PCUSA Divestment – Seriousness

Several people have sent me the link to this piece which highlights some points I have failed to make until now, notably:

* That divestment may not have historically had the economic or political impact assumed by those who advocate for it

* That PCUSA is not actually making decisions regarding what to do with its own money but is instead putting at risk the money of others (notably pastors and lay people invested in their pension funds)

That the PCUSA’s ongoing divestment efforts could be interpreted as passing Natan Sharansky’s “3-D” test for anti-Semitism

Like other negative behaviors and outcomes associated with PCUSA’s current attempt to rejoin the BDS “movement,” none of the points above are likely to impact the thinking of those who are driving divestment within the church since their goal, simply put, is to be able to claim they speak in the name of a 400-year old, two-million member church whenever they hurl their accusations against the Jewish State (regardless of whether those accusations were ever voted on or even mentioned during debates on the subject).

Now one would think that an organization would only make a decision with this many negative consequences after the most careful of deliberations in which every effort was made to verify facts, expand dialog, scrutinize past decisions and precedence, and honestly communicate to decision makers the exact nature and likely results (both positive and negative) associated with either a “Yes” or “No” vote.

But one of the most striking things about what’s been taking place in Pittsburgh is how little effort has been expended to ensure (much less carry out) this kind of competent debate.

I’ve already mentioned how fake quotes from Nelson Mandela (quotes that were exposed as fraudulent years ago) somehow made it unchallenged into eight different forums associated with church divestment policies.  The committee report that recommends the church carry out the divestment policies that were rejected in 2006, 2008 and 2010 is filled with similar errors of fact, both about the Middle East and about what the church actually said and did during those previous divestment debates.

Accurate information could have easily been brought before the committee if church leaders driving this process had opened up discussion to include voices that might challenge (rather than just confirm) the “consensus” preferred by those same leaders. Why not, for example, call Will Spotts as a witness, given that he has written and thought about this subject than anyone else in the country?

No doubt the fact that BDS drove Will from the Presbyterian Church would be a difficult thing for committee members to have to hear.  But the whole point of this debate, allegedly, is for the church to confront one of the most challenging political issues of our day.  But just as those driving divestment seem to be doing their utmost to ensure a divestment vote does not actually require financial sacrifice on the part of those who are voting it in, they also seem to be doing everything in their power to narrow debate as much as possible in order to ensure a specific outcome, rather than an enlightened one.

The most egregious example of this behavior can be seen in the Rationale section of the Comments page associated with the recent Committee 15 report (linked above), in a statement that tries to minimize the impact a divestment vote will have with regard to PCUSA-Jewish relations.  Rather than simply state fact – that antipathy to divestment unites the Jewish world like no other issue (with organizations as diverse as J-Street and Peace Now through JCPA and the Zionist Organization of America all condemning BDS), they instead try to claim that this unprecedented consensus actually just represents “some Jewish groups” that should be balanced with the support divestment receives from others (such as the fringe group Jewish Voice for Peace).

Now a serious, grown-up argument regarding the impact a PCUSA divestment vote would have on Presbyterian-Jewish relations would not play rhetorical games with the word “some,” but would instead communicate honestly that the vast majority of mainstream Jewish organizations – representing an unprecedented across-the-spectrum consensus on the issue – have condemned BDS and are likely to break ties with the church if they decide to vote divestment in this week.  With this accurate information as backdrop, proponents of BDS would have to argue that divestment is such a high moral priority that losing the friendship of the American Jewish community is a price worth paying.

This fundamental lack of seriousness is particularly remarkable, given how seriously the church wants to be taken on this (and other) political subjects.  In fact, the only reason people would even consider listening to the pronouncement of a church like PCUSA (vs. some other political or civic organization) is that the church claims to represent exceptional moral authority, backed not just by history, but by “spirit” and “witness” (implying divine support for their political positions).

But what becomes of that moral authority if the church acts in a fundamentally immoral way to reach its decisions?  It’s one thing to support a political-spiritual leader like Martin Luther King who was willing to suffer the consequences of his actions and speak the same true and honest words to all audiences.  But PCUSA leaders who have decided to let others suffer the consequences for church actions and who speak out of different sides of their mouths (depending on who they are talking to) have no more moral authority than a political ward healer or corporate executive manipulating unwitting council members or stockholders by carefully and deliberately truncating and circumscribing debate to achieve a pre-ordained outcome.

I still hope the people in the pews will find the courage to avoid the trap that church leaders and their BDS allies have set for them.  But even if they do so by voting divestment down (again), there is a sickness in the church that will not be cured until PCUSA divests itself from BDS for good.


13 thoughts on “PCUSA Divestment – Seriousness”

  1. Hey Jon, great article. Part of me wants the bad guys to win this vote, just to see what happens when they win. I know what happens when they lose a vote or lose some other outcome (they pretend that they won) so I wonder what happens when they win.

    And now, it's nitpick time.

    whom their -> who they're.

  2. fizziks – I have thought the same thing.

    (Because so many people within the PC(USA) who are not anti-Israel don't think this matters – I'm not sure what they'll think if it actually goes as far as passing the boycott and divest proposals that got through committee.)

    I absolutely don't want that to happen, but I have sometimes thought it would force the issue.

  3. A reminder to folks how 2 years ago the same script played out at the Olympia Food Coop.Deception,manipulation,back room dealings,bullying and supression of information.Then after having a vote essentially in secret,Amy Goodman announced the “victory” on her show before anyone in Olympia other than the BSers and the bullied coop board had a clue! The radicals world wide celebrated the “win” before I had my coffee the next morning.Yep, the BSers fractured our community for the “greater good”.Two of the main instigators no longer even live here.We're stuck with the crap.

    Sounds familiar?

    One thing I know. Whatever the outcome of the PCUSA's vote the BS dis-ease has been introduced and the Presbyterian community will suffer.Jon, you are 100% correct.Until PCUSA divests itself from BDS totally there is not much hope for the long term health of the Church.

    Here in Olympia, we are still fighting to heal.

  4. I'm pretty depressed. Not so much because the PC is likely to approve divestment, but because even if it doesn't this time, it will be back on the agenda in two years.

    In a way, it seems like we have already lost. On Will's blog, he writes that church doctrine is that there's no connection between today's Jews and Am Israel in the Bible. He also notes that the Khazar theory is used in some church documents. (I hope I got that right, Will.)

    So now, Jews don't even have the right to our own history, as if we ever did I suppose. With the stroke of a pen, the PC has erased me, my family and my people. It has simply defined away our existence. What's worse, the church believes it has the right to do this. So now if we Jews don't ascribe to PC theology, they will sanction us. What happens when that doesn't work?

    How can I have dialog with leaders in the PC church if they have already given themselves the right to tell me who I am? All for my own good of course because they love Jews. And how do I treat the people in the pews who don't react to this most basic and racist of acts?

    And finally, how do we ever get to real peace? I mean give these positions, why would I take anything the PC says seriously. It's like BDS, they embrace Hamas – literally as some of the pictures show — describe real Jew haters as peace makers, and ally with some of the most vile regimes, like Syria, but when you call them on it they simply deny, make excuses or use rhetoric to evade the issues. That's not how people who really want to make peace act.

    It seems like BDS and groups like the PC are just pushing us farther and farther from peace.

  5. “Now one would think that an organization would only make a decision with this many negative consequences after the most careful of deliberations in which every effort was made to verify…..”

    Their effect on the church is immaterial to them. They are groping for redemption by taking a riskless position of “moral”-like condemnation. “Redemption” through finger-wagging. Of course, upon a target that will never threaten them at all (no warriors, they).

    A substitute redemption quest for post-Christian Christians who are no longer up to the challenge of seeking it in their faith?

  6. If the PC really embraces the Khazar hoax as doctrine or semi-doctrine, then they are truly my enemy, not to mention the enemy of science.

    The Evangelicals are often at odds with science when it comes to evolution and global warming. And that is a shame. But the PC is even worse if they are pushing the Khazar hoax, because it would imply that they don't even believe in the genome or genetics.

  7. Ok I am actually watching the PCUSA general counsel. It strikes me that a number of the people speaking in favor of divestment are affirming that they support a two state solution and Israel's right to exist.

    Are they not aware that their 'yes' vote will not be perceived that way by BDS advocates?

    1. No they're not aware of how a yes vote will be perceived. In fact, I don't think a lot of pro-divestment people (not leadership or activists – just likely pro-divest voters) even know there is a global BDS movement.

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