The second committee that will be getting a lot of attention at the General Assembly meeting happens to be the committee that I have been assigned to; committee 4: Middle East Issues. In this committee we are setting out to bring peace to the Middle East. Don’t laugh! You ask what can a small denomination do to bring peace to the Middle East? And that would be a good question.
My first memory of Middle East issues growing up is one of my mother’s favorite stories to tell. I was very small at the time. We were in the midst of the Iran-Contra affair and on the news they were talking about sending arms to the Middle East. I became very agitated and told everyone they needed to get shirts with sleeves and hide their arms so they would not be sent away. Gotta love a child’s mind! I don’t remember the part of telling everyone else, but I do remember the fear of being sent away and war with all that meant.
I do not know why, maybe because I had two older brothers or the constant display in the news, but I knew about war, I knew people died in war, and I knew it was something to fear. As I got older and up to today I cannot help but think that there is a better way to solve problems than with fighting, but as is often the case, we take sides and battle.
The Presbyterian Church seems to be good at that these days. Probably influenced by our culture which continues to get more and more polarized, the Presbyterian church keeps getting into these situations where they are taking sides and making choices that are not going to work towards peace; rather, they are just going to irritate and cause more derision.
In the case of my committee the big issue revolves around a couple overtures that are around something called BDS, which stands for Boycott, Divest, and Sanction. This is meant to be a punishment to the Israeli government against their behavior towards the Palestinians with the hopes of driving the American corporations that supply materials to Israel out.
This is problematic, especially for me and reminds me of another time when I was a kid. I had been playing in the back yard with my brother, and while we were roughhousing I got a cut. My brother, trying to play doctor, went and got some alcohol to rub in my wound, you know to, sterilize it. Putting alcohol on a wound was not a bad thought. But my brother dabbed the alcohol on a dirty cloth, rubbed it into the wound, and kept at the torture long after the tears began as he kept saying this is good for you it’ll make it heal quicker. It did not; it actually made it worse and probably was the cause of an infection.
My brother meant well and from watching my parents thought that he was taking good care of his little brother, but the reality of the practice was much different. To be honest I am still in process of learning all I can. Thanks to insights from people like Ross who have spent a lifetime learning about international relations, I am beginning to understand more. But my worry is that in our pursuit of peace we just agitate the situation even more.
What really scares me, especially since this is done under the auspice of peacemaking, is that when you take sides in peacemaking you lose the ability to mediate, or help both sides to come to a common ground. The reality of the situation in Israel is that the only way they are ever going to find peace is when the hearts and minds are changed. My worry, though, like many things, especially since the overtures are coming to the GA this year, in almost the same form as last time (which failed), is that people have made this their fight without looking into better ways or seeking new understanding.
This will be my last letter before GA; Chris will be doing a Special Christian Education-focused Newsletter next week. I will also be blogging starting Friday night, when I get the chance, on my website www.yatt.org. More than anything I ask for prayer of discernment and understanding.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen