The GAC’s formal recognition that the divestment issue has created deep divisions among us is welcome. Their suggestion to establish a small work group on the issue is wise and pastoral. In effect, the GAC recommends setting up a process that should have been employed prior to any vote on divestment in 2004.
However, if divestment remains in place for the next two years, the work group’s efforts will be fatally compromised. The status quo that needs to be in place while this work group meets is the decades-long Middle East position of our denomination prior to 2004. In those years the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was a strong advocate of a two- state solution and critical of various actions of some Palestinian groups and the government of Israel. Our historical position remains common ground for everyone on both sides of the divestment issue. It is the natural and fair starting point for a reassessment of our position.
Our mistake in 2004 was rushing into divestment without creating significant buy-in from the denomination as a whole. For that mistake, we have paid a horrible price within and outside the denomination. We need to confess the mistake and make amends by undoing the 2004 decision on divestment. We can then move on to the new life the work group can create.
Ending the divestment process initiated by the 2004 GA certainly does not mean divestment is removed from the table permanently. I assume the GA work group will discuss and analyze it as an option. If they recommend to the 2008 GA re-initiating a divestment process and can convince a majority of commissioners of its value, so be it. Many of us will still oppose it but in our denomination majority rules. However, whatever decisions we approve in 2008, hopefully this time around we will act after significant input from the Presbyterian, Jewish and Palestinian communities.
If the GA creates a work group, we need to give it a fair chance to provide leadership on Middle Eastern peacemaking. To do so, a divestment process needs to be an option considered, not a policy in place. It is my hope and prayer the GA will affirm the more than one dozen overtures asking for us to remove divestment from our current policy and affirm the GAC recommendation to create a work group to assess our Middle East policy for the future.
John W. Wimberly Jr. is pastor of Western Church in Washington, D.C. He is co-chair of Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish and Christian Relations.