While recent postings may have been a bit flip with regard to the pratfalls and pretentions of our friends in the BDS “movement,” it needs to be stressed that for those infected by the divestment virus, BDS is no joke.
Take for example the Methodist Church. Flirtation with anti-Israel divestment by Mainline Protestant churches has been the subject of frequent discussion here at Divest This, especially since it was the Presbyterian’s vote in 2004 to begin a process of “phased, selective divestment” in the Jewish state that anchored boycott and divestment projects worldwide until church members overturned that decision two years later (by a margin of 95%-5%).
In 2006 the Methodists also rejected divestment (unanimously) at their annual conference. But because BDS once found a home (albeit briefly) within one of these venerable institutions, certain church members refuse to let it go, regardless of how many times they are told no, and regardless of how much pain and division such efforts cause within their communities.
Both the Presbyterians and Methodists have quasi-democratic structures in which individual churches or groups of churches can propose resolutions to be voted on when the church meets as a whole at bi-annual conventions. I say “quasi-democratic” because these resolutions tend to get driven by small groups of activists within a church, rather than bubbling up from the broader grassroots, meaning most church members are never aware of what is being decided in their names.
In the case of highly controversial issues (such as gay marriage or gay clergy), these matters have been around long enough and have received so much coverage in the mainstream press that heated debates within the church generally represent the differing opinions of large numbers of members. But in the case of church divestment resolutions, these are always driven by small groups of single-issue activists, often working behind the scenes to try to get their measures passed quickly and quietly, so they can later turn around and claim that BDS is embraced by millions.
It’s been more than five years since divestment was rejected by the aforementioned lopsided margins of 95-100%. Yet the passing of boycott resolutions by individual churches which are then pushed up for national votes has become entrenched as part of the catechism of Mainline church politics.
To get a sense of the corruption this causes, one need only look at how the matter is playing out this year among UK Methodists. Similar to some of the political maneuvering that took place with the Presbyterians in 2010, this year it was the turn of the UK Methodists to stack a committee for the sole purpose of getting BDS rammed down the throat of the organization, with calls for diversity of opinion within the group making these decisions (i.e., voices who were not already loyal anti-Israel partisans) rejected as “unhelpful.”
The bald power grab represented by insisting that a decision-making body not include anyone who might question pre-ordained choices (in this case to boycott Israel) would be bad enough in the context of secular politics. But what are we to make of such grubby behavior within a group claiming that their political decisions are driven by “Christian Witness,” (i.e., representing the will of God himself)?
Now this is the UK and as has been noted before, Britain is where the worst of the worst in terms of BDS seems to have migrated of late. In contrast, good news out of California indicates that in the US BDS proposals are being voted down at the local level, long before they make their way to national conference. This is no small matter since it indicates that more people are becoming involved with the issue at the grassroots and at an earlier stage. And if history is any guide, BDS efforts always tend to collapse when exposed to multiple opinions in the light of day.
The backdrop to all of these votes and debates is the massive decline in membership within Mainline Protestant churches over the last forty years. Rabbi Yehiel Poupko analyzes this phenomenon in his masterful booklet Looking at Them Looking at Us, but it is also worth reading this analysis of decline specifically within the Methodist church posted at a United Methodist web site. In it, the author is trying to make the case that the decline in church membership is multi-causal, and I was interested to read his reason #2 which seems to indicate that certain high-maintenance lay people have a tendency to dominate some local churches, warping organizational priorities and driving many members away.
I doubt the author had in mind BDS activists who have been using the church as their plaything (at the expense of all other members and all other issues for decades), but it would be interesting to find out how many people who have left the Methodist churches in recent years have follows in the footsteps of my friend Will Spotts who was finally forced to walk away from the Presbyterians in disgust over the lopsided, unfair propaganda propagated within these organizations at the expense not just of the Jewish state but also the reputation of the church itself.