Assembly approves statement on antisemitism, Islamophobia as study document

Thursday morning session featured the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee report.

Moderator Frances Lin (standing) speaks with resource staff for the Ecumenical and Interfaith Engagement Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Louisville, Kentucky — On Thursday, the 225th General Assembly turned its attention to ecumenical and interfaith relations and policies and statements intended to enhance them.

The morning began with ecumenical worship. Karen Georgia Thompson, the morning’s preacher and longtime ecumenical officer for the United Church of Christ, said, “COVID is not the only thing plaguing us this season. We are witnesses to polarities that marginalize communities and widen poverty and injustice throughout the world.” Preaching on Revelation 21, Thompson said the writer is challenging all people of faith to create a new vision “out of the persecution and oppression we see all around us.”

She asked: “What is the vision we are casting and what will our ecumenical witness to that vision be?” She said the journey forward to “a new heaven and a new earth” requires us “to be open, honest and vulnerable.” God is present in our grief and suffering, she said, “and God is offering comfort, peace and new opportunities. It’s time to do a new thing – we have been given new life in Jesus Christ – resurrection power is already ours. These are days of transfiguration — we are rising to new life in Christ.”

Whitney Wilkinson Arreche, GACIER, speaks during Plenary 10 of General Assembly 225. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Following worship, the assembly turned its attention to the report of its Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee. Six of the committee’s seven items of business were approved Tuesday as part of the consent agenda, leaving a study document entitled “Statement Denouncing Antisemitism and Islamophobia” (ECU-06) as the sole remaining committee matter considered today. The committee approved the statement 25-2.

Whitney Wilkinson Arreche of the General Assembly Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (GACEIR) Committee described the statement as “a first step toward repenting of the sins of antisemitism and Islamophobia that we have not always recognized in ourselves.” She also said it’s “an unequivocal statement that antisemitism and Islamophobia are not God’s will.”

In response to questions, Arreche insisted “criticism of the State of Israel is not, on its face, antisemitic.” GACEIR’s Ann Weirich agreed. “The study document would be helpful in discerning why being pro-Palestinian does not make one antisemitic. We don’t conflate the State of Israel with the Jewish people or Israel’s right to exist.”

Arreche added that in writing the statement, GACEIR “relied on globally accepted definitions of antisemitism and Islamophobia. Our goal is healing, repentance and repair.” The final vote was 367-9.

Ian Hall, CFO of the administrative services group, and DeAmber Clopton, associate director for finance administration, present the daily per-capita report to General Assembly 225 commissioners and observers. This report outlines how assembly decisions will affect budgets of PC(USA) agencies. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Approved consent agenda items included:

  • “A Theological Rationale for Interreligious/Interfaith Relationships” (ECU-01) reflecting the PC(USA)’s desire “to help Presbyterians and our friends of other religious traditions better understand the value Presbyterians place on strong interfaith relations.” Among the themes it addresses are the U.S.’s pluralistic culture, interfaith relationships that are based on God’s love for all people, transformation through mission engagement, and the challenges of interfaith relationships.
  • Development of a Global Covenant Agreement (ECU-02) that will serve as “a formula for establishing unique relationships with other denominations. In related actions, the assembly folded developing covenants with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana (ECU-03) and the Gereja Masehi Injili di Minahasa of Indonesia into the Global Covenant Agreement process.
  • Receiving “with gratitude” the report of the third round of bilateral dialogues between the PC(USA) and the Episcopal Church (ECU-05) that focuses on “local sharing of ministries. The final report of the dialogue, which began in 2018, will be presented to the 2024 General Assembly. The first two rounds of the dialogue produced agreements on episcope (the nature of the church), polity theology, the nature and meaning of church membership, and “the ministries and missions that already exist between the two bodies.”
  • Adopted a commissioner’s resolution (ECU-08) asking the World Council of Churches to work harder on behalf of Palestinian Christians. The Christian population in the Middle East has shrunk dramatically as the Israel/Palestine conflict has deepened and hardened.
  • Extended invitations to 10 international churches and five churches in North America to send official representatives to the 2024 General Assembly (ECU-07). “They will be a gift to us,” ECU Committee Moderator Frances Lin of San Diego Presbytery said.