Israelis exterminated with animalistic cruelty by the far right extremists of Hamas.

No. Rev. Blair instead sides with South Africa against Canada’s ally Israel in perpetuating the libel of Jewish “genocide” guilt. He then urges our Prime Minister to forbid sale of weapons to Israel. He conveniently skips the reality that the vast majority of those killed on Oct. 7 were unarmed and defenceless just as he now apparently wishes the Jewish State to be.

Past United Church moderators have denied the divinity of Jesus, and argued for their “right” to lead a Christian denomination while professing atheism. That’s their theology. They’re welcome to it.

But diminishment of the once authoritative Christian voice of the United Church in Canada’s public square cannot go unremarked. Dismay hardly covers it.

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