Guest commentary by John Wimberly
A paper on Israel-Palestine, recently produced by an Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) study team, is a classic example of a theological error Christians have opposed for two thousand years: dualism. All forms of dualism see the world as a struggle between rarified forms of good and evil, light and darkness. When viewed through the PC(USA)’s version of a dualistic lens, the Israel-Palestine conflict is a matter of black and white, good and evil. Israel is wrong. The Palestinians are right. One is powerful, the other powerless. This dualistic view dominates PC(USA) Middle East policies despite most knowledgeable experts describing the conflict as a thousand shades of gray.
Our dualistic approach to peacemaking is hard to understand given the church’s opposition to dualism in all forms, beginning with a major battle against Manichaeism. In Reformed theology, we do not see good and evil as existing in pure or even relatively pure forms in the world. We see sin in everyone, goodness in everyone. Why is a Reformed denomination so comfortable citing all the sins of Israel and ignoring those of Palestinians? Or citing the goodness of Palestinians but not of Israelis?
The answer lies in the paper’s profound lack of theological and biblical foundations. The paper boldly ignores Calvin’s advice that “no one can get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he/she be a pupil of Scripture.” Looking at the 99 footnotes of the GA study paper, not one cites the Bible, Calvin, the current Book of Confessions or contemporary Reformed thinkers (with the exception of one citation from a well-known critic of Israel’s policies).
The lack of biblical, theological and confessional foundation is revelatory of what and who is driving the PC(USA) positions on Israel-Palestine. The ACSWP paper’s footnote citations, and the narrative they support, are from media, pro-BDS groups, human rights groups and several UN groups with a well-established pro-Palestinian bias. Sadly, our policies in this area look more like a pro-Palestinian advocacy group than a Christian denomination committed to discerning the will of God using our traditional authoritative sources. We can do better than this.
The dualism is evident as the paper lambasts Israel over and over again for being the obstacle to peace. There is no mention of Hamas executing those who disagree with them or prominent Palestinian leaders praising children as martyrs for their suicide attacks on Israelis. The paper’s litany of Israel’s sins contains nothing new. Thus, one must ask the paper’s authors, “What is new in this paper?”
Actually, there are two new things worth noting. The paper recommends not limiting peace options to a two-state solution. People much more knowledgeable than me say that if the two-state solution doesn’t succeed, then one of the following terrible results will inevitably happen: the current standoff, and the suffering it causes, will continue for years or decades; the Palestinians will prevail in the conflict and Israel will be eliminated in favor of one state that is Palestinian-governed with most Jews leaving the region after violent resistance from ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers; or Israeli right-wingers will reclaim the West Bank as their territory and oppression of Palestinians will only increase. Can the General Assembly this summer affirm any of these scenarios as positive?
Also very new is the recommendation that “the Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pensions refrain from investments that support violence against Israelis or Palestinians.” If adopted in Portland, PC(USA) leaders will have a free pass to divest and boycott without seeking the approval of a GA. That is definitely a new and huge expansion of the power of GA committees and staff.
As we approach Portland, we need to understand one thing very clearly: The world has stopped listening to the PC(USA) on this issue because we simply quote the partisan rhetoric of the world. Will we continue singing with a secular chorus damning Israel or will we raise a prophetic voice proclaiming that there is really only one way to end this conflict: two historically oppressed people living peacefully next to each other in two independent states?
JOHN WIMBERLY is a congregational consultant, having retired from pastoral ministry. He served Presbyterian churches in Texas, Maryland and Washington, D.C.