On Friday Night after the vote on Divestment and the prayers for the people of Israel and Palestine I got up and emotionally, and probably incoherently, asked for prayers for the people in the United States, particularly my parents church, that were affected by the vote (just a side note, it was the only request for a prayer that was not given).
Eight weeks ago I knew very little about the Middle East, and I knew even less about what our church was doing there. I, like most Americans, did not understand how the Israeli government worked and why the Settlements that it seems everyone are against can still be being built. In that short time, I sought out insight and advice from everyone I could, but in that short of a time with this big of an issue I often found myself more on the side of confusion than enlightenment.
Out of frustration for not hearing Boo from the denomination and just a short introductory email from the committee moderators, I wrote requesting some more background information from then moderator Neal Pressa and Gradye Parsons. I did not hear from either Neil or Grady but did from the Vice Moderator of the Committee who let me know that she had not received any more information then the affinity groups mailings.
I can honestly say knowing my parents church, in the heart of Caterpillar Country, and personally having very close relations with the Jewish community, I knew that this vote would have a huge impact on relationships and individual people in our communities. For the entire discussion, those people were not brought in to the deliberations and when they were, they were maligned as not really important to the discussion. But that is not really what surprised me, the preassembly work told me that!
What really surprised me was the lack of things like impact studies and truth telling. The truth of Caterpillar is that they do not sell their equipment directly to Israel, but they have a civil contract through the military. When asked how much the company profited from the sale of their equipment through that contract the question was either evaded or the committee was given another speech from MRTI or ACSWP about the importance of divestment. Interestingly, other than lines like “It will send a message” no one could express what divestment would really do to change or put pressure on Israel or even if they care.
But what it did impact, and there are many this week who are genuinely hurting, are people who work for those companies, Jewish communities that feel they lost friends, and churches who see our denomination continuing to move away from faithful witness and towards secular political activism. While none of those are necessarily true, that is part of the impact of the decisions we make and none of that was part of the discussion.
Personally, when I saw the resource person, Raafat Zaki, from ACSWP, who at times gave angry responses to our committee, dancing with the pre-vote pro-divestment demonstration, it really hit home that this was much more about pushing an agenda rather then trying to make the best decision. It also showed me that ACSWP had a singular goal; they were going for the win, at any cost.
The emotions that came up for me that day were real and deep. I was hurting for the people in Palestine and Israel who are caught in a war where everyone in the world has an idea of how to bring peace, but few actually take time to sit with both sides and listen. I feel the pain of the line workers in Peoria who are confused about why their church hates them. I feel pain for relationships of trust and love with my Jewish neighbors that are fractured. I felt the pain for my more conservative brothers and sisters who see this as another step of our denomination placing social action over faithful witness.
Moving forward my hope and prayer is that people will take time to reflect on what happened. That ACSWP will reach out to people with differing opinions and understandings. Moreover, I pray that people will take the time to learn and research how we can be a better witness getting our feet on the ground, supporting our friends and changing the world through our actions, not our words or our money.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen