In another important move within the Mainline Protestant community, the Lutheran Church (more specifically, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or ELCA) voted to reject a series of resolutions that singled out Israel for criticism and instead voted in favor of a “balanced and fair-minded” resolution that took into account the needs of both Arabs and Jews (see here for details). Just as importantly, this vote also called for the church to communicate “clear and reliable information” about the conflict, in contrast to the one-sided and inaccurate information frequently sent by church leaders to their members.
While not specifically about divestment, this vote (right after the recent rejection of divestment by the United Church of Canada) is critical for the following reasons:
(1) This represents a three-year string of votes at various Mainline churches (Presbyterian, Methodist, UCC, Lutheran) whereby church members taking part in democratic votes rejected one-sided calls to condemn Israel that were being pushed either by radical branches or by the church leadership itself.
If these votes were closer to 60:40, that would simply indicate that church members (as opposed to many church leaders) are part of a US consensus where support for Israel tends to hover in the 60-70% range. But the fact that these votes were so overwhelming (85% in the case of ELCA, 100% in the case of the Methodists), seems to indicate that church members are tiring of designated or self-appointed leaders claiming to speak in the name of their faith when hurling condemnation of the Jewish state. While general support for Israel among rank and file Christians is welcome, it’s even more important that church members are beginning to speak out and insist that the name and reputation of their church no longer be manipulated, even by the official church leadership.
(2) The ELCA’s choice to demand “clear and reliable information” be provided when discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict indicates a recognition that information frequently disseminated by supporters of divestment (or other anti-Israel measures) is often false and unbalanced (which it is), but still distributed to church members (including children) with no concern over its accuracy. This is the first time a Mainline Protestant church has voted to condemn this practice by calling for any debate on the Middle East to be based on high quality vs. biased information and sources.
These are both huge steps in the right direction emanating from the very places divestment activists once pointed to as being an example other institutions should follow: The Mainline Churches. Now that the Mainliners seem to be not just exiting the divestment game, but voting overwhelming for honest debate, it’s time we took up the banner of calling for other civic institutions to follow their lead.
UPDATE: An astute reader pointed out that the call for the church to provide “clear and reliable information” was a resolution submitted to the Memorials Committee (“Memorials” being the term the Luterans use for resolutions), but not voted on by the ELCA as a whole. Given that the last 5-10 years has seen little beyond anti-Israel “memorials” within the church, this is certainly a step in the right direction. Let’s hope a desire for fairness and accuracy continues to percolate up and down the institution.