June 23, 2021

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What the Presbyterians Lost (Divest This!)

Well it’s another even-numbered year, which means the Presbyterian Church in the USA (or PCUSA) got together for their bi-annual conclave (called a General Assembly) to (1) condemn Israel while ignoring virtually all other suffering in the Middle East; and (2) put a brave face their latest membership decline as their denomination continues towards oblivion.

Throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, I was somewhat obsessed with the ups and downs of the Presbyterians, documenting preparations for each national conference as divestment came onto the agenda even-numbered year after even-numbered year.

The saga began in 2004 when the organization first passed a divestment measure, which was rescinded in 2006 after the church came under attack by both Jewish groups and their own members who were appalled over what was being said and done in their name.

But, as BDS-watchers know all too well, once an organization makes any move towards boycott or divestment, the boycotters have already decided the group belongs to them and exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to pass resolutions encapsulating their propaganda directed at the Jewish state.

And so, despite being rejected by the membership, BDS came back onto the organizations agenda in 2008, 2010 and 2012, being voted down each time, despite efforts by church leadership to box members into having only one choice (their preferred one) of returning the church to its 2004 divestment position.

Now a normal political movement might have gotten the message by then, or might have seen all of the damage their endless campaigning was doing to the church in terms of wrecking internal harmony and destroying the church’s reputation within the wider American society.  But, as we all know, BDS is not in the normal business.  And so the campaign continued as more and members left PCUSA (either as individuals or as whole congregations which defected to other Presbyterian branches not so obsessed with politics), and as the reputation of the church for fairness and faithful witness also headed into a tailspin.

When divestment was passed in 2004, it was possible for PCUSA leaders to convince the public that this was the democratic vote that represented the will of the membership.  But after watching the corrupt leadership of the organization ally with BDS advocates to stack committees considering Middle East issues only with divestment supporters, remove anyone who could make trouble from positions of leadership, refuse members access to information and voices that contradict the BDS narrative, and insist that any “No” vote was just a postponement of an inevitable “Yes,” it became clear well before divestment was restored in 2014 that these votes demonstrated nothing but the lengths to which a degenerate organization would go to hand its reputation over to someone else.

When divestment was voted back in that year, the Jewish community decided enough was enough, refusing bad-faith calls to enter into interfaith dialog with a church dedicated to slapping Jews in the face every two years (all while claiming such slaps were given out of love and concern for their Jewish brethren). 

In the meantime, the steady decline of the church continued as PCUSA coupled passage of new anti-Israel calumnies at their bi-annual events with tracking losses of another 5% of its membership.  Issues of anti-Israel animus and collapse of the organization are actually linked.  For as members died or left the church in disgust, those that remained represented a higher concentration of Israel haters.  This was represented by a tendency we see in all organizations where the BDSers think they have the upper hand: overreach.  And so, with divestment in their back pocket, the church moved on to condemning Zionism and those that support the Jewish national movement, adding slurs like “Apartheid” to the mix once they realized there were no longer enough fair-minded members ready to stand in their way.

But as the Israel haters wallowed in their “victory” within PCUSA, no one seemed to notice that their pronouncements no longer made news, or even a ripple in the pubic consciousness.   Two decades ago, one could claim that a major religious organization making proclamations and condemnations represented moral statements informed by faith that should be taken seriously.  But seeing how sausage (in the form of the aforementioned corrupt votes) gets made at General Assemblies for more than 15 years, who could possibly see their statements as expressions of sincere love and faith, rather than the output of venal politics?

Given that the number of Presbyterians nationwide is about to fall below the number of Jews just in New York, it’s also not clear why we need to take what they say any more seriously than they listen to us.

When I was more directly involved with helping those fighting anti-Israel bigotry in the church, I was frequently accused of being an outsider with no real concern for PCUSA and its members, beyond what they were saying about Israel.  As I responded then (and continue to respond now): while it’s true I never would have come into PCUSA’s orbit had they not chosen to get into my face in such an aggressive manner, I’m perfectly comfortable that Israel will survive the slings and arrows of a hypocritical and dying organization.

But as someone who appreciates the important role Mainline Protestantism has played in American history, my fear is not for my own tribe but for what it means when this important pillar of national identity gets shattered with the pieces being dragged into the swamp, just so a bunch of anti-Israel bigots can claim to speak in someone else’s name.

We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.

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