By Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein*
The once proud and iconic Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA), is on the brink of complete and utter irrelevance. Before riding off into the sunset however, its recently concluded 223rd General Assembly(GA) delivered a series of blows aimed at the Jewish State.
Here’s a sample:
–Overture 12-02, “On Advocating for the Human Rights of All Citizens of Israel,” resolved ” to seek United States government suspension of all economic and military aid to Israel until the latter… [changes] its laws, policies, and practices that favor its Jewish citizens and discriminate against its Christian and Muslim citizens.” PCUSA accepted the modern blood libel of Israel as an apartheid state – without using the word. It charges that “the State of Israel actively seeks to promote and direct resources to Jewish citizens as a privileged majority within the ‘Jewish State,’” — contemptuously applying scare quotes around “Jewish State”.
–Overture 12-12 urging the church not to refer to Israel as a “colonialist project was defeated. PCUSA was free to treat Israel as an illegal entity, conceived in colonialist sin. This reflects its Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC), which argued during the previous GA that “Israel came into being at the point of the gun…With this beginning, how can this overture refer to ‘legitimacy?’” It also attempted to rewrite Jewish history: “As far as we know, there has been no documented large-scale Jewish exodus from Palestine during the first and second centuries; rather it is believed that with the ascendancy of Christianity and the Byzantine control of Palestine, the majority of Palestine’s population accepted Christianity.”
The GA resolved to sanction REMAX, because it helps sell real-estate in areas off-limits to Arabs. In Arab areas, selling land to Jews is punishable by death, but this was not mentioned.
Pro-Israel advocates attempted to temper an ugly anti-Israel resolution on Gaza with a mild addition: “The 223rd GA does not condone inciteful discourse by Hamas.” The committee rejected the Hamas reference, because Jeff DeYoe of the Israel Palestine Mission Network (an official body of the church with a long record of virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity) objected that Hamas should not be singled out for violence.
In early 2014, the Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced Zionism Unsettled, a horrible screed that delegitimized and demonized the State of Israel. “If this book reflects the feelings of the PCUSA, the Simon Wiesenthal Center will divest all contacts from this institution and call on other Jewish organizations to do them same,” we wrote. PCUSA later withdrew Zionism Unsettled from active sales, but it was too late. We are no prophets, but it did not take Divine inspiration to understand that we were witness to the beginning of PCUSA’s obituary.
The 2014 General Assembly(GA) passed new anti-Israel overtures. The legislation in 2016 was worse yet. But the voting commissioners still debated issues. While the process itself seemed farcical – a collection of people without specific training attempting to solve problems that had defeated the attempts of world-class diplomats– and doing so in a 2 ½ hour session, many genuinely struggled to offer some lifeline to the Jewish community.
Not so in 2018. And when it was done, Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson proudly announced, it took a mere: “35 minutes to deal with the Middle East.”
A the end of 2003, just months before their first divestment motion, membership was at 2,405,311 with 11,064 churches. From 2003 to 2017, membership dropped 41.2%, with losses accelerating over the last four years.
Presbyterians did not vanish into thin air. The good folks who were interested in old-fashioned ideas like worship and respecting the Bible pulled out, and began competing denominations like PCA and ECO that are thriving today. Those who remained within PCUSA increasingly knew little of the G-d of the Bible, worshipping instead Intersectionality and American self-loathing.
We will miss the old, noble Presbyterian Church. We will miss historic moments that created important bonds between Jews and Presbyterians. The Reverend William Blackstone, a Christian supporter of a Jewish return to its homeland, sought and got the endorsement of the Presbyterian Church of his Blackstone Memorial – an important precursor to the Balfour Declaration – before presenting it to President Woodrow Wilson, himself a religiously observant Presbyterian. As recently as 1987, PCUSA offered A Theological Understanding of the Relationship between Christians and Jew to church members as a new way to regard Judaism, build bridges with Jews, and reject replacement theology.
We will miss our partnership over the years with some incredible people in PCUSA, most of whom have left. A few intrepid souls fight on, in a group called Christians For Middle East Peace. They should be honored as friends of truth, justice, and the Jewish people.
*Co-author Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the Simon Wiesenthal Center Director of Interfaith Affairs