Presbyterians Behaving Badly (Again)

As stories about the PennBDS conference fall off headlines in the U Penn student newspaper (to be replaced by tales of student chicken-wing-eating prowess), I suspect the time has come to move onto other BDS-related stories that may have been missed over the last month.

That said, I promise to return to this subject if the local BDSers strategy of desperately Twitterwhining about how no one is talking about the support they received from Desmond Tutu (Tutu’s support for any BDS program on earth being about as newsworthy as the story about a chicken laying eggs) returns them to public notice.

But in the meantime, there are other BDS victories to cover! Such as…, Well…, Hmmm…; OK, I can’t find any. But that doesn’t mean the dreaded Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions juggernaut has not been getting some notice.

Most significantly, this is an even-numbered year.  And as those who have been following BDS ups and downs (mostly downs) over the last 7-8 years know, even numbered years are when some of the Mainline Protestant churches (notably the Presbyterians and Methodists) gather for bi-annual conclaves to set church policy regarding a number of religious and (increasingly over recent decades) political

When the Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUSA) actually passed a divestment resolution in 2004, they may not have realized that they invited in what was to become a permanent houseguest. For even though the church reconsidered their hastily decided 2004 vote in 2006 (the year in which the membership rejected divestment by 95%-5%), this just doubled the BDSers commitment to reintroduce the issue in 2008. And when that failed, they tried again in 2010.  And when that (you guessed it) failed, the boycotters simply began planning to re-introduce it two years hence (and again and again after that – no doubt – until the church finally voted the “right” way).

The entire Presbyterian divestment tale is a long and interesting one (to me, anyway) and if you would like to get the full background you can read all about it at this sitethat I and a Presbyterian (actually former Presbyterian) friend created to address the 2010 vote.

The thing to keep an eye on this year is the configuration of forces that show up to fight it out yet again when PCUSA gathers in Pittsburgh this summer for their 2012 General Assembly (GA).

Traditionally, BDS forces begin planning for the next GA the minute they lose at the current one with voices supportive of Israel not getting their act together until a few months before the gathering.

But last time around, BDS opponents got the attention of important members of the church who had stayed on the sidelines during previous Middle East debates. Most notably, leaders at some of the larger urban Presbyteries were beginning to get sick and tired of hearing the same arguments by the same people year in and year out. And they were also getting annoyed that the only stories reaching the public about important church gatherings was how the Presbyterians were alienating Jewish interfaith friends and supports via what seemed like perpetual Israel bashing.

People more experienced with church internals have informed me that this re-alignment of forces may mitigate said bashing during the 2012 GA, but that is a story that has yet to play out.

In the meantime, anti-Israel activity continues to be concentrated in the church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) committee, members of which have spearheaded most controversial divestment votes in the past.  In 2008, the church asked that a report be generated that would strike some balance in the church’s Middle East policy. But by then the group charged with creating such a report had become so infiltrated by IPMN BDS activists that the group was only able to create a document more laughably lopsidedthan anything the church had ever created before. In fact, it was the excesses of those involved with the creation of this report that doomed divestment at the 2010 event and galvanized the previously uncommitted church members noted above into action.

If the cartoon that appeared on the IPMN Facebook page (and the associated story behind this charming image which follows on that linked page) is any indication, IPMN has somehow discovered a way to become even more radical, more offensive, and more self-righteous in the last two years, best exemplified by the decidedly un-Christian responsethey provided to critics pointing out that images like the one linked above (as well as others that have routinely appeared on their sites) were as ugly and inappropriate as they look.

Time will tell if this time around the forces of BDS make progress with the Presbyterians, the Methodists or some other church in 2012.  Trends (including eight years of rejection and reversals) say otherwise,  but like a Fractured Fairy Tale version of the Pandora’s Box story, when all hope has fled they still have ruthlessness and hate to fall back on.