Talitha Phillips is blogging live from the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s bi-annual General Assembly in Minneapolis.
When assembling, the Presbyterians gather as a whole first for the selection of a moderator, but then they break into 18 groups and do business there. Starting Wednesday these committees will reassemble and present their findings to the assembly, but the decisions made in committee tend to heavily sway the decisions of the body as a whole.
Just two notable ones for today…
In the Middle East room, we appear ready to make strong statements against the continuance of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but less ready to adopt positions regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. Many positions have been proposed and rejected, so we remain at a middle ground. An overture to call the Israeli occupation of Palestine “apartheid” was rejected as “too offensive” to many ears. In particular, we are charting an uncomfortable middle line with regards to Caterpillar and their involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict. For those who don’t know, Caterpillar is a major supplier of the equipment used in demolishment work in Israeli settlements in Palestine. The committee recommends that we denounce Caterpillar’s profit-making off such non-peaceful endeavors as settlement-building, BUT would not go so far as to recommend we divest from Caterpillar. The discussion mainly centered around what would be effective in terms of swaying Caterpillar’s actions (i.e. if we keep our investments, we as share-holders can remain ethical conversation partners….?) and steered clear of language of solidarity. To me the pressing issue is that of solidarity — that we should refuse to take profit from what hurts our far-away neighbors — than of tactical engagement. To me it seems that our tactics so far have failed. The interesting thing is that the commissioners who opposed this overture, those who have more complexified connections due to Caterpillar being a major employer in their area, would actually prefer that we quietly divest and that we not denounce. As it is, we keep our money in the company while scolding them. I doubt it will be effective OR that it will seem to Palestinians that we are in solidarity.
However, in another committee we seemed to make great strides toward a kind of solidarity. Social Justice Issues (B) recommends a resolution that we as a church refrain from having conferences or major events in states where our ethnic minority members are threatened by such measures as SB 1070. The text of this resolution can be seen at http://pc-biz.org/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=3587 … After much discussion at a late hour (they were the last committee to adjourn), the tenor of the committee conversation shifted from “what is to the advantage of our hispanic brothers and sisters in Arizona” (some of whom, to be fair, in the short term would benefit from us having conferences there, because we bring money into the area, some of which they receive) to “are we a white church? or a multi-racial one?” Because if we are indeed multi-racial, SB 1070 targets us as a church, not “them” the others. So in this case we are choosing to throw our lot in with the victims of a policy we condemn. If only we were able to say “we are Palestinian, too” as easily as we can say “we are Hispanic, too,” we would be able to make the same kind of stand. Would that all people of this earth could recognize their brother and sister in any human face, not only of their own race or nationality.
Talitha Phillips is a seminary student at San Francisco Theological Seminary and blogs at Madame Future Moderator.