the 221st General Assembly

Posts tagged ‘religious discrimination’

PCUSA GA221 BDS action applauded by David Duke


Wow.  Just wow.

We’ve heard from so many commissioners at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 221st General Assembly (and their apologists) about how their actions were not related to the global BDS movement.  (I’m convinced the assertion is insupportable – as I detail here.)  We’ve also heard how these actions came from a place of love.

The sad part is, many (though by no means all) of the ones saying this actually somehow make themselves believe it is true.

I suggest they read this.  It is an announcement on DavidDuke.com

It is titled “Victory! Presbyterian Votes Israeli Divestment!”

And it contains a couple of very interesting assertions:

[W]e heard from friends at the Presbyterian Church national meeting who told us that they were victorious … the Church voted to divest from companies doing business in the brutally occupied West Bank.

And

“The [sic] tried to threaten the voters by saying that “David Duke” supports this policy and that the Church will get a bad name by supporting something that Dr.Duke has been tied to in the media,” Said Melissa Anderson who was there with close friends who voted on the divestment. “But, people are just not listening to the Jewish racist threats anymore, they are starting to stand up for real justice.”

And it conveys a statement from Dr. Duke congratulating the Presbyterian Church “for standing up to Jewish racism and supremacism!”

 

You must be so proud.

Yep … No doubt, it was entirely unforeseen that people would interpret your acts as anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.  No doubt, you couldn’t be more surprised and distressed because you’re so full of love.

PCUSA Divests by Seven Votes


Moderator Rada insists, “In no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

I’m sure that means a lot.

Of course, the moderator is now agreeing that divestment “affirms our Palestinian friends And our Jewish friends”.

And can’t Presbyterians feel so good about themselves now that they’re so affirming?

I have no words.  Tomorrow I will feel pity for the PC(USA) as a whole.

It is done.

How’s that Again, ACREC???


How’s that again, ACREC?  You’re supposed to be the PC(USA)’s Advocacy for what exactly?  Oh … “The Advocacy Committee for Racial and Ethnic Concerns”.  Hmmm.  Your “Advice and Counsel” on Overture 04-09 – “Resolution on Equal Rights for All Inhabitants of Israel and Palestine and on Conversations with Prophetic Voices” would be deliciously ironic if it weren’t so sad.

For the uninitiated:  Business items considered by a General Assembly are first taken up by committees of GA commissioners.  In theory, these are able to delve more deeply into specific topics and then return recommendations to the whole assembly.  In the majority of, but by no means all cases, the committee recommendations are followed by the plenary.

But before items ever get to these committees, they are vetted by permanent standing committees of the denomination.  These are not GA commissioners.  They are basically the ‘religious’ version of bureaucrats.  They give advice to the committees, and they often provide resource people to “help” the committees’ deliberations.  This practice ensures a certain degree of institutional control over the outcome – in spite of the fact that the GA itself – the commissioners – are in theory, the highest governing body of the PC(USA).

So … ACREC attached its recommendation to pass Overture 04-09.  Committee 4 – the actual commissioners considering “Middle East Issues” – dutifully approved it.  But in the middle of ACREC’s “advice” we find this gem quoted:

The ADL [Anti-Defamation League] goes after anti-Semitism with a fist, it goes after Israeli racism with a sigh. As a matter of fact, the ADL and the entire American Jewish establishment should suspend their campaigns against anti-Semitism indefinitely and take a look at what’s going on in Israel.

Now, the quote is taken from an article by Larry Derfner in the Jewish Daily Forward.  Obviously, therefore, it must be just fine for ACREC to quote it without context.  Just putting it out there.

Just what, exactly?  What function does it serve?

Is ACREC really suggesting that antisemitism isn’t a problem?  That “the American Jewish establishment” should ignore antisemitism?  Perhaps there is something uniquely hypocritical in Jewish concern over antisemitism … at least in ACREC’s fevered imagination.  Perhaps an ethnic minority should not be concerned by attacks on its members?

Or is the point more visceral?  Is it more intended to cultivate distaste for American Jews … who might, just might, oppose the institutional PC(USA)’s ultra-biased preferred narrative on Israelis and Palestinians?

Rather an interesting choice for a committee supposedly dedicated to racial ethnic concerns …

 

Will Spotts

Ridiculousness


Some ideas are worthy only of ridicule and scorn. They are so false, so unbalanced, so absurd on their faces that uproarious laughter can be the only appropriate response. You could read them as farce, enjoying their entertainment value as a mildly guilty pleasure – similar to the way some people enjoyed professional wrestling in the 1980s and Beavis and Butthead in the 1990s.

But the laughter dies on your lips the moment you realize these inherently absurd proposals are intended seriously. Some of their proponents (bless their hearts) actually believe them. Others, more calculating and strategy-minded, merely make use of them; these want people to accept absurd notions solely to advance a larger cause.

The arenas of politics and religion prove very fertile for the development and propagation of ridiculousness. This fecundity is multiplied where politics and religion are joined in unholy marriage. There are a variety of sociological reasons for that, but it mostly stems from the fact that many political activists and religionists share some personality traits and are peculiarly subject to certain kinds of temptations. Both political activists and religionists can be vulnerable to self-importance, to seeking personal significance, to a misplaced and uncritical trust in those believed to share common values, to the unfortunate combination of a sincere desire to good with an exaggerated faith in one’s ability to discern good without work.

This is not intended as an indictment. The desires to do good and to make the world better are noble things; the desire to live significant lives is laudable; even faith in one’s ability to make a positive change has much to recommend it. Instead, this is a caution: potentially positive characteristics can miscarry remarkably easily. The portfolio of traits common among activists and religionists can, at times, spur bandwagonism, faddishness, closed-mindedness, unfairness, rigidity, ignorance – all wrapped in a cloak of moral “rightness”… the self-proclaimed “high ground”.

Business before the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a mixed bag. Among many proposals to be considered by commissioners, this year’s menu features a few items that rise to the level of daft. Ideally, these would be laughed out of the committees that consider them; ideally, these would provide the whole assembly with much needed levity. Alas, the kind of dynamic that often prevails at Presbyterian general assemblies prompts commissioners to miss the joke and proudly adopt such notions.

One proposal, item 15-09, stands head and shoulders above the others in terms of comedic value. “On Human Rights and Religious Freedom of Arab Christians and Other Palestinian Citizens” takes the form of an overture from the Presbytery of San Jose. No presbytery or synod has ventured to concur with San Jose, but both the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) have applied their keen and rigorous analytical skills and wholeheartedly endorsed it

So what makes this proposal ridiculous? I mean, concern for religious freedom is a no-brainer for a Christian denomination. Support for human rights? Also non-controversial. Factual accuracy? Parts of it are. The Christian community in Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank does face particular pressures that stem from actions of the state of Israel. Many Palestinian Christians have specifically cited Israel as a (or the) primary source of difficulties they experience. A desire to help, a desire to stand with them, a desire to intercede for them is admirable.

Nonetheless, this proposal reads like satire – a gentle ribbing of the PC(USA) for its all-too-common tendency to blame Israel first and ask questions later. Israel could be deemed responsible for global warming, for the earthquake in Japan, for the high price of peanut butter …. It doesn’t matter what the issue, as long as Israel can be singled out and blamed for it.

In this case, Israel is singled out – made unique among all nations – for its practices of religious discrimination. Are people executed for practicing their religions? Does conversion result in beheading? Are people jailed for their beliefs? What form must this discrimination take to warrant the special attention of the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

Apparently, Israel is worthy of special criticism because it fails to fund and protect non-Jewish holy sites, because it denies “free access to holy places of worship to both Christians and Muslims on several important occasions”, and because a rabbi in a yeshiva in the West Bank published an offensive book describing the circumstances when it is permissible to kill non-Jews according to halakhah.

San Jose’s overture asks the General Assembly to “commend the U. S. State Department for its annual published listing of incidents of religious discrimination by the State of Israel affecting the human rights and religious freedom of Arab Christians and other Palestinian citizens”. Now, I imagine they mean the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Reports.

The Presbytery of San Jose does cite these reports in their rationale. But a brief perusal of them reveals a number of things that presbytery chooses not to mention when zeroing in on Israeli misdeeds. For example, blasphemy and conversion are punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. In Sudan, Vietnam, Egypt, and Afghanistan Christians face discrimination, violence, and government restrictions. In China, “only groups affiliated with one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) are permitted to register, hold worship services, and apply to offer social services.” In Eritrea, “Religious prisoners were reportedly held for long periods without due process and subjected to harsh treatment, including forced renunciations of faith, torture, and deaths in custody.” North Korea reportedly “barred citizens from entering places of worship”. In Saudi Arabia “the public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited”.

One can only conclude that the Presbytery of San Jose, ACRED, and ACSWP must have thought it obvious that commissioners would be immediately familiar with the contents of the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Reports. In that circumstance, commissioners would certainly not need accurate representations of them. And if, for some inscrutable reason, commissioners were not quite that up-to-date, they would surely take the time to read them together in Committee 15.

In all seriousness, focusing on religious discrimination issues in Israel is valid.  But it would only be so in the context of an assembly that directed the same level of scrutiny at other nations around the world.  Every society and every government has problems.  The practice of singling out one society and government – which, in this case, just happen to be those of the only Jewish nation in existence – implies that that particular society and government are the worst offenders.  Even in the face of significant particular problems, this implication is unfounded.  It indicates the presence of a bias that is extreme and inexplicable.

 

Majority Report: Committee 15 proposals specifically targeting Israel


At this moment, GA Committee 15 has eleven items on its proposed docket. [By this I mean to indicate GA 220 Committee 15 composed of commissioners who will deliberate on Middle East and Peacemaking Issues – not a permanent standing committee.] Of these eleven items, seven directly target Israel for criticism and/or action. One, item 15-04, supports “peaceful, diplomatic means to resolve tensions forming … between the U.S. and Iran”. It does mention Israel tangentially – but the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) makes the issue entirely about Israel and insists that the overture “points to the continued power of Israeli and U.S. political leaders and interests who favor unilateral war”. Three items recommend a different course for the PC(USA).

Israel = Apartheid Proposal

In item 15-01 the Presbytery of Muskingum Valley calls on GA 220 “to recognize that Israel’s laws, policies, and practices constitute apartheid against the Palestinian people.” This overture is supported by ACREC, the Presbyteries of San Francisco, the Palisades, the Redwoods, and by the Synod of the Covenant. ACSWP offers a modified resolution.

 

Divestment Proposals

Items 15-03, 15-08, and 15-11 call for the PC(USA) to place Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions to be placed on the General Assembly Divestment List. (Oddly, item 15-03 from the Presbytery of San Francisco enumerates only Caterpillar but mentions the other two companies in its rationale.)

This divestment proposal is advanced by the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) and the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC). It is endorsed by the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC), ACSWP, the Presbyteries of New Brunswick, North Puget Sound, Scioto Valley, San Francisco, and Palisades, and by the Synod of the Covenant.

 

Boycott Proposals

Item 15-02 is an overture from the Presbytery of San Francisco calling for the boycott of certain products from the Occupied Territories. It is supported by ACREC, ACSWP, the Presbyteries of New Brunswick and Scioto Valley, and by the Synod of the Covenant.

In item 15-06, the Presbytery of Scioto Valley calls for a response to the Kairos document, particularly in its emphasis on boycott and divestment. This overture is supported by the Presbyteries of Genesee Valley and Northern New England, and by the Synod of the Covenant.

 

Other (Astonishing) Criticism

Item 15-09 is in a class by itself. In this curious overture, the Presbytery of San Jose urges the General Assembly to:

  1. Commend the U. S. State Department for its annual published listing of incidents of religious discrimination by the State of Israel affecting the human rights and religious freedom of Arab Christians and other Palestinian citizens.
  2. Commend the U. S. State Department for reporting on the failure of Israel to protect Christian Holy sites throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
  3. Urge the Israeli government to end any and all religious discriminatory practices.
  4. Urge the Israeli government to enforce its own legal obligation to protect Christian holy sites throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
  5. Direct that the Stated Clerk contact President Obama and the Israeli ambassador to the U. S. asking them to assist in ending all religious discriminatory practices and to protect religious groups’ holy sites in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

ACREC and ACSWP support this overture.

As observers consider this docket, a very warped picture emerges. The fact that the climate is so weighted in one direction will dictate the tenor of the conversation in Committee 15. It is true that commissioners have less actual material to consider than they did two years ago. At the same time, it is clear that the institutional weight of the PC(USA) supports a particular, lopsided viewpoint. Commissioner depending on information from PC(USA) sources will be hard pressed to hear opinions that differ from what is effectively a majority report.

I’m tempted to say they might as well just place these proposals on the consent agenda for GA 220’s giant rubber stamp and have done with it.

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