How Christian Values Can Undermine Anti-Israel Bias in the Presbyterian Church

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am Hashem. Leviticus 19:18 (The Israel Bible™)

Presbyterian Church USA is not historically a friend of Israel. In 2016, the Church called on Israel to leave the disputed territories and passed a series of resolutions at its general assembly in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Again, at its General Assembly in St. Louis Missouri from June 16-23 this year, the Middle East committee considered 13 anti-Israel resolutions that called for boycotts. No resolutions condemned the Palestinian Authority for harming Israelis and Palestinians alike and the resolution condemning Hamas for inciting violence was voted down.

“Unfortunately, institutional bias continues to undermine PCUSA’s credibility as an agent of peacemaking and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians,” said StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein.

What the church needs, Dr. Michael Gizzi told Breaking Israel News, is a return to the Christian value of loving your neighbor. Gizzi is an elder in the Presbyterian Church and member of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace.

In his recent Times of Israel article, Gizzi critiqued the Presbyterian Church for prioritizing its “ideological fixation” over protecting a speaker at the conference who received death threats.

He wrote, “I am left with the belief that there is something rotten in the church’s institutional leadership, Gizzi maintained, adding, “there certainly isn’t anything that even closely resembles Christian values in what transpired. For a church that proudly proclaims that it acts decently and in order, something is seriously out of whack. The Church’s response was not only inadequate, it was disgusting.”

“Presbyterians pride themselves on being an intellectual church in which things are done ‘decently and in order.’ Yet, when all of the information coming from the denomination is slanted, it is far from that,” he said.

“The PCUSA General Assembly is always a frustrating experience,” Gizzi maintained, positing, “when a resolution on reconciliation has 25 commissioners on a committee of 54 members vote NO, that raises a profound question for me – how can Christians be opposed to reconciliation?”

“In many ways, many of the commissioners were being played by the Church’s resource people, who are whole-heartedly dedicated to BDS. As a result, even commissioners of goodwill are led to believe that the end result of occupation outweighs promoting reconciliation,” he explained to Breaking Israel News.

Similarly, StandWithUs noted, “Anti-Israel activists were allowed to be official “resource people” who were seen as reliable sources by voting delegates. This imbalance was reinforced by pressure from anti-Israel extremist groups – namely US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, which was recently exposed for having financial ties to terrorist groups, and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), which has a long record of racism. In fact, the AMP representative who testified at the GA has repeatedly spread anti-Semitism on social media.”

“The demonization of Israelis and the disregard for most Jewish groups except the few extremists ones (like Jewish Voice for Peace) that the BDS proponents favor seems to seriously counter the very idea of love your neighbor. One can seek justice without demonizing an entire people.”  

Gizzi maintained that a focus on reconciliation between all parties in the conflict will be effective in countering BDS and will represent a return to the Christian value of ‘loving thy neighbor’ to the GA: “If we focus on people-to-people endeavors, it will resonate with the people of goodwill in the pews, who often have very different views,” he said.

Interfaith work, he added, is “absolutely essential,” claiming that if  “we can see beyond the other and glimpse a trace of the divine in those who are different, we will begin to find ways to solve the problem by not demonizing anyone, and acknowledging that all sides have valid perspectives.”

PCUSA has experienced a dramatic decrease in membership, losing nearly 70,000 members in 2017 and over 1 million since 2000. According to Gizzi, the loss of more conservative congregations has had an impact on Israel decisions. “The PCUSA has moved increasingly to the left in its policy-making, and over time this has resulted in many moderate and conservative congregations leaving the denomination.”

He recognized that a lot of the membership loss is due to a decline in institutional religion among young people and guessed, “Perhaps denomination leaders would argue that young people want social justice to be front, and will be attracted to a church that does that.”

But, he said, “I do find it ironic that the church puts more and more of its policy efforts into foreign policy rather than rejuvenation.”

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