It was just three weeks ago that The New York Times published a letter I wrote regarding "Israel's policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond." The letter set off a furor that I could not have imagined, and the furor, which led to my resignation, continues.
I was employed as a chaplain, not by Yale University but by the Episcopal Church at Yale, which is a separate entity. At an emergency meeting on Sept. 2, the executive committee of the Board of Governors of the Episcopal Church at Yale asked for my resignation, and on Sept. 3 my resignation was accepted by Bishop Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.
Is the letter anti-Semitic? A sampling of Yale undergraduates, asked this question by the Yale Daily News, fell everywhere on the graph, from "no, not at all," to "yes, definitely." Is it? Those who believe so have not hesitated to brand me with the scarlet "A," and sadly that includes Jerry Fischer of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, whose words I will not dignify by repeating in this essay. Frankly, I am embarrassed for him.
I am deeply concerned just now that others will be intimidated by my experience and thus fear raising the issue of the relationship between the United States and Israel, and the fact that apartheid conditions obtain for Palestinians in the West Bank and far worse in Gaza. Also intimidating is the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Israel lobby, described in meticulous detail by Connie Bruck in the Sept. 1 issue of The New Yorker. These are issues that demand public discourse without the fear of being labeled with the "A" word.
Where better to address these issues than the campus of a great university? To my dismay, at Yale I found that "that issue" was not to be raised at the monthly meetings of the chaplains. In April, when asked to tell what we had done during spring break, I described my recent visit to the West Bank with a group from Yale Divinity School and the Episcopal Church at Yale. I said that we were deeply troubled by the settlement activity and the policy of separation exemplified by the Wall and the road systems. Chaplain Sharon Kugler rebuked me after the meeting and said that this subject must never again be raised at meetings of the whole.
The issue of freedom to speak one's conscience is on my mind. I was criticized for using the Yale name in my letter -- my title as Chaplain of the Episcopal Church at Yale was used after my name to identify me. In no way did I suggest that I was writing on behalf of the Episcopal Church at Yale. Had I not identified myself, someone disliking the letter undoubtedly would have "outed" me from Google and made an issue of that. The question, then, is whether I, as a chaplain working under the Yale Religious Ministries umbrella, had the right to send to a newspaper a letter that had not been approved by Chaplain Kugler. If the chaplains are to be muzzled and relegated to pastoral care only, that needs to be spelled out. Any chaplain worth his salt will insist that prophetic witness is a part of biblical ministry that must be respected.
These are the issues that concern me just now. Regarding whether or the not the letter is anti-Semitic, I am prepared to learn, and I believe I have learned, why it was so offensive to some. I do object to being labeled and having my character attacked -- I mean, those are the methods of Joseph McCarthy. And I insist that "that subject" be brought into the light and that people be allowed to question the United States-Israel relationship and let the world know about what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the influence of AIPAC on U.S. policy in the region and toward Iran.
In the words of W.S. Coffin, "Our faith should quell our fears, never our courage."
The Rev. Bruce M. Shipman lives in Groton.
This post originally appeared at the Hartford Courant.