By Joseph Puder
The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) considers itself to be peace loving and fair. Today’s “progressive” churches, including the PCUSA, believe that taking the Bible seriously means it cannot be taken literally. This “progressive” outlook has largely given up on biblical prophecy and biblical truth, and taken on a multi-culturalist, moral relativist, and politically correct (PC) worldview.
God’s love therefore, embraces all persons equally; no matter their gender, race, or sexual identity. They believe in diversity, tolerance, and inclusivity, except when it comes to Israel. This lingering strain of anti-Semitism has crept in among a determined group of activists within the church, who issued last January a monograph titled “Zionism Unsettled – A Congregational Study Guide.”
The Congregational Study Guide was released in January, 2014 ahead of the PCUSA biennial General Assembly (GA), taking place this June in Detroit. The gathering will once again consider recommendations that it divest from companies that deal with Israel’s military. Similar resolutions have been narrowly defeated in the past. The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) 68-page guide accompanied by a DVD is meant to influence the GA delegates.
The IPMN, which is responsible for the study guide, is made up of “progressive” Christians influenced by “Liberation Theology” and tainted by a Marxist worldview.
They have mobilized on behalf of the Palestinians (no word from them about the mass killings in Syria or the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world) and against “Zionist” Israel, a code-word for Jews. Failing in their BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction) efforts against Israel in recent General Assemblies of the PCUSA, these BDS activists raised the ante a notch by publishing “Zionism Unsettled,” which argues that Zionism, or the Jewish State of Israel is inherently discriminatory toward the Palestinians, and that the very idea of a homeland for the Jewish People is illegitimate. The authors (IPMN) have no problem with the reality of 22 Muslim states, which are governed by Sharia Islamic law. The Congregational Study Guide states that “the fundamental assumption of this study is that no exceptionalist claims can be justified in our interconnected, pluralistic world.”
According to the authors of the IPMN study guide, national-particularism cannot be justified in the case of Zionism. Yet, Palestinian Arabs who considered themselves part of the Arab nation until 1964, and speak Arabic like the rest of the Arab world, profess the same religion as the rest of the Sunni-Islam Arab states, and share the same cultural milieu as the rest of the Arab world, are acceptable in an “interconnected, pluralistic world” of the IPMN. Their malevolence is as transparent as their hypocrisy!
Reverend Dr. Chris Leighton, an ordained Presbyterian minister wrote in an open letter to the Presbyterian Church (February 6, 2014), “In years past, IPMN and its supporters have sponsored vigorous efforts to enact divestment policies. With each defeat, the champions of Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) have become more strident and less willing to consider the larger picture. Their current strategy, this study guide, is not simply a critique of Israeli and American policies. It is a dishonest screed that attributes the plight of the Palestinians to a single cause: Zionism.”
Rev. Dr. Leighton further noted that in his summation of the congregational study guide, Palestinian-Arab Anglican priest Naim Ateek (founder of the anti-Israel organization Sabeel) contends, “Zionism is the problem” (p. 56). Ateek insists, “Zionism is false theology … a heretical doctrine that fosters both political and theological injustice …(a doctrine) that promotes death rather than life” (p. 57). Throughout, the study guide characterizes Zionism as a source of ‘evil’; it insists “the major American Jewish organizations bear considerable responsibility for a ‘pathology’ that leads to ‘self-inflicted blindness’ (p. 23). It portrays Zionism as inexorably leading to ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘cultural genocide’ (p. 53). The condemnation of Zionism, in all its forms, is not merely simplistic and misleading; the result of this polemic is the theological de-legitimization of a central concern of the Jewish people.”
Rev. Leighton added, “The yearning for their national homeland has been woven into the Jewish community’s daily life for millennia. The Torah (Deuteronomy) and the Tanakh (2 Chronicles) both end with images of yearning to return to the land; synagogues face Jerusalem; the Passover Seder celebrated annually concludes with the prayer, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ To suggest that the Jewish yearning for their own homeland—a yearning that we Presbyterians have supported for numerous other nations—is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent is to deny Jews their own identity as a people. The word for that is ‘anti-Semitism,’ and that is, along with racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the other ills our Church condemns, a sin.”
“Zionism Unsettled,” portrays Arab-Palestinian propagandists like the late Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, and other anti-Zionist authors as authoritative voices on Zionism. The chapter, “A Palestinian Muslim Experience with Zionism,” presents several pages on Mustafa Abu Sway, of Al-Quds University, arguing that while the Quran is inclusive and peaceful, Zionism is inherently racist. The authors of the Guide compare the Palestinian treatment at the hands of Israel to the Nazi treatment of Jews in World War II. “Zionism Unsettled” continues, “In like manner, the Nakba (catastrophe) that befell the Palestinian people in the late 1940s should never have taken place. The Palestinian story is one of suffering at the hands of the international community, which authorized the division of Palestine in 1947, and at the hands of the Zionists who planned, organized, and implemented systematic ethnic cleansing…They slaughtered untold numbers of Palestinian men, women, and children.”
Fortunately, among the PCUSA, there are also voices of moderation, led by a group called Presbyterian for Middle East Peace (PFMEP). Reacting to the publication of “Zionism Unsettled”, PFMEP issued the following statement on its website: “The Board and Executive Staff of the Presbyterian Mission Agency are entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that materials distributed by the PC(USA) are consistent with General Assembly policy and core Christian values. ‘Zionism Unsettled’ is in direct opposition to established General Assembly policy calling for the legitimate rights of both Palestinians and Israelis to be recognized. The study guide reveals a desire by some in our denomination to deny the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in Israel.
As Christians we are called to speak the truth, oppose prejudice and promote tolerance, coexistence and reconciliation. ‘Zionism Unsettled’ violates all of these essential tenets of Christian conduct. It instead exacerbates polarization and interfaith distrust at a time when effective Christian peacemaking is needed, while intensifying the divisions within the PCUSA. PFMEP believes that immediate action by the Presbyterian Mission Agency to disassociate itself and the PCUSA from the ‘Zionist Unsettled’ study guide is necessary for the peace, unity, and purity of the PCUSA and for valued interfaith relationships.”
Rank and file PCUSA members have also responded to the “Zionism Unsettled” outrage.
Jack Baretti writes (3/30/2014), “The Presbyterian Church is continuing its age old Anti- Jewish agenda by publishing this work. How can Christians ignore Muslim persecution of Christians murdering them, raping their women, and burning Churches and instead concentrating on what is happening in the Holy Land. Israel is the ONLY country in the Middle East in which the Christian population has increased. If you talk about Bethlehem it is now a Muslim town where once not too long ago it was Christian. The same is happening to Nazareth. It is about time Christians gave up their prejudices against Jews and concentrated upon what is happening to their coreligionists in Africa and the Middle East (and even in Europe).”
In their malevolence, the authors of “Zionism Unsettled” forgot that Zionism is the Jewish national liberation movement.