Well PCUSA delegates are gathering in Minneapolis to begin their week-long debate on the Middle East, with (I assume) some time left over to discuss the future and fate of the Presbyterian Church in the US.
I don’t know about other writers who have spent time commenting on the upcoming PCUSA debates, but I am fully cognizant of the fact that, whatever we may have been saying about the situation within the church over the last month or two, that the fate of the organization rests solely and entirely with those delegates who have streamed into Minneapolis over the weekend.
Yes, a few hundred, maybe even a few thousand people have read what Will, Dexter, I and others have written on the subject, and some may have also visited our Bearing Witness web site to obtain some background on the relationship between PCUSA and Israel. But how many of these visitors are Presbyterians seeking to educate themselves vs. people who already agree with what we have to say (the usual demographic for a blog)? And even if some searching individuals have found their way to alternative sources of information, how can this compete with groups within the church like the Middle East Study Committee (MESC) which has the full support of the church establishment behind it to communicate its (and only its) views?
To a certain extent, this is as it should be for the debate that will be going on this week is really not about Israel at all but, rather, about the fate of the church itself.
After all, during the divestment debates in 2006 and 2008, delegates made it clear that they wanted to see a more fair, accurate and thoughtful discussion on the Middle East within the church. In fact, the MESC was created specifically for this purpose. But, once again, anti-Israel activists within this church decided that MESC was just the latest loophole to exploit, the latest committee to pack, the latest tool they could use to try to stuff their own opinions into the mouth of the church as a whole.
What is amazing about this year’s process has been that in creating the MESC, a group originally designed to take in and communicate a broader range of perspectives, PCUSA has instead spawned a report that is more biased, more unfair, more grotesquely accusative than anything that’s come before.
It’s almost as if the activists who have dragged the church into this minefield over the last two decades cannot control themselves. When presented with an opportunity to bash the Jewish state in the name of their faith, all their instincts turn to cramming in as many accusations (including more questionable theology than has ever appeared in a PCUSA document on the subject) as possible.
As we enter this week of debates, there are some positive signs within the delegate body itself. The Presbytery of Chicago, for example, has provided a heartfelt plea to reject the MESC report, and Presbyterian organizations such as Presbyterians for Middle East Peace are doing yeoman’s work trying to get another point of view injected into the discussions. And while this or that blog may not get much attention, critiques of Presbyterian actions on the part of theological scholars has raised the heat on the upcoming conference enough for anti-Israel partisans to cry foul (despite the fact that they have done everything possible to hog the microphone for the entire debate).
This is now the third PCUSA General Assembly that I’ve been covering closely and I must say that it seems at times that I am looking more at an addict than a religious institution. No matter how many times members indicate that they are not interested in a church that makes its top priority bashing the Jewish state (especially in religious terms), every two years they are back at it once again, fighting the same fights all over again.
This phenomenon is an offshoot of what I’ve referred to in the past as “The Vampire’s Kiss,” the notion that divestment, like a vampire, once invited into an organization can be virtually impossible to toss out. Having tasted the propaganda power of having their words and accusations come out of the mouth of an established organization like PCUSA, local activists demonstrate a willingness to do anything: corrupt processes and procedures, stack the deck in debate, even drag an organization to the point of ruin, to once again grasp the illusionary power of claiming to speak for more than themselves.
Sadly, if some of the nastier overtures or the MESC report itself becomes official PCUSA policy, once again thousands of Presbyterians will awake after this week to discover that propagandists are blanketing the world with accusations against Israel made in their name.
Naturally, those who have hijacked the church yet again will be too busy spreading their calumnies to notice what they have done to their brethren, especially once condemnation and ridicule start pouring onto the church itself from, among others, Presbyterians who had thought they had seen an end of this type of disgusting behavior.