What has the church learned from the explosive response to our actions last summer in Richmond on divestment? Granted this is not everyone’s concern, yet by its action — intentionally or not — the General Assembly opened the door to widespread public discussion in every place where Jews and Christians have significant contact. We both initiated and contributed to a dialogue that has been sadly lacking in American political life. The General Assembly took heat for these and subsequent actions, one of which resulted in the firing of folk in the Louisville office.
On the one hand, as we like to say, it has not been a “pretty picture.” On the other hand, in spite of some lingering distaste for the church’s venture into arenas where it supposedly has no expertise, much good has come from the Assembly action. It was an action not entered into unadvisedly, but thoroughly grounded in experience in the Middle East by significant numbers of Presbyterians. The actions on divestment and the security wall may have taken some by surprise, but not all, especially not those who by study and travel know firsthand the plight of the Palestinian people.
The actions also highlight a connection not known by thousands of Presbyterians who are newcomers to recent Presbyterian history and ethos. Our denomination has deep ties to the Middle East through Arab educational institutions in Lebanon, Egypt, and Pakistan. Our mission enterprises and pre- World War II global commitments helped educate scores of political and business leaders in the Middle East. That heritage was not part of Southern Presbyterian experience until reunion. The whole church has been enriched and strengthened by these awakenings.
We have also been required to go to a deeper level of honesty in relation to our Jewish brothers and sisters. Last summer the OUTLOOK reported on Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor’s call for renewed dialogue between Christians and Jews. This Anti-Defamation League leader asked that we move beyond the easy assumptions of agreement that allow us to walk away from a conference on civil rights patting each other on the back. He asked for a dialogue that makes us “sweat, because ultimately that’s the only thing that’s going to make a difference.”
The action of the 216th General Assembly has made a difference as evidenced by articles in this issue: David Gillespie about Raleigh, N.C., Charles Robertson about an interfaith pilgrimage, and Leslie Scanlon’s survey of happenings across the church. Dissent fostered conversation and education. The GA leadership (staff and elected officials) may have been unprepared for the firestorm that erupted, especially from the well-organized Jewish/evangelical pro-Israel lobby. However, we can rejoice that we obsessively orderly Presbyterians have settled down to discuss, to be in dialogue, to dream, to clarify, and to keep our lamps lit for peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians in the coming years of the 21st century. Many of us have sweated. Many of us are doing something well, something to give us a leg up on the Birmingham assembly in 2006.
In long years of national Presbyterian discontent, this is a mercy. Pray God that we will learn to carry these civil and Christian behaviors into other areas of disagreement and dispute among us — for the sake of the churc