The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops on Thursday condemned the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) strategy.
The bishops spoke the language of the market place. They made no effort to theologically justify their condemnation.
Instead, they were pragmatic, not prophetic. Why? Because they have invested in institutions.
Matthew Davies, reporting for the Episcopal News Service (ENS), issued the official word from the Bishops in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Episcopal Convention is currently in session.
Davies reported that the bishops sent “a strong and clear message that divestment from companies and corporations engaged in certain business related to the State of Israel is not in the best interests of The Episcopal Church, its partners in the Holy Land, interreligious relations, and the lives of Palestinians on the ground.”
That chilling passage is painful in its honesty. To the bishops, property and institutional structures, and the ability to operate Christian services within those structures, determine “the best interests of the Episcopal Church”.
Notice their pragmatic shopping list: Partners in the Holy Land, interreligious relations back home, and the lives of Palestinians “on the ground”.
The Episcopal Church has invested itself in an area in which it provides religious care, both spiritual and physical, to the local residents. Experience has shown church leaders throughout history that it is not in their “best interests” to go against the controlling power.
Some religious leaders have refused to accept that compliance. Others have compromised to keep their institutions as effective as possible.
Those in power know how to manipulate the powerless.
You want to enlarge or at least maintain your services, both spiritual and physical? You will need the permission of the ruling occupying power, in this case, an occupying military power, that governs your every institutional need.
The Episcopal lay and clerical delegates meeting in Salt Lake City this week, know this all too well.
In another corner of the Christian institutional world, the third denomination meeting this week voted to punt.
The New York Times reported Friday morning:
Delegates to the Mennonite Church U.S.A.’s convention in Kansas City, Mo., decided to postpone a vote on a similar resolution until its next convention in 2017.
Sponsors of the resolution said it had become clear during a debate on Wednesday that a number of delegates had questions about the resolution’s scope and intent.
“I think people were speaking out of a variety of fears,” Tom Harder, a pastor from Wichita, Kan., who had helped draft the resolution, said in a telephone interview.
“I think there are folks in the denominations who continue to believe that we need to support Israel at all costs, and so a resolution that is advocating for the Palestinian people specifically and the injustices they are facing — that is a vote against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Mr. Harder said.
He said supporters of the resolution would work over the next two years to amend it in ways “that address some of the concerns that we heard.”
The “concerns that we heard”?
The 95,000 member Mennonite Church has a long history of involvement in the region. Their leaders need to “study the situation” more?
They will study for two years and meet again in 2017.
Those Palestinian mothers, fathers and children. who do not die from Israel’s constant military assaults, or who fail to survive the occupation’s economic stranglehold, will be two years older in 2017.
It is this reality the BDS strategy seeks to expose in order to end the evil of an occupation which Mennonite and Episcopal leaders still need to study.
The fact remains: Israel occupies Palestine. In this half-century established evil act, the occupiers have converted and/or bought allies who endorse their rationale for evil because it is to their pragmatic interests to do so.
These allies are in the halls of Congress, in the local pews and governing structures of religious institutions.
These allies include Jewish-American financial tycoons like Sheldon Adelson (below), who purchase Israel supporters in the Congress and the White House with dollars and media pressure.
These allies are currently in the majority of the Episcopal House of Bishops and in the leadership structure of the Mennonite Church.
Rarely has such a pragmatic rationale been so openly acknowledged as it was this week when the Episcopal House of Bishops essentially acknowledged that their prophetic voices are silenced by their investment in institutions they require to service the needs of their people.
This admission followed by two days an entirely different response from delegates to the United Church of Christ General Synod, meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, who accepted divestment from businesses profiting from occupation, as a peaceful, but clearly effective, strategy, to use against the repressive conduct of the state of Israel.
How did the Episcopalian ruling body bring their church to this sad moment in the life of their particular home of U.S. Christians. They did it with legislative maneuvers and defensive language clothed in religious piety.
The official Episcopal News Service announcement explained:
“The bishops rejected Substitute Resolution D016, which would have called on the Executive Council’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to develop a list of U.S. and foreign corporations that provide goods and services that support the infrastructure of Israel’s Occupation “to monitor its investments and apply its CSR policy to any possible future investments” in such companies”
That D016 Substitute Resolution was the legislative compromise the Episcopal convention had developed in an effort to get sufficient votes to pass the best prophetic stand it could find.
This obviously watered-down compromise was a last minute effort to support “divestment” without naming it. No one seeking the sanction of the Israeli government wa buying it.
The ENS reported further:
“Although the resolution didn’t use the word “divestment,” some bishops expressed concern that it was heading in that direction”.
Outsiders, with no responsibility on the ground where institutions are forced to work under a military dictatorship, are asked to understand what locals must endure.
For Episcopalians, Archbishop Suheil Dawani is their leader in the line of fire.
“Others reminded the house that Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has urged the Episcopal Church not to adopt a policy that would make it more difficult for him to manage his congregations and the more than 30 social service institutions throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. Those institutions include schools, hospitals, clinics and centers for people with disabilities and serve people of all faiths.
“Any hint of divestment will hamper the ministry of Archbishop Suheil Dawani and his priests and congregations in the Middle East,” said Bishop Jay Magness, bishop suffragan for Federal Ministries who served on the Legislative Committee on Social Justice and International Policy that considered the resolutions.”
“We were assured by the treasurer that we don’t have any direct investments in the usually named companies,” such as Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, G4S, and Motorola Solutions. Bishop Prince Singh of Rochester, chair of the committee, also confirmed that The Episcopal Church currently has no investments in corporations that negatively impact Palestinians on the ground.
Bishop Ed Little of Northern Indiana said the text of the resolution “clearly and unmistakably advocates boycott and divestment, and we must reject it.”
Then the Bishops’ official news release fell back on the Israeli narrative they have accepted, the accepted “truth” that insists that “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”
The Bishops, in their stumbling effort to justify their pragmatic relationship with evil, fell back on religious language they have already demeaned with their pragmatism.
“As Anglicans, we have the gift and ability to reach out to people on both sides in the conflict. That is what The Episcopal Church is doing in the Middle East. Our current leadership under the presiding bishop is allowing us to be peacemakers.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in January led an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land as recommended by Resolution B019 from the 2012 General Convention that called for positive investment “as a necessary means to create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure” in the Palestinian Territories.”
To the homeless in Gaza, to the Palestinians in Israeli prisons for no reason other than their failure t0 adhere to the powers that control the occupation, the best way to “create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure”, is to be released from incarceration.
Did the interfaith pilgrimage led by the presiding bishop know that while they were on their pilgrimage, the number of Palestinians forced into Israeli prisons had increased by 26% since 2011.
To the mothers who fear that at any moment their children will be shot for walking in the wrong direction, “a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure” are words utterly without meaning.
Sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure in the Palestinian Territories?
Leaders of the Episcopalian institutions in Palestine must be aware of the words from Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”?
The Bishops’ final statement was far more honest, albeit pragmatic, though entirely without any sign they engaged in serious theological reflection to reach that honesty.
The Bishops have said, in effect, to their fellow Christians who favor divestment, “if you had invested in ministry and service inside this prison, you would have some understanding of how we must live under this dictatorship.”
They dare not say it that way, else their prison keepers would cut off their water supply, or keep their new medical equipment blocked at the border, or simply go hunting for more Palestinian children to shoot.
This is what happens when the prophetic voice confronts the reality of prison life.
The progressive wing of the Episcopal Convention has labored for years to reach a point where prophetic voices could be heard over the religious establishment’s pragmatic investments.
They did their best in Salt Lake City. And they will not stop now, as the conciliatory words of one leader indicated after the House of Bishops vote.
Donna Hicks, convener of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network, said after the Bishops voted to condemn divestment:
“We’re encouraged by the fact that bishops and deputies understand that this is a pressing issue, and that the discussion at this convention focused not on whether to take action, but rather what action would be most effective … We’re optimistic that today’s vote is just another step in our own process to ensure that we are not profiting from the occupation, and that divestment will pass at a General Convention in the near future.”
The Episcopalian progressives will be back. The arc of justice demands it.
The picture at top is of a Gaza child one year after the 2014 Israeli military assault on Gaza. The picture is from The Independent. It was taken by Shareef Sarhan. The picture of the Palestinian man in prison is from Ha’aretz. It was taken by Eyal Warshawski.