Tuesday, May 25, 2010


It's way too late to send an overture to this year's General Assembly.  But there is still plenty of time (well just a bit over a month) for a presbytery to say that it agrees with an overture for another presbytery.  The process is just different.  If a presbytery sends an overture or concurs with an overture it had to be in to the Stated Clerk's office at least 60 days before the General Assembly meeting begins if it has financial implications.  Other overtures require different amounts of time before the General Assembly begins.  What are overtures?  The General Assembly provides a web page to describe it, how to go about writing and sending an overture, etc.

But it is still possible for a presbytery to tell another presbytery that it likes the other presbytery's overture.  This gives the presbytery that sent the overture bragging rights: "Not only do we think this overture was a good idea but this other presbytery (insert name of the other presbytery) agrees with us."

The so called "Peacemaking Committee" of Philadelphia Presbytery asked the Presbytery to tell San Francisco Presbytery that we agree with three overtures from them that were about Israel/Palestine.  To be frank they were all severely critical of Israel.  You can find them on the General Assembly's web site.  They are named: 14-02 On Divestment from Caterpillar, Inc., 14-04 On Recognition that Israel’s Laws, Policies, and Practices Constitute Apartheid Against the Palestinian People., and 14-05 On Commending “A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith and Hope from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering” as an Advocacy Tool.  As one can tell by their titles they do not praise Israel or even take an even handed approach to the issues between Israel and Palestine.  Overture 14-02 (if passed) would tell the Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pension to sell off any stock they have in Caterpillar, Inc.  Overture 14-04 says that Israel, after a long list of bad things the overture says Israel does, wants the General Assembly to call Israel "Apartheid."  The last overture, 14-05, recommends a document called the "Kairos Document" for study in governing bodies (synods, presbyteries and congregations) around the denomination.

Now you may have to join "PC biz" to get into the site and read the overtures.  For the time being you can find them on the Philadelphia Presbytery's website.  Just click on Click here to download the Docket and Reports.

Just to keep things interesting the Session of the Media Presbyterian Church proposed to the Presbytery that it vote no on those three overtures and vote yes on another one from San Joaquin Presbytery instead.  This overture takes a much more even handed approach to the questions of the issues in the Middle East.

Philadelphia Presbytery voted today to approve the overture from San Joaquin Presbytery by a substantial margin.  It also voted not to approve the three overtures from San Francisco Presbytery, two by substantial margins.  The third, the overture recommending that the Kairos Document be offered fro study by congregations in the denomination was voted down too, but in a curious way.  When counted, and checked five times, it was discovered that the votes for that overture was a tie vote.  I suspect that people thought there wasn't too much harm in sending a document out to be studied and besides it was written by fellow Christians in Palestine.  Nevertheless parliamentary procedure says that a tie vote means that the overture failed.  Thus Philadelphia Presbytery says it agrees with the San Joaquin overture and doesn't agree with any of the San Francisco overtures.

I love Israel but I am critical of it.  I mourn for most Palestinians, particularly my Christian brothers and sisters.  I don't like the security barrier but understand its necessity.  After the security barrier was built suicide bombings dropped off to none.  I remember that there was one suicide bomber who specifically chose a bus stop where children congregated to go to school.  He blew himself up with a group of school children.  But I wish Israel had built the barrier on the Green Line (the border before the 1967 war.  I would like to see Israel tear down all the settlements in the West Bank.  But I would also like to see the leaders of different groups in Palestine offer to recognize Israel and to make a real peace with no rockets or suicide bombers with Israel.  Neither Hamas or Fatah currently recognize Israel's right to exist.  Further, they want all those who left (or were chased out)and their descendants of what became Israel in 1948 be allowed to return to their former homes.  This sounds great until one realizes that Israel would then have a majority of Palestinians.  Israel would then no longer be a Jewish state.  In fact the Jewish citizens of Israel might be asked (forced) to leave.  

There is good and evil on both sides.  I think Philadelphia Presbytery did the right thing today.  I hope the General Assembly will do the same thing.  How could we possibly sit down with Jewish and Palestinian Americans or Israelis and Palestinians and ask about and encourage peace if we took sides?


Aric Clark said...

I am not a fan of presbyteries "concurring". My Presbytery chose to concur with an overture to table the NFoG, which seems to me to be a way of attempting to put pressure on GA and get a jump on the possible voting afterward. Presbyteries should send things TO GA for consideration there and other presbyteries should wait for what comes out of GA before making judgments about what they do or do not agree with. My opinion.

On a separate topic - even-handedness is a false virtue which is detrimental to honest conversation. Fairness, or honesty might rightly be called virtues. But we have developed a culture in which one cannot criticize a person/nation/party/entity without then immediately equally criticizing the "other side". This leads to distortion. There are not always 2 sides to every story. Usually there are many sides. Not every side is equally blameworthy or equally righteous. Nor does criticism of one side become more or less true if it is accompanied non-sequitor criticisms of other parties.

If I say that you are often wise and compassionate, it doesn't require me to then equally compliment your opponents. If I say that Israel has done horrible things - the truth of that statement does not vary whether I follow that with commentary on horrible things done by palestinians or not.

Now in a situation as complex as the one in Israel it is difficult to say true or fair things which don't evaluate various aspects of the problem. A highly selective way of telling the truth can be a form of lying by distortion, but a forced "even-handedness" is as selective and distorted as a partisan attack.

For example - it is ridiculous when media outlets do things like refer to waterboarding, stress positions, sleep-deprivation and other such practices as "enhanced interrogation techniques" because there are 2 sides to every argument and if one side insists that the definition of torture is not legally settled then we have to reserve judgment. The law has settled that issue repeatedly. It is a distortion of the truth to say otherwise in deference to the false virtue of even-handedness.

Similarly people saying that we need to teach creationism or ID alongside evolution in school - since there are 2 sides to every argument...

By such reasoning as long as one person anywhere opposes, no matter how crackpot or wrongheaded that individual we must in all of our public statements treat either position with equal dignity.

Pastor Bob said...

1. I'm with you on the concurring thing. I wish the Peacemaking Committee had never brought the subject up.

2. I agree that there are many sides to the Israel/Palestine problems. I do have a problem when overtures say the whole problem would be resolved if Israel would just . . . It sure ain't that simple.

3. As to the Caterpillar thing a few years back a GA tried to instruct the Board of Pensions and the Foundation to divest from something or other. The Foundation and the Board of Pensions told the GA it couldn't instruct them how to invest because they had/have a fiscal responsibility to accounts in the case of the Foundation and those of us who hope to get pensions someday in the case of the Board of Pensions.

4. Re: the nFoG: table it? Til when? Why not just dismiss the Task Force with thanks and trash it? Someone wrote about the Book of Order that there is blood on every page. Most of the stuff in there is there because someone did something stupid. (Like calling a special session meeting but only inviting the pastor's pals.)

Aric Clark said...

2. Is that what the overtures said? That wasn't my interpretation. I don't think anyone thinks if Israel just did X,Y,Z the entire problem would disappear. However, Israel is in a position to unilaterally do many things which would be a change for the better. Since Israel is a nation, and our close ally, and a democracy, whereas there is no nation of palestine for us to address our criticism toward it makes sense to hold Israel to account. The "but timmy is doing it too" defense is really below the dignity of Israel.

4. Sorry, my sloppy parliamentarian language got it wrong. The overture we concurred with would trash the NFoG and dismiss the committee. Not table it.

I understand your perspective on the NFoG, but I think overtures to trash it are in extremely poor taste. The NFoG is due a hearing. There are at least 2 major opportunities for the denomination to say no to the project, at GA and in every single Presbytery if it somehow passed at GA (it won't). An overture to trash it is just piling on and circumventing conversation that ought to happen.

Pastor Bob said...

I agree that an overture on the nFoG is ridiculous. I want the GA to give it a full consideration and THEN vote against it.

Aric Clark said...

That is a position with integrity in my opinion. There are many ways our system can technically be used "correctly" which strike me as being against the spirit of the process.