About a year ago, I wrote a laudatory and hopeful article about the actions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that took place in Minneapolis in July 2010.
It was a long piece, but a quick summary is that a miracle took place in Minneapolis. Prominent Presbyterians – most notably pastors of “big steeple” churches in the PC(USA) – finally woke up to the ugly anti-Zionist activity that was taking place in their denomination and took responsibility for confronting it.
These Presbyterians objected to a terribly hostile and one-sided report about the Arab-Israeli conflict and said it should not pass. In response, the proponents of the report realized their was a good chance their document was going to go down in flames, blinked, and agreed to some major changes to the report.
To make sure the changes were approved by the General Assembly, the erstwhile antagonists stood shoulder-to-shoulder with each other like bandmates at the end of a Who concert and told their fellow Presbyterians they had set a model for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict and discovered a new way of being a church.
Yes, that’s what they said. And I believed them. Won’t get fooled again!
I got caught up in the moment and held my cigarette lighter aloft like a stoner at a Yes concert and wrote that while the PC(USA) needed watching there was reason to believe that during the 2010 General Assembly, the PC(USA) had created a process by which it could offer up a credible and truthful witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Color me Oslo, cause it isn’t happening.
Things have really gone off the rails in the PC(USA). For details, please go here, here, here, here, here and follow the links in the articles. The catastrophe should be pretty well evident after a few clicks of your mouse.
For people who can’t be bothered to read the links (and I can’t blame them), the story is this: After the 2010 General Assembly, the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) used its Facebook page to assail Israel, Zionism and Jews in the U.S. in a pretty ugly way. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be in light of that talk about providing a model for ending the conflict and a new way of being a church.
People inside and outside the denomination had been warning the denomination’s national leaders about the problem for years, but did not respond publicly.
Earlier this week, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the American Jewish Committee issued statements about the IPMN-PCUSA’s anti-Semitic messaging.
Then the IPMN-PCUSA responded with a statement of their own that said, in effect we’re not anti-Semitic, it’s just those Jewish groups keep trying to stifle debate about Israel in the U.S.!
The upshot is this: The anti-Zionists from the denomination’s Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have proven more committed to spewing out anti-Israel (and in some instances anti-Jewish) invective than they were in providing a model for ending a conflict. And they sure were not all that interested in pursuing a new way of being a church.
To make matters worse, the denomination’s leaders have failed to hold these activists accountable. People inside (and outside) the denomination warned the denomination’s national leaders that there was a problem, but these leaders failed to act.
Probably the best way to describe the PC(USA)’s actions over the past decade is to use a metaphor of an abusive husband who beats his wife, comes to his senses, expresses remorse and says it will never happen again.
And for a while, he’s good, but after a few months, he loses his temper and starts the cycle again.
That’s about how the PC(USA) deals with issues related to Jews, Israel and Zionism.
People (and institutions) that behave this way simply cannot be trusted.
This cycle is not a conscious one, but the consequence of an ongoing church struggle within the PC(USA).
Periodically, the denomination, under the influence of a small group of anti-Israel activists, goes off on a tear, attacks Israel, Zionism, and American Jews with a startling and undeniable viciousness.
American Jews respond to these attacks, and make themselves targets of further demonization. (This happens a lot, by the way and presents Jewish leaders with a conundrum. Do they let the attacks go unanswered, thereby giving them credence, or do they respond, knowing their responses will be used against them?)
After the ugly outburst from Presbyterian peacemakers, other people inside the PCUSA – people sympathetic to Israel – try to offer a course correction. They submit resolutions and issue statements intended to correct the problem.
As a result of their efforts, the PCUSA makes gestures that indicate it has come to its senses, realizes what has happened. Prominent Presbyterians step in and say in effect, “Enough, this anti-Zionism has got to stop.” Gustav Niebuhr provided this type of voice at the denomination’s 2010 General Assembly.
Then things seem to go well for a while, but after a period of calm, the anti-Zionists come roaring back with more anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish invective.
Jewish groups respond and its off to the races.
Since 2004, we have seen a few iterations of this cycle in the PCUSA and it looks like it’s happening again.
The only people who can bring it to an end are the Presbyterians themselves.
The burden is on them.
It appears that Jewish groups are starting to get wise to the cycle and are starting to realize that the anti-Semitism in the PC(USA) can only be fixed by the denomination itself and that maybe, it lacks the resources necessary to fix it. In his response to the IPMN-PCUSA’s behavior, JCPA President Steve Gutow stated: “For as long as it makes sense to do so we will continue to work with our friends in the PCUSA to call for responsible policy that promotes peace and positive relations and rejects partisanship and division.”
“For as long as it makes sense to do so …” is a warning indicating that at some point, mainstream Jewish groups will walk away from the PCUSA altogether. And why shouldn’t they given the abuse they’ve endured at the hand of Presbyterian peace activists? So-called peace a ctivists in this denomination have portrayed Israel as a monstrous nation (while ignoring massacres in the rest of the Middle East, by the way). Who but a monstrous people would claim Israel as their homeland?
To be sure, not everyone inside the PC(USA) supports the message offered the anti-Israel extremists in their denomination. Not even a majority.
But whatever anyone tells you, what has happened is not a failure of governance, or of polity.
It is a failure of leadership.
Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).