[The following is a work of fiction. It is only an imaginary meeting.]
Somewhere in Pittsburgh, late into the night, Divestment Presbyterians are meeting, regrouping, making plans. The heat and humidity make them irritable. The news makes them irritable. Among them are some Presbyterian heavy hitters whose combined experience of navigating and influencing General Assemblies is staggering. They are filled with wrath and malice. They have come too far and worked too long to be rebuffed by a couple of nobody commissioners from the middle of East nowhere. Who do they think they are? How dare commissioners challenge their advice? How dare the Zionist rabbis try to tell Presbyterians what to do?
The room goes silent as a man enters the meeting late. He looks benign – almost soft – a kindly grandfather. They know better. They’ve seen how very clever he can be … and how very vindictive. And they defer to him like an elder statesman. He refuses to let anger dull their cunning. Only the calm and the calculating succeed. But they must get it out first – place the blame where it belongs. “You sure made a mess of things. It looks like it’s good thing I got here when I did.”
A few seconds of hurt silence, then, “Divestment is a hard sell. There’s a lot of opposition to it. We only lost by two votes.”
“The point is, you lost.”
Someone points out that news reports are spreading already: “Presbyterians Reject Divestment”. “Ignore them – minor irritant only. We can deal with the spin later; we have work to do now.”
Still offended by his criticism, another heavy hitter replies, “You didn’t do so well in 06.”
He scowls. “We did what we needed to. Those who opposed divestment were so busy crowing their victory while their supporters moved on to other issues – that they didn’t notice we did exactly what we were going to all along.”
“It was really all we could do after the Jewish reaction to 2004. I will admit, that did surprise me. I thought we had a better handle on them. After all, we’re the only game in town – the mainlines all agree. Who are they going to hold their interfaith consultations with if not with us? The Fundies? Best of luck to ’em.”
He waves his hand in the air as if waving off the conversation. “Anyway, that’s in the past. What matters tonight is now. What are you going to do now?”
“There’s always boycott and apartheid. Apartheid will be difficult, but even after the Methodists rejected divestment, they still went with boycott.” This is offered by a long time colleague and friend. She has often been useful in misdirecting the Jewish community, but she really doesn’t see the big picture.
He makes a noise of disgust. “No, no No NO. Divestment is the key. It has gotten all the press coverage. Boycott and the apartheid label would be nice, but a loss on divestment is a total loss.” He sees the hurt look on her face … he’ll have to smooth things over later. There isn’t time now.
“What about our religious discrimination overture?” It is asked hopefully?
He laughs for a moment, smiles, but shakes his head. “That was amusing… especially the quotes you cherry picked. Maybe that’ll teach ’em a lesson. But it’s divestment or nothing.”
“How do we do it? They already voted it down.”
“Maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t.”
The whole room was puzzled. “Move to reconsider?”
“You have to plan out everything. They approved positive investment; positive investment is good – it makes you look like you care about the welfare of the people in the region and are actually going to put some money where your mouths are. What better combination could there be than to invest positively AND stop funding obstacles to peace?”
“I don’t understand how owning stocks funds anything … it’s not like the money goes to Israel or Caterpillar.”
He laughs. “I was wondering when one of you was to point that out. It’s a symbolic gesture. The literal truth doesn’t matter nearly so much as the framing. Put that way, owning Caterpillar stock becomes automatically immoral. There’s no possible response they can make to this assembly that will sound persuasive. ‘Many Presbyterians work for Caterpillar’ doesn’t hold much water. ‘But our friends won’t like us any more’ sounds even worse. They’re caught in a trap: whose home would Jesus bulldoze?” He laughs again, and this time it sounds distinctly unpleasant.
“So what do we do?” They look to him for a solution.
“We could always pray …” Unpleasant laughs all around fill the room. “They still have to consider related items of business – the overtures from our friends in Palisades and San Francisco calling for divestment. Then there’s the economic solidarity overture from Scioto Valley.”
“But we lost that once. Commissioners won’t want to debate it again.”
“With planning, it will work. I assume you have commissioners you can count on to speak?” He looks around the room for confirmation and sees several nods. “Choose the best ones. Tell them what microphone to get to. Give them talking points. Or better yet, write out their comments. Make them practice. Decide what color paddle they should hold.”
Looks of shock, “You mean both pro- and con?”
“Of course. You have to flood the mikes. You’ve got to minimize the opposition”
“What are our talking points?”
“Well – it would be great if one of your con speakers could say, ‘I oppose divestment, but I was deeply saddened by the way Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee members have been treated at this Assembly. All they have done is what the General Assembly asked of them. They have worked hard and followed a meticulous and thorough process. To be confronted with hurtful accusations and insinuations is shameful. Surely, as Presbyterians, we don’t need to stoop to that level of mistreatment of one another where we disagree.” People begin to smile … this could work.
“Perhaps some of our ecumenical partners could speak and remind Presbyterians how encouraged their people were in 2004 to know that their American brothers and sisters in Christ remembered them and cared about their sufferings. If they decline to act now, they will bitterly disappoint the people in their partner churches who have to live under the viciousness of occupation.”
“A wise sounding YAAD could scold the commissioners for fearing to follow their consciences.”
“Are the moderators at least on our side?” Again, he scans the room and sees a couple of shrugs. “If they are sensible and open to influence, you can indicate who to recognize.”
This continues for some time, but the mood in the room is energized. They will work throughout the night.