Tuesday, May 27, 2014

OGA: A document with a lie about divestment

If you tell a lie often enough, well, you know ... I came very close to calling someone a liar in the Middle East Committee in 2012, when some one suggested I give some advice about the trajectory of the divestment movement during General Assemblies through 2004 to 2012. I was surprised that I was asked and so perhaps I did not place my words carefully enough. But the truth is, a long line of dishonesty has developed around the denomination's quest for divestment from some companies that do business with Israel.

And now the Office of the General Assembly is telling the lie. The OGA, through the Presbyterian News Service, has pointed to two documents they have prepared for commissioners and others, meant to answer basic questions about the PC (U.S.A.) and the controversies surrounding the Middle East and marriage. 

The scenario concerning divestment began with the 20o4 GA when commissioners voted to divest from several companies doing business with Israel. There was, of course, an outcry from both Presbyterians and the Jewish community. Then came the 2006 General Assembly.

In the 2006 General Assembly commissioners worked very carefully to right the wrong, They even apologized to the Jewish Community for the wrong committed by the 2004 GA. In the 2012 General Assembly Brian Ellison spoke for the Mission Responsibilities Through Investment; he referred to a PNS article and insisted that the PCUSA's policy on divestment had not changed. I remembered the article and remembered that it did not tell the truth. I told the committee to go to the minutes of the 2004 GA and the 2006 GA and they did.

Now the Office of the General Assembly is telling the same story. They write in their paper "Frequently Asked Questions: Middle East Issues":

"Divestment was first considered at the 2004 General Assembly (GA), which instructed the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to begin a process of “phased, selective divestment” related to corporations doing business in Israel. Since 2004, GAs have directed MRTI to use the church’s customary corporate engagement process to ensure that church investments are made only in companies engaged in peaceful pursuits in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

In 2012, the GA approved a boycott of all Israeli products produced illegally in the Palestinian Territories. This is not a cultural or academic boycott, or a boycott against any product made in Israel. Instead, it is a call to recognize that factories in illegal settlements prevent a just peace between Israel and Palestine."

They go on, but notice the 2006 General Assembly is not mentioned at all. I have already quoted from the 2006 General Assembly in another posting. But for truth's sake I will do it again:

The heading of the action is "On Rescinding and Modifying Certain Actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict"

The action was:
On this Item, the General Assembly, acted as follows:

The Assembly rejected two attempts to amend the recommendation and then adopted the Committee’s recommendation to answer this item with the following alternate resolution and with comment (by a vote of 483/28/1).

Committee Recommendation

On this Item, the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee, acted as follows:
Approve Alternate Resolution
The committee hereby recommends in response to this recommendation, that the 217th General Assembly (2006) approve the following alternate reslution and comment:
After careful consideration of the overtures brought before the Assembly Committee on Peacemaking and International Issues of the 217th General Assembly (2006), we offer the following recommendations.

1. We acknowledge that the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) caused hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion. We are grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue.

To these ends, we replace the instructions expressed in Item 12-01 (Minutes, 2004 Part I, pp. 64–66) Recommendation 7, which reads

“7. Refers to Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) with instructions to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel, in accordance to General Assembly policy on social investing, and to make appropriate recommendations to the General Assembly Council for action.”

with the following:

7. To urge that financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits, and affirm that the customary corporate engagement process of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investments of our denomination is the proper vehicle for achieving this goal.


There is more but that is the gist of the action. They rescinded the action of the 2004 GA Assembly. When I wrote about this in another posting, three witnesses confirmed what I stated. Two were members of the committee at the 2006 GA. One was a reporter and is a Presbyterian teaching elder. Here is what they wrote in the comment section of my blog.

The teaching elder reporter:"I was there at that assembly and sat through the entire committee deliberation, as well as the floor consideration and a press conference afterward. I can attest to Viola Larson's accuracy in her report here.

From the start, the 2006 action, which was in reaction to the previous Assembly's debacle, was intended to be fair, even-handed, and nonpoliticized. But from the start, beginning with a press conference immediately after the 2006 action was taken by the General Assembly, the moderate and reasonable new action was spun as if it were a continuation of the 2004 resolution, not a repudiation of it.

It was egregious at the time, and now that some of the same biased sources are trying to do the same again, it is repugnant. They should not be allowed to rewrite history to suit their partisan purposes, and so I thank Viola for blowing the whistle.

Jim Berkley
Roslyn, WA

Another Commissioner: Ken Robbins said... I served with Bruce on that Committee as well as the sub-committee team that wrote the final action. Viola is absolutely right! August 1, 2012 at 4:03 PM

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Middle East Committee and an unfair and divisive movement (additional information)

I am adding additional material to this posting in order to help General Assembly commissioners understand how they may deal with the problem I have written about. Please look in the body of my posting for recommendations.

There are many battle lines forming around the  Middle East issues coming to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The problem is that the carts in the lines are all being filled by those telling a lopsided story.  And their stories will be extensive and long, while, unfairly, those who want a secure state for Israel as well as a state for the Palestinians will barely be heard.

Today, Sunday the 25th, Anna Baltzer who is a Boycott, Divestment Sanctions activist and co-founder of End the Occupation. org, tweeted:

"Anna Baltzer@Anna_Baltzer 9h
More than a decade in the making, this would be the largest U.S. divestment victory to date: "
When one clicks on her link it is about the attempt at divestment by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Notice on that posting is this remark:
 "In just three weeks, decision makers from the Presbyterian Church (USA) -- a mainline Protestant denomination with more than 1.9 million members and 10,000 congregations -- will gather to consider several historic resolutions supporting human rights and justice in Palestine/Israel. These resolutions call for a boycott of Hewlett Packard, equal rights for all, naming Israeli apartheid, researching and witnessing on the ground, and last but not least, divestment from three U.S. companies profiting from the Israeli occupation." (Bold author's)
Scrolling down further on the page, this can be found:
"The US Campaign will be there on the ground, testifying in the Presbyterian Middle East committee as an official resource expert, supporting local activities, and so much more, but we can't do it without you." (Bold mine)

This means that while those who do not believe that Israel is an apartheid state and see positive investment as a better means of peace, will only get a few minutes to speak in the committee, all of the outside experts, most who are not Presbyterians, will have been given, officially, a lengthy amount of time.

This means that while the first official moderator of the committee was ousted because of his paid visits to Israel and his attendance at an interfaith Seder, many non-Presbyterians, as well as Presbyterians,  who have been funded by outside interests funneled through End the Occupations.org's U. S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation will be given a great amount of time to speak.

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, in its 2011 annual report lists quite a few organizations that belong including, Council on American-Islamic Relations-Greater—Los Angeles Chapter: Anaheim, CA.

In the 2012 annual report of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, many college solidarity and divestment groups are listed rather than the other organizations. But the point is outside funding and activity from one side will be affecting the work of the Middle East Committee. And it is not innocently done, but is intentional.

There are solutions for commissioners to the General Assembly that speak to the problem of resource people from outside organizations funded by unknown entities being used in committee. Committee  members have the right to decide what resources, including people, may be used in committee.

In the Manual of the General Assembly-2014[1] on page 20 under # 2. 'Procedures for Assembly Committee Meetings,' under letter d is this statement:

"Each committee shall determine the use to be made of the resource material or resource persons available to assembly committees. Each assembly committee shall determine whether or not to permit the distribution of particular materials to the committee members."

This means that committee members are to make the final decision about who will speak to the committee.

There are also solutions to the problem of too many speakers coming from only one side of the issue. In the Manual, also under 'Procedures for Assembly Committee Meetings,' under e, 'privilege to speak,' is the statement:

"(8) The committee moderator shall provide that the total time allotted to persons, other than members of the committee, who speak for or against a recommendation be equal so far as possible." (And this is not for public hearings which come under a different heading.)

Also committee members are allowed to ask for other experts to speak, with the understanding that the committee votes on allowing them. (See under privilege to speak. The rule allows  "(5) Persons invited by the committee through a majority vote of the committee") I was allowed to speak on an issue in the Middle East Committee  at the 220 General Assembly, because of a gracious vote, but I will write about that for a different posting.

It is time for members of the PCUSA to realize that they are being manipulated by small but very vocal and strident organizations which belong to the BDS movement. They are at this point working hard to pass divestment measures on university campuses and they have been involved in intimidating students. The videos below will show how divisive the BDS project is.

[1] To find the manual go here: http://www.pc-biz.org/PC-Biz.WebApp_deploy/(S(z1qqrevddilgxqoy2iid3mot))/Resource.aspx


"Published on Mar 26, 2014
University of Michigan student Chris spoke in opposition to the anti-Israel divestment resolution on March 25, 2014 -- The resolution was voted down by the student assembly 25-9"

Friday, May 23, 2014

General Assembly: the ruin of the sheep, but the promise of God

One might ask how the story of Jonathan's victory against the Philistines, aided only by his servant, fits with chapter thirty-four of Ezekiel, a warning to the shepherds who did not care for their sheep. And how the two texts might be applied to the orthodox, those going to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly and those waiting and listening at home.

After going to bed at midnight and awaking at four in the morning I decided that Scripture study from my devotional was an option. Amazingly, I discovered that both chapters spoke about bad leadership. 1 Samuel 14 demonstrates, without saying so, bad leadership on the part of king Saul, Jonathan's father. Ezekiel 34 describes, with very graphic metaphor, the ruin of the sheep because of the callousness of their leaders, who, among other evils, muddied their water, dominated them and caused them to scatter.

Jonathan, after winning his battle, returned to the other soldiers and found honey on the ground which he ate not knowing that his father had commanded the people to fast all day. The story ends with Saul demanding death for the person who ate, but the people instead demanding that Jonathan be saved because of his great victory. But, as they say, there is more to the story.

Saul in his arrogance demanded the fasting so that he could be avenged of his enemies. As the text states "Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself of my enemies." Not only did he place his son's life in jeopardy, he caused the people to sin, because in their hunger when they had beaten back the Philistines they took the Philistine's cattle killing them on the ground in the midst of their blood and eating the bloody meat, something the food laws of Israel condemned. Going beyond this he seemingly missed God's blessings on his son's bravery.

Saul was constantly, arrogantly,  disobeying the word of God and in doing so he lost his kingdom, his family and his future. More importantly he lost the blessings and fellowship of God.

Ezekiel 34 is God's warning to those leaders in Judah who disobeyed the word of God because they were totally absorbed in their own desires. This is the verse that stands out (to me) so clearly in its application to matters in the denomination today: 

Thus says the Lord God, Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought the lost, but with force and with severity dominated them. (2b-4)

Too many of those in leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are failing to teach and proclaim the pure word of God. They do not feed the sheep. Instead they constantly twist and tear apart the text in order allow for sin without repentance.

The denomination is full of broken and diseased people who are being told that they are fine just as they are. At the same time, many, including whole churches, are scattering, in various directions. Add to that the many in the denomination, and outside, who are disconnected from the Lord of the church, Jesus Christ. The old fashioned word for this is 'lost.' They are lost. And the denomination seeks for communities of diverse people but they do not seek for the lost.

But God has the solution. He replaced the arrogant and disobedient Saul with David. And he promised David that a Son of his would rule on his throne forever. That the Son would rule with righteousness.

The same is true in Ezekiel. God's promise to the suffering sheep is of his own care. Here the metaphor of the evil shepherd is turned to unruly and dominating sheep, goats and rams:

Therefore, says the Lord God to them, "Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them abroad, therefore, I will deliver my flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another.

And then the promise:

"Then I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David and he will feed them himself and be their shepherd."

I am aware that many of the orthodox both going to GA and staying at home are full of grief, with joy, it is true, but still grief. There is the sadness of knowing that many that need healing and transformation are and will be misled by their own leaders. There is the sadness of knowing that many in leadership, rather than repenting are attempting to find ways to send away hurting congregations with empty hands. There is the deeper grief of seeing in various places in leadership the Lord of the Church placed at the level of one among many options.

This is all deeply painful, and yet there is the promise which came first to Israel but is now like a shining diamond in our midst, God will, and did, deliver his flock by and through his messiah. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, who will feed his flock. There is sweetness, the found honey, the goodness and righteousness of Christ and his word.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Christy, a Palestinian Christian who speaks against the Palestinian leadership

Yesterday I placed a video of Calev Meyers speaking in Berkeley at the university. Meyers is a Jewish lawyer who fights for human rights in Israel. But he is also speaking against the horrible abuses of leadership in the Palestinian Territories.

A young women who spoke beside him at the University of Uppsala in Sweden is Christy Anastas. She is a Palestinian Christian whose family lives in Bethlehem. In fact, her family's home was featured in the 60 Minutes television show about the Arab Christians. It is the home surrounded on three sides by the Israel security wall. I tried to find a video of just the university speech but events have moved on and the video now contains three videos.

The first two are short. One is Anastas speaking from the United Kingdom,  pleading with Dr. Saeb Erekat to protect her family in Palestine because she believes that they are under pressure. The next short video is one of Anastas asking Erekat a question about his attempts at negotiations. But the larger part is her speech at the university.

What I hope you will see by watching this video, is that Christy does not justify everything that the Israelis  do, but she understands that there are serious abuses of human rights in the Palestinian territories. Her thoughts on women's rights is important.

Her life is still in danger.

I want to add more to this information. One of the Palestinian newspapers that the Israel/Palestine Mission Network use on their twitter links recently featured the same video with the family insisting that Christy is being pressured and used in the United Kingdom. The paper, Ma'an New Agency reports:

The Anastas family also denied claims that their daughter had been forced to flee, saying that they feared she had been the victim of "entrapment" and was under "pressure" from sponsors who had promised to pay her enrollment fees and housing costs for university in the United Kingdom.
I point this out because the stories featured in Ma'an and other papers like it are not complete, which means they cannot always be trusted.

This news item from Haaretz fits in with the points both Meyers and Anastas are making, "Union 'expels' Palestinian professor who took students to Auschwitz."

Calev Meyers a pro Israel speaker and a civil rights activist in Israel

Recently I watched a series of videos put together by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice. The JIJ advocates for justice in Israel, but now they are speaking on college campuses about the issues between Israel and the Palestinians.  The videos will give readers, (listeners), a better understanding of the complexity of the problems in the Palestinian Territories. Here is some information that is not well known.
The speakers will not try to make Israel into an ideal state because they tell the truth. But they also tell the truth about leadership in the Palestinian territories.

The first speaker I am showing here is Calev Meyers who founded the JIJ. He is speaking at U.C. Berkeley.  And he will speak about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. The next one I will put up is a Christian Palestinian woman from Bethlehem. She has had her life threatened.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What does this mean, "Queering the Marriage Discussion"?

Donna ‘Riley’s posting at More Light Presbyterians is “Queering the Marriage Discussion.”  She states that “there is something decidedly queerer at stake here than marriage equality. As with ordination the heart of this issue remains: they call queer relationships sinful; we call them holy.” In explaining the meaning of her use of the word queer Riley quotes Jamie Heckert:

To queer is to make strange, unfamiliar, weird; it comes from an old German word meaning to cross. What new possibilities arise when we learn to cross, to blur, to undermine, or overflow the hierarchical and binary oppositions we have been taught to believe in?

And this is basically what Riley’s posting is about, how to blur, undermine and overflow the biblical meaning of marriage, that is, marriage between one man and one woman. And since Riley pigeonholes biblical marriage in the same slot as racism and suggests that it leads to unjust economic systems she is attempting something more than seeking marriage equality.
Added to her renunciation of biblical marriage Riley believes that those opposed to same sex marriage are frightened of, as she puts it, “the realities of unmarried queers in deeply meaningful spiritual relationships.”

Frightened of people and their relationships, never!  But yes, we are troubled and longing in prayer for those whose sinful relationships and attitudes lead away from the embrace of God’s forgiveness. God loves the sinner, God longs for the sinner, God forgives the repentant sinner.

There is a family that is not the ‘nuclear’ family but the household of God, those who are centered on the Lord Jesus Christ and his word. Among the family members are married men and women, single moms and dads and the unmarried, all who have repented of numerous and various kinds of sins.

Jesus was a friend of a family of three single people, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He praised Mary for sitting at his feet listening to his words. She had chosen the good part and it would not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42) The household of God, the community, the body of Christ, sits at his feet. They listen to the words of Jesus.  They obey his word, the holy Scriptures.

Not just Riley, but all of us, God calls to his righteousness, his purity, his forgiveness.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified  in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

"The troubled find their peace
In true surrender.
The prisoners their release
From chains of anger.
In springs of living grace
I find a resting place
To rise refreshed,
Determined to follow"

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Item 03-09 Having someone else's cake and eating it too

An item, 03-09, sponsored by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly seems like an ethically sound recommendation, it, however does not address all of the problems that can take away the “independent judgment” of commissioners and advisory delegates to the General Assembly.  In fact in one sense it adds to the lopsided influence of governing bodies and organizations in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) particularly during committee work.

The item, “Standards of Ethics for Commissioners and Advisory Delegates to the General Assembly,” is a recommendation that was asked of the coming 221 GA by a commissioner’s resolution of the 220 GA.  It has to do with commissioners and advisory delegates receiving gifts such as trips or gratuities “by those with an interest in or who are advocating for or against a recommendation or overture before the assembly.”

There are two names on the commissioner’s resolution from 2012, which is “On Establishing a Code of Ethics for Elected Commissioners and Elected/Appointed Advisory Delegates to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)”.  The two names are Aaron R. Doll, Presbytery of Genesee Valley and M. Melinda Thompson, Presbytery of National Capital.

And in this recommendation there are exceptions, the first one being, “Gifts, meals, outings, and relationship-building activities provided by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churches, middle councils, partner churches or related organizations.”

 The background on this commissioner resolution may be connected to a young man in the Middle East Issues Committee who had gone on a trip to Israel funded by a Jewish organization. He had also gone on trips which centered on the Palestinian Territories. I do not know if he was asked to, but he stated that he would not vote on some of the items. I honestly do not remember which ones.

The problem here as I see it is that one of the signers of the commissioner’s resolution, M. Melinda Thompson, also had some special interests. She has worked with and written for the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. Thompson has even worked with what is called an “Occupation Free Endowment Fund.”

Needless to say, this recommendation, which seemingly could lead to an ethical ideal, has a huge hole in it, and Thompson is an example of how that might work. She belongs to several Presbyterian organizations all seeking to brand Israel with apartheid status while attempting to pull the PC (U.S.A) into the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. And this is how the recommendation will work if passed.

People like Rev. Albert Butzer, who was removed from leadership in the Middle East Issues committee because he traveled to Israel with other pastors and rabbis while studying about each other’s faith, a trip paid for by his hometown Jewish organization, and because he attended an interfaith Seder, will be eliminated from leadership work. But people like Thompson who works with organizations that promote trips which focus on only one side of the issues will be allowed to influence not only commissioners but most of those who speak to the committee.

The recommendation, item 03-09, needs a great deal of improvement.  Cutting out the first exception would help. That exception will only lead to greater and greater manipulation.

Also clarification about the kinds of trips commissioners take would be helpful. A Seder dinner seen as some kind of buyout is a wild fantasy. The idea that a community organization funded a trip for community pastors and rabbis in order to influence one of them to vote pro-Israel in a General Assembly he was yet to know about smacks of a wild conspiracy theory. This is the kind of McCarthy-ish problem that will come out of 03-09 if the wording is not changed.

It is possible to breed totalitarianism on the back of ethics when the proponents attempt to use the ethical principles for others, while they themselves ignore the principle. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Outlook: two articles, two churches in one denomination?

The Presbyterian Outlook has linked, on Twitter, to one article and posted another on their main site.  The articles, as I read them, seem to me to speak of the two different churches within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  The first one I read is by Professor Shirley C. Guthrie (1927-2004), posted on the Outlook. It is, “The Way, the Truth and the Life.” The other is, “’Our Second Mother’: Iran’s converted Christians find sanctuary in Germany.” The latter is in the Guardian, the Tehran Bureau.

The first article by Guthrie is meant as an explanation of what it means to speak of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and how that coincides with dialogue with other faiths.  Guthrie’s views are aligned with universalism. That is when Jesus died and was raised by God he opened a door that brought reconciliation to all. This does not mean it brought the possibility that those in other faiths might be converted to Christ; rather it means that Jesus enters into the other culture and faith thus reconciling them, through another faith, to God.  As Guthrie puts it when writing about our need for openness to people of other faiths:

If we believe in a risen and living Christ who has been and is at work in the world outside our Christian circle, we will know that we do not have to “take” Christ to people of other religious traditions; we go to meet him in our encounters with them. We will expect and gladly welcome evidence that the grace and truth we have come to know in him has reached into their lives too. We will be glad to hear them saying things about their God and their faith that sound remarkably similar to what we have to say about our God and our faith. Without the slightest trace of reluctance or suspicion we will welcome such similarities as confirmation of our own faith in a living Christ who is present and at work not only among us but among them too. More than that, we will be prepared sometimes to discover among those whose religion is different from ours a depth of faith, personal integrity, gratitude for the goodness of God, commitment to justice and self-giving love for others that put us Christians to shame. We will be ready to confess that we sometimes see more of the way, truth and life taught and demonstrated by Jesus among them than we see in our own lives and in the Christian community. Just when we are committed to our own gospel we will enter into dialogue with them not only because of what we have to offer them, but because of what they have to offer us.

Guthrie goes on to list the various ways we can know the truth or falseness of another religion, and our own as well. He explains how we can recognize the “presence and work of our living Lord among non-Christians as well as Christians. I agree with a lot of his list, goodness among all groups, even among those who are atheists, is what the Reformed call general grace.

However, that is not the point of Jesus’ words that He is the way, the truth and the life.  (Matt. 14:6) There must be a living connection between the risen Lord and the individual. There must be conversion, which simply means repentance, turning from our sinful self to Jesus. This may be gradual, a process, among those who are baptized at birth. Or it may be that one comes to Christ out of another faith or out of nothing. 

Nevertheless, one does not go to the other person to encounter Christ, one takes the good news of Christ to those who are without salvation. And that is one of the points of the other article, Iran’s converted Christians find sanctuary in Germany. Many Iranians are coming to Jesus Christ from Islam and because of persecution they are seeking safety in other places. Germany is one of the places where they are finding safety.

One story of one convert who now lives in Germany and attends a church there is:

Afsaneh, a soft-spoken woman in her 40s is part of Martens’ congregation, says she was arrested because of her conversion and heavily abused in jail. Like other converts in this story, Afsaneh asked that only her first name be used to protect her identity. She was only freed after using her property deeds as collateral, after which she quickly escaped the country.

Afsaneh says she struggled to accept Islam for most of her life but ultimately and fundamentally disagreed with the religion. Her cousin, a convert, secretly introduced her to Christianity in which she found a better, spiritual fit. “I felt so relaxed,” she says after attending Bible study sessions held in the privacy of her house church. “I felt safe. I was so excited about Christmas that I put up a tree in my home and work.” Her public displays meant closer eyes and soon both her and her cousin were arrested receiving more than 70 lashes in jail. [1]

So how is this like the divisions in our denomination? One denominational division looks for what they deem as good within culture/cultures and sees Christ’s blessing there but fails to see the Scriptural demand that the church make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which involves a great deal more than simply encountering Christ in the other’s faith.  

The other division in the denomination, while hopefully noting what is good in other cultures, longs to introduce the broken to Jesus Christ. Sure, the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, is there already preparing hearts and minds, but it is the longing of the Christian to introduce the good Shepherd to the lost sheep, introduce the good bread to the hungry, the Redeemer to the one who has fallen beyond human hope.

While Guthrie insists that it isn’t the Christian’s business to show Christianity to be superior to other faiths, he fails to insist that it is the Christian’s business to show Christ crucified and risen, as above all other ‘so called’ gods and lords. In a real sense in the PC (U.S.A.), some find Jesus’ uniqueness everywhere diffused among every culture and religion until it means nothing but religious sentimentality and progressive morality. But the important understanding of His uniqueness is scripturally bound; He is Lord over the nations and his kingdom will come, but peopled by those who are united to the risen Lord, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, transformed by the power of his resurrection.

[1] I have to laugh at the thought of being in a religion where one can relax but receive 70 lashes in jail. But remembering my own conversion and the great feeling of relief and joy while at the same time finding my parents were very upset, I think I understand just a tiny bit. Read the whole article it is wonderful to read about the conversions of these many Iranians.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Zionism attacked again on the Israel/Palestine Mission Network site

The Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network has posted a paper on their web site entitled “The Crisis of Liberal Zionism” by Andrew Levine. It is meant to show that liberalism and Zionism are incompatible. It is another attempt by the IPMN to slur Zionism and by doing so to slur the Jewish people.

Levine begins with questions which the IPMN have highlighted:

Does a commitment to Zionism entail support for a Jewish state?  Must that state be in Palestine?  Must Zionists support a revival of the Hebrew language?  How committed must they be to distinctive cultural forms and ways of life established by Jews in Palestine and, later, Israel?  What is Zionism’s relation to the Jewish religion?

While the writer opines that now that the State of Israel exists the above questions have become facts, he shows, with his questions, what both he and IPMN find unacceptable. That is, a ‘Jewish’ state, the fact that it is in Palestine, the fact that Hebrew is the national language and that many of the people celebrate Jewish customs.

Besides these concerns of Levine and the IPMN, the article, which with tongue in cheek attempts to reconcile liberalism with Zionism, has some nasty lies about Zionism. For instance that Zionists were the ones who made sure that no country opened their doors to those Jews trying to flee Nazism. Levine writes:

The fact that some six million European Jews were put to death under Nazi rule between 1942 and 1945 did give a certain urgency to Zionist demands in the immediate post-War period.

Needless to say, the case would be stronger had not Zionists worked so diligently to see to it that the survivors had nowhere other than Palestine to go, and had they not gotten so much help in this regard from the American government.

Slurring even liberal Zionist, with a few snarky paragraphs, Levine writes and the IPMN highlights part of his words:

The 77% share of Mandate Palestine that falls within Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries is mostly like that; it has been ethnically cleansed so thoroughly that its conquest by Zionist settlers, before and after the establishment of the state of Israel, is, by now, effectively irreversible.

A Palestinian state in the rest of Mandate Palestine is therefore just what the doctor ordered.  This is why the liberal Zionist’s commitment to a “two state solution” is sincere; unlike, say, Benjamin Netanyahu’s.  He is for it – or rather he says he is for it – only because he needs American and European support, and so he gives the Americans and Europeans what they want to hear.

As Zionists, liberal Zionists too would like Israel to incorporate all of Palestine.   But since that is morally and politically impossible, and since, as liberals, they want liberal principles affirmed too, they moderate their Zionist ambitions.   There is nothing else they can do.

These are hateful words for any organization supposedly attempting to help bring peace to the Middle East. But the article goes on trying to clarify all of the various Jewish views on Zionism and even on Judaism. Levine also attacks Christianity and eventually dismisses all religion as an example of how Zionism might eventually disappear.

And then the final attack in this rather dismal, meandering, insulting, article:

Liberal Zionism has always played a crucial role in keeping American Jews in line.  Just by being there, it provided assurance to a population that was and is overwhelmingly liberal by inclination that the Zionist project — and the state of Israel too, regardless of its policies – must be basically sound.

So long as that perception remains intact, Israel can count on the majority of American Jews remaining at least passively – and tepidly – pro-Zionist.  With money from Jewish plutocrats flowing in, and with the Israel lobby still strong enough to inspire fear and awe in Congress and the White House, that might be enough to keep the American government in its traditionally subservient role.

This really is meant to be an article aimed at the liberal Jewish community, so to end my thoughts I want to look at something Levine stated in the first part of his article. “In its early years, Zionism, like liberalism, was a contested ideal. And, as within the liberal fold, there was ample quibbling over what it involved.  But, at the doctrinal level, there was always a crucial difference.  Liberalism is universalistic, Zionism is not; its ideals pertain to Jews only, not to people generally”

But what is missed here is the general ideals of Zionism that translate into the needs of any culture or peoples. That is the need for freedom, the need to be secure from persecution, the need to have their culture, including their language, traditions and faiths respected. That the Jewish people should choose for themselves these values and call them Zionism hardly makes them less than universal. To say as a Christian that I value religious freedom is not to make religious freedom less than universal but rather to add my own distinctive needs to what it means to have religious freedom.

Israel certainly has a lot of work to do, as a democracy, to keep her democracy. It isn’t wrong to say so. But it is wrong to accuse her founders of the kinds of atrocities that occur in this article. And it is wrong to write that “There is therefore something oxymoronic in the very idea of liberal Zionism.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), goaded on by the IPMN, has become a weak institution allowing individuals and small groups to lord it over the concerns and desires of many fellow Presbyterians. That concern and desire is for peace in the Middle East with fairness and love for all peoples.

Picture of the  Exterior of the Hurva Synagogue, Old City, Jerusalem. It was blown up by Muslims in 1721. After rebuilding it was destroyed again during the 1948 war by the Arab Legion. It was rebuilt in 2010. See Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sacramento Presbytery: About marriage & the battle in and for the church

In the  May 2014 Newsletter of the Presbytery of Sacramento our General Presbyter, Rev. Jay Wilkins  has written a message about the debate going on in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on same sex marriage. He is very polite and straight forward about it and I appreciate that, but I am bothered that Wilkins refers to it as a 'fuss.' I think that perhaps he and others, particularly the progressives in the denomination do not understand the seriousness felt by many of the orthodox Christians on this matter. 

 It isn't just about marriage; instead it is about the authority of Scripture. It is also about Christology. And yes, it is also about morality. It is all tied together. When Jesus spoke about marriage, in the context of divorce, he went straight to the heart of the matter. He bypassed all of his religious peer’s arguments and went to the beginning of the story of God’s creation of marriage.  Because God created a woman to be a companion to a man, the model is set with glorious consequences:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

Jesus uses this beautiful picture to explain why, except in the case of immorality, there is to be no divorce.  To disobey the text is to disobey the Lord. But the door of mercy is wide. After Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 names many of the sins of his day, including homosexuality, he lists what God in Jesus Christ has done for the sinner, which we all are:

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

But to deny the sinfulness of any of the sins listed in verses 9 through 10 is to deny the word of God.  Yes, some of us are or have been fornicators (that means having sex outside of marriage), some of us are or have been swindlers, etc. The list goes on. But Jesus loved us while sinners and died for us. That is beautiful but we cannot deny the word of God, or the Lord of the word.

So to return to that word “fuss,” it hardly defines the battle orthodox Christians feel they are in for the sake of Christ and the church.  And on top of the desire to stand faithfully for the word of Christ, is that other new realization of marginalization. Wilkins very clearly defines one of the big problems with this:

"We do have a problem since many Presbyterians live in states where a different understanding of the civil contract exists, and the Book of Order is not accurate in those states. Some make a fuss by saying we should redefine marriage in light of the changing culture and laws. Others fuss that we should maintain the definition and fight changes in laws. From my perspective the comfortable church-state relationship we have had regarding marriage is ending."

But, how strange it would be if the laws of the church universal always agreed with the laws of the state. How frightening it would be if the morality of the church always agreed with the morality of the culture. Christ would be shamed and his people would be without the power that comes of a humble and broken heart.

No! It is a battle, a fight, but one that must be fought with kindness, carefulness, faithfulness and courage. And that for the sake of the sinner.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Item 07-01: A problem for Jews, a problem for Christians

It isn't often that a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly item has the potential to offend both Christians and Jews, but Item 07-01 has the potential. The item, sponsored by the Chicago Presbytery, is “On Distinguishing Between Biblical Terms for Israel and Those Applied to the Modern State of Israel.” Three actions by the GA are requested by the item.
1.     Distinguish the biblical terms that refer to the ancient land of Israel and the modern political State of Israel.
2.     Develop educational materials, with the help of our Presbyterian seminaries, for  clergy, church musicians, worship leaders, and Christian educators regarding the ‘ancient Israel/modern Israel’ distinction; and
3.     Inform our ecumenical partners of this action, nationally and globally—particularly within Israel and Palestine.
Item 07-01, has occurred because some are offended that the name Israel is used in the new Presbyterian Hymnal Glory to God, including a section of the hymnal, entitled “God’s Covenant with Israel.”

Palestinian American, Nahida Gordon, ruling elder and treasurer of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, is probably the first to complain of the use of the word Israel linked to God’s covenant. Her open letter to officials of the PC (U.S.A.), from which a quote is taken for the item, can be found at the social justice journal Unbound. Gordon is also bothered by the use of the word Israel in some hymns. She believes that Presbyterians will equate the word with the modern state of Israel.
Here is the Jewish problem:

While it is very clear that the modern state of Israel is not the ancient nation of Israel, it is also clear that many of the inhabitants of Israel are Jewish. That is, both those Jews who are indigenous to the Holy Land and most of those who have immigrated to Israel are descendants of ancient Israel.  The Jewish people of Israel are the connecting link between modern Israel and ancient Israel.

There is much more that can be said about that connection.  The Hebrew language, Torah and community life and ritual have, for two thousand years connected the Jews to their ancient ancestors the Israelites.

To add to the problem, in the rationale a Bethlehem pastor, Mitri Raheb, is quoted. His statement is “The establishment of the State of Israel created … an intended confusion. … Huge efforts were put by the State of Israel and Jewish organizations in branding the new State of Israel as a ‘biblical entity’. (Italics mine) Besides the slander of his thought, he is a pastor who denies that the European Jewish immigrants to modern Israel are ancestors of the ancient Israelites.

Several years ago as one of the speakers at a conference in Bethlehem, “Christ at the Check Point,” Raheb stated that the Jews who immigrated to Palestine from Europe were not descendents of ancient Israelites but were instead descendants “from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.” He was talking about the Khazars of Eastern Europe who during the medieval times converted to Judaism. They later converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity and no DNA testing has proven any connection to modern Jews.

Any commissioner reading this should understand that only anti-Semites insist that European Jews are not related to ancient Israel. This item, 07-01, has every potential to promote bigoted resource material.

Here is the Christian problem:

There have been attempts since the early days of Christianity to disconnect the Old Testament from the New. The heretic Marcion is one example. The Gnostics made the Old Testament God a monster. Some liberals of the nineteenth century were guilty of the attempt. The Nazis, of course, majored in disconnecting the Hebrew Bible from the New Testament.

Now I am not saying that any of those who wrote this item want to disconnect from the Old Testament, but attempts to draw lines between the Israel of today and the Israel of yesterday is fraught with that possibility because as I have pointed out the Israel of old is the past of the Jews of today who make up much of modern Israel. And it isn’t a state that is being torn away from its past, in our thoughts, but it is a people.

Let me give the reader an example of the problem: Felix Mendelssohn, a converted Jew wrote the beautiful music “There shall a Star from Jacob rise.” It is based on the Old Testament passage Numbers 24:16-17a:

"The words of him who hears the words of God and knows the knowledge of the Most High.
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered.
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near;
A star shall come forth from Jacob,
A scepter shall rise from Israel ... 

Now consider, the Jews of today are the physical descendants of the people Balaam was prophesying about.  And out of them would come the Messiah, the star shall rise, who would bring salvation.  Christians are children grafted into spiritual Israel.  They are adopted children because of that promised star and scepter.  Still, the physical children still exist and many of them make their home in modern day Israel. To deny their modern history is to deny their past history, to break all the links. The Israelites of the past did not disappear; they were not annihilated, instead, many of them returned to the holy land and survived.  And to deny their past history which is so meshed with Christianity is to deny the faith.

Yes, the word Israel in our hymns, biblical text and linked to God’s covenant are about ancient Israel. But the Jewish people and our faith in Jesus the Jewish messiah cannot be severed from their connections. But with item 07-01, there is danger that this will happen.