The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted last week to divest from three American companies that do business with Israel. The reason given by the assembly’s Stated Clerk Rev. Gradyne Parsons was, “We as a church cannot profit from the destruction of [Palestinian] homes and lives.”
The church will divest from Caterpillar, because its bulldozers have been used to demolish Palestinian homes (even though the same bulldozers are used to take down illegal Jewish outposts). It will drop Hewlett-Packard, because the Israel Navy has used its products to coordinate the blockade of the Gaza Strip (ruled by a terrorist organization that uses violence to enforce Islamic law that discriminates against women and religious minorities such as Christians) and because its biometric scanners are in place at checkpoints (where they help make it easier for the IDF to check for terrorists).
It will divest from Motorola Solutions, because the IDF buys the company’s communication technologies (which are used to defend Israel from its many enemies).
Although Methodists and Presbyterians tend to be the most aggressively anti-Israel among liberal protestant denominations, all five of the mainline denominations – which include the Episcopalian, Evangelical Lutheran, and United Church of Christ – have debated and in some cases adopted policies intended to bring direct or indirect economic pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.
Why are liberal protestant denominations so prone to singling out Israel for castigation? Catholics tend to be more even-handed regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Evangelical Christians are often outright pro-Zionist in their outlook.
Part of the answer has to do with theology. Though for most of their history Catholics adhered to a rabidly anti-Semitic narrative that held Jews responsible for deicide and doomed them to wander the world powerless and victimized, the Church underwent a major reform called Vatican II in the mid-1960s that radically improved its approach to Jews and Judaism.
Evangelical Christians’ philo-Semitism is more deeply rooted.
With their fundamentalist reading of the Bible, they take seriously the promise made by God to Abraham and his offspring that the Land of Israel was given to them. There is the additional motivation based on belief in the verse in Genesis 12:3 where God tells Abraham, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curse thee.” Also a factor is the messianic and macabre belief that the Land of Israel is the future stage for a heavenly apocalypse: Before Christ can return to Earth, the Jews must return to Israel and the Temple must be restored, ushering in first a time of tribulation during which Jews must accept Christ or face destruction.
In contrast, liberal Protestant sects tend to have a less literal reading of the Gospel. They are, as a result, more likely to contemporize the fight to establish the kingdom of God as a call to support progressive political causes. Lacking a moral code grounded in scripture or tradition or common sense, theology turns into moral relativism. Their sincere desire to pursue justice might be motivated by a vague concept of faith. But implementation often puts them under the sway of organizations with rabidly anti-Zionist or even anti-American agendas.
Unsurprisingly, mainline American churches have been more critical of their own country and Israel than they have of such human rights abusers as China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, not to mention Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank.
Another factor is the prominence of liberation theology, a continual mindset of victimhood to solicit political sympathy and action on behalf of the “oppressed” against the “oppressors” and replacement theology, which holds that the church – in particular Palestinian Christians – has replaced Israel as the Jesus-like oppressed underdog.
It is dangerous to allow irrational theologies of any kind to inform one’s politics, whether these politics are pro-Zionist or anti-Zionist. Christians of all stripes should, instead, inform themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reach their own conclusions based on reason, not theology. Intellectual honesty will lead any inquirer to admit at the very least that the issues are complicated.
By taking a stand in favor of divestment the Presbyterians of America are saying that they have figured out who is right and who is wrong in the conflict. And they have done this based either on the influence of irrational theology or a biased, radical left-wing agenda. As a result, some of the worst human rights offenders go unpunished by the mainline churches, while Israel is singled out for special censure.