Because a number of US political leaders and Israel’s Prime Minister were attending last April’s AIPAC Policy Conference final dinner, security was tight which meant most of us had to wait in line over an hour to get through the metal detectors (an appliance commonly found at pro-Israel political events, although strangely enough, not at anti-Israel ones).
While most people were annoyed by this long wait, it was actually the highlight of my evening, for I got to stand next to and talk to a group of women from Aglow, a women’s Christian organization I had never heard of before. Looking at their Web site after the event, it occurred to me that this organization’s stance on many issues would likely appall Presbyterian leaders (although not necessarily rank and file members). But, as fate would have it, the Aglow member closest to me in the AIPAC mob/queue was a Presbyterian.
When I told her about what was likely to happen at this year’s denominational General Assembly, she just shook her head and informed me that this was all a game being played within the Church whereby PCUSA leaders let activists run amok in committees during the time between GA’s, but that once everyone gets together, over-the-top proposals generally get voted down by rank and file delegates. She also added that the level of nonsense that tends to emanate from GAs on the subject of the Middle East has so soured church members that do not attend or follow PCUSA politics that most churches simply ignore policies voted on at such events.
Sure enough, it looks as though common sense is beginning to peek its head into General Assembly discussions over the last 48 hours. Some of the most egregious portions of the Middle East Study Committee’s Breaking Down the Walls report have been nixed or modified for the better, and attempts to turn the MESC into a perpetual Star Chamber have been nipped in the bud. Demands to divest from Israel or have it declared an Apartheid state won’t be making it to the floor, and the general tone seems to be turning towards curbing the excesses we’ve seen coming out of the committees over the last few months.
I suppose I should be grateful that grownups seem to be ready to take the wheel on PCUSA Middle East policy, and I surely am grateful – tremendously so – to the wise members of the delegate ranks who have managed to keep an open mind despite the propaganda that passes for debate within the church.
That said, regarding the church as a whole I find it a bit strange to be ready to say “thank you” to an organization just because it’s done me the favor of not declaring my people’s national homeland a racist stain on humanity, or PCUSA’s “flexibility” in simply condemning those that do business with Israel, rather than divesting from them.
If you follow the politics of not just the Presbyterians, but Mainline Protestantism generally, you’ll find that the most divisive issues are: (1) ordination of gay clergy; (2) whether to religiously sanction gay marriage; (3) modification of liturgy; and (4) official church stances on political issues – most prominently Israel and the Middle East.
As Will Spotts has pointed out, of all these controversial issues, only votes on Israel tend to involve the church doing harm to people who are not members of the organization. There is legitimate controversy over gay marriage and other matters, but at the end of the day, it is the church itself that has to live with the consequences of decisions made in those areas. But when the church passed its infamous divestment decision in 2004, it was Israel and its friends (many of whom had never heard of the Presbyterian General Assembly before that date) who had to deal with the worldwide propaganda campaign that was built upon that decision.
In 2006, activists pushing the church to maintain its divestment policies claimed that they were a great gift by the church to friends and allies within the Palestinian Christian world that should not be taken away. But as I pointed out then, what kind of gift is it for one group of people (PCUSA) to give another group of people (Palestinian Christians) something that is not there’s to give (Israel’s reputation on a platter)?
I sincerely hope that votes that will take place between now and when the Presbyterian conclave finishes this weekend will continue to go in the right direction. But I more sincerely wish that the organization as whole finally faces up to the fact that they have a problem and stop torturing their own members (not to mention those of us who have not chosen to join their church).
And if church leaders and hardcore anti-Israel activists determine that they must give Sabeel and other allies a gift, could they please make it something they actually own themselves (such as a confession of their own sins, rather than a recitation of someone else’s). Or barring that, there’s always a Whitman Sampler.