Magazine article The Christian Century

Presbyterians Find Common Ground on Mideast

Magazine article The Christian Century

Presbyterians Find Common Ground on Mideast

Article excerpt

As Presbyterians opened their eight-day General Assembly on the Fourth of July weekend, they faced a bitter debate over a report on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It appeared to some leading participants that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) would reenact a bruising version of Mideast confrontations "within its own body, so divided were we on all sides."

However, a heavily revised version of the 170-page report was adopted on the last full day of the assembly in Minneapolis, 558 to 119--a margin called "miraculous" by one voter.

The report approved July 9 urged the U.S. to halt aid to Israel until it ends expansion of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, called on Israel and Egypt to lift a blockade of civilian supplies to Hamas-controlled Gaza territory and continued to seek "the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories." But the revised report also affirmed Israel's right to exist as a sovereign nation "within secure and internationally recognized borders" and revised what many U.S. Jewish groups termed an anti-Israeli bias in the original report.

As reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal, the approved report eliminated two background pieces that critics said offered a lopsided historical account, one downplaying Jewish claims to the Holy Land and favoring Palestinian views. "Instead, it called for the creation of a monitoring committee that would solicit four essays each from Israelis and Palestinians on what they perceive the conflict to be," the newspaper said.

The revision made it clear that a Palestinian Christian report, "A Moment of Truth," was fine for "study" but that the PCUSA General Assembly endorsed only selected themes reflecting an "emphasis on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy and reconciliation."

The committee that sent its revisions to the full gathering drew praise from denominational leaders. Rick Ufford-Chase, the 2004 moderator, spoke on the convention floor July 8 on behalf of at least eight former assembly moderators with various views who backed the changes. "God's healing presence has been at work," said Ufford-Chase, who is executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

Committee members "tackled tough issues while refraining from tackling one another," added top PCUSA executives--including stated clerk Gradye Parsons and newly elected moderator Cynthia Bolbach--in a July 10 statement. "They placed great value on finding common ground as they displayed gracious, mutual forbearance toward one another."

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Especially noteworthy was the joint approval of the amended report by four church leaders who had earlier expressed fears that the convention battle would become a microcosm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. …

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