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Middle East dominates commissioners' resolutions

June 16, 2014

Concern over a variety of issues related to the Middle East dominated Commissioners Resolutions submitted to the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with eight of the 18 addressing everything from the Syrian civil war to violence against children in the region.

Others ran the gamut from giving presbytery and synod executives an official role in Assemblies to ammunition regulation to establishment of an Evolution Sunday.

A 19th resolution was submitted asking that presbytery and synod executives be polled for an advisory vote during the Assembly, but was covered earlier Sunday as the Assembly adopted a motion seeking the same thing.

Five of the eight Middle East resolutions were referred to the General Assembly Committee on Middle East issues, which is considering such other issues as reviewing the denomination's two-state policy in the region, and policies on investing in companies deemed to be in non-peaceful pursuits in Palestine.

One resolution proposed by ruling elder commissioners Michael Gizzi from the Presbytery of Great Rivers and Harriett Hughes from Presbytery of Los Ranchos would have the Presbyterian Mission Agency no longer distribute Zionism Unsettled, a resource prepared by the Israel Palestine Mission Network, created by the General Assembly in 2004 to advocate for Palestinian rights.

The resolution says the document uses "politically charged rhetoric," and is "a polemic that distorts rather than educates" and does not represent the position of the PC(USA).

The committee also received four other resolutions:

  • From Teaching Elder Commissioner Kyle Walker, Presbytery of Mission, and Ruling Elder Commissioner Dick Hasbany, Presbytery of Southern New England, asking the Assembly to condemn the Israeli military's bulldozing hundreds of mature, fruit-bearing trees and grapevines growing on land owned by the Daoud Nassar family in the West Bank of the Occupied Palestinian Territories; commend and thank the Nassar family for establishing the Tent of Nations peace project; and encouraging Presbyterians to visit Tent of Nations and work to end the senseless destruction of farms, homes, and businesses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories."

  • From Paul Talarico, a ruling elder commissioner from Presbytery of Palisades Presbytery, and Andries J. Coetzee, a teaching elder commissioner from Presbytery of Muskingum Valley, asking various denominational agencies to address the "current situation of violence against children in Palestine and Israel."

  • A resolution from Gizzi and Teaching Elder Commissioner John Vest from the Presbytery of Chicago asks the Assembly to endorse as a "third way" a paper written by the Ecumenical and Interreligious Work Group of the Presbytery of Chicago, Perspectives on Presbyterian Church (USA) Support for a Just and Peaceful Compromise of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and to distribute it throughout the church. The resolution also asks that congregations and presbyteries "support Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers and their initiatives; seek partnerships; encourage understanding of opposing views; establish relations locally; get information firsthand from those working for a just and peaceful compromise; (and) visit Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza together and listen to the full range of perspectives from people on the ground."

  • From teaching elder commissioners Carmen Goetschius, Presbytery of Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery, and John Bell, Presbytery of Denver, calling for "community engagement and prayer for peace, justice, and reconciliation in Israel/Palestine." The resolution envisions discussions at all levels of the denomination by "persons from within American Jewish and Palestinian communities (both Christian and Muslim) who represent broad perspectives and concerns regarding conflict between people in Israel and Palestine, to gather for a common day of prayer for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine. Prayer will be followed by a time of listening for the purpose of deeper understanding of one another. Guests are invited to a closed-door conversation to share their hopes and concerns for peace in Israel/Palestine, the pain they have experienced in the conflict, and their understanding of what makes for peace in the region. This time of listening shall close with a time of prayer."

The other Middle East resolutions went to the Peacemaking and International Relations Committee.

  • Teaching Elder Commissioner Beth Freese Dammers from Chicago and Ruling Elder Commissioner Don Mead, Presbytery of Mackinac, seek to raise Presbyterians' awareness of, and action to address, the impact of the ongoing civil war in Syria. Among the many recommendations is the calling for a ceasefire and for the United States to avoid "military interference" while increasing financial assistance to agencies dealing with refugees.

  • Also dealing with Syria, as well as Iran, is a resolution from teaching elder commissioners Quinn Fox from Presbytery of National Capital and Kim Skilling, Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy, that would call the church's attention to the human rights abuses in civil wars in these countries, and to praying for the residents and for the U.S. government to work to mediate the conflicts.

  • A third resolution addresses issues in Iran, including freedom of worship and the country's nuclear program. It was proposed by ruling elder commissioners Donald Mead, Mackinac, and Peter Mann, Presbytery of Minnesota Valley.

Other proposals include

  • making presbytery and synod executives corresponding members of the Assembly,
  • mandating childcare at General Assemblies,
  • requiring closer communication between the Office of the General Assembly and presbyteries in the site selection process for future meetings,
  • requiring a study of the effectiveness of "mid council to mid council reference checks," especially in light of recent issues involving clergy references,
  • encouraging the church to be more aware of the "global crisis" of violence faced by lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered persons and asking PC(USA) congregations to "consider preparations to provide sanctuary, safety, and support for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers,"
  • putting the denomination on record as advocating federal and legislation to regulate ammunition,
  • requiring presbyteries and denominational agencies to provide parental leave policies of at least six weeks at full pay for both natural births and adoption,
  • asking the stated clerk to petition the U.S. government to release Oscar Lopez Rivera, "the political prisoner who has served the longest prison sentence,"
  • joining other Christian groups in endorsing the second Sunday in February as Evolution Sunday "to recognize the influence that the theory of evolution has had in changing the world view of our natural environment,"
  • affirming and safeguarding "the right of sessions of local churches to uphold the historic definition of marriage between a man and a woman."

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