Friday, June 13, 2014
As we begin our week together for the meeting of the General Assembly in Detroit it seems from my casual conversation with our commissioners and many friends around the Exhibit Hall here that the Israel and Palestinian issue is the hottest issue. A long news article about our General Assembly in the Detroit Free Press was headlined with this issue. (http://www.freep.com/article/20140613/NEWS05/306130023/presbyterians-convention-divest-israel.) Our Commissioners told me that they received more response on this issue in preparation for the Assembly than any other issue. Our debate about divestment from Israel is now also associated with recent divestment action by the United Methodist Church and the Gates Foundation. Also, as we have heard before, a number of Jewish organizations around the nation have already publicly criticized the Presbyterian Church for even considering divestment.
This is not a debate I want to join or about which I have a passionate commitment. In many ways, from my perspective, the Presbyterian Church is fragile. I fully understand the importance of public witness and social justice. But I also understand the stress that burdens many small congregations, and the stress that burdens many of our pastors and church leaders. The contentious heat, the divisiveness, and the polarizing debate around this intractable, international issue does not build us up. Most of all, I am very concerned that many people simply disengage from these church conversations cynical and apathetic.
I know the importance of Presbyterian social and political engagement. I know the stellar history of our social witness. In this changed culture, in this fragile church how do we engage social issues and witness publicly in ways that lifts us up and makes us proud to be Presbyterian? In my mind, these contentious debates which will be decided by extremely narrow voting margins are not the proper means of social witness for today's church. Certainly Presbyterians should consider and debate and engage the Israeli and Palestinian issue. But should this issue be the primary issue, the dominant issue and the headline issue for our General Assembly?