It’s time to wrap up with last week’s Methodist story and move onto other topics. Before doing so, however, it’s best to take a pause and reflect on exactly what the Methodists did and did not do during their most recent General Conference vis-à-vis Israel and the Middle East.
At the highest level, what they did is easy to demonstrate since it’s the same thing they did four years ago. Indeed, it’s the same thing every Mainline Protestant Church has done for the last two decades which is declare their devotion to peacemaking, call for reconciliation between the opposing sides in the conflict, and ask members to work and pray for an end to war in the region (and the world).
If you look at any of the resolutions regarding the Middle East that were presented at the Methodist Conference, discussed in committees and/or brought to the floor for a vote, you will find language that either began as calls for prayer for reconciliation or ended up speaking that language when the majority of committee members or plenary voters decided to align various proposals to their overarching message of peacemaking.
The only reason why this sentiment had to be processed through dozens of divestment and various other anti-Israeli resolutions is that those resolutions were brought into the organization by a small minority within the church whose top priority is to get the Methodists to put their overall brand on this or that partisan proposal condemning Israeli for that or this “crime” (or calling on the church to move directly to the punishment phase by reconsider divestment proposals already rejected over and over in the past).
Because the only barrier to bringing forth a resolution is self control (i.e., a willingness on the part of issue advocates to think through the consequences of pushing an issue within the wider church before submitting one or twelve resolutions), nothing prevented anti-Israel partisans from clogging the agendas of various committees with calls to condemn Israel for building a security barrier, Apartheid, settlements or any other accusation. This low barrier to entry also explains why you saw a number of pro-Israel resolutions brought before these same church councils, as supporters of Israel within the church decided two could play the game of partisanship at the Methodists’ quadrennial conclave.
Now I’m ready to concede that within the Mainline Protestant churches, support for Israel probably falls below the recent all-time high of 70% within the US as a whole. But the other key percentage to keep in mind is that 100% of delegates to the Methodist General Conference are passionate in their concern about the Methodist Church. Which is why Middle East passions cooled as various partisan resolutions made their way through committees and onto the plenary floor, eventually playing out as a set of votes that confirmed the church’s long-standing principles of “Yes” to peace and “No” to taking sides in a conflict that is nowhere near as black and white as BDS partisans insist it is on their blogs and Twitter feeds.
Which is why BDSers spinning that one or two resolutions squeaking through committee with enough anti-Israel language intact (while ignoring votes that went against them, other than their one big divestment loss which they had played up too much to pretend never took place) is so disingenuous, if not preposterous. For if the Methodists put their brand on any message last week, it was a message that negotiation and reconciliation should win out over conflict and blame – i.e., the very opposite of the principles motivating BDS.
As a final thought on the subject, when BDS got all of that momentum in 2004 after the Presbyterians passed their one and only divestment motion (one they promptly rescinded in 2006), very few people were aware of the efforts Israel’s foes were putting into lobbying (or conniving) to get churches and other well known civic organizations to join their campaigns. Given this lack of awareness, it was easier to convince a broader public that a divestment vote by a well-known church represented the true sentiment of the organization (providing – it was hoped – an example that other institutions should emulate).
But that was eight years and at least five General Assemblies and Conferences ago (and that’s just counting the Methodists and Presbyterians – never mind the other churches that have met during this period and also rejected BDS). And during this period, partisan lobbying (on both sides) taking place in church debates was well known and highly publicized. Which means that even among those who do not follow these issues closely, claims that the aspirations and goals of the Methodist Church align with those of the BDS movement ring empty and false, for the very reason that they are just that.
The one other downside of presenting the Methodists, Presbyterians, or other Mainline Protestant churches as taking sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict (based on selective interpretation or outright fraud) is that this no longer lets the BDSers bathe in the warm glow of these church’s centuries-long names and reputations. Rather, it taints those centuries-old institutions with the dishonesty, negativity and hypocrisy of the BDS “movement,” making it that much more difficult to take these churches seriously when they make moral pronouncements on any subject. Which is why it is in the interest of the churches (never mind Israel and its friends) to get the BDS virus out of its system once and for all.
As I’ve said in the past, Israel will do just fine regardless of how the Methodists or Presbyterians vote this time or next. But for churches fighting decline and other crises, the last thing they need is to tie the BDS anchor around their neck just to please a bunch of activists who are boycotters first, Methodists or Presbyterians second (if at all).