Thursday, July 22, 2004

my nasty church?

John Moore of Useful Fools links to an article about my church, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), which recently had its 216th General Assembly. PCUSA polity, for those who don't know, is more secularly administrative than theological in nature, but it can make decisions (and amendments to its constitution) that have moral and theological import.

This time around, it seems the GA voted to divest from Israel. The move is part of a larger divestment campaign (PCUSA is the first Christian church to participate), and is a collective statement about the perceived injustices being committed against the Palestinian people, most recently exemplified by the building of the security wall, which is actually doing a decent job of stanching the influx of Palestinian suicide bombers.

My own take is different from John's. He sees the PCUSA's GA vote as the work of a mainstream Protestant church gone liberal. Maybe; maybe not: the PCUSA, taken collectively, is by no means liberal-- not politically, not socially, and not theologically. In 1983, my church was "united" after a long, Civil War-era split. North-South differences are still apparent in PCUSA, especially during the General Assemblies, where two theological/practical issues in particular constantly arise, get debated, and never seem to be successfully resolved:

1. Homosexuality: ordination of homosexual clergy, homosexual marriage, and questions surrounding the use of church property for such marriages and ordinations. (The church's "official" stance is against homosexual marriage and ordination.)

2. Jesus Christ's status as sole, unique, and normative savior in the context of religious diversity. (The church's recent documents on the subject are theologically muddled, caught somewhere between classical exclusivism and classical inclusivism.)

I suppose we can now add the Israel question as a point of contention for future General Assemblies.

[NB: Our polity doesn't have the spiritual authority of the Roman hierarchy. Freedom of conscience is very important in the Reformed tradition, of which we're a part. Individuals, including church pastors, don't have to tailor their religious views to fit a party line (in theory, anyway; in practice, this isn't quite so clear-cut). My pastor, for instance, is pro-gay marriage and a religious pluralist. I don't know his stance on Israel and divestment.]

The article mentions that PCUSA has refused to remove funding for Christian groups attempting to proselytize to Jews. This, to me, sounds like the work of PCUSA's conservative wing. As for antisemitism... I think antisemitism can be found in both liberal and conservative camps: the liberal antisemitism connected to the larger leftist denial of anything good emanating from Israel (as if Israel, instead of being a complex entity, were merely identical with/reducible to its Palestinian policy), and the conservative antisemitism that views Jews as potential converts to Christianity. The GA vote could very well have been a coalition of liberals and conservatives working toward the same goal, but for different reasons.

It's sadly obvious that my church has forgotten that Israel is the only bastion of vibrant democracy in the Middle East today, and that as such, it's eminently deserving of our aid, support, and defense. Palestine continues to fall into a dysfunctional hell largely of its own making; I have little sympathy for those people these days, and the wall is exactly what they deserve: a stupid landmark against which the terrorists can bash their stupid skulls until Palestine implodes. Israel is looking out for its own survival; I can't blame it for being vigilant and draconian.

The article notes the following by way of contrast to the PCUSA's action:

The Presbyterian resolutions came just as Jewish organizations were hailing the results of a historic international interfaith meeting in Buenos Aires last week, where Roman Catholic officials for the first time signed on to a document equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

I have to agree with the Catholics on this one. If you put Israel's current struggle in the larger context of history, you see the continued persecution of an always-persecuted people (check out France these days). And if the Judaism that arose out of Israel is the true mother of Christianity, with "honor thy father and thy mother" being one of the most significant of the Ten Commandments, you have to ask yourself whether the PCUSA's action is any way for a son to treat his mother.

Regarding the three great issues for my church, then: readers of this blog know I skew leftward on the question of gay marriage and ordination, that I'm a religious pluralist (a designation that can't be styled as "liberal" or "conservative" because, as readers of my essays on religious pluralism know, both liberals and conservatives can be pluralists), and that I skew rightward when it comes to foreign policy and the question of Israel. In all three matters, I stand against the mainstream opinions of my church.

UPDATE: Dr. Vallicella, in a post on universal quantifiers, notes that the claim that Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle East" is factually wrong: Turkey is also a democracy, and also in the Middle East (though, strangely, I tend to think of it as European). I can only hope that my modifier "vibrant" will be charitably interpreted in such a way as to make it clear that Israel's democracy is, on the whole, the most robust in the Middle East in terms of the personal freedoms it provides and protects. Turkish democracy presents certain problems, from military and religious influence over the government to Islam's role in Turkish society in general (despite the avowed secularism).


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