LOUISVILLE

Stated Clerk says governor’s actions would restrict public witness

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has sent a letter to Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, speaking against his position on companies that participate in boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. The governor recently signed an executive order to ban the awarding of state contracts to companies that support the BDS movement.

In the letter, Nelson says the executive order contains a number of misrepresentations and joins Kentucky with the Israeli government’s efforts to suppress criticism of its violation of Palestinian human rights.

“Your resolution cuts directly at the heart of the historical commitment of Presbyterians that, as a matter of our faith, we are bound to ensure that the resources we have, including our financial resources, are used in ways that reflect our belief in the biblical mandate to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God,” the letter reads.

Nelson provides some history of the church’s involvement in actions against businesses in the past, including companies that profit from the sale of alcohol or tobacco products, the Nestle boycott and the worldwide divestment campaign against apartheid in South Africa. The Stated Clerk says the actions directed at Israel’s military occupation of Palestine are appropriate as “faithful responses to the Word of God.” During the 223rd General Assembly (2018) of the PC(USA) in St. Louis, the church called for its representatives to defend and advocate for the constitutional protection under the First Amendment for all U.S. citizens, companies and organizations that work for the freedoms and full citizenship rights of Palestinians. The General Assembly also opposes specific U.S. legislation that calls for civil and criminal penalties against those who support BDS policies and strategies.

In the letter, Nelson calls for public hearings to discuss why Kentucky businesses and citizens have been brought into a conflict that “sides with those depriving others of citizenship.”

Gov. Bevin recently signed the executive order at the Kentucky Capitol with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Consul General of Israel to the Southeastern United States Judith Varnai Shorer

For more information on the General Assembly’s actions in St. Louis, click here

The Stated Clerk’s letter in its entirety:

Office of the General Assembly
J. HERBERT NELSON, II
STATED CLERK of the General Assembly

The Honorable Matthew G. Bevin,
Governor of Kentucky
700 Capitol Ave., Suite 100
Frankfort, KY 40601

I write on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whose General Assembly offices are based in Louisville, Kentucky. We are a national denomination with 151 congregations in Kentucky. Our General Assembly, the highest representative body in our church, has gone on record opposing actions such as your anti-BDS Executive Order 2018-905, which you signed on November 15, 2018. That order contains a number of misrepresentations and joins Kentucky—without serious public debate—to the Israeli Government’s systematic efforts to suppress criticism of its long violation of Palestinian human rights and its invidious restrictions on our faith partners.

Your resolution cuts directly at the heart of the historical commitment of Presbyterians that, as a matter of our faith, we are bound to ensure that the resources we have, including our financial resources, are used in ways that reflect our belief in the biblical mandate to “do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

That belief has been lived out in the particular ways we have made use of our financial resources, including decisions regarding our investments. For example, in the earliest days of our history, decisions were made to prohibit the investment of the denomination’s financial resources in any enterprise that produced alcoholic products or profited from the sale of tobacco products (a matter surely of interest to Kentuckians). This was, if you will, a boycott.

Much more recently, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was one of the initiators of what became the worldwide Nestle Boycott, aimed at the efforts of that corporation to market their infant formula products to mothers in Africa and other developing countries. The mothers who responded often only had access to tainted water or tried to stretch the formula, resulting in a horrific number of infant deaths. Millions of those who joined that boycott, including many Presbyterians, joined that boycott of all Nestle products as a matter of Christian faith.

Further, one of the campaigns in which Presbyterians were most prominent was the worldwide divestment campaign to bring about an end to apartheid in South Africa. In the course of that campaign, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) instructed the church’s investing agencies to divest or refuse to invest in corporations who were deemed to be propping up the apartheid regime. Sad to say, one of the governments that continued to have close relations with the apartheid government was Israel, who continued its oppression of Palestinians, including many of our Christian partners.

It follows from those experiences that consideration of actions of boycott, divestment, and sanctions directed at Israel’s military occupation of Palestine are appropriate as faithful responses to the Word of God.

Responding to these realities, the 223rd General Assembly (2018) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) called on Presbyterians to:

2.         Defend and advocate for the constitutional protection under the First Amendment for all United States citizens, religious and civic organizations, companies and corporations that exercise their freedoms of speech, association, and other civil rights to support measures of economic witness designed to bring those freedoms and rights to Palestinians and other persons living without full citizenship and under occupation.

3.         Oppose specific U.S. legislation to suppress measures of economic witness (boycott, divestment, sanctions, or BDS policies and strategies such as “The Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” Senate Bill (S) 720 and House Resolution (H.R.) 1697, which seek to impose civil and criminal penalties for nonviolent BDS resistance against human rights violations in Israel and Palestine.”) (Minutes, 2018, Part I, pp. 75, 1117, Item 12-01; see also https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000241)

Since your executive decision has not been vetted by the full legislature, or offered for public discussion prior to your decree, we call for hearings to discuss why Kentucky citizens and businesses have been brought into an international conflict on the side of those depriving others of citizenship. Such hearings would not only be standard democratic practice, but would enable nonviolent civil society groups, including our church, to set the record straight on the actions of boycott, divestment, and sanctions as manifestations of our faith in a God of Justice and peace.

In the faith we share,

The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)