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This summer the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed, among many other resolutions, four resolutions originating from different committees pertaining to Israel and/or relations between Presbyterians and Jews. In brief, these resolutions could easily be misperceived as anti-Israeli and/or anti-semitic. They were so taken by many and caused a great deal of pain and confusion among Christians and Jews. Press coverage in the Wall Street Journal and other publications exacerbated the problem as did the timing of the resolutions shortly before the Jewish holiday commemorating the destruction of the two temples of Jerusalem on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. This is a time to commemorate the many wrongs done to the Jewish people and it was natural that the General Assembly's resolutions were mentioned or even the subject of sermons in synagogues in our own neighborhood. When The Session of the Brick Presbyterian Church met for the first time afterthe summer it was determined to appoint a committee to study the resolutions and, if appropriate, prepare a response to propose to The Session for adoption. The Committee believed that clarification and partial respectful dissent were appropriate and proposed the following statement which was approved by the Session on October 20, 2004.
Historically, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has called for the use of divestments against other nations only in extremis. In recent history, only the unambiguous cases of South Africa and the Sudan have received that censure. We believe that the complexity of the Middle East conflict distinguishes it from the prior cases.
The General Assembly's call for a new dialogue between Presbyterians and Jews gives us hope. The Brick Presbyterian Church participates in and supports interfaith dialogue. We pray that more dialogue between faith communities will improve Jewish-Christian understanding and hasten an end to a conflict that has caused so much pain for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Therefore, The Brick Presbyterian Church hereby respectfully dissents from the divestiture vote and calls upon the General Assembly and responsible committees to:
These are our specific reactions to the votes of the General Assembly:
Action to Begin Phased, Selective Divestiture
We as a Church strongly support efforts to advance the peace process in the Middle East. We are deeply troubled and saddened by the pain experienced by persons of all faiths who yearn for peace yet have suffered from the conflict. As residents of New York City who lived through the September 11 attack on innocent people, we especially share the pain of victims of terror. As Christians, we are concerned about the plight of Palestinians who suffer the loss of life, homes and livelihood. We also are concerned that Christian communities are being squeezed out of their homeland by the conflict.
The action of the General Assembly, however well intended, undermines our balanced concern for all peoples in the Middle East. Its failure to expressly condemn terror does not represent the views of many Presbyterians and has caused misperceptions and pain in the Christian and Jewish communities. We are saddened that the proposed selective divestiture is now being cited as support for a broader divestiture from Israel. The divestiture action also has contributed to a misinterpretation of other actions of the General Assembly.
Commission to Study, Re-examine and Strengthen Jewish-Christian Relations and the Implications for New Church Development
Living in New York City, our lives are entwined with those of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the community. We share the General Assembly's 1987 affirmation that '...the reign of God is attested both by the continuing existence of the Jewish people and by the Church's proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.' We welcome the General Assembly's decision to commission a study to re-examine and strengthen the relationship between Jews and Christians, with particular attention to its implications for Presbyterian evangelism and new church development. While we do not support the regular liturgical use of Jewish sacred symbols in Christian worship, we recognize that local Presbyteries, and not the national General Assembly, start new churches. We further understand that purely as matter of deliberative practice and Church polity, the General Assembly chose, by a close vote of 260 to 233, not to prohibit funding of new Messianic church development efforts while the study is under way.
Call for Israel to End Construction of the "Separation Barrier"
In a separate action, the General Assembly instructed the Stated Clerk to make known its opposition to the construction of a separation barrier by the state of Israel and make known the desire of the Church that the United States make no monetary contribution to the cost of the barrier. We are concerned that in taking this action, the General Assembly did not expressly recognize Israel's legitimate right to defend itself against terror, including the possibility of erecting appropriate defenses. We understand that many are concerned that Israel's defensive effort may be out of proportion to the threat, especially as to the placement of the barrier. Indeed, members of our Church have witnessed first hand how Palestinians have suffered and have legitimate grievances due to the erection of a barrier cutting through and isolating their communities. But the categorical condemnation of the separation barrier and the failure to acknowledge Israel's right to self-defense have contributed to perceptions that Presbyterians have been one-sided on these issues. Therefore, the resolution needs to be reframed.
Declaration that Christian Zionism is Inconsistent with Reformed Theology
Christian Zionists believe that the present state of Israel maintains a divine right to the land given to Abraham and that the state of Israel will be the catalyst for the "end times," when Jewish people will be converted to Christianity or consigned to mass damnation in the fires of hell. It is evident that Christian Zionism is inconsistent with our Reformed theology. We are concerned, though, that the adoption of this declaration against Christian Zionism at the same time as the divestiture vote has led to the misperception that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) does not support Israel's existence within permanent, recognized and secure borders, when in fact the General Assembly has done so repeatedly and unequivocally over the years.
The Brick Presbyterian Church has a current membership of over one thousand four hundred and has been serving New York City since 1767. Its involvement on the national level of the denomination has been strong and supportive over its 237-year history. Three of its pastors have served as Moderator of the General Assembly, including the first General Assembly in 1789. The Brick Presbyterian Church also is one of the largest mission giving congregations in the Presbytery of New York City.
For additional information on these important issues, please visit the website of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
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