I understand that we can’t count on anything until the final gavel sounds at the Presbyterian 2012 GA on Saturday, but assuming last night’s victory holds, there are a few important lessons to be drawn from this most-recent continuation of the BDS movement’s decade-plus-long losing streak.
First off, we need to keep in mind that this is not the first, the second nor third but actually the fourth time the Presbyterians have rejected joining the BDS “movement” and instead opting for engagement as a means to play a peace-making role in the region.
Once BDS Twitterers had finished howling derision at church members they had previously showered with praise (once their unexpected loss became apparent), they quickly reverted to “by losing we actually won” mode, citing a closing gap in the margin they have lost by over the last eight years.
But this calendar fails to take into account that BDS actually won in 2004, meaning the BDSers only hope right now is that in 2014 (i.e., ten years after they last managed to win a major battle) they might be able to get back to where they were a decade previously.
The extremely tight vote that killed off divestment last night (333-331 with two abstentions) is definitely the best lubricant for a BDS spinning-wheel trying to turn manure into gold. But we need to keep in mind that this close vote was over the question of whether or not to do something extraordinary by PCUSA organizational standards: reject a committee report supported by a large percentage of that committee (one that embraced BDS) and replace it with a minority report that rejected divestment.
Given that committee reports tend to get rubber stamped in the General Assembly, it’s telling that the dynamic around PCUSA divestment votes tends to be built around church leaders stacking the committee that gets to bring forth BDS proposals, only to have those proposals shot down by the membership.
It’s also worth noting that once the minority report was accepted by this tight margin, the vote to embrace its call for positive investment (vs. negative divestment) passed by a much more traditional anti-BDS margin of 63%-37%, indicating that no more than a third of members fall into the “divestment or nothing” camp.
The gap between the tight first vote and more traditional second one also highlights the fact that we might be comparing apples to kumquats if we just look at the numbers associated with each year’s key vote that killed off divestment for that year. For whenever the Presbyterians (or any church or civic organization for that matter) have been given a clear and unambiguous choice to embrace or reject a divestment proposal, rejection of BDS always wins big.
Which is why the BDS brigade within the church and their enablers amongst the Presbyterian leadership put so much effort into eliminating all possible options, other than a request for members to support or reject a report that had passed committee by a wide margin. In 2006, for example, there was no ambiguity that members were being asked to rescind the divestment policy they had enacted in 2004 which may be why that vote was so lopsided (95%-5% to rescind). This explains why the BDSers put so much effort into obscuring what they were actually trying to achieve this time around, and worked so hard to funnel voters in just one direction. And still they lost.
They lost despite making PCUSA divestment their top priority, especially after behind handed an even more embarrassing defeat by the Methodists a few months ago. They lost despite the tremendous resources they put into trying to convince both churches to climb onboard the BDS bandwagon, which included cold calling delegates and flying supporters into the meeting to lobby hard to get their motions passed. And they lost despite the fact that the organized Jewish community decided to not put similar effort into filling the GA with their own back-slapping and arm-twisting lobbyists, preferring instead to simply alert church leaders and members that our patience with getting slapped in the face every two years was at an end.
I suppose that this is the point where I should take back some of the negative comments I’ve been making about the church over the last week or so (or keep them in reserve in case last night’s victory is somehow reversed before the end of the GA). But I’d like to think that some of that commentary, written far more in sorrow than in anger, might still resonate with the majority of Presbyterians who still don’t seem to want their church associated with a sociopathic movement like BDS.
After all, church behavior (or, more specifically, the behavior or church leaders) was indeed appalling before, during and after last night’s vote. They continued and continue to push ahead with BDS, with Kairos and with all of the other paraphernalia of ugly anti-Israel polemics, despite being told four times by the membership’s voting representatives that the people in the pews prefer engagement to punishment of just one side in the Middle East conflict.
This GA, like the last GA (and the one before that) was accompanied by acts of bad faith between PCUSA leaders and their supposed friends in the Jewish community to whom they kept making promises of moderation they never intended to keep. And the behavior of those leaders continues to degrade the institution, making it that much harder for PCUSA to be taken seriously about any matter whatsoever.
Now it may be that in two years time the divestment brigade will find the right combination of words and political maneuvers to get the Presbyterian Church back on the BDS bandwagon, regardless of the views of the majority of church members. But by then, it’s not entirely clear what we’ll be talking about when we talk about “The Presbyterian Church.”
There are hard days ahead for an institution in decline and bitterly divided about so many issues. And I wish I could say that last night removed the BDS albatross from around the church’s neck. But that day, sadly, still seems far, far off.