Jack Chivo: Open letter to new United Church moderator Gary Paterson
Dear Moderator Gary Paterson,
I would like to congratulate you on your election as the new moderator of the United Church of Canada, especially as the first openly gay person to be chosen for such an important position in the largest Protestant church in our country. Having followed your activities in Vancouver for a few decades, not as a member, I am sure that you will dedicate your efforts to enhancing the church's image not only among your congregants, but with the Canadian public at large. I'm sure you'll be bringing along your personal experiences, as someone who not a very long time ago would have been shunned and marginalized.
As I read in the Georgia Straight, your long-time spouse, Vancouver councillor Tim Stevenson, mentioned your recent two-month sabbatical in Israel and Palestine and the concerns you expressed about the fate of Palestinians under what you described as "occupation".
Tim added that yours is a "prophetic voice" on "various social issues in a world that is broken".
I couldn't agree more with the assessment, which makes me wonder about your recent trip to the Middle East, and some unexplained silence from you and your church.
When I read the resolutions calling for a boycott of goods produced in what are called "occupied territories" because of the "sufferings" of the Palestinian people—a boycott which you appear to endorse—I was highly surprised, even dismayed, by the lack of any concern about the fate of the Syrian people slaughtered for more than one year by a murderous dictator, Bashar al-Assad, with over 20,000 people already dead, hundreds of thousands injured and maimed, entire neighbourhoods, towns, and cities flattened by merciless artillery and aerial bombardments, and many more hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes and living in unspeakable conditions in neighbouring countries.
As your church appears to always be concerned with the Palestinians, didn't you learn, while there, that over 1,000 Palestinians living in Syria have been so far massacred by Assad's forces, with lots of others injured?
Where is/was a resolution calling for the boycott of products from Syria coming from you or the General Assembly? It still export goods to Canada, while the killings are occurring on a daily basis.
Where is your "prophetic voice" in condemning these barbaric acts and expressing yours and your church's unambiguous anger and outrage?
On the same topic, did you ever consider the boycott of products coming from Turkey, which has occupied Northern Cyprus since 1974, from where where almost 180,000 Christian Cypriots were chased away by the invading Turkish military—the majority there from biblical times, having been displaced by almost 200,000 Muslims brought over from Mainland Turkey? With not one church, Christian school, or institution still functioning!
Doesn't this sound like "ethnic cleansing" to you, or as a decades-long "occupation?"
Where is the United Church of Canada call for the boycott of China for its occupation of Tibet and persecution of dissidents?
I am not asking you to stop criticizing Israel, when warranted, but why the blind eye on terrible atrocities in the same area?
If the answer to all of the above is "yes", as it should be to any decent human being, why the unexplained silence?
Which brings me to my other questions for you. While in Israel, you surely enjoyed the Pride parade in Tel Aviv, with some 50,000 participants: gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender, Jews and Christians, Muslims and others, top politicians and regular folks in attendance some two months ago. It was the 14th straight year it was hosted there. There were no incidents, nobody was harassed or taunted. It was fun and everyone had a good time.
During your sabbatical did you also experience a similar event in Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, or Gaza City?
Did you learn that in Israel for decades, not only in the society at large but even in the army, openly gay and lesbians are accepted without any problems and are recognized and promoted solely on their own merits. Their same-sex partners are fully recognized and they enjoy all the benefits as those in traditional marriages. This is years before this was the case in most civilized countries, including the United States.
And the answer is?
Aren't you concerned at all about the fate of people with a different sexual orientation in Gaza, the West Bank, or in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, to name but few neighbouring states where gays in particular are regularly threatened, attacked, and beaten, thrown in jail, even killed, for no other reason than because of what they are? The huge majority are still hiding "in the closet", fearing for their lives.
Would you and Tim walk hand-in-hand in any of the countries above, at any time, or hug each other in public, as other couples do? For how long would you be safe?
I fully realize that this world might be broken, but if you want to fix it, how can you and the United Church of Canada ignore the atrocities in Syria, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt, where your Christian brothers and sisters, along with many Muslims, are being slaughtered every week. What about the fate of those with a different sexual orientation in that part of the world to which you and your church pay so much attention?
In your first news conference, you were quoted as saying that the United Church of Canada faces the challenge "not to get paralyzed, but to be people of hope", and I wholeheartedly agree with your position. Unfortunately because of your silence, which might be considered acquiescence, what kind of hope do you and the church offer to the victims in Syria and all over the Middle East, and to those suffering there because of their sexual orientation?
I pray that you will take a forceful position soon.
Jack Chivo is a retired journalist who lives in West Vancouver.