General Assembly 2:
Actions related to the Middle East and Christian-Jewish relations
|The 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (2006) overwhelmingly voted to “replace the instructions” of the 216th General Assembly (2004) on divestment with language that says "financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, [are to] be invested in only peaceful pursuits.” The action affirms that “the customary corporate engagement process of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) of our denomination is the proper vehicle for achieving this goal." The Assembly acknowledged the “hurt and misunderstanding” caused by the action of the 216th General Assembly, accepted responsibility for flaws in the Presbyterian process, and asked for “a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue.”
The Social Justice Actions of the 217th General Assembly, Church & Society magazine, May/June 2006 (PDS, #7243106605), is introduced by recent General Assembly moderator Rick Ufford-Chase. He says of the G.A. action on the Middle East, “. . . it is my conviction that the beauty of this document is its insistence that we will not find middle ground by watering down what we believe to the point of meaninglessness. Rather, genuine common ground is found in naming what we hold in common (in this case a shared conviction that God deeply desires an end to the fighting in Israel and Palestine), and then naming the passionate convictions on both sides of the debate.”
In an op-ed piece for the Jewish news agency, JTA, former moderator Susan Andrews said the new statement “refocuses, rephrases and reinterprets the actions we made in 2004, but it does not repudiate those actions.” Current moderator Joan Gray and stated clerk Cliff Kirkpatrick wrote in a June 25, 2006, letter to PC(USA) congregations, “Divestment is still an option, but not the goal. Instead, this assembly broadened the focus to corporate engagement to ensure that the church's financial investments do not support violence of any kind in the region.” [To read the full action, go to (11) Peacemaking and International Issues, 11- 01. See the Presbyterian news story and a Presbyterian Outlook news story.] A Q&A piece on the action from the office of the Stated Clerk is available for downloading.
Pastor John Wimberly, in a Presbyterian Outlook article of December 4, 2006, recounts the story of what happened at the General Assembly and says, "To build our peacemaking credibility, the PC(USA) must remain focused on our goal: We are working for the existence of two states, Palestine and Israel, living side by side in peace and prosperity. We must be equally clear about what we oppose: the use of violence against innocent civilians."
An overview of the Jewish reaction in 2004, from the perspective of Reform Jews, lists problems with the 216th General Assembly actions and gives a spectrum of Jewish responses. A Jewish analysis of lessons Jews can learn from the “fight to overturn divestment” is found in an op-ed piece by Ethan Felson of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Another Jewish response comes from Jewish Voice for Peace, which notes the poor reporting about the Assembly action and says it “applauds the Presbyterians for standing fast to their principles while also showing that they are willing to go the second mile to maintain positive relationships with Jews across the spectrum of our community.”
The American Jewish Committee's Isaiah Award has been given to Presbyterian pastor William Harter for his dedication to dialogue between Christians and Jews, his support of Israel, and "his historic, and successful, efforts to undo the Presbyterian Church's attempt to divest from the State of Israel."
A statement by Jewish and Presbyterian leaders in December 2006 pledges new joint efforts. The Presbyterian stated clerk and the leaders of the Jewish Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements see a new period of dialogue and cooperation emerging after a period of extreme tensions.
Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder and a columnist for the Kansas City Star, writes in 2007 that he has begun to understand how little Presbyterians knew about Jews in 2004, when General Assembly actions were adopted. He has discovered this as he and a local rabbi work together on a book. He calls for more dialogue with Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths.
An educational model: Joyce Manson writes that family therapist Bart Charlow of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), led a seminar at the 2006 National Workshop on Christian Unity. He selected middle-of-the-road Presbyterians and Jews for a conversation on divestment, not all with the same ideas or positions. "The goal was to understand, not change minds. It was brilliant to use the concept of trigger words and perceptions, as opposed to facts, to defuse tension.”
The PC(USA) Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee (MRTI) reported in mid-March 2007 that it had worked for the past six to eight months with a coalition of ecumenical partners who have taken stands similar to the PC(USA), including the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, Mennonite Mutual Aid, the United Methodist Church boards, and the Sisters of Loretto. MRTI selected five multinational corporations with which to carry out its "engagement" process. In June, a Presbyterian Outlook article said that MRTI has conversations underway with three of the five. It is focused on Caterpillar, Inc., though meetings with Caterpillar have been conducted by other partners rather than directly by MRTI. The corporation has sold its equipment to the U.S. government which, in turn, supplies the Israeli army. It says it has no responsibility for how its customers use its products.
The Presbyterian Foundation's approach has led to its being recognized nationally as a leader in socially responsible investment by the Social Investment Forum Foundation.
Actions of partner churches in the U.S.
A United Church of Christ 26th General Synod (2007) resolution condemned all media programs, publications, advertising campaigns, textbooks, and groups that "perpetuate violence instead of promoting peace." Its "whereas" section asks whether the current violence between Hamas and Fatah may show that the UCC has "overlooked many aspects of an extraordinary complicated situation and extraordinarily complicated relationships in the region" in the past.. The resolution directed a task force to study appropriate responses to the Israeli-Palestinian situation that "may or may not lead to further support of economic leverage and removal of the security barrier."
A divestment task force of the United Methodist Church's New England Conference has issued a report concerning implementation of a 2005 action on divestment. The report recommends divestment from a list of companies. The Anti-Defamation League said the report borders on anti-Semitism.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 2007 churchwide assembly, in consultation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), called for economic initiatives which could include "purchasing of products from Palestinian providers and exploration of the feasibility of refusing to buy products produced in Israeli settlements." Examination of investment activity by the ELCA was also requested, with the specific note that it would "exclude the option of divesture." The Simon Wiesenthal Center deplored the resolution, saying "they have decided to embrace one of the anti-Israel tactics adopted by United Kingdom trade unions and others in Europe" and complaining that the action is one-sided.
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