PCUSA – In Whose Name?

Will Spotts highlights the series of negative consequences likely to come out of the passing of any anti-Israel resolutions or support for anti-Israel reports at next month’s Presbyterian General Assembly (PCUSA GA).

As he and others have highlighted in the past, anti-Israel measures are different than other controversial matters that church bodies such as the PCUSA routinely pass at their conclaves in that they are directly harmful to people (many, many people) who have nothing to do with the Presbyterian Church.

Changes to the Book of Order (the Presbyterian’s rules and regulations), debates over the marriage and ordination of gay men and women within the church, choices regarding the language used to refer to the deity within the denomination, these are all heartfelt matters which draw a lot of heat (and often light) when debated within PCUSA forums. But the consequences of those actions (good or ill) fall entirely on members of the church itself.

Not so matters related to the Middle East. In these cases, the result of a legitimization of general attacks on Israel for crimes of Apartheid, murder and land theft (all of which are direct charged or implied in PCUSA resolutions) will be a stepped up attack on the Jewish state by other Mainline denominations and by anti-Israel activists generally, all of whom will spend the next two years brandishing any votes PCUSA passes next month as justification for ever-wilder accusations and assaults.

Given all this, and given that members have already expressed their displeasure at similar activity in previous years, why have measures hostile to Israel only grown this year, in terms of both number and ferocity? And given that the goal of this process is to place these words into the mouth of the Presbyterian Church as a whole, making them in effect the official policy of over two-million church members, who do the people pushing these measures truly represent?

As already noted, church leaders officially sit at the top of the hierarchy of the organization, and they have been fully onboard the divestment/de-legitimization bandwagon for decades. But given the quasi-democratic nature of the institution, their job is supposed to be to enforce choices made by the General Assembly, including votes in 2006 and 2008 that asked the organization to get its act together and begin looking at the Arab-Israeli dispute from more than one side. But in the years since those votes were taken, measures designed to breathe some fresh air into the debate have faced a veto not by organizations within the church, but by “interfaith partners” (read Palestinian Christian organizations) who never hesitate to make one-way demands on the church in the name of “Christian solidarity.”

The Middle East Study Committee was created to study the Middle East, i.e., to bring some needed perspective into a discussion of Middle East politics that had degenerated within the Presbyterian Church to a tale of cartoon villainy and victimhood with you know and who playing their designated roles. Yet this committee became just the latest deck to stack, creating a document whose lack of balance dwarves anything that had come before. So, again, we have to ask just who the people pushing such a report claim to represent?

The Presbytery of San Francisco seems to be a fountainhead for the worst of the worst in terms of anti-Israel Overtures, including calls to have Israel labeled an Apartheid State and attempts to resuscitate divestment actions that have been unquestionably voted down again and again. This group seems to have determined who it represents: the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a political organization behind many of the most irresponsible propaganda and divestment measures taking place in the US and beyond (including the ill-fated flotilla incident that looks likely to trigger more international incidents before long). Now there is nothing wrong with the San Francisco Presbyterians meeting with whomever they like, but given that they are attempting to drag the entire church with them in a direction that will unquestionably discomfort a large number (if not a majority) of church members, it’s again worth asking in whose name this group claims to speak.

Once PCUSA passed its divestment resolution in 2004, late in the day and with very little understanding of its impact (even from those who voted for it), they pretty much announced themselves to be occupied territory. Once on board the anti-Israel bandwagon, understood BDS activists, you can never get off. And thus there are no brakes put on flooding the next GA and the one after that with dozens of resolutions in hope that at least one of them will stick, allowing anti-divestment activists to once again claim the church (all if it, all two million members, all 400+ years of history) as their own, consequences to the full membership, consequences to others (including the Jewish community), consequences to peace in the Middle East be damned.

And now the stage has been set, the deck has been stacked, the witnesses carefully culled, information needed to make informed decisions deliberately denied to those who will be making them, debate curtailed, emotive rhetoric turned up to 11, all to maximize the chances for some kind of “success” at next year’s GA that can fuel anti-Israel activism for another two years.

It’s clear what these activists will get out of things going their way next month in Minneapolis. The question remains, what possible good is it going to do a struggling church like the Presbyterians to turn themselves into the political plaything of people who have no interest in the organization beyond its usefulness.

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