I went to bed sad. I woke up angry. Where is the church? I am not talking about the building on the corner, but the church envisioned by Jesus. The church which seeks to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus.
His very first sermon was; The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… proclaim release to the captives … to set at liberty those who are oppressed…. to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. His last sermon was; I was hungry and you fed me…when you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me. His parables almost always included the marginalized; Invite the poor to your banquet… Sell what you have and give to the poor… Whatever it cost to restore him to health, I will pay it. On and on; when you give a banquet, invite the poor and the lame. During his ministry, Jesus hung around the poor, the sick, and a large group whom he simply referred to as sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.” There is no doubt about the focus of his heart.
Last week, I attended the meeting of a Presbytery, (a representative gathering of leaders from all the Presbyterian churches in a district). I joined the rhetoric of their worship literature. Almost every prayer, litany and song included such words as “justice” and “peace.” Those words rolled from our lips with ease. Yet, when it came time for a vote to seek “justice and peace” for the oppressed people of Palestine, there was a major disconnect.
I have never known a Presbytery to do a better job of offering its members an opportunity to be informed as to why a ‘justice for the oppressed’ motion was coming up for a vote. At its previous meeting, the JUSTPEACE Committee had arranged for the Presbytery to meet and hear Mark Braverman, a Jewish activist who is seeking to apply his Jewish faith to the policies and conduct of the State of Israel. In addition to Braverman, the Presbytery heard Dr. Fahed abu Akel, past moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, and a Palestinian, tell his story of being separated when 4 years old, from his mother during the bitter displacement of over 750,000 Palestinians by the Israelis in 1948. In addition to having these eyewitnesses address the Presbytery, the JUSTPEACE committee sponsored three workshops within the Presbytery to address the motions which would support justice and peace for the Palestinians.[i]
The Presbytery had been asked to respond to THE KAIROS DOTRINE, a plea by Christian leaders in Israel and the occupied territories to the church in Americas to know what is happening to them. In the midst of pledging peace and love for their Jewish oppressors they acknowledged that they were rapidly coming to the end of their rope, saying:.
We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and exchange of opinions, cry out from within the suffering of our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land.
Why Now? Because today we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people.[ii]
The Presbytery voted to kill both motions. The Palestinians were left to be forgotten and on their own. I listened to the debate in astonishment:
--- The first speaker said that she was going to vote against the motion because she knew so little about the situation there. (I sat silently thinking that if she announced the first part, that she was going to vote against the motion, she did not have to confess to the second part. It would be obvious that she knew very little about the situation.
--- Several speakers described Hamas as a terrorist government that sponsored suicide bombers and had pledged to wipe Israel off the map.
--- Another said that he could not vote “against Israel” because the people there were happy and their faces were full of smiles and laughter, that we should not take anything away from the Jews who are the “Children of God.”
---Several people supporting the motions spoke from their experience of actually having seen the conditions in Israel/Palestine. They were rebutted by a pious plea that, before we do anything, we must hear “the Jewish side.” (As if we ever hear anything else on the news or from our pulpits.)
I was a “visitor” at this meeting of Presbytery and did not have the privilege of the floor or the right to speak, therefore, I sat there feeling a great disappointment for those who had worked so hard to inform the voting members of the urgency of these motions and feeling a personal frustration that ignorance so easily prevailed. Mainly, I felt deep concern for the men, women and children living in deplorable conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. Had those voting members known what is happening in the Occupied Territories, they would have been totally on the side of the oppressed.
So I will take out my frustration on you. I will address those points of debate in my next several blogs. In the meantime, I will feel frustration remembering the words of Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” That is exactly what the Presbytery did; 37 to 65.
November 14, 2011
[i] JUSTPEACE made two motions
JUSTPEACE, the Justice and Peacemaking Action Team, with the support of the Spiritual Formation and Discernment Ministry Team, requests the Presbytery to approve the following statements and actions:
We hear the cry of you, our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, and we acknowledge the realities of why the Christian population is dwindling that you communicate to us in Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth recommended for study by the 2010 General Assembly. In response:
-- we will continue to study Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth carefully and prayerfully,
-- we repent of our own silence, indifference, and lack of communion,
-- we affirm the need of the Church to ―speak the Word of God courageously,
-- we pledge to resist evil in all its forms with methods that enter into the logic of love,
-- we will come, as we are able, to visit you, our brothers and sisters, to see for ourselves what
injustices you face,
-- we endorse JUSTPEACE‘s decision to pledge $1,000 of our Presbytery‘s portion of the
Peacemaking Offering to help underwrite the November 10-12, 2011, Friends of Sabeel--North
America (FOSNA) Regional Conference at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, to spread
-- we will pray and work that the Kingdom of God come, ―a kingdom of justice, peace and
-- we will explore other ways in which we as a Presbytery can act on behalf of justice for you,
our Palestinian brothers and sisters in order to secure a lasting peace for you, the Israelis and all
the people of the Middle East, and
-- we will communicate these commitments to you so that your hope may be strengthened.
Vote: 37 YES, 65 NO, 1 UNDECIDED
JUSTPEACE also requests the Presbytery to approve the following statements
-- we will join in the boycott of products produced in the West Bank as recommended by and
updated by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA), and
-- we support the recommendation of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) of the PC(USA) to divest all PC(USA) funds from Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard, all of whom sell products which support in significant ways the occupation of the West Bank and the oppression of Gaza and will communicate this support to the 220th General Assembly.
Vote: 40 YES, 58 NO
[ii] Kairos Palestine Doctrine