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.