Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has released a new statement – written in response to those who have criticized his decision in early October to be one of the signers of a letter asking Congress to reconsider U.S. military aid to Israel in light of Israel’s human rights record.
That letter, which Parsons signed along with 14 other religious leaders, produced an unhappy reaction from Jewish leaders, who canceled an Oct. 22-23 meeting of an interfaith group as result, and asked instead to convene a summit meeting with Christian leaders to discuss what has happened. (See stories in the Outlook and the New York Times on the fallout from the letter to Congress.)
Some Presbyterians also questioned whether Parsons had fairly represented General Assembly policy in signing the letter to Congress on behalf of the PC(USA).
Here is the text of the new statement, which Parsons released Oct. 24 and which gives his response to that criticism.
An official response by Rev. Parsons to those who have communicated with him about the letter is found below. The Stated Clerk’s statement outlines the explicit actions from the past two General Assemblies that directed him to send such a letter to Congress.
I recently joined 14 other denominational leaders in signing a letter to the U.S. Congress requesting an investigation into the matter of whether U.S. aid to Israel was in accord with U.S. law, given our commitment to human rights and the search for peace. I call your attention to the action of the 219th General Assembly (2010), on this issue, which included the following language:
1. Express its enduring and heartfelt commitment to security, justice and lasting peace for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
2. Express its support for the U.S. government policy of carefully vetting the funds distributed to foreign countries in ways that ensure peaceful development and are consistent with international law, human rights protections, and U.S. foreign policy, namely:
a. the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which prohibits giving assistance to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations;
b. the U.S. Arms Export Control Act of 1976 which prohibits using U.S. weapons against civilians and civilian infrastructure, and
c. the U.S. foreign policy insofar as it pertains to recommendations for steps toward peace, in this instance, between Israelis and Palestinians.
3. Call for the allocation of U.S. military aid funds to be contingent on compliance with the above-mentioned statutes and/or to the peace process.
4. Express its extreme disappointment with the U.S. government that while the State of Israel has been found not to comply with the above statutes, it continues to be the recipient of U.S. military aid.
5. Direct the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) to communicate these recommendations to all members of the U.S. Congress, in particular the chairs of the Foreign Relations Committees for the House and Senate and to all appropriate members of the U.S. administration, including the president, vice-president, secretary of state and secretary of defense.”
That action was reinforced by the 220th General Assembly (2012), in addressing our own government, in which it:
“Calls on the U.S. government to give a thorough accounting to its citizenry as to the amounts of its foreign aid to countries in the Middle East that have been used by the recipient nations to finance human rights violations, breaches of international law and UN Security Council Resolutions; and to redirect adequate allocations of aid toward (1) the rebuilding of Gaza and humanitarian assistance for its people; and, (2) Palestinian reuse or dismantling of the remaining settlement infrastructure following the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
I have signed the letter in the name of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), by whose policies I am bound. Every Presbyterian has the freedom of conscience to disagree with the judgment of the over 600 Ruling and Teaching Elders who comprise the General Assembly, and some may do so; nonetheless, this letter reflects the position of the highest council of our church and those who labor as staff of the General Assembly are bound by it.
Additionally, I would point out that this action, in its opening lines, expresses our decades of commitment to a common hope for both Israelis and Palestinians. Our 218th General Assembly (2008) reminded us that we should be “balanced” and “even–handed” in dealing with issues of justice and peace in the region. Awareness of that commitment did not prevent the next General Assembly, two years later, from focusing on the specific issue of U.S. aid to Israel as a clear and major concern.
Please explore further information regarding our policy history on this or other matters related to the search for peace in the Middle East.
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)