A message from the Stated Clerk concerning recent General Assembly statements on Israel

October 23, 2012

Louisville

On October 5, 2012, leaders of 15 Christian churches and organizations – including Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk, the Reverend Gradye Parsons – joined together to sign and send a letter to Congress calling for a reconsideration of unconditional military aid to Israel. The Presbyterian News Service story, containing the complete text of the letter, is found here.
                                                                                                                                          
An official response by Rev. Parsons to those who have communicated with him about the letter is found below. The Stated Clerk’s statement outlines the explicit actions from the past two General Assemblies that directed him to send such a letter to Congress.

I recently joined 14 other denominational leaders in signing a letter to the U.S. Congress requesting an investigation into the matter of whether U.S. aid to Israel was in accord with U.S. law, given our commitment to human rights and the search for peace. I call your attention to the action of the 219th General Assembly (2010), on this issue, which included the following language:

“1.   Express its enduring and heartfelt commitment to security, justice and lasting peace for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

2.   Express its support for the U.S. government policy of carefully vetting the funds distributed to foreign countries in ways that ensure peaceful development and are consistent with international law, human rights protections, and U.S. foreign policy, namely:

a.  the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which prohibits giving assistance to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations;

b.  the U.S. Arms Export Control Act of 1976 which prohibits using U.S. weapons against civilians and civilian infrastructure, and

c.  the U.S. foreign policy insofar as it pertains to recommendations for steps toward peace, in this instance, between Israelis and Palestinians.

3.   Call for the allocation of U.S. military aid funds to be contingent on compliance with the above-mentioned statutes and/or to the peace process.

4.   Express its extreme disappointment with the U.S. government that while the State of Israel has been found not to comply with the above statutes, it continues to be the recipient of U.S. military aid.

 5.   Direct the Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) to communicate these recommendations to    all members of the U.S. Congress, in particular the chairs of the Foreign Relations Committees for the House and Senate and to all appropriate members of the U.S. administration, including the president, vice-president, secretary of state and secretary of defense.”

That action was reinforced by the 220th General Assembly (2012), in addressing our own government, in which it:

“Calls on the U.S. government to give a thorough accounting to its citizenry as to the amounts of its foreign aid to countries in the Middle East that have been used by the recipient nations to finance human rights violations, breaches of international law and UN Security Council Resolutions; and to redirect adequate allocations of aid toward (1) the rebuilding of Gaza and humanitarian assistance for its people; and, (2) Palestinian reuse or dismantling of the remaining settlement infrastructure following the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

I have signed the letter in the name of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), by whose policies I am bound. Every Presbyterian has the freedom of conscience to disagree with the judgment of the over 600 Ruling and Teaching Elders who comprise the  General Assembly, and some may do so; nonetheless, this letter reflects the position of the highest council of our church and those who labor as staff of the General Assembly are bound by it.

Additionally, I would point out that this action, in its opening lines, expresses our decades of commitment to a common hope for both Israelis and Palestinians. Our 218th General Assembly (2008) reminded us that we should be “balanced” and “even–handed” in dealing with issues of justice and peace in the region. Awareness of that commitment did not prevent the next General Assembly, two years later, from focusing on the specific issue of U.S. aid to Israel as a clear and major concern.

Please explore further information regarding our policy history on this or other matters related to the search for peace in the Middle East.

Sincerely,

Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


  1. As a non denominational Christian, this terrifies me. The church needs to stay out of middle eastern politics just like the US government does. Let God defend His people. Both sides have committed atrocities, but in the long run, the Israeli Army (just like the US Army), is a good institution with occasional bad apples. The same can not be said of Hamas.

    by Ben

    October 24, 2013

  2. Reverend Parsons, Can we now humbly reflect on the wisdom of singling out Israel as the biggest problem, which is what your letter did. Will we continue to ignore the cries of girls, women, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and peaceful Muslims in the Middle East and Africa? Have you listened to their cries as churches and women are burned? Didn't we learn from WWII to listen more seriously to those who threaten the extermination of various groups? I believe what was done was done with good intent. But I also believe it will drive away parishioners who see the issue as more complex than your letters would imply. Thanks for considering issuing an update based on today's realities. I assume your group is supported by local churches. I doubt most know what you have done. You should tell all Presbyterians. Not make people read the NYTimes to find it. You are using contributions meant for good in ways that most of your members will see as encouraging terrorists and punishing Israel. You are in my prayers. As are all those suffering around the world.

    by carol caruthers

    November 16, 2012

  3. I wouldn't even attempt to assess the merits of Rev. Parsons' and the PC(USA)'s positions on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I only note the embarrassing conceit that a group shrinking as rapidly as the PC(USA) actually believes that it has any influence on such as an issue.

    by Jim Caraher

    October 29, 2012

  4. Grady you acted outside the bounds of the authority provided you by both the 2010 and 2012 General Assemblies. The 2010 only provided you direction to communicate with various government officials. This communication was intended to be just that, a communication stating the actions of the 219th General Assembly (as directed by part 5 of the noted action). Nothing more - nothing less. It was not intended to be an ideological/political statement such as you signed. Further, the statement you signed does not fall within the 220th GA action in two ways. First, the action was once again to be a communication - a statement not a politicized action. Second, the GA's statement does not target Israel specifically, but all "countries in the Middle East". Solely targeting Israel in the letter signed by you misrepresents the voice of the 2012 General Assembly. This is not about whether we agree or disagree with the actions of the 219th and 220th General Assemblies but with you overstepping your authority as Stated Clerk.

    by Dr. Jeff Francis

    October 26, 2012

  5. Grady, you are politically correct in taking this stand, but why do you not use Scripture to bring a message to the Middle East. Scripture says that Israel is not living out God's will and have as a nation hardened their hearts to the message of God in Christ. This opened the way for Gentiles to be "grafted" into the promises of God for salvation. Now is the time to bring the message of the Gospel to the Palestinian while the window is open. It is not the "social justice" message but the " salvation message" that alone will bring change to this region. I do not hear this in your proclamation. Now is the time to march forth with the message of hope in Christ......but you will not obey and make thins a priority. Political justice is ineffective when it is hearts of both the Jews and Gentiles world wide that need changing.

    by L.lee

    October 25, 2012

  6. I trust our Jewish brethren will understand that the misbegotten assertions of the 'leadership' of the PCUSA and other mainstream denominations do not represent the beliefs of the vast majority of American Protestants. Most of us understand the Middle Eastern situation clearly and like other Americans draw sensible conclusions. What we see in Mr Parson and the other signers is likely not a failure of perception or of interpretation or of intelligence. The facts are as available to him and to them as to any of us, and they aren't really that ambiguous. Therefore it is more specifically to his (and their) failure of judgment that we must speak. The poor judgment of Mr Parsons and his colleagues stems in turn from a set of values which overwhelm and trump real-world evidence: 1) Exotic cultures are somehow more authentic than Western cultures; 2) In any conflict, the weaker party is in the right; 3) If American policy has tended to favor one party in a conflict, that party is ipso facto in the wrong; 4) No enemies to the left; 5) Brutality and intolerance are central where they are in fact marginal and marginal where they are in fact central; 6) One must speak truth to power, but only when a) one is not really speaking the truth and b) when doing so is not likely to have any real consequences, since the power is not one likely to retaliate. 7) Pretend you're Dietrich Bonhoffer when you're really just William Sloane Coffin. In a world full of woe, and of truly terrible regimes, the PCUSA and its confreres can be counted to complain about Israel or Colombia or India. Bona fide tyrannies, meanwhile, are passed over in silence or win mild approval. I recall a picture a few years ago of smiling American churchpeople being lectured on the principles of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela: like a textbook picture of overjoyed collective farmers meeting the Great Leader. The Israel letter is a milestone in pusillanimity.

    by Allan Gray

    October 25, 2012

  7. I am ashamed to be a member of PCUSA. But I enjoy my local church. The policies of the national church leadership will continue to drive the relentless exodus of members to other churches that are not so brazenly anti-Israel and actually promote traditional Christian values.

    by Stephen Gons

    October 25, 2012

  8. Thank you, Rev. Parsons, for this clarification. I am proud of the stance taken by our General Assemblies with respect to holding the State of Israel accountable for its human rights abuses and for its disregard for about 3 dozen United Nations security council resolutions. I applaud your desire to keep us informed, and your faithful witness.

    by David Oliver-Holder

    October 25, 2012

  9. For those who would like to read an in depth discussion of the process by which PC(USA) adopted a divestiture resolution, and then backed off, I wrote two articles for Middle East Policy, a serious journal. These are on line. You can google my name (Ronald R. Stockton + Presbyterians) to find them. My goal was to present a faithful summary of the perspectives of the various participants in that debate, many of whom were not Presbyterian. I relied heavily upon statements and primary source documents. If anyone wants to communicate with me directly, my email is rstock(AT)umich.edu

    by Ronald Stockton

    October 25, 2012

  10. What are we doing for the disappearing Christian community in Iraq? What have we done for the Egyptian Christians, who have been Christian since the first century and are facing daily harrassment and in many cases violence? Both countries receive enormous amounts of US aid. And these communities are at risk of disappearing altogther. I am deeply ashamed of the lack of awareness and action on the part of American Christianity and the PCUSA on this matter. In Israel, at least Christians and Muslims can worship freely.

    by Marilyn Tanious

    October 24, 2012

  11. Thank you Rev. Parsons for signing the original letter with other churches as well as for this follow up letter of explanation for those people less familiar with the foundation of your authority to represent PC USA in the group letter.

    by Casey Currie

    October 24, 2012

  12. Do we rely on God's determination as to what will happen with and to Israel? If so, in our support and blessing of Israel, is it not right to encourage Israel to act in a manner that is in accordance with God's timeless instructions to Israel (and to us) through the prophets? God has again and again called Israel to act justly and compassionately - re-inforcing Torah through the Nevi'im, the Prophets. Those of us who want to bless Israel, to ask that Israel continue to be blessed by God, can do no better for Israel than to join our voices to those of the prophets, calling for Israel to act justly and to not distance itself further from God's instructions. This is why, as a friend to Israel, I join with the discernment of these GAs and with Gradye's letter. The stakes are very high, and regardless of what other mid-east entities do or say, Israel has a particular calling from God to do justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.

    by Allen Kitchen

    October 24, 2012

  13. Thankful that GA directed this action and you acted faithfully on their behalf ... I believe if we are faithful to the gospel God will cause the church to grow in quality and quantity of people and resources necessary to accomplish the mission we are called to

    by Serena Sullivan

    October 24, 2012

  14. Thanks, Gradye. I appreciate the following of church policy and taking the opportunity to inform Presbyterians of current and previous actions of the GA regarding Israel and Palestine.

    by Carol Hylkema

    October 24, 2012

  15. Since our first General Assembly met in Philadelphia in 1789, The Presbterian Church has supported efforts of speacking out on human rights violations. Grady, I'm thrilled and proud that on behalf of our denomination you signed this letter calling on our elected officials to account for aid given to countries who violate human rights violations and to redirect aid torwards building up those affected by these violations.

    by Corinne Baker

    October 24, 2012

  16. A hundred thousand more of our number in the PCUSA will head for the exits in 2012. And again each year for years to come. No longer willing to be part of the theological arm of the left wing of the Democratic party. In a choice between leading a big tent of Presbyterians with a wide range of beliefs and politics and pursuing his political passions, Gradye has come down firmly on the side of left wing political activism. Ten years from now, when the PCUSA is half its current size, half its churches are shuttered, two seminaries are closed or realigned, and its mission work largely ended, a future leader will muse out loud that perhaps this was not the best way to go for the long term. And the small band of true believers will look at her quizzically and go back to work on its next letter to Congress rebuking Israel.

    by Tome Walters

    October 24, 2012

  17. I affirm and support your action which accords fully with General Assembly policies.

    by Betty Sykes

    October 24, 2012

  18. Thank-you, Gradye, for providing this clear statement of how you are representing the discernment of the general assembly, who represent the church. You were correct--and faithful to your call as our stated clerk to sign the original letter. Blessings as you face the storm.

    by Kristine D. Bair

    October 24, 2012

  19. We were shocked by the letter and first heard about it in the NYTimes. Where has our church been in asking how congress can fund countries that treat women and girls as second class citizens, that terrorize Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and minority sects of Muslims. Really disappointed in church leadership. Praying about it but feel we must move our memberships.

    by carol caruthers

    October 23, 2012

  20. I'm grateful for Gradye Parson's willingness to sign a very balanced and compassionate letter. Though strident supporters of current Israeli policies would deny it, there are Christians and Jews who care enough about Israel and the Jewish faith to stand against the despicable actions of those who ignore foundational biblical ethics and perpetuate injustice against the palestinian people.

    by David Cameron

    October 23, 2012

  21. Apparently you peace-loving pastors have never read the old Testament. There has never been peace in the middle east and there never will be...until Jesus comes again. But what you have done is speak for your church using an authority you haven't been granted. If Congress were to stop providing military aid to Israel, then Israel is condemned. Iran, who would still receive aid from Russia, would attack quickly and relentlessly. The Jewish community considers this letter blatant anti-Semitism...and so do I. My husband and I were Presbyterians. We won't be much longer. You do not speak for us.

    by Vanessa

    October 23, 2012

  22. Thank you for your faithful execution of the policies of our General Assembly. Kurt

    by Kurt Kaboth

    October 23, 2012

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