The PCUSA’s Divestment Dilemma

The Presbyterian Church USA recently approved an initiative to divest stock holdings in companies allegedly profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.[1]

This decision, as well as others that were made at the 221st General Assembly held last week in Detroit,[2] demands a response from followers of Jesus and especially from Messianic Jews like myself – Jewish people who believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah for all.

However, one needs to look at the divestment vote of the PCUSA holistically. When this is viewed as one decision among many, it is easier to see what is at the heart of this vote.

Reasons for the PCUSA’s Divestment

Let’s start with some good points. The 310 delegates who voted in favor (303 voted against) of the PCUSA divesting their stock holdings in three companies – Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar – probably did so with noble intentions.

Most of the delegates probably believed this symbolic gesture; removing about 21 million dollars in invested funds might cause Israel to reconsider its approach to the current conflict.

The PCUSA delegates who voted for the divestment measures believed their vote is an expression of Christian ethics, affirming the dignity of all humanity created in the image of God, and that true Christians are called to support the oppressed and withstand the oppressors. The assumption of course is that Israelis are genuinely oppressing Palestinians – an assumption that may be heartfelt, but naïve.

I would also assume that those who voted for divestment did so out of a sincere heart of love and compassion for Palestinians whom they believe are victims of Israeli aggression. The PCUSA also affirmed Israel’s right to exist. However, this is especially challenging today because of the decision by the Palestinian Authority to unite with Hamas, who persistently deny Israeli’s right to exist. Unfortunately, the PCUSA statement ignored the linkage between the Palestinian Authority and this known terrorist group.

I speak in many PCUSA churches, and believe that there are many sincere and devoted believers among the 1.8 million members of this great historic church body. However, I question whether or not the pro-Israel PCUSA voice is being heard, as so many have simply given up and left the denomination.

Flaws in the Rationale for Divestment

Let me suggest a few reasons why the PCUSA’s decision to divest is faulty.

First of all, the delegates have chosen to believe the Palestinian narrative of the conflict and therefore – despite the PCUSA’s claim that they have not sided with either Israel or the Palestinians – they have. The PCUSA has decided to accept the charges against Israel by the Palestinian side and have acted upon them. This includes measures taken by Israel in Gaza and hotbed areas of the West Bank to prevent further acts of terrorism. The profound role of terrorism has not even been addressed in the PCUSA decision to divest.

The PCUSA has also “paraded” a few left-wing Israeli peace activists to demonstrate that there are Jewish Israelis who agree with their position. According to the Times article,

Of more influence was the presence at the church’s convention all week of Jewish activists, many of them young, in black T-shirts with the slogan “Another Jew Supporting Divestment.” Many of them were with Jewish Voice for Peace, a small but growing organization that promotes divestment and works with Palestinian and Christian groups on the left.[3]

This effort to show Jewish support is a tactic practiced by the Palestinian media machine and has now been evidently adopted the PCUSA as well. Israel is a free country and dissent may freely be expressed there, as in the United States. The PCUSA should have asked an Israeli government official to speak, or at least had had someone representing the mainstream views of average Israelis. The event must be seen as heavily orchestrated towards persuading delegates to pass the divestment measures.

I just returned from Israel, where Palestinian spokespersons for Hamas and other similar groups reported that the three Israeli boys who have recently disappeared were not kidnapped, but are merely missing – though the evidence is virtually decisive that they were kidnapped and may have already been killed. The Palestinian media machine claims that the Israelis are using this as an excuse to “crack down on” the Palestinians.

Most PCUSA delegates have been influenced by a booklet produced by the anti-Israel lobby of the PCUSA entitled “Zionism Unsettled,” which perpetuates the most radical political viewpoints of the Palestinian media machine.[4] This document has been disavowed by many within the PCUSA as much too one-sided, yet it has been the major influence and provided the essential political perspective for the divestment decision.

Ultimately, one of the main reasons the vote passed at this General Assembly, despite failing to be approved in the past, is because many of those who supported Israel have already left the denomination because of a variety of issues.

The PCUSA’s General Departure from Scripture

Other issues were also affirmed at this General Assembly, besides divestment from the three companies. For example, the New York Times reported the following:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted at its General Assembly on Thursday to change its constitution’s definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people,” and to allow its ministers to perform same-sex marriages where it is legal.

The vote giving discretion to ministers to marry gay couples takes effect on Sunday, at the close of the General Assembly.[5]

This issue has been more schismatic for the average PCUSA congregation than the divestment issue, but together these decisions speak to a trend. Viewing these decisions by the PCUSA General Assembly as aspects of one agenda will sober evangelicals who may have unwittingly embraced the divestment decision without understanding the underlying values moving the PCUSA leadership in this direction.

The PCUSA seems to be leaving its biblical moorings. Instead of allowing Holy Scripture to judge the trends and philosophies of our day, the opposite is happening – today’s trends and values are beginning to determine the ethical, moral and political decisions of the church.

Dangerous Results of the PCUSA’s Decision

As a Messianic Jew, I am also very concerned with the decisions of the PCUSA. I am very disturbed with the lack of understanding or commitment to the literal promises of God in the Old Testament to the Jewish people. In fact, a literal interpretation of the Old Testament would have caused the PCUSA to make a different decision on the issue of gay marriage as well.

Disregarding a more literal view of the Old Testament can easily lead God’s people along the path of moral relativity and spiritual decline, as when we spiritualize God’s commandments, we become rudderless boats navigating the turbulent rivers of discipleship in today’s world.

I grieve over the increment general turn of the PCUSA from a heartfelt concern for the spiritual welfare of the Jewish people to the current loss of evangelistic zeal for Jewish people. In fact, in the first half of the 20th century, the Presbyterians – which then included a number of more conservative groups that have since split from the larger body – were active in Jewish missions and believed that reaching Jewish people for Jesus was important. The Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church at the time supported dozens of workers among the Jewish people and Neighborhood Houses that were funded as Centers for Jewish outreach.

The PCUSA of today do not seem to care how these politically-driven decisions might impact the eternal fate of Jewish people. But perhaps the leaders of the PCUSA have stopped caring about this a long time ago?

The PCUSA must understand that even if a few liberal Rabbis or Jewish community leaders support their decision, the vast majority of Jewish people – my people – will view their divestment decision as one of a long list of Christian acts against the Jewish people. It makes me heartsick to see this happen again, as it will decrease the willingness of Jewish people to listen to the Gospel. Why should my people be interested in a faith that has made a politically-driven decision against the Jewish homeland?

I will have a lot of explaining to do. Dear PCUSA leaders, you could have handled this better!


Notes:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/us/presbyterians-debating-israeli-occupation-vote-to-divest-holdings.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

[2] http://www.religionnews.com/2014/06/20/prebyteriansdivestment/

[3] IBID

[4] http://store.pcusa.org/2646614001

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/us/presbyterians-vote-to-change-definition-of-marriage-to-two-people.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

25 Comments

Filed under Anti-Semitism, Boycotts against Israel, Christ at the CheckPoint, Israel, Judaism, Middle East

25 responses to “The PCUSA’s Divestment Dilemma

  1. Gene Crouch

    Mitch, you left out the theological issue that the Covenant position holds that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. I know it is a subject better left untouched if there is to be a continued contact with Covenant groups but it is a huge issue – probably the most significant alongside the leaving of Biblical moorings!

    We appreciate your ministry Brother and am grateful to have been in class with you. I pray for you.

    Warmly, Gene Crouch

    • Matthew Richardson

      Gene, I appreciate bringing the issue. It is important. A couple of points: Although inheritors of Covenant theology, the PC(USA) is virtually a century away from serious Covenant thought. You can attribute this current decision to left wing political narratives, mixed in with love for Palestinian Christians. I understand the roots of this one sided approach but do not agree with it. There are legitimate concerns for treatment of Palestinians, and there are legitimate concerns about creating a terrorist base for people who desire to sweep Israel away.

      And so, an interesting dilemma for progressives. Is Israel allowed respect when it is strong? Or is the Jewish state only accorded mercy and care when the Jewish people are being swept away by a distinctly European menace?

      Also, it is not true that Covenant theology holds that the Church has replaced Israel. Covenant theology neither separates Israel from the Church nor replaces Israel with the Church. God has a special covenantal relationship with Israel. Yes, it does grieve God when Jesus is not recognized as Messiah in either Jew or Gentile congregations. But God has not removed his Covenant simply because the whole of a people have not come to Christ.

  2. Henk Bloemhard

    Why do the heathen rage and the people plot a vain thing? He who sits in heaven shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath and distress them in His deep displeasure. (Psalm 2:1,4,5)

    The PSUSA just does not know (yet) that these verses refer to THEM!

    • Nancy

      Yes, absolutely correct !!!

    • peter n kimani

      The PCUSA are already in spiritual confusion the time they allowed the SIN spirit of sodom to guide them in choosing gay people to mislead their pulpit [Psalm 2;1,4,5] as quoted spoke prophetically to them or any other people or person who thinks God has changed His good plan through his choosen people Israel, our God is a covenant keeping God and all that he has said about jews will be accomplished to the last dot.
      Peter [Boston]

  3. jkraskowski

    Dr, it is an act against the Jewish people. I left the PCUSA several years ago as I noted the trends towards having secular views define spiritual ones in this church. Most Christians understand that there is a new covenant with humans and having or establishing an Israel is not part of the convenant. So even though many Christian’s might agree with Israel’s right to exist, they certainly have conflicts as to whether they are required, spiritually and religiously, to support its existance. Hope that made sense.

  4. Yosef

    Yosef
    June 23, 2014 at 10:50 AM CDT

    It should come as no surprise to those who believe in the literal perfect word of God, but this happening is yet another event showing that Satan is winning another battle.

    A church, historically evidenced in those formed by St. Paul, is one who obeys God’s words, not one of the many that practice their own interpretation instead of the literal meaning of Our Creator. Erosion of literal interpretation is one of Satan’s insidious acts to destroy His Church and His people.

    Without the love of God coupled with a desire to know Him more by study and acting by the Holy Spirit, civilization will fail in its obligation to Our Creator’s 613 commandments for His people – Jew and Gentile.

    I see no individual problem as being one to be easily fixed without a major change in the hearts of those that say they believe God, not merely in Him. In addition, there is the persistent question of “Are you in this world OR are you of it”.

    I realize that I am making broad statements. Our foundation needs to be changed in order to resolve the problems that we have.

  5. I think it is within bounds to ask if the divestment vote, and others dealing with the Israel and Judiac questions, were public or by secret ballot. It would be helpful for the names of delegates and their votes to be public, because many if not most PCUSA congregations are in multi-ethnic metropolitan areas. So, the delegates almost certainly have Jewish friends, neighbors, customers and business partners. Those people need to know the true feelings of their PCUSA neighbors for the sake of honesty, not to mention safety and avoidance of possible hostility in their communities.

  6. The covenantal position holds that the Church has become the “new Israel,” spiritually speaking; even so, because the physical nation of Israel is a “picture” of the spiritual Israel just as marriage between a physical man and woman is a “picture” of Christ and His Church, it behooves even the staunchest covenantalist to be a supporter of Israel.

  7. Nancy

    Isaiah 14:1 Jeremiah 11:5 Ezekiel 34:11-13 Hosea 3:4-5 Amos 9:14-15
    Obadiah 1:17 Zephaniah 3:19-20 Zechariah 8:7-8 Romans 11:26-27
    2 Samuel 5:1-5 Ezekiel 34:23 Ezekiel 37:12-14 God is a covenant-
    keeping God. ALL the promises He made to Israel, He will fulfill.
    Read these verses slow and take them in. We must follow the Bible,
    and not churches who have left His Holy Word……to follow the world.
    His sheep will hear His voice and they WILL follow HIM ! Remember
    Satan hates what God loves and God LOVES ISRAEL and the Jewish people. Nancy

  8. Dean M.

    In the same convention, the PCUSA endorsed homosexual marriage.

    http://www.bpnews.net/42832/pcusa-endorses-gay-marriage

    The way to look at this “holistically” Dr. Mitch, is that Liberalism has replaced the Bible in this church as well as in Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism. This is explained in Norman Podhoretz’s book, WHY ARE JEWS LIBERALS. The Torah of Liberalism has replaced the Torah of Moses. Then there is David Horowitz’s book, UNHOLY ALLIANCE: RADICAL ISLAM & THE AMERICAN LEFT. Many Conservative Presbyterians have left the PCUSA because it has departed from the Bible to embrace Leftist “Social Justice” ideologies. (Same reason I left first Reform Judaism and then Conservative Judaism. Israel, itself, is in a dangerous place for allowing Gay Pride parades down the streets of the Holy City.) Several large Presbyterian congregations near my home town of Sacramento, have separated from the PCUSA over that organizations support of changing the definition of marriage. So it is no surprise that with the unholy alliance of the Left with Radical Islam, the Leftist orientation of the majority of the PCUSA supports the Palestinians over Israel.

  9. Greg Peele

    From the perspective of a Clerk of Session in the PC(USA) like me, these votes are extremely disheartening. These are NOT things that the average congregation is focused on, indeed the first I heard of it was the news reports. There is a huge disconnect between the PC(USA) staff/leadership and the general membership, and most of us are too focused on local church business (and survival) to handle these denominational issues.

  10. Tim kraemer

    The PCUSA is one of the more rapidly declining denominations anyway.

  11. Gene

    There is a move on the part of some PCUSA Church to move out of the denomination. A good friend of our has recently joined the staff of a former local Presbyterian church that now is simply Evangelical because they have left. The pastor lost his ordination after 40 with the denomination and is being re-ordained.

  12. lindaW

    isn’t this a very familiar, to be expected natural development of thought from yet another group of people who value life on earth higher than the afterlife?(fundamental) Christians have been sealed with God’s Holy Spirit to direct and help us in all things SO THAT we may be guided and pointed continually to God our Maker who promises us eternal after earth life with Him! those who put themselves, or a social, economic, religious or political stance based on anything other than The Word of God are creating for themselves a graven image for the world to see, embrace, and glorify. “may the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send you to us. whether it is pleasant or unpleasant we will listen to the voice of The Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God”. (Jeremiah 42:4-6)
    praying for hearts of His people to be turned to see Him, and strengthened to act in accordance with His whole message.

  13. Dan Elifson

    I know that many Reformed Covenant theologians today are amillenial, But Dr. Glaser knows well that there were many historic Covenant theolgians like Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Andrew and Horatius Bonar who loved Jewish evangelism and respected Israel’s place in history. In fact, many believe in Israel’s future becasue they are Covenant theogians.

  14. Peter Huddy

    Mitch — A very cogent, balanced, patient and articulate response to the NY Times article. Since Karen and I just recently watched the 2012 prophecy conference at Biola U. dvd, I am more Scripturally knowledgeable about the poor hermeneutics in “replacement theology” and how Y-HW-H, by His Spirit, is moving towards the return of Melekh Yeshua! Surely I can see how the PCUSA vote makes Messianic Jewish evangelism more of a challenge, but be encouraged, my brother, that Romans 8:28 is none the less true in THIS situation for Y-HW-H Sabbaoth, especially in light of Scriptures such as Isa 14:26-27 and Daniel 4:35. Pete Huddy (Neptune City, NJ)

  15. Frank C.

    Having once been a member of the PC(USA) or its predecessors for 47 years before I renounced the denomination in 2004, and having observed its decisions and actions ever since, I must tell you that the PC(USA) is Presbyterian IN NAME ONLY! The PC(USA) no longer follows Presbyterian polity or reformed theology; the PC(USA) demonstrates and promotes apostasy and heresy. The leadership of the PC(USA) have collectively sold themselves to Satan. Do not be concerned with them; their judgment will come.
    Frank C.

  16. Patricia Myers

    I am not a Presbyterian, but I must say that I am very disappointed that a church founded on Biblical principles has fallen so far away as to champion the cause of Satan and ignore God’s laws and turn against the Apple of God’s eye, Israel,
    for filthy lucre. I know because the Bible says so, that they are now cursed and not blessed. They will have a bitter end if they don’t repent.

  17. Thank you Mitch for addressing this excruciating issue with the PC(USA). We continue to stand strong on a biblical foundation that will never be replaced. And we continue the fight against anti-Semitism.

  18. Mattole

    Mitch, My husband and I as of june 25, 2014 have withdrawn our membership from PCUSA after 63 years apiece as members. We can no longer justify remaining in support of our ever smaller congregation despite what General Assembly does. I have always had a heart for Israel and the Jewish people; now my heart weeps.

  19. Kevin

    It’s an amazing to see how people believe that money can change the
    heart. Money only changes the mind not the heart. The PCUSA is using
    money to try and change the heart of those who continue to fight Israel, but
    it won’t work.

    This attempt to try and make peace through money is one of the worlds
    most failed polices and repeated mistakes demonstrated throughout
    history. The heart hold all that is enduring in us to and reveals who we are.
    But God knows us all. No man can hide from God.

    It is the word of God that can change the heart.

    Hebrews 4:12
    For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any
    two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit,
    and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and
    intents of the heart.

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