In lieu of the rising tide of concern over the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)’s decision to selectively divest from “multinational corporations operating in Israel,” the denomination’s General Assembly Council voted to send a “pastoral communication” letter to fully explain the issue to all its congregations.
"The GAC needs to respond to help interpret the process of divestment and to clarify that this action is of the General Assembly, which the GAC must carry out," said Judy Angleberger of Beaver, Pa.
Angelberger, a member of the Worldwide Ministries Division Committee that made the recommendation, said the committee spent two hours over two days to discuss the issue.
"The divestment strategy has unnecessarily moved into a direction that alienates us from people we need to be in conversation with," said Cynthia McCall Campbell, president of McCormick Theological Seminary who took part in the debate.
"So many people are operating on the basis of what they think we did," said GAC member Manley Olsen of St. Paul, Minn., adding that it was very important for "us to know what the General Assembly did, what the process is, and how it will move along."
Olsen said he believes that the denomination, through its Missions Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), has made it clear that “divestment is the last possible step.”
“The MRTI will do everything in its power to resolve these things … they are basically looking for other ways to resolve the issue in the best interests of the PCUSA,” said Olsen.
The former PCUSA moderator Susan Andrews agreed that such a letter is needed to extend the dialogue of the decision.
"Our passion for justice in the Middle East particularly in the occupation of the Palestinian people, and a passionate relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters that they, and we, have cherished for a long time. As we proceed and have these dialogues, I hope we will not pit those two convictions against each other,” said Andrews.
There are several points to the communications letter, which will be sent out by the GAC in collaboration with the Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick and the current Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase.
In essence, the communications does several things, including:
• Affirms our long-standing commitments in the Middle East.
• Acknowledges that our actions responding to the pain of our Palestinian brothers and sisters has brought pain to our Jewish brothers and sisters.
• Restates our position decrying violence and human rights violations on both sides.
• Acknowledges the strain on cherished, long-standing Jewish/Christian relations.
• Informs the church of ongoing national dialogues with the Jewish community.
• Invites Presbyterians to see this as an opportunity to engage in the difficult task of dialogue in a situation where there is serious disagreement in order to deepen our understanding and respect for each other.
• Acknowledges the GAC's responsibility to implement the action of the General Assembly.
• Acknowledges the history of our concern to be morally responsible investors.
• Clarifies the process and timeline for implementation by MRTI recommendation.
• Refers Presbyterians to available resources and appropriate Web sites.
To view the full text of the communications letter, please visit: http://www.pcusa.org/israelandjewishrelations/faq.htm