This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

PCUSA General Assembly 221 + Day Three.



            GA day three began with a talk by Lillian Daniel, author of a book called Spiritual But Not Religious Isn’t Enough.  She had a lot to say about our practices and assumptions, especially regarding communicating with those who define themselves as spiritual but not religious (sbnr).  She appears to place the blame for our cluelessness in this area squarely on ourselves, which is entirely fair.  Several times she noted that we have no problem expressing our opinions in other areas, from politics to consumer products.  But when it comes to faith we are paralyzed.  The best we can say is, “We have a great choir in our church,” or “We’re a very friendly congregation.”  We fail to realize that people can sing in choirs and find friends without coming to a church.
            We continue to imagine that people who don’t go to church now did attend church at one time, but dropped out.  They therefore would need reassurance that things are better now.  the reality is that an increasing number of people in our culture have never been involved in a spiritual community at all.  And they are not looking for one.  They are not church shopping.  They have no interest in church at all.  Which means that when we tell someone that things are better now it is meaningless to them, and even telegraphs the message that things were recently messed up.
           Anyway, her message that Christendom is over and this is a good thing is something we need to hear and change our approach accordingly.

Israel/Palestine.
            I spent the morning in the committee dealing with the Middle East, listening mostly to the same arguments we have heard for 30 years.  What is on the table (again) is divestment from companies making money off the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  What is new this year is a growing awareness that the “2-State Solution” is becoming more and more untenable, due mainly to the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  Increasingly, the conversation is entertaining the idea of a some kind of single-State in the area, recognizing that in much of the area Israelis and Palestinians live side-by-side, and trying to make a geographical border between them seems practically impossible.
            When people still push the 2-State thing, it is becoming clear that the Palestinian “State” they envision would be in at least four separate pieces, each one (except Gaza which has a coastline and a short border with Egypt) completely surrounded by Israeli territory, with virtually no water rights or the ability to defend itself.  These would be completely dependent on and subservient to Israel.  I believe the technical term for this is “Bantustan,” referring to the dopey, false, internationally unrecognized polities to which the white South Africans intended to reduce the majority black population.  This is not a real State with any real sovereignty.  It would be an Apartheid regime in full.
            The folks who dislike the emerging 1-State idea choose hysterically to assume it means the majority Palestinians will expel or exterminate the minority Jews, or that the Palestinians would treat the Jews with the careless violence that the Israelis are now use against the Palestinians.  This is not necessarily a legitimate fear.  It is possible for constitutional arrangements to be made that respect the rights of minorities.  There can be federalization in which different parts of a State have relative autonomy.  There can even be states within a State, as we have in the US.  Any attempt to impose a homogeneous, mono-ethnic regime, whether Jewish or anti-Jewish, would be unacceptable and criminal.  Whatever State emerges will have a sizeable minority of Jews whose rights and self-determination will have to be respected.           
            Anyway, at the end of the day the committee did vote to support human rights for all, and then proceeded to reduce this to empty rhetoric by declining to criticize those who deny the human rights of some.  Great.

Fossil Fuel Divestment.
            The most frustrating experience was sitting in the Environment and Immigration Committee and learning how The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP, in other words “c-swap”) gutted and cluttered the original overture coming from 9 presbyteries.  The ACSWP apparently has the job of offering commentary and advice to the General Assembly.  In this case the “advice” cuts the heart out of the overture, even actually deleting most uses of the word “divest,” for crying out loud, and then piling a lot of other crap onto the measure, including, get this, a carbon tax. 
            Advocating for a carbon tax is typical of the ACSWAP’s role as “resolutionaries,” who make meaningless pronunciamentos about what the government should do, when the government is not listening to us and doesn’t care.  Divestment is something we can do.  ACSWP prefers to talk and tell other people to do things.
            They also want to defer the whole thing for two years, to the next General Assembly.  So much for what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now”.           
            Fortunately the advice of the ACSWP is only advice.  The committee and the Assembly still have to make the decisions.  But it is obviously a mistake to assume that these people are allies.  They seem more concerned with whatever agendas they have among themselves and maintaining their own position in the bureaucracy.  Not to mention the delusion of Christendom in which they continue to participate.
            The overture’s supporters will press on and pray that the committee will show some faith and wisdom, and commitment to God’s creation and people.

            Of course, all this talk about divestment might make us ask why a church owns corporate stock.  Money received by the church is presumably intended to advance the mission of Jesus Christ.  Why would we then give this money to a corporation that may or may not be doing good things, with the intent that we make money off the bad things the corporation is doing?  Doesn’t this mean the money isn’t supporting mission?  Is interest itself not prohibited by Scripture?  Don’t we hereby become complicit in whatever the corporations we invest in are doing?  Isn’t it possible we could actually be profiting from human misery?  Isn’t this whole practice an indication that we worship not Jesus but an economic system based on teachings exactly contrary to his?
            Maybe if we more closely examined where we put our money in the first place we would not have to have these endless debates over removing it.  I am afraid to look at the list of companies we have stock in. 
            Granted, it’s not like we pay no attention to this at all.  We do not own stock in gambling, alcohol, tobacco, or firearms.  And we did divest from South Africa during apartheid, eventually.  And we are trying to do good things and support companies doing good. 
            But it seems like too often we give companies the benefit of the doubt when we invest in them, and then wait until we have evidence of years of abuse before doing anything about it.    

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