The hotly debated issue of divestment is one of a constellation of recommendations about the Middle East coming to this General Assembly. This morning, I listened to testimony of speakers from both sides of the Middle East issues. I was impressed that commissioners heard from a Rabbi from southern California, a Jewish student and a young Muslim, alongside a former moderator of the PCUSA, a specialist in organizational psychology, and pastors and elders from our denomination who gave voice to deeply held passion, on both sides of the divestment question.
Virtually everyone agrees that the violence and oppression faced by Israelis and Palestinians must stop. Virtually everyone agrees that our denomination has a long history of relationship with Christians, Jews and Muslims in the region. Overture 04-02 proposes divestment as a solution. It remains to be seen whether virtually everyone at this assembly will agree.
Among the alternatives is a resolution to support Middle East peacemaking, which originated with the Presbytery of New Covenant. It rejects divestment and instead urges declaration of a negotiated two-state solution, a call for interfaith dialogue among presbyteries and congregations and travel by Presbyterians to the Holy Land. It also affirms the importance of economic measures and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that support and advance a negotiated two-state solution, and urges all church institutions to give careful consideration to possible investments in Israel-Palestine that advance peace and improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.
The stories from both sides of the question were compelling. Some believe positive investment is merely charity and does not go far enough to motivate real change in the region. These voices spoke with passion about the need for our denomination to bring its investments into alignment with its values through divestment. But others lifted up the stories of deep pain from both sides and testified to interfaith experiences that move beyond divisiveness with deep listening and dialogue.
Those who spoke against divestment lifted up the PCUSA’s historic commitment to affirmative dialogue. These voices offered the perspective that such a strategy mirrors the very conditions for which we are seeking change. Do not demonize, one speaker pleaded.
By the end of the day today, the committee charged with discernment on this issue (which includes Teaching Elder Ken Macari) had made no recommendation on the overture about divestment. They had, however, approved recommendations to include a full range of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian viewpoints in conversations, including the increasing number of prophetic voices committed to nonviolence and equal rights. They also approved a recommendation that commends other investment vehicles that do not profit from economic disadvantaging and dispossession of Palestinians.
I do believe that our methods must cohere with the outcome we hope to influence. I believe in socially responsible investment. I understand the power of economics to influence societal change. I will continue to listen, as commissioners discuss and discern the recommendations they will bring to the floor of the General Assembly for action. I pray that our witness may be a vehicle of reconciliation, both in the Middle East and among Christians, Jews, and Muslims in our nation.