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Presbyterians concerned about Jewish Christian relations

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Presbyterians Disagree on Israel: A Statement from Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish Christian Relations

A large number of Presbyterians were distressed by the actions taken at the most recent meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). This sentiment is reflected in the close margins by which the relevant actions were passed. To read these actions without interpreting the votes is to miss an important part of the story.

The Presbyterian Church does not speak with a monolithic voice. Just as a variety of opinions about any one issue exists among Jews, this reality is also true with Presbyterians.

The decision to "examine and strengthen the relationship between Christians and Jews" and conduct a study of Messianic Judaism, but not at the same time forbid the funding by General Assembly agencies of any such new congregations, needs to be understood in the wider context of Presbyterian polity. Many of the votes cast against the recommendation to forbid funding for additional "messianic" congregations were about process, not concept.

The Presbyterian Church is a connectional system, not a hierarchical one. Many Presbyterians think the General Assembly has no right to tell lower bodies or judicatories what projects they may initiate or support. Thus, this vote can be understood as an affirmation of local control, rather than as a mandate for the church to evangelize Jews by developing more Messianic congregations.

This action must also be understood in the context of past and still-authoritative statements made by the Presbyterian Church: that God has a primary, vital and continuing covenant with the Jewish people, and that Christians have been grafted onto this original covenant. We find it irresponsible that the reports of the denomination's action did not reference earlier General Assembly statements. Therefore, it is easy to understand the public outcry and sense of betrayal within the Jewish community.

We are distressed that the General Assembly's statement this year on Israel lacked balance and failed to condemn the terrorism to which the people of Israel have been subjected. Violence and injustice are not one-sided problems and should not be portrayed as such: there are victims of war among Israelis as well as among Palestinians. We encourage a peace process in the Middle East that holds all parties accountable BOTH for past acts of violence and for work toward reconciliation and peaceful resolution. We affirm the right of both peoples to co-exist, and we support a two-state solution to the conflict.

We categorically denounce any equation between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and apartheid. Israel is a multi-racial state. There are persons from over 100 different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds living in Israel. Over one millions Arabs are citizens of Israel, and Arabic is one of the state's two official languages. The barrier is designed to combat terrorism--nothing more, nothing less. Allegations of Israeli apartheid serve to de-legitimize the Jewish state and the Zionist movement, which is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

We are deeply distressed by any suggestion that divestment policies of the church relating to Israel should uniquely target that country in ways that do not apply to every other country, including Palestine. We must be careful not to attack the economic life of the Israeli people, or to undermine Jewish survival in any way. We call upon Presbyterians to be very careful in balancing consistency in our divestment policies with the economic needs of Israel.

Consideration of selective divestment from corporations reflects policies that the Presbyterian Church has long applied to American investments, both domestic and foreign. The PC(USA) has opposed investing church funds, for example, in the manufacture and purchase of military equipment, and in providing other direct support for ethically questionable projects of our own or of any foreign government. We would continue to invest, on the other hand, in a corporation that built hospitals in Israel or the West Bank.

In these sensitive and difficult times, we must be careful to understand the Presbyterian Church's criticism of certain policies of the present Israeli government in light of the denomination's consistent and solid support for the state of Israel's right to exist within secure and agreed-upon borders.

Rev. Dr. Donald W. Shriver
Rev. Dr. William Harter

for PCJCR (Presbyterians Concerned For Jewish Christian Relations)


The Rev. Dr. Donald W. Shriver
(518) 392-2511

The Rev. Dr. William Harter
(717) 264-5715

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