Louisville, Kentucky — The International Engagement Committee was one of four committees wrapping up their work today, part of the third wave of committees meeting during this historic three-week hybrid 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Commissioners met in person at the Presbyterian Center while overture advocates and some resource people addressed committees via Zoom.
The International Engagement Committee spent the last three days addressing the PC(USA)’s involvement in some of the most volatile and dangerous situations around the world. Among them:
Israel/Palestine. The committee thoughtfully considered four items of business related to the 70-year conflict between the governments of Israel and Palestine. The items primarily focused on the suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people but also recognized the harm being suffered by the Israeli people.
While protesters gathered outside the Presbyterian Center, the committee approved 28-3 item INT-02, asking the General Assembly to name the laws, policies and practices of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people as “apartheid.” For decades, many Presbyterians have sought passage of similar overtures but failed by wide margins, both in committee and on the floor of the assembly.
Item INT-04 seeks approval of a statement of concern entitled, “For the Peace of Jerusalem,” and “the right of all people to live and worship peacefully in the city of Jerusalem.” While the statement stops short of calling Israel’s occupation “apartheid,” it does state: “Two factors are alienating moderate Jews, Christians, and secular citizens in most Western countries: the suffocation of hopes of a two-state solution by subsidized Israeli settlement growth and the increasingly apartheid-like control over Palestinians by the Israeli military” (emphasis added). The overture goes on to commend those working for peace and directs the PC(USA) to, among other things, be “mindful of the disputed status of Jerusalem, and to include encounters with the stories and concerns of Palestinians in any travel itinerary to the Holy Lands.”
The committee approved 31-0 item INT-10, asking the assembly to call on the U.S. government to “exhort” the governments of Israel and Gaza, as well as Palestinian militias, to cease all “hostile actions” against one another, “defined as ‘collective punishment’ under international law.” It further calls on the government of Israel to stop the Gaza blockade that restricts water, electricity, food, medicine and fuel from getting to Gaza residents.
The final overture, INT-13, designates May 15th as “Palestinian Nakba Remembrance Day” and includes it in the Presbyterian Planning Calendar. The overture was approved 31-0 with amendments directing the overture to the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) rather than the stated clerk. Nakba Remembrance Day commemorates the date of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948 as Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes and land. For years, the date was used as a call to protest the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestinian lands and the separation of the Palestinian people. In 2011, during what became known as the Arab Spring, a dozen protesters were shot by Israeli soldiers as thousands marched to a checkpoint and attempted to cross. The PMA commented that the day of remembrance was included in the 2021-2022 Presbyterian Planning Calendar and will be included in future calendars.
Doctrine of Discovery. In 2016, the 222nd General Assembly directed “that the PC(USA) and its members apologize to United States citizens of Native American ancestry, both those within and beyond our denomination.” The action went on to state, “We offer this apology, especially to those who were and are part of ‘stolen generations’ during the Indian-assimilation movement, namely former students of Indian boarding schools, their families, and their communities”
In 2017, J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the General Assembly, along with former stated clerk Gradye Parsons, traveled to Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska, to apologize to Native Americans, Alaska natives, and native Hawaiians.
Much of the suffering and generational harm was done was a result of ideologies contained in the Doctrine of Discovery, which was commended to the denomination for study in 2018. The doctrine dates to 15th-century European exploration and “discovery” of new lands. In 1792, Thomas Jefferson, as secretary of state, declared it “international law,” and, therefore, applicable to the United States’ dealings with other territories and cultures. The doctrine states, in brief, that any European Christian government could claim title to any non-European land not already claimed or occupied by another European government under the claim that they had “discovered” it.
The committee approved 30-0 item INT-01, asserting that the Doctrine of Discovery has dangerously influenced U.S. foreign policy through ideologies such as “American exceptionalism,” resulting in the “overuse of military force.” The overture asks the 225th General Assembly to recognize the harm caused by the Doctrine of Discovery and its influence on U.S. foreign policy, reject “principles of exceptionalism and power through conquest,” and the effectiveness of nonmilitary, collaborative international approaches to resolving conflict.”
Use of sanctions. The committee approved 32-0 item INT-16, a resolution to review and withdraw PC(USA) endorsements of the use of sanctions. The overture calls for the General Assembly, through the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., to advocate for the restoration of “congregational approval and oversight over the sanctions powers of the U.S. president,” and support legislation that requires the president to issue a report when imposing any economic sanctions.
International Engagements. As the committee title suggests, the International Engagement Committee also heard testimony that led to the overwhelming approval of overtures to:
- support humanitarian efforts in Sub-Saharan African nations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (INT-03 – vote: 30-0, as amended);
- “[seek] hope amid despair in Central America” (INT-05 – vote: 31-1);
- promote human rights in the Philippines, especially in light of the recent election of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, son of the brutal former president, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr (INT-07 – vote: 32-0, as amended);
- respond to the ongoing and violent humanitarian crisis in Cameroon by supporting legislation that has been before the U.S. Congress (INT-08 – vote: 31-1, as amended);
- respond to the environmental and human crisis in Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion causing uranium depletion in Iraq, poisoning water resources, land, and people (INT-09 – vote: 31-0);
- follow in the way of Matthew 25 and continue to respond to the suffering of the Syrian people and the hardships of those in neighboring countries after eight years of conflict in Syria (INT-11 – vote: 32-0);
- endorse the Korea Peace Appeal (INT-15 – vote: 28-0, also answering INT-12);
- condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine (INT-19 – vote: 30-1), and strengthen accompaniment ministries in areas affected by the Russian-Ukrainian war (INT-14; vote: 32-0, as amended);
- advocate for ending all U.S. government “foreign military activity in Afghanistan,” including supplying military equipment and freezing assets of the Afghan government, as well as calling on church members to support Afghan refugees in the U.S. (INT-17 – vote: 60-0); and
- encourage the denomination to engage in study, prayer and action to promote peace amid the civil war waging in Ethiopia since November 2019, which has displaced millions and brought “millions more to the brink of starvation and famine” (INT-18 – vote: 31-0).