PCUSA Divestment – Ethos

A major assumption surrounding this year’s PCUSA divestment vote (which can also be said for all the votes the church has taken on the subject) is that a “Yes” on divestment by the Presbyterians should be taken seriously as a moral statement.  But is this a reasonable assumption?

Part of the reason we think this way is that publicity surrounding the church’s 2004 vote was cast in these terms.  But 2004 was a unique year, especially given that the PCUSA divestment story was such a major surprise (even to most Presbyterians), and BDS itself was still a relatively new phenomenon.  Given all of the activity surrounding the 2004 event, no one stopped to ask the simple question of why the Presbyterians were being taken so seriously on this matter, given how little pronouncements by the church have impacted any public discussion about any political matter for decades.

The weight one can assign to the moral pronouncements of the church (or any institution) rests entirely on the organization’s ethos, i.e., the level of respect the organization has earned by its own actions and behavior.

Now any organization that’s been around for centuries (like the Presbyterian Church) starts in a good place, ethos-wise, since people are normally deferential to an institution that’s been shaping minds and hearts for this long.  And, with the exception of those who are hostile towards religion on principle, most of us are respectful to an institution (and the people who make it up) that is dedicated to more than worldly matters.

But age-old institutions (like people with long lists of credentials) can and do frequently misbehave, which is why ethos is primarily earned through one’s current behavior.  And it is the current behavior on the part of the church that makes this week’s votes a referendum not on Israel but on the church.

We’ve already talked several times about how church members time and time again have expressed their displeasure at the political positions leaders and activists in the church were taking in their name, some going so far as to leave the church in disgust.

Now I suppose it’s possible that divestment represents a majority of church opinion.  But more than likely, it represents an opinion that can be made official church policy if positioned carefully among the small number of members who vote at General Assemblies, with primary decision making carefully channeled through committees stacked with BDS partisans.

In other words, the many, many anti-Israel votes coming up this week at the Pittsburg GA are not being brought because a majority of members support them.  Rather, BDS activists within the church (aided by church leaders) are taking advantage of the fact that a majority of members are probably indifferent to the whole subject (and ignoring the fact that many thousands of members are appalled by such votes).

If indifference to their own members doesn’t strike a blow against PCUSA’s ethos, then the harm the church is doing to people outside of their community certainly does.  As Will Spottshas pointed out, most of the divisive political issues causing fissures with church polity (many having to do with gay marriage and clergy) at least only inflict damage to the church itself.  Not so divestment which is designed specifically to harm Israel (by signaling it as so odious to be alone in the world at deserving economic sanction).  Divestment also harms the Jewish community (the vast majority of which supports Israel).  It harms Presbyterian -Jewish relations (which will likely never be the same if a divestment vote wins this week.) And it harms the chance for peace, given that it holds out hope for Israel’s foes that an option exists (i.e., BDS) that doesn’t require the compromise and negotiations needed for peace to be achieves.

If lack of concern for one’s own members and for former friends and partners aren’t enough to question the ethos of those hoping to stand in judgment of the Jewish state, there is also the reputation for honesty required to be considered an “honest broker.”

An honest broker, for example, would not promise its’ Jewish friends that church opinion would be more open minded and balanced one year, only to turn around and ram even more hostile anti-Israel resolutions down the organization’s throat a year after that.  It wouldn’t release the one honest appraisal of the impact of church policy and bask in praise for this honesty, only to take down that report weeks later and replace it with one more piece of lopsided anti-Israel agitprop (and “forget” to tell anyone this switcharoo had taken place).   And it would not limit discussion of Middle East politics to a tiny subset of militant activists, only inviting others to “join the discussion” well after all decisions had been made.

It’s one thing to stack the deck of committees, truncate debate and limit the exposure of decision makers to just one set of opinions if you’re playing the politics of Chicago City Hall.  But the Presbyterian Church is claiming to not be engaging in politics, but to be “bearing witness” to a human struggle with moral dimensions.  And if one is claiming to speak on behalf of God (the ultimate claim when one talks of “Christian Witness”), then it’s hard to escape the conclusion that church leaders – partnered with BDS activists – are engaging in the grubbiest of political maneuvering in order to shove words into the mouth of not just millions of church members, but into the mouth of God him/her-self.

A person (or organization’s) ethos is what determines if moral pronouncements should be taken seriously (and even if statements of fact should be taken at face value).  So as committees meet in Pittsburg to decide if the church will once again become a wholly owned subsidiary of the BDS “movement,” it is not Israel’s reputation that is being decided upon but the reputation of the Presbyterian Church itself.

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13 Responses to PCUSA Divestment – Ethos

  1. wspotts July 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    Moral credibility was the first casualty of the PC(USA)'s Israel problem.

  2. Anonymous July 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Divestment resolution easily passes through committee vote by a tally of 36-11.

  3. Anonymous July 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Thats interesting- Sabeel just forwarded a request from Jewish Voice for Peace (interesting that they work so closely with an organization that has an anti-Semitic agenda) saying the vote would be close

    ——Original Message——
    From: Andrea Whitmore
    Subject: Jewish Voice for Peace is asking us to sign their…
    Sent: Jul 3, 2012 7:51 AM

    Jewish Voice for Peace is asking us to sign their petition urging PCUSA to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions. I signed. Can we all sign? Every little bit helps. Here's the message from Jewish Voice for Peace: Hi, This just in! The Presbyterian church is as little as 48 hours away from a vote on divesting from Caterpillar, Motorola, and HP. This would be the biggest U.S. church yet to divest, following the Quakers. But the vote is expected to be very close. Can you join me and encourage Presbyterians to vote for divestment? Sign the petition here: http://bit.ly/N5qERI Jewish Voice for Peace salsa.democracyinaction.org In the next 48 hours, the Presbyterians could become the biggest U.S. church yet to divest from the …

    • Anonymous July 3, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

      Who is Sabeel? Anyway, I say that Israel and the Jews are in jeopardy of losing what little we have, by these ignoramus hypocrites “religious” like the Presbyterians who are little by little by little poisoning their members' minds against all of us…and no one cares!!! BUT, what causes me to puke and to want to cut the heads off (I should hire the arab muslims for this task) of the renegade traitor jews who have the gall to side with the enemies to finish crushing Israel and the rest of us Jews!
      LET'S ALL BE FOR ISRAEL AT ANY COST!!!!!!!!!!! PLEASE!!!!!!!!!

      Adela

    • fizziks July 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

      Whoa Adela, relax.

      Sabeel is an organization that is entirely opposed to the existence of Israel within any borders and uses traditional antisemitic memes to criticize Israel.

      But we are not 'in jeopardy of losing what little we have because of these deranged morons'. However the PCUSA votes, Israel will wake up in the morning with a strong military, a great economy, and a dynamic culture, not to mention a strong relationship with the US and many great international economic, social, and academic collaborations.

      This rapidly declining church selling the small number of shares of HP that its retirement fund owns will mean absolutely nothing of consequence to HP, Israel, or anyone else.

      All it will do is allow the haters and derangers to continue their sorry propaganda for a while longer. They will have a slightly elevated platform to spread their one-sided narrative of the Middle East conflict, and the Khazar hoax and other antisemitic garbage. Which is certainly unfortunate and annoying, but hardly cause for getting ready for chopping off heads.

      As both Jon and Will have pointed out, if this passes it will harm the PCUSA more than it will harm Israel.

    • Anonymous July 3, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

      Adela, relax, you racist.

    • Anonymous July 4, 2012 at 12:27 am #

      Wake up and get a life Adela.

  4. DrMike July 4, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    If the Presbyterian GA does decide to go for divestment, it will reflect far more on them than on Israel. Just like the UN GA's decision to define Zionism as racism, it will remove the last vestiges of social relevance from that body.

  5. Anonymous July 4, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    And Adela, lots of people care, but the enemies of Israel are well organized and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this campaign. Friends of Israel need to learn to fight back. Don't have the stomach for it? Then help fund the organizations that do. The time for complacency is over.

  6. Michael Fleshman July 6, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    Adela's bigotry and hysteria is easy to identify and condemn but the zionist narrative itself is dishonest, disingenuous, inhumane and, ultimately, colonialist. It reminds me of nothing so much as the arguments offered in defense of apartheid in South Africa — an argument made powerfully and eloquently by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and many others who struggled to end that injustice. I commend the Presbyterian Church for persevering in this difficult but necessary journey and urge them to decide in favor of divestment as one part of its witness for peace and justice for all the peoples of the Holy Land.

    • fizziks July 6, 2012 at 1:56 am #

      Michael F., at least you are honest that you oppose Zionism from the start, and that this isn't about the occupation or Caterpillar or anything like that. You don't think Israel should exist at all, and you are semi up front about that.

      Now, I find it quite disturbing that you could seek to deny self-determination to exactly one ethnic group in the entire world, and that group just happens to be Jews. I also find it disturbing that you continue to propagate the “colonialist” smear in spite of all evidence to the contrary. However, as I said, I do prefer honesty about one's intentions to the obfuscation that usually characterizes BDS.

  7. Anonymous July 6, 2012 at 2:58 am #

    It is all about the occupation, not about Zionism, o anti-semitism or anything else. It is about the illegal occupation and oppression of indegenous people to suit the enlargement of a state of a mere 6 million (Israel.) It is about ending the profit gained from imprisoning Palestinians and from discrimination and murder at the hands of the Israeli Government.

    If you want to think its anti-Semitism, that's alright with me! Think what you like — but any state that does this in my name (I am a Jew) is infamous and criminal and must be stopped cold. Jews will never know peace until they make peace with the people dispossessed by the bizarre plan to build a Jewish state and nationalism at a time when nationalism itself is entirey disreputable!

    • fizziks July 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

      your comment is self-contradictory.

      First you say it is about the occupation, and NOT about Zionism or being antisemitic enough to deny Jews self-determination in a state, then you immediately turn around and say actually it is about nationalism and the existence of a Jewish state in the first place.

      How about this – get your own story straight first, and then come back and attempt to speak for other people.

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