Most of the news out of Detroit last week dealt with the authoritative interpretation of the PC(USA) continuation which would allow for same sex marriages (see my previous post ‘I am a Presbyterian’ on that topic). The other biggest news generator was reported as the PC(USA)’s ‘divestment of Israel’. I can surely understand why this causes dismay in some parts of the church considering the general tolerance (or lack thereof) practiced by many of Israel’s neighbors toward other faith groups. But I also understand the side of the church that wants to encourage a friend and an ally in the right direction.
My first comment is to underscore that this was a symbolic act more than anything else. What the PC(USA) actually divested from is in some multinational corporations which the Israelis buy equipment from the Presbyterian Pension Plan (as I understand it). The PC(USA) Pension Plan’s ownership of said corporations is not significant. And what is going to happen is the same thing if you or I decided to sell some stock – someone else will pick it up. None of the corporations are under any threat financially from the action and Israel is not in any danger of losing access to said corporations’ equipment. It therefore truly rests in the symbolic action realm. The PC(USA) did something similar back in the late 1980s to corporations selling items to the old South African government.
I will probably dismay some of my progressive brothers and sisters, but I personally would not have voted for this. While I understand we are more likely to influence the internal policies of our friends in Israel than we are that of the internal policies of Muslim states which also practice non-equitable treatment of not just religious groups but also of genders and people of different sexual preferences – I still believe all too often we pick areas of the world to focus in on at the expense of others. There are so many places where we could take symbolic stands – not the least of which are many issues going on in our own society. Is it really just to focus in on one state when so many states buy equipment from corporations we invest in? Might there not have been another way to make a more over-arching justice statement?
Nevertheless, the majority of my Presbyterian brothers and sisters saw this as a justice issue in an historic land, and so they voted the way that they did and I respect that. It is important for the church to take stands on justice issues. I simply hope we continue to study the region and never try to make permanent statements on anything in a most fluid part of the world.
We live in a complex world. It is incumbent on all of us in the church to learn more of other parts of the world (and not depend on sound bites from major news sources to form our opinions). We have Christian brothers and sisters in Mosul, for example, whose church was burned down this weekend and whose lives are under currently under threat. The “divestment” of Christians, rather than finances, from large swaths of the the Middle East is surely a justice issue topic worthy of our attention as well. Also, when we were attacked on 9-11, we came up with some policies of questionable merit in the USA (many of which are still the law of our land). Would we be open to changing our policies if the proverbial shoe were on the other foot?
Finally, for a denomination such as ours that has often led the way in interfaith activities, I think it is important for us to increase our contact with the Jewish community. Nothing could be further from the truth to say Presbyterians are anti-Semitic. We would not have our faith if it were not for the Jews and there is no faith group Presbyterians have worked closer with historically than with our Jewish sisters and brothers. We should not equate nations with faith groups (here or overseas). And our dialogue with Jews surely needs to be far and beyond one symbolic act.
What are your thoughts on this important international issue? How should the church try to stand for what is right and point to the eternal in a constantly changing world? I hope it generates some good conversations in PC(USA) congregations and hopefully increased contact with the closest synagogues as well.
Until next time,