Monday, June 16, 2014

Commissioners in the lions' den?

A friend suggested that I write about Israel in the lion’s den, as in Daniel in the lion’s den. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt it should be commissioners in the lion’s den. Today forty chairs were set up for resource people such as Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment and the Presbyterian Foundation.  The back side of the room was filled with people from Jewish Voices for Peace, the people who made personal calls to commissioners. And everywhere one looked were resource people moving about the room.
The committee voted to put aside 04-08 and to take up 04-04, an item which reinforces the Presbyterian policy of a two state solution for Israel and Palestine, and speaks of positive investment, disallowing divestment. Immediately after voting to do this a commissioner made a motion that number two in item 04-04 be changed from saying, “Reject any proposed divestment and economic sanctions against the state of Israel or any application of the PC(USA)’s corporate engagement policies toward such end”  to a call for divestment.

And just after this happened, which of course moved the committee toward the coming big debate on divestment, past moderator Rick Ufford-Chase entered the room and with a few nods and conversations with various people controlling the committee, as well as using the rights of a moderator, spoke at length about the  importance of divestment. And then again the various organizations which are controlling this committee asked a pastor from South Africa to speak; it was almost a sermon on divestment. Since there was some protest about the speaker from South Africa, the committee voted for him after he was announced.
In a sense the commissioners are not debating this at all, instead an army of resource people are giving a monologue to the committee.

However one commissioner complained that they were not hearing the other side. And after a break another commissioner asked if John Wimberly of Presbyterians For Middle East Peace could speak. Again the committee voted and it was allowed. But he was only given three minutes.
The committee’s business for the day ended and they will vote on divestment tomorrow morning, the 17th. Hopefully their debate will not be interrupted again by more resource people. So the commissioners are in the midst of lions, only these lions are not like Daniel’s lions whose mouths God shut. And they are not like the lions of Africa who roar with their might. No these are cunning lions who under the pretense of helping are controlling the situation.

On another item in the Middle East Committee the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns writes this advice: “Presbyterians have a time-honored tradition of study and dialogue and we value looking at difficult issues of our times from all sides and through different lenses. We have a longstanding tradition of not running away from difficult conversations, accepting that there are people of faith on both sides of any issue who deserve to be heard.”

Perhaps those overpowering the Middle East Committee should take the ACREC’s advice.


Jim Berkley, Roslyn, WA said...

This is SUCH typical politicking at GA's uneven playing field. Add up the time that non-commissioner voices have had the ear of the committee to argue divestment, and compare it to the time anti-divestment voices have been heard, and it would probably be on the order of 10:1. GA is so very much controlled by special interests that have an inside track on power. They get all the breaks, nearly all the precious time to make their case, and everyone's money to work with. This is an excellent case in point.

will spotts said...

Jim - you are right. That is the way it has been in my observation (admittedly, over a much briefer period than yours).

But that is immoral, unethical, and unchristian. So why do you suppose it is that Presbyterians tolerate it?

Is it a dislike of conflict? Is it intimidation in the face of officials? Is it denial - it is bad, and it is about the PC(USA) - therefore it can't really be happening ...? Is it stupidity?

I don't get it.

Jim Berkley said...

Will, I think it is a naïve niceness on the part of commissioners, who are nearly all rookies. Commissioners come with practically no experience; the staff and wonks of GA bring all kinds of experience with which to run things to get the result they believe to be best. Naiveté meets a political machine, and the political machine wins.

Commissioners are unsure and tentative, so the sure hand of experience and greater knowledge and power seems like a good thing to follow. Basically, commissioners roll over and let the establishment herd them wherever it wants to take them. It's kindness and misplaced trust on the part of the commissioners. They don't want to rock the boat, and they're not sure what they believe or how things ought to go. Along comes an "expert" to tell them, and they get into line to follow.

The two easiest things for a GA to do are: 1) follow the direction given by those in charge (who are assumed to know better) or 2) put off any major decision to the next GA, after an expensive (and usually rigged) special committee or task force arrives at foregone conclusions.

It's not necessarily evil. After all, what pastor goes into a session meeting with no plan for how he or she hopes business items are resolved? Those who live all week, all month, all biennium with issues definitely have their opinions about what OUGHT to be decided, unless something goes wrong. It would be wonderful if wise, deeply biblical, can't-go-wrong leaders could put in place a smooth process for God-honoring decisions to naturally emerge. GA could convene, marvel at what plans brilliant and dedicated servants of the church have come up with, rubberstamp the plans without much fuss, and see the sights of whatever city in which GA is held.

But the reality is that power bases deeply entrenched in the structures of the PCUSA bring to GA an agenda that most evangelicals simply cannot be comfortable with. So GA becomes a biennial battle. The great problem is that GA is anything but fair! The entrenched powers get the free publicity, an enormously bloated amount of time before the commissioners to make their case, advocates with "expert" hats to bolster their case, and the impetus of leaders at every level vigorously pushing the agenda. The evangelical faithful have none of these advantages. The playing field becomes an inclined funnel that leads toward the goal box that evangelicals try desperately to defend. It quickly becomes a losing proposition.

Jim Berkley
Roslyn, WA

will spotts said...

Thanks, Jim. I think that explains the phenomenon pretty well.

But the patent unfairness and appalling corruption of it still stinks rather strongly.

will spotts said...

In Committee 4, at least, it rather looks like the lions won.