Friday, August 13, 2010

The ACSWP:their summary of GA actions on the Middle East: is it true?

I had little time to spend in committee 14, the committee dealing with the Presbyterian Middle East Study Report. Instead I was in the Theological Issues committee as an Advocate for Sacramento’s overture. But I hurried to visit committee 14 because I was concerned about the faulty Middle East Study Report.

Another reason I hurried was because I knew my friend Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was there. Although he has been a friend for a long time I had never met him in person. I arrived just in time to listen to the debate before the committee voted to remove the infamous 72 page appendix “A plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis” from the report. And I did meet the Rabbi. Two happy events.

There were many other changes made to the report. A great deal of the changes came about because of a friend, a commissioner, who worked tirelessly to help the committee reshape the controversial document into one that although it would not totally satisfy anyone would nonetheless be acceptable to almost everyone. The commissioner poured hours into the 172 page report to guide the committee in their reshaping. I saw her suggestions when past Moderator Susan Andrews handed them to me and then loaned me her glasses, since in my hurry I had forgotten mine.

So when I read the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s summary of the report in their on-line subscription newsletter, Salt & Light, I was stunned.

So what does the author of the summary say about the Presbyterian Middle East Study Report?

“The Middle East Report was approved virtually unchanged, with two appendices removed,[1] despite massive and frequently personal pressure from persons seeking to defend virtually all Israeli policies from moral criticism. The Report’s strongest recommendation, that U.S. aid to Israel’s very conservative government be stopped as long as the settlements are not stopped, showed widespread understanding that the two-state solution is virtually impossible and the Christian population virtually gone, primarily due to Israel’s 47 year military occupation. Divestment was put off further into the future, but had not been recommended by either the Middle East Study Committee or the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI).”

The summary is a lie. And to help the lie along, the author does not link to the study and its changes as he/she did on other issues in this summary. Here is the link to the study with the changes, Breaking Down the Walls.

When first opening this document the reader immediately finds a change: the insertion of the words, “the reaffirmation of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders in accordance with United Nations resolutions,” into the report.

And as I stated above, one of the appendices that was removed was the 72 page document “A plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis” that was a one-sided account of the history of the Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East. That was the document which stated that the Jewish immigrants “took the land of Palestine from a majority of its inhabitants at gunpoint.” It also suggested that the Jewish immigrants from Europe were not true descendants of the ancient Israelites and the history did not uphold the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

The committee changed the wording “endorses” the Kairos Document to “commends for study.” It changed the words “the possible withholding of military aid as a means of bringing Israel to" compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts to “making U.S. aid to Israel contingent upon Israel’s” compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.

Committee 14 changed the Presbyterian Middle East Study committees’ efforts to continue on overseeing the General Assembly’s mandates for Middle East peace, and instead requires that there be a committee made up of seven new members chosen by the past moderator and the new moderator. One but no more than two of the original group will be a part of the new committee. There are many other changes; one only need read through the document in order to see them.

In the final paragraph of the ACSWP’s summary the author brings the Belhar Confession and the Middle East Peace issues together. The author writes:

“Let us hope that the church-wide discussion of the Belhar confession does seek to apply it to other matters of concern, and not simply to Israel/Palestine.”

My first thought was this is crazy. Belhar was supposed to be about racism not the Middle East. But then I realized I was thinking from my own objective viewpoint; the author of the summary sees Israel as the most racist nation in the world today. He/she is concerned because the term apartheid was not applied to Israel by the General Assembly. So when the author looks at Belhar he sees it addressed to Israel.

So many statements in this summary by the ACSWP and their advisor Chris Iosso are distorted. They have simply ignored the actual work of Committee 14 and provided their readers with their own decisions about the Middle East. They are also ignoring the members of their own denomination who sent commissioners to the General Assembly. Since the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy is a Presbyterian organization under the General Assembly Mission Council hopefully they will be asked to correct their erroneous newsletter.

[1] . It is ironic that in the above statement by the ACSWP the two dropped appendices are referred to as simply two appendices while in their “
Human Rights Update 2010 Recommendation,” they ask the General Assembly to answer the request to "identify Violations of the Civil Rights of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the United States and Other Areas of the World" with one of them, A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis. For more information see “A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis:” false beginnings, twisted thoughts- part 1


Pastor Bob said...


You didn't actually expect the GA offices and the ACSWP to actually obey a GA order or tell the truth about what happened at GA did you?

Remember back (I think it was in 2001) when the GA instructed a GAC office to write a new sex education curriculum? First they said that they had to wait until the curriculum they had was gone (which curriculum was terrible which is why the GA instructed them to write a new version) I don't remember what other excuses they made but I don't think the curriculum was ever produced.

Then the ACSWP disobeyed the open meeting policy. When told they had to have open meeting (after a round of fights with Mark Tammen they were ultimately told they couldn't have private meetings. Then they closed sub committee meetings to the press. Then they said that the press couldn't have the papers that the committee members and staff had. After being shot down on this they told the press that they could only have the papers during the meeting and then they had to give them back! All of this was not just the Layman but also the PNC and the Outlook.

We should trust these people because?

Viola Larson said...

I know Bob,
But I also know there have been some leadership changes. So I keep hoping-and writing-and praying.

will spotts said...

Viola - You're quite right about the egregious dishonesty in the ACSWP summary.

Nonetheless, I have to disagree with your estimation of what was actually done at the GA. The ACSWP summary has ONE point in its favor - where it is clearly accurate: the recommendations of the MESC were essentially passed.

The horribly biased first portion was received only "as rationale". But if it is rationale for the action, taking the action implies it is somehow true or approved.

Yes, you can point to a couple of changes in these recommendations - the most notable being the reaffirmation of the right of Israel to exist - though NOT (and this is significant) a Jewish state.

The difference between approve (selected vague portions of) the Kairos document and commend for study (selected vague portions of) the Kairos document is not that great. (Outside of the GA such a difference is nominal - remember, for instance, Jim Berkley's comments on 'document creep'.)

The difference in US aid to Israel is actually worse than the original - because the first speaks only of military aid, while the second expands this to all aid.

The only real (potentially dramatic positive) improvement was the elimination of the idea that the MESC would become a permanent monitoring group. But this depends entirely on the good faith of the moderators to choose candidates who are representative. The original MESC had, in essence, the same requirement - and that clearly was not followed.

So - while the ACSWP does misrepresent, it is merely a difference of horribly bad and slightly less bad.

ZZMike said...

The current Layman carries an article titled "Christian-Muslim relations paper OK" (Overture 08-04 approved for "commending the paper to the denominations for study and guidance"). (You can find it on

It calls for Presbyterians "to implement a program of shared community experiences that might include sharing meals, cultural events, and activities in mosques and churches together, and to develop an educational program that includes inviting a Muslim leader to offer instruction in a church and a Christian leader to offer instruction in a mosque].”
(That part was added to the original overture.)

First, I believe that Christian-Muslim dialog would go a lot better if the Sunni-Shi'a dialog got under way. They have been attacking one another for about 1400 years.

Next, given fundamental Islam's unbending stance in the East toward Christians - converts from Islam are routinely persecuted and often killed - they're not likely to take kindly to blasphemy in their mosques. (Isa was another prophet; the idea of God having a Son is inconceivable. And the Trinity is utter nonsense.)

There is almost no common ground on which we can agree.

Our problem is that there are too many good-hearted but soft-headed people, too willing to make any concession (I call it appeasement) to "just getting along", even when the lamb is not quite ready to get along with the lion.

Viola Larson said...

I am sorry to take so long to get back to you. If you read my latest post (Aug 21) you will see I have had my mind other places. You may be right about the military part-I read it differently.

And of course "a Jewish State would be better." But having removed the notorious Historical Analysis is very big. And also the elimination of most of the committee from those who will monitor the work going on Middle East Peace is big. But of course we all have to keep our eyes and ears open to the possibility that all will be stacked badly again. And yell like crazy.

I knew you were going to disagree. But I think you would agree that saying “The Middle East Report was approved virtually unchanged, with two appendices removed.” Is at least mis-leading.

will spotts said...

Viola - Like you, I apologize for taking so long to respond.

I concur that the ACSWP statements are egregious misrepresentations. I'm not 100% sure whether this is blatant dishonesty - the smugness in their tone lends credence to that interpretation - or whether the hopelessly confusing (self- contradictory) actions of the GA lend themselves to honest misinterpretation.

Among other statements that raise eyebrows in this summary: "showed widespread understanding that the two-state solution is virtually impossible". I'm very certain that does not reflect official PC(USA) policy. YET - the net effect of the actions of the GA DO lend a credibility to that assertion.

My concern is that Presbyterians who do not ordinarily support bigotry are letting themselves off the hook because of the "good things in the MESC report" - that they have been falsely assured exist. The actions taken still reflect the same problem: they hold Israel to a standard they do not apply to any other nation, they reflect a lack of balance IN INFORMATION UPON WHICH THE RECOMMENDATIONS ARE BASED - which is dishonest at best, and they turn a blind eye to the ongoing institutional PC(USA) problem with the Jewish people. They wink and nod at bigotry and seem to permit otherwise decent Presbyterians to feel somehow good about this.

Will Spotts
North East, MD

will spotts said...

The members of the monitoring committee have been announced.

Viola Larson said...

If you have been following my blog you will know I am right in the middle of a family crisis, but I would like to know where to find the list?

Anonymous said...

Al the copies of this newletter seem to have vanished. Do you have a copy?

Viola Larson said...

Anonymous, has a copy at

That is a subscription site but I believe you can get it free for a month. if you are a Presbyterian it is the best source. I have a link and an explanation on the side of my blog.

Please next time leave your name and city.