A unique new Presbyterian affinity group - the Committee to End Divestment Now - has coalesced in early 2006 around the belief that a mistake made in 2004 by the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) needs to be corrected. That mistake involves resolutions about the Middle East, according to the committee website: www.enddivestment.org.
The committee states: "We believe that repeal of the resolution calling for 'a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel' is essential to the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to the future of Presbyterian-Jewish interfaith relations." That repeal could occur at the 217th General Assembly this June.
The Committee to End Divestment Now (CEDN) is not a typical Presbyterian affinity group. Such groups normally arise within a conservative or a liberal theological framework. CEDN leaders, however, have emerged from both sides of the aisle to join forces against intemperate and ill-thought-through resolutions from the 2004 General Assembly. Diverse Presbyterians who will probably cast votes on opposite sides on other issues at General Assembly are working together through CEDN to balance the one-sided decisions on Israel made two years ago.
Another factor unique to CEDN is its limited scope and duration. It doesn't plan to continue once General Assembly concludes. On its website (www.enddivestment.org), CEDN lists three goals:
1) To educate Presbyterians about what took place at the 216th General Assembly (2004), specifically the passage of the resolution calling for actions leading up to divestment of church stock in multinational companies doing business with Israel and the resolution calling for immediate and unconditional removal of the security barrier constructed by the Israelis as a defense against Palestinian suicide bombers and snipers;
"When these three important steps have been taken," the committee states, "we expect to dissolve in July 2006."
2) To educate those commissioners who will be attending the 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, AL, in June 2006 about the harm caused by these resolutions; and
3) To encourage deliberation over what just and fair actions the church can take in place of the existing resolutions that will help promote peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
An enormous and prolonged eruption of vigorous protest - both within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and by secular and Jewish commentators and organizations - has sparked great interest in efforts to end the divestment effort and balance out the assignment of blame for the tragic conditions in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. As a result, a large number of presbyteries have overtured the General Assembly to end the divestment process, suspend it, or balance it, and to rethink the Presbyterian Church's one-sided advocacy against the security fence.
Thus, there appears to be strong impetus for the General Assembly to amend its positions. CEDN is determined to help General Assembly commissioners operate on a more informed and balanced playing field at General Assembly this June.
A broadly representative board of directors leads CEDN, including:
• George F. (Pete) Bloss III, a trial attorney who is elder and clerk of Session of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, and also serves as a board member of Medical Benevolence Foundation and as vice president of the Mississippi Coast Interfaith Disaster Task Force.
CEDN believes strongly that the Israel-related resolutions approved by General Assembly in 2004 "have shattered our interfaith relations with our Jewish friends." What's more, they say, "These resolutions have undone a half-century of positive efforts to improve interfaith relations, following our denomination's less-than-impressive response to the Holocaust. Isolating Israel for punitive action, while not condemning terror-sponsoring states, means that Israel has been unjustly targeted."
• The Reverend Doctor Mark Brewer, pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, who also has a radio ministry and is an author;
• Gary Green, a Presbyterian elder from Chandler, Arizona, who serves on the Steering Committee of Presbyterian Action for Faith and Freedom, a committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, based in Washington, D.C.;
• The Reverend Doctor Bill Harter, pastor of Presbyterian Church of Falling Spring, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, whose longtime interest in Middle East matters is reflected in his serving as founder and co-convener of Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish and Christian Relations;
• Bill Jaeger, Jr., an attorney, civic leader, businessman, director of the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley, and member of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood, Ketchum, Idaho;
• Viola Larson, an elder and member at Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, California, a scholar and commentator, and a writer and board member for the Presbyterian renewal group Voices of Orthodox Women; and
• Jim Roberts, a trial lawyer and professional mediator with particular interest in international relations, and a Presbyterian church member from San Diego, California.
"We believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is at heart a much more fair and wise organization than these 2004 resolutions would indicate," states CEDN board member Jim Roberts. "So much has happened in the Middle East even since June 2004‹Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and the election of the terrorist organization Hamas to head the Palestinian government, for instance‹that the time is ripe for Presbyterians to revisit the issues at this next General Assembly."
"This time," Roberts reasons, "it would only be fair for there to be a broadly balanced consideration that includes viewpoints never allowed to be heard in 2004. We want to help bring those balancing viewpoints to the table so that commissioners can make a prayerful and informed decision."
The CEDN website traces the history of the divestment debacle. The committee has already received good feedback on the site, including one user who raved, "It's a one-stop shopping center for anyone with an interest in the subject. All the resources are there in one place, meticulously documented. You can bring up original documents with just a click of your mouse."
While the CEDN website does document substantial problems with the resolutions currently in place, the methods utilized to push them through General Assembly in 2004, and the evolving spin put on the actions by Presbyterian leaders, it also offers hope. "We are confident that interfaith relations can be fully restored," the site says, "if the church acts promptly to repeal these resolutions at the 217th General Assembly in June 2006."
The Committee to End Divestment Now hopes to bring insight and statesmanship back into the process. "Any peacemaking role we as a church may assume in the face of the complexities of the Middle East conflict must reflect and be tested against authentic grassroots congregational convictions," the site contends. "In a like fashion, our role must be fashioned in humility and fairness, in close consultation with authentic representatives of mainstream thinking in both the Jewish/Israeli and the Palestinian communities. This task yet remains to be accomplished properly."
CEDN has named a Coordinator for its day-to-day operations: JoAnn Magnuson, of Burnsville, Minnesota. JoAnn brings great background into this task, having been involved in Jewish-Christian relations for over twenty-five years. She served as a long-time member of the Jewish-Christian dialogue program at the Minnesota Council of Churches and has worked on many projects to bring interfaith understanding to churches in Minnesota. JoAnn can be reached by phone at (800) 671-9905 and by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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For further information, contact Jim Roberts at (619) 239-8494 or JoAnn Magnuson: (800) 671-9905, email@example.com, P.O. Box 1493, Burnsville, MN 55337