16 former moderators support Middle East report

Leaders encourage GA commissioners to approve study committee’s report

June 29, 2010


With the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) days away, 16 former GA moderators are calling for commissioners to approve a study report on Middle East peace that was requested by the 218th GA.

Breaking Down the Walls” is the report of the Middle East Study Committee. The committee was charged with preparing a comprehensive study focusing on Israel/Palestine with regard to the context of the Middle East. The report includes recommendations and study materials.

“Breaking Down the Walls” affirms Israel’s legitimacy as a state but calls the occupation of Palestine (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) “illegitimate, illegal under international law, and an enduring threat to peace in the region.”

The report’s recommendations call for the PC(USA) to dedicate 2010-12 as a time of prayer and action about the Middle East; create a Middle East monitoring group to ensure implementation of GA directives; strongly denounce Caterpillar’s profit-making from non-peaceful uses of its products in the region; encourage PC(USA) bodies to invest in sustainable economic development projects in the area; send a delegation to the area with other faith leaders; endorse the Kairos Palestine document developed by Palestinian Christian leaders; promote donations to Christian education in the region; and encourage Presbyterians to travel to Israel/Palestine.  

The full text of the letter from 15 past moderators, encouraging commissioners to approve the report:

June 15, 2010:

Dear Commissioners to the 219th General Assembly,

Thank you as elders and ministers for taking the time to serve the church in your local congregation and session, presbytery, synod and now on our highest governing body, the 219th General Assembly. We know the amount of reading material before you can be overwhelming. You are in our prayers as you discern the will of God and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit for our beloved PC(USA) on all the issues before the Assembly.

The purpose of our letter is to ask you to support and approve the Middle East Study Committee report for the following reasons:

1. The committee membership was chosen to represent the church by our 3 moderators, mandated by the 218th General Assembly, and consisted of different points of view. One from our midst, Rev. Susan Andrews who was the Moderator of the 215th General Assembly, served on the committee.

2. Their mandate was to write a comprehensive report about the Middle East — focusing on Israel/Palestine, in the context of the whole region. They were asked to talk with the people in the region, particularly our Christian partners, and Jews and Muslims. Their mandate did not focus solely on talking with the American Jewish community. That dialogue is essential as we move forward, but this is a Presbyterian statement and is a work in progress.

3. Their report builds on — and assumes — all the reports and statements that have been adopted by the GA in previous years — including the many statements that give voice to a Jewish and Israeli perspective.  This report gives voice to the Palestinian Christian voice in a way that has not been heard before — in response to the urgency of the moment and the plea of our Christian brothers and sisters in the region to be heard.  There is unanimity among all the many diverse Christian voices in the region in a way that has never happened before. It is a voice of suffering and urgency — and is echoed by moderate Muslim partners. The window of opportunity is closing for a peaceful solution to the problems in Israel/Palestine, and the threat of renewed violence is everywhere.  The Christian presence has dwindled significantly in the past 50 years in Palestine/Israel, and so, the voice of reconciliation that Christians have always represented in the region is being silenced.

4. Their report reaffirms what the PCUSA has wanted for decades — a desire for commitment to a peaceful two state solution, within secure and recognized borders, in a nuclear free Middle East; the right of return or compensation for refugees, the security barrier pulled back to the 1967 borders, the end of settlement expansion, the right of Israel to exist next to a sovereign, independent and economically viable Palestine, a shared Jerusalem, all with a clear repudiation of anti-Semitism.

5. Their report lifts up the Kairos document for study — not approval — so that a collaborative Palestinian Christian voice can be heard. The study team report affirms the emphases in the Kairos document on non-violence and reconciliation and hope. The report does not affirm or endorse language about boycott, divestment, or sanction, although, it reaffirms corporate engagement and other non-violent ways to end support for the occupation.

6. The biblical and theological section clearly repudiates any hint of Christian Zionism or supercessionism. What it does do is tie responsibilities for justice, human rights and hospitality to the biblical understanding of land rights.

In light of the urgency of the situation in Israel/Palestine, the 43 years of Israeli military occupation over the lives of 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the continuous building of settlements is making the two state solution increasingly difficult.

We urge you to be a prophetic assembly by approving this report to help the whole church begin a two year study of Israel and Palestine and asking our people to travel and meet Israeli Jews, Palestinian Christians and Muslims, and see the situation for themselves. Our church must continue to love both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs and continue to struggle with them to work for truth, freedom, justice, reconciliation and peace.

Again, we urge you to support and vote in favor of this report.

Sincerely in the service of Jesus Christ,

(Our names below indicate our support)

  • The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, 2008-2010 218th            
  • Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, 2004-2006 216th
  • The Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, 2002 214th
  • The Rev. Jack Rogers, 2001 213th
  • The Rev. Syngman Rhee, 2000 212th
  • Elder Freda A. Gardner, 1999 211th
  • The Rev. Douglas W. Oldenburg, 1998 210th
  • Elder Marj Carpenter, 1995 207th
  • The Rev. Robert W. Bohl, 1994 206th
  • The Rev. David Dobler, 1993 205th   
  • The Rev. John M. Fife, 1992 204th
  • The Rev. Dr.  Herbert Valentine, 1991 203rd
  • Elder Price H. Gwynn, III, 1990 202nd
  • The Rev. Benjamin Weir, 1986 198th
  • The Rev. Dr. Albert C. Winn, 1979 119th
  • Elder Jule C. Spach, 1976 116th
  1. As the world's eyes turn toward the PCUSA's GA, I would urge you to address the actualities of the situation in Israel/Palestine: morality suggests insisting on ending the occupation, but the Israelis themselves have visited the issue from all conceivable stances and a normative solution is simply insufficient. Ending the occupation simply means starting the war, witness Gaza. One cannot recognize Israel's right to exist while insisting on conditions that would destroy it. In the end, the PCUSA's position is polyanna and therefore useless. Moreover, divestment is akin to boycott of Jewish businesses. The practical, actual, question comes down to: is the PCUSA for war, or for peace. As stated, the PCUSA position *sounds* as if it is for peace, but in terms of the real situation is in fact for war.

    by Prof. Mark S. Drew

    July 3, 2010

  2. I have a great deal of respect for the moderators represented by this letter, however, I wonder if they have all read the report closely and are sure that this letter or endorsement correctly represents the report. For instance in #5 it says the report "lifts up the Kairos document for study -- not approval..." yet the report actually calls for the "endorsement" of the Kairos Palestine Document. (page 45 f) In the same paragraph (#5) it is suggested that, "The report does not affirm or endorse language about boycott, divestment, or sanction... " however, the Reprot itself suggests, "the witholding of U.S. government aid to the state of Israel..." There is a lot of fine material in this study paper but you should not accept this endorsement by 16 moderators as an accurate analysis of what the paper says. There are troubling recommendations and historical/theological analysis in this paper that are not necessarily wrong, since they represent a point of view, but they only one way of reading the history and theologically reflecting on the situation in the Middle East. Ultimately the Presbyterian Church would be better to stick with its previous affirmations for a two-state solution and promise to do everything we can to help the parties in the Middle East achieve this goal. Telling the partners what they must do has a polarizing effect. Israel just gets more entrenched in its conservative defensiveness when they feel that the tide of opinion is turning against them. We should be able to learn from our own response to terrorism, something of the fear that prompts, both irrational and unjustified behaviors by Israel. A study paper and recommendations from the Presbyterian Church should give voice to the powerlessness all parties in the Middle East feel. We can't be faithful brokers of peace without understanding and being a voice for the concerns and needs of all sides.

    by Lorne Bostwick

    July 1, 2010