Once again, a mainline Protestant Church is threatening to punish Israel for its purported policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians. This time, it is the Presbyterians’ turn.

Toward the end of its General Assembly taking place between June 30 and July 7, the Presbyterian Church (USA) will vote on a motion calling to divest from companies whose products are supposedly used “in violations of Palestinian human rights.”

Why are the mainline Protestant churches so susceptible to Israel-bashing? Unlike more fundamentalist Protestants, mainline denominations tend to have a less literal reading of the Gospel. Theology is more malleable and, as Walter Russell Mead put it in a 2006 essay in Foreign Policy titled “God’s Country,” liberal Protestants tend to “evanesce into secularism.”

They may be environmentalists belonging to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace or human rights activists involved with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Their sincere desire to pursue justice might be motivated by faith but implementation often puts them under the sway of organizations with rabidly anti-Zionist or even anti-American agendas. One study by the Institute on Religion and Democracy found that 37 percent of the statements made by mainline Protestant churches on human rights abuses between 2000 and 2003 focused on Israel. No other country came in for such frequent criticism, though the US was a close second at 32%. China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia were not critiqued at all.

The same amorphous theology that has blurred the boundaries between mainline Protestantism and left-wing secularism has also led to a steady decline in membership.

As sociologists of religion have pointed out, the more demanding and unambiguous a religion’s principles, the more respect and commitment it is likely to engender.

Who can take seriously liberal Protestant denominations that consistently fail to make moral distinctions that set them apart from radical progressive secularism? For their own good, Presbyterians, Methodists and other mainline denominations would do well to reexamine their policies on Israel in light of age-old moral teachings.

Perhaps they will find their own distinctive voice resonating with a more balanced view of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians. They might even conclude that Israelis have the right to defend themselves.

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