A survey of civic organizations that have embraced the BDS agenda would show a number of groups (possibly a majority) in a state of institutional collapse. Which surfaces the question of whether dying organizations tend to embrace BDS on their way to oblivion vs. the embrace of the BDS being the cause (vs. the symptom) of decay.
An example I’ve covered ad nauseam for the “dying institutions embrace BDS” argument is the US Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) which voted in BDS in 2004, only to overturn that vote in 2006 with subsequent votes in 2008, 2010 and 2012 also ratifying lack of interest for returning to the BDS fold.
Like the University of Michigan – now about to enjoy its tenth referendum on boycotting Israel – the Presbyterian Church was never going to be left alone by the Israel haters until they finally voted as they were told (which they finally did in 2014 when they reinstated their BDS credentials).
Those who understood church politics well enough to see past the BDS issue understood that boycott votes that took place year after year after year were a symptom of a much deeper problem within the church having nothing to do with Israel or the Middle East. For the Presbyterian Church, like all Mainstream Protestant denominations in the US, has seen membership decline by 50% over the last several decades and has struggled to stay relevant in a world where people are not interested in listening to what the church has to say, much less joining a dying institution.
This collapse of membership can be traced to changes in the wider culture, notably secularization and the rise of popular Evangelical Christianity. Both of these factors created competition for the Mainline Protestant denominations (which include Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans as well as different branches of Presbyterianism) who tried to deal with these challenges through a logical approach that only accelerated their decline.
Why, thought the Mainliners decades ago when these trends were becoming apparent, should we be making it easy for people to join Evangelical churches or abandon church affiliation altogether by making it harder to understand, much less embrace, the creed of one Protestant sect over another? Why, in other words, should subtle and difficult-to-understand doctrinal difference between Methodist and Presbyterian (for example) become a barrier for someone to join either church?
And so the Mainline churches joined together in ecumenical communion in which these differences in doctrine were played down in order to stress what united vs. what separated one Mainline institution from another.
Perfectly reasonable, most of us would agree even today. But as it turned out de-emphasizing what made it unique to be a Presbyterian made it difficult to explain what unique value one would get out of becoming one. And having put aside religious disputes to focus on areas of agreement, what most churches found agreement on was secular politics.
This swing towards politics had two unintended consequences.
First, it helped to accelerate the decline of every church participating in this strategy. For, as it turned out, if all the church was offering were ways to participate in social justice causes, then it was competing with a host of secular organizations, many of them offering more direct and effective opportunities to fight for those same causes. More importantly for readers of this site, the focus on politics made these organizations vulnerable to those who wanted to leverage church reputation for their own political ends.
And this is the true cause of how BDS became Presbyterian dogma, replacing older dustier traditions outlined in the church’s Book of Order, as the source of militant, decades-long debate. It was during the course of this transition that church leaders rose to their positions fully committed to the anti-Israel cause – regardless of what harm it might do to the church they purported to lead.
And thus the corruption that led to countless BDS votes turned an organization that once served as backbone to US cultural life into nursing home for aging members and clergy, led by officials more interested in overseeing the decline of a politically homogenous institution than building up a church that might stray from now doctrinal anti-Israel animus.
So here we have an example of how a dying religious institution tried to redefine itself as a secular political one, only to see its collapse accelerate as outsiders with no interest in the church scavenged the remains in hope of giving their BDS agenda unearned weight. One can see secular examples of similar “Walking Dead” institutions in groups like the Lawyer’s Guild.
With PCUSA as the exemplar of the “dying institutions tend to embrace BDS” hypothesis, we will next turn to an example where the embrace of Israel hatred preceded organization disintegration: The Quakers.
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