(RNS) — The Rev. Jerry Pillay, the Presbyterian minister elected normal secretary of the World Council of Church buildings final month, is taking the helm as the worldwide ecumenical group is already underneath stress to expel the Russian Orthodox Church from its ranks on account of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow’s justifications for his nation’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.
However that’s not the one controversy the brand new chief is dealing with: Pillay has come underneath hearth since his election for previous feedback evaluating the Israeli authorities’s remedy of Palestinians to his native South Africa’s former apartheid insurance policies.
Pillay, a former normal secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, rebuffed the criticism, saying in a current interview with Faith Information Service that the stress “comes with the territory.”
Pillay mentioned he plans to deal with the problems dealing with the WCC head-on when he assumes workplace at first of subsequent yr. “On the finish of the day,” he mentioned, “our process is to proclaim God’s identify.”
The next interview has been edited for size and readability.
What are your reactions to your election?
This has been a very nice pleasure for me. The WCC performed a pivotal position in South Africa at midnight days of apartheid. If it was not for the involvement of such ecumenical our bodies, we might not have had a lot worldwide stress on the South African authorities. So for me to be elected into that place is only a pleasure to, in a way, give again in thanksgiving, joyfully recognizing the position that the WCC performed in our personal context.
What do hope to perform? Are there any tasks that you just’re significantly concerned about pursuing?
The WCC is an admittedly very huge scope of various church buildings with a fantastic sense of variety, with doctrines and theology and views on ethics and so forth. One of many best priorities is to work towards the unity of those church buildings, in order that we are able to certainly create a visual unity to the world when it comes to a united Christian witness.
So my first process can be to proceed the work of bringing church buildings collectively, to hunt in unity of church buildings, to establish and deal with the main world points. Issues like poverty, issues like HIV and AIDS, issues just like the pandemic, conflict and conflicts.
The second factor is justice points. Justice is a vital precedence for the WCC. What is occurring, the place is it taking place, and the way will we communicate to it? The place is human dignity at stake and in danger? The place are human beings oppressed and deprived, whether or not it’s by way of political constructions, financial constructions — spiritual constructions in that too — and social constructions. How does the World Council of Church buildings really work towards liberating individuals and setting them free, as Jesus would say, in his personal ministry, “I’ve come to set the captives free”?
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Your election was criticized by some Jewish voices due to your previous writings concerning the Israeli authorities’s remedy of the Palestinians. They level to a 2016 paper during which you made optimistic references to the controversial boycott, divestment and sanctions motion and in contrast the Israeli remedy of Palestinians to apartheid. Do you might have a response?
Let me put that in context: A bunch of church leaders from South Africa went to try to perceive the Israel-Palestine battle scenario, and quite a lot of these church leaders had been Black church leaders — outstanding Black church leaders in South Africa. We went to the Israeli facet and the Palestinian facet. We spoke to quite a few individuals, together with pastors, rabbis, native individuals and politicians, to get deeper perception into what was taking place. We got here again and wrote a response to what we had seen, heard and felt ourselves. The vast majority of Black pastors — and I used to be fairly shocked by this — really mentioned, “You already know, that is worse than apartheid,” from what that they had skilled. Then we put collectively a collective assertion.
The 2016 article was an educational article making an attempt to seize these experiences and put them in context. The references and comparability of Israel and apartheid in South Africa weren’t phrases from my very own mouth — they had been tutorial references. When you went and skim the article, for instance, you will note it quotes the United Nations and their declaration of the apartheid state in Israel.
I’m not a politician, and I didn’t learn issues in a political mild. Mine was an introspection from a biblical perspective on justice, (and) what I noticed from a justice perspective didn’t sit properly with me.
Sadly, significantly right-wing Jewish media took (the article) and, as a substitute of really specializing in the justice problems with Israel and Palestine, merely attacked me as being anti-Jewish and antisemitic — which is completely unfounded.
In South Africa, I’ve labored with Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein for a lot of, a few years, working towards apartheid, working towards corruption in South Africa and dealing collectively to attract up an ethical constitution. (Jews in South Africa) know I’ve not ever talked about that place — of being anti-Jewish or antisemitic. However standing up for justice? Sure, after all, I’m responsible. I’ll arise for justice and reality, and I can’t compromise on that.
So what are your views on the boycott, divestment and sanctions motion directed at Israel?
From a justice perspective — and once more, I wish to reiterate this facet, not from a political perspective — the decision for sanctions and boycotts within the apartheid South Africa actually did deliver the dismantling of apartheid in our nation. There’s no query about that. So for my part, once I wrote in 2016, I principally was saying that boycott, sanctions and disinvestment might be an possibility. I used to be not essentially calling for that. It most likely nonetheless is an possibility to unravel the disaster in Palestine and Israel. But it surely’s not one thing that I’ve brazenly advocated over time.
Do you stand by your comparability of the Israeli authorities’s remedy of the Palestinians to apartheid?
Apartheid in South Africa was primarily a problem of separate improvement — individuals promoted it as separate improvement. I would not have an issue with separate improvement. I don’t have an issue with individuals figuring out themselves in a gaggle or making an attempt to protect a selected tradition, norms, values and even race for that matter. What I do have an issue with is when one tradition or individuals prioritize their specific view, tradition and identification on the expense of others — the place oppression is concerned. The place systemic oppression and coverage formation victimizes and dehumanizes individuals, in order that different cultures and different individuals are not given equal standing. That’s exactly what we had in South Africa.
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Within the context of Israel-Palestine, clearly Jewish individuals make claims when it comes to Zionism, and the precise to retain their tradition, identification and faith — I’ve no objections to that in any respect. However after we’re utilizing that to oppress different individuals, on the expense of different individuals’s justice, then the world must shout. Church buildings have to stand up, say fairly strongly within the identify of God, that such issues are usually not really acceptable.
Keep in mind, going again to the apartheid context, we had a so-called Christian authorities, and we had church buildings that had been justifying apartheid. Church buildings stood up and mentioned, ‘No, that’s not the identical God we discuss.’
Whether or not it’s within the Torah, the Quran or the Bible, we want to consider a God of justice and love.
Have you ever reached out to your critics? Are you involved about the way it will influence your tenure as WCC president?
I might be very keen to achieve out to any teams to debate this. However to be sincere with you, most of those newspapers are actually aiming to to smear me. I do give credit score to the Jewish paper in South Africa — they really took the time to ask me for a remark. Sadly, they ended the article quoting from a Zionist Christian, a conservative Christian, who principally was crushing me once more. However I anticipated this, as a result of this can be a massive subject when it comes to Israel-Palestine.
The WCC has made some very sturdy statements on the subject of Israel and Palestine. My place doesn’t essentially battle in any means with what WCC has been saying over time.
There was debate whether or not the WCC ought to expel or droop the Russian Orthodox Church. The present normal secretary has indicated he wouldn’t assist such a transfer. Would you?
The conflict in Ukraine and Russia is clearly unhappy and pointless. No person can really condone any conflict, no matter sort, for no matter causes. The WCC has been fairly vocal about that. Personally, that can be my view.
However when it comes to suspending the Russian Orthodox Church: Suspension of a church, any church, have to be one of many final resorts.
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The Russian Orthodox Church is clearly very aligned with authorities in Russia. So we have to actually encourage as a lot dialogue as attainable to speak with the Russian Orthodox Church — which we have now already been doing. And if, by way of the processes of dialogue, we come into the tip to say, “Hear, we might should rethink how the Russian Orthodox Church participates with the WCC,” then that’s not thrown out as an possibility. It must be thought of. However not with out exhausting dialogue as a lot as attainable.
What do you would like individuals understood concerning the work of the WCC?
(The WCC has) been accused of not taking part in a task adequately by individuals specifically given context. … Equally, sadly, there are some individuals — some Christians — who come from a really sturdy conservative, right-wing type of strategy who see WCC as a political physique. They have a tendency to demonize it, as if it’s not ever doing God’s will on the planet. That could be a whole, whole false impression.
However I feel if they’ll see that the WCC has been keen to get its arms soiled, keen to speak concerning the onerous points and keen to truly perceive what God is saying to us as Christians, then they are going to see a brand new appreciation of the WCC.