Thursday, April 24, 2014

The ousting of Rev. Albert Butzer from being moderator of the Middle East Committee: new articles and my thoughts

Rather than update my original post, “Ousting the Moderator of the General Assembly Middle East Committee: an ideological power play” I believe it will be helpful to do another posting on the purging of Rev. Albert Butzer from the GA Middle East  issues committee.  I want to write again for several reasons.

1.To direct my readers to an excellent article at the Presbyterian Outlook by Butzer himself.

2.To direct the reader to an article at the Presbyterian News Service concerning Moderator Neil Presa and his decision. I will have more to say about that below.

3.To explain what a Moderator of a General Assembly Committee actually does and why it is a travesty that Butzer was forced to resign.

4.What might be helpful regarding the actions of the leadership of the PCUSA.

The Presbyterian Outlook provides the reader with the clearest view of the man Rev. Albert Butzer by publishing his article, “How I would have moderated the Committee On Middle East Issues (had I not been asked to resign).” 

Butzer tells Outlook readers of his experiences in Palestinian refugee camps and his visit with Palestinian Father Elias Chacour.  He actually gives the reader a description of Chacour’s remembrances of his loss of a childhood home:

“I would have told them [the commissioners in his committee] about the day we met Father Elias Chacour, a true blessing, and how he told us the terrible story of the day in the late 1940s when an Israeli tank commander rolled into the little town of Biram in Galilee and said to Chacour’s father:

“We are here to protect the village. You have no business here anymore.”

“Protect our village?” said Chacour’s father. “You are here to destroy it.”

“This land is ours now,” said the soldier pointing his gun at them, “so get out.”

“No,” said the Palestinian, “This land is ours. My family has farmed this land for almost 500 years.” But the soldiers would not listen. They arrested Chacour’s father and dragged him away.”

Next Butzer talks about his two visits to Israel, he writes:

“Additionally, I would have told the commissioners about my two trips to Israel with Jewish groups and how those trips helped me better understand Israel’s claim of sovereign statehood and its desire to protect its borders and live in relative peace without the daily threat of suicide bombings on buses or in crowded marketplaces. I would have shared what I had learned – that Israel responds to terrorist force with force of its own, just as we do in the United States. I would have told them about our conversation with a Palestinian Muslim news reporter, a citizen of Israel, who chooses to live in Israel rather than Palestine because Israel, like America, grants him true freedom of the press, while everything he writes for Palestinian publications must pass through the censorship of Hamas. And I would have urged the commissioners to realize that any unilateral demonizing of Israel for human rights violations that ignores ongoing Palestinian terrorist activity, or any denial of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, seriously threatens long-standing relationships between Presbyterians and American Jews.

In short, I would have suggested that my varied experiences in the Middle East help me to hear all sides of this complex conflict and then assist others to work for reconciliation and compromise.”

After you read Butzer’s article, go back to the article on Presbyterians For Middle East Peace, I linked to in my earlier posting, “After Pressure from BDS leaders, GA Middle East Committee Moderator Is Removed”.  Something you need to know about PFMEP: the group is made up of very conservative, moderate and very progressive Presbyterians. And they are very careful about giving out the correct facts. They after all belong to different camps in the PC (U.S.A.) and are careful not to offend each other. So read what they are saying and do not brush off their concerns.

Now read about the Moderator of the General Assembly, Neil Presa’s  in the article on the PNS. It was posted there by the Office of the General Assembly’s communications department. The title is, “Statement from the Moderator about the GA221 Middle East Issues Committee.”

There are quite a few issues to note with this OGA posting. First of all it isn’t a direct communication from the Moderator; it has been written by Toya Richards Jackson an associate for communications. So at best it is interpretive.  And then there are all of the non-answers to so many questions. The communication tells us that Butzer resigned but does not tell us that he was asked to resign. The communication states that no lobbying group pressured the Moderator, but we know that he did not google Butzer’s name to find out if he was open to listening to Jewish leaders as well as Palestinian leadership. We can be fairly certain that Presa didn't google to find out if Butzer attended an interfaith Seder dinner, which seems to be one of his sins.

Someone must have brought to the Moderator’s attention the fact that Butzer had close ties to the Jewish community in his city. Sadly they didn’t know about his care for Palestinian refugees.  We all know the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church is a part of the Boycott, Divestment Movement, so there are some conclusions we might make. But we cannot be sure. What we do know is that the whole truth has not been told by the OGA or by Moderator Neil Presa. The mistrust will continue to grow.

Adding to the mistrust is the apparent need to not post comments on the PNS site. I am sure others, as I have, have written comments and have not had them posted. Perhaps they will wait until the article is neatly tucked away in the archives as they did with the OGA’s comments on the IPMN’s Zionism Unsettled booklet.

The moderator of a committee, during General Assembly, guides their committee as they deliberate. They only have about three days to do their voting before it all goes to the plenary and everyone votes on all the issues. The moderator does make some of the important decisions. In the last General Assembly in that same committee when a commissioner asked if I could speak on something, the moderator allowed the commissioners to vote on that request. That is giving power to the commissioners.  That was an excellent gesture. There are all kinds of reasons why one needs a moderator who is fair and moderate. Butzer would have been such a moderator.

I have pointed to two very good articles. The Outlook’s article written by Butzer can be commented on either via Facebook or by registering on the Outlook site which is not hard to do. The important thing to do is to keep posting comments not only here and at the Outlook but also on the PNS site whether they post them now or not.  Perhaps others can come up with some more suggestions.

And here is my final thought. Lies are generally born in hell.  After all the Bible tells us that Satan is the father of lies. The battle is not against flesh and blood, as the Scriptures also states, it is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of the darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Prayer is the great weapon against deceit and manipulation. Pray at home and in the car. Pray, if you are there, on the floor and in the hallways and hotel lobbies of the General Assembly. Come to the door of the committee room, stand outside and pray.

Pray for whoever is moderator and vice moderator of that committee. Pray for the commissioners. Pray for the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and all of their followers, (they will overload the committee), so pray for them and their speakers. Pray for those of us who will testify whatever our viewpoint.

And pray for Rev. Albert Butzer that God will cause him to flourish. 

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