Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A Breath of Fresh Balance

Out of the Presbytery of New Covenant in Houston comes the kind of statement on the Middle East that I had only wished for from our Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and the General Assembly a year ago in Richmond. A group called Presbyterians in Dialogue for Peace has produced an evenhanded, reasonable, informed statement about Israel (click here and open first item on “Misleading information…”). The statement balances the picture, compared to the statements that came out of General Assembly, which seemed strongly one-sided.

The group issuing the statement—in the form of a letter—was composed of elders, parish pastors, a former presbytery moderator, and the general presbyter. They actually WENT to Israel and Palestine to talk with persons on all sides of the issues. They traveled with and continued in dialogue with Jewish leaders and friends.

They did their homework, and the result was a far more sensible document, with such fresh and balanced observations as:
· “The main thing that we all learned is how complex the situation in the Middle East is. Slogans such as ‘end the occupation now’ are naïve and hollow.”
· “… it seems that only the Palestinian plight was considered [at General Assembly]. In fact, the divestment resolution said that the occupation ‘has proven to be at the roots of evil acts…’. We believe that the conflict involves many factors that could be attributed to both Israelis and Palestinians.”
· “Misleading information has been disseminated by our church.” And they provided concrete examples.
· “Instead of punishing one of the parties in the conflict, perhaps our church should be looking for positive ways to help both sides. Investment instead of divestment could be one positive method.”
· “Our church appears prejudiced against Jews when it chooses to listen to and address only one side of the situation. What we did not do in this case, in our opinion, was to extend hospitality and fairness to include all of the voices involved in the Middle East in our debates.”

The group offers modest proposals that ought to be self-apparent but actually would bring needed change, such as:
· “When testimony is given in GA committees, resource personnel should strive to include representatives from various groups affected by the motions being considered.” Yes! It’s well overdue.
· There should be a “statement recognizing that the purpose of the security barrier is to save lives without violence, that it is working, and that Israel has the right and obligation to defend its citizens….” It’s only fair to say so.
· And “the General Assembly Council should advise the MRTI Committee that the concerns presented by Caterpillar no longer exist, and therefore it should redirect its energy to a more positive investment initiative.” Israel has abandoned Palestinian home destruction as a tactic. Just the other day, bulldozers (I wonder what brand?) were razing former Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, so Jewish settlers couldn’t reoccupy them, and months ago a bulldozer (could it be Caterpillar?) cleared a spot in Yasser Arafat’s courtyard for the MEDEVAC helicopter that sped him to treatment.

This is the kind of level-headed, realistic thinking we Presbyterians are so very capable of producing. I commend the leaders in Houston for the obvious effort and thought they put into their letter.

Now, is anyone listening?


Anonymous Daniel Vraa said...

I'm listening. Amen! Yea verily! Hoot mon! You go Jim! For all their claims to justice, it is obvious the last GA is either ignorant at best, or unjust at worst. Only God knows. It would be so refreshing and novel to have a fair, biblical, honest, open report and recommendation from GA. Maybe someday.

Rev. Daniel Vraa, a lifetime Presbyterian and thus, a lifetime sufferer from GA dictums.

12:36 PM, July 07, 2005  
Anonymous Chip Hatcher - Hernando, MS said...

It's interesting to me that, at just about every turn in the road, it's clear that local churches and even presbyteries are accomplishing mission and ministry that is more thoughtful, thorough, better prepared, and powerful than the left-wing agenda driven items that invariably come out of Louisville and the seminaries. I'm not sure that "New Wineskins" is the answer, but at least it strives to give the working of the church back to the people in the pews.

12:53 PM, July 07, 2005  
Anonymous Rev. John Erthein said...

Jim, thanks for your post about Israel and how we Presbyterians relate to that country and its actions. I am grateful for the work and witness of the New Covenant Presbytery members. It is a needed corrective to what seems to me to be a bizarre obsession at the level of PC(USA) officialdom to find fault with Israel above all other nations. It is not hard to see why some members of the Jewish community consider us to be anti-Jewish when the overwhelming majority of our pronouncments on other countries condemn the actions of the ONE country in the world with a Jewish majority. When will we hear calls for divestment from Saudi Arabia or China? How often will seminary professors or denominational officials angrily attack the human rights practices of THOSE states?

7:19 AM, July 08, 2005  
Blogger Adam said...

Jim, Adam Cleaveland here, you met met at Whitworth. I read the "evenhanded, reasonable and informed" letter - and I would have to completely disagree. I just spent 2 months living in the West Bank ( and there letter was filled with just flat-out lies at some points. I'm going to write an open-letter in response to them and post it on my Holy Lands' blog ( and my normal blog ( within the next week or two. So, you can find out exactly why I believe their letter was so ridiculous. If you look at their itinerary, they didn't even ENTER the West Bank, they barely would have seen The Wall and the day that I left Bethlehem 2 weeks ago, they demolished 3 homes - so their statement that "...since house demolitions have ended in Israel..." is completely misinformed.

9:27 AM, August 07, 2005  

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