The Presbyterian Church (USA) wrapped up its biannual General Assembly last Saturday. Liberals largely got their way, passing numerous progressive resolutions. Delegates agreed to explore divestment from Israel, declared that a peaceful two-state Israel/Palestine solution was nearly “impossible,” affirmed Christian pacifism, and issued apologies to Native Americans and the LGBTQ community.
Perhaps the most extreme measures General Assembly adopted involved Israel. Delegates passed a resolution that stated that the PC(USA) should: “Prayerfully study the call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel…”
This resolution was intended to discipline Israel for allegedly violating the human rights of Palestinians. It expanded on a resolution passed in 2014 requiring the PC(USA) to divest from companies supposedly profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. These companies included Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola Solutions.
Delegates at General Assembly also affirmed their “preference for a two-state solution,” a position which the denomination has held since 1982, but simultaneously recommended considering alternatives to achieve “a new political arrangement.” The assembly passed a statement that said:
Israel’s policy trajectory of continued settlements and brutal occupation is deeply troubling. Not only does it make a two-state solution increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, but the emerging, de facto single state’s systematic violation of Palestinian rights and democratic values is eroding Israel’s moral legitimacy.
These measures drew criticism from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). While glad that the PC(USA) was “supportive of Israel’s legitimacy,” ADL criticized the denomination’s move toward supporting BDS and for backing away from a diplomatic solution they traditionally supported.
“We are deeply disappointed with the Presbyterian Church’s decision to embrace motions which forward arguments in favor of a bi-national state and of the anti-Israel BDS campaign,” ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs Rabbi David Sandmel said in statement. “Any alternative to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would mean the demise of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a view that is offensive to millions of Israelis and Jews around the world.”
The Israel/Palestine conflict was not the only issue where the PC(USA) reneged on its traditional teachings at General Assembly. Delegates voted to dilute their support for the Christian concept of Just War in a resolution that heavily emphasized nonviolence. The PC(USA) now draws equally upon “the traditions of Just War, Christian pacifism, and Just Peacemaking” in its thinking.
The resolution stated the PC(USA) follows “Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Reconciler, and reclaim the power of nonviolent love evident in his life and teaching, his healings and reversals of evil, his cross and resurrection.” No distinction was made in the resolution itself between the ministry of Christ and the role of governments to promote justice.
The PC(USA) also offered what amounted to apologies at General Assembly to two groups: LGBTQ community and Native Americans. The text of the first resolution was heavily modified in committee. The committee commented that they believed it was “not time for an apology such as the one proposed…” While perhaps not explicitly an apology, it still included language that expressed the PC(USA)’s “deep sorrow” for harms done to LGBTQ members. The resolution included an official statement as follows:
Followers of Jesus Christ know that no person can claim divine favor through personal merit, but only by the grace of God. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) acknowledges that actions we and our members have taken over the years have at times led God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the PC(USA). We deeply regret that, due to human failings, any person might find cause to doubt being loved by God. We affirm the God-given dignity and worth of every human being, and renew our commitment to ‘welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed [us], for the glory of God.’ [Romans 15:7]
In a separate resolution, the PC(USA) also apologized to Native Americans for “the pain and suffering that our church’s involvement in the Indian boarding school system has caused.” The resolution stated that Presbyterians imposed Western culture on Native Americans in “our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ,” and that Presbyterians were closed to the “value of your spirituality.”
“We know that many within our church will still not understand why each of us must bear the scar, the blame for this horrendous period in U.S. history,” the resolution also said. “But the truth is, we are the bearers of many blessings from our ancestors, and therefore, we must also bear their burdens.”
Although the official text of the resolution did not include any mention of the Doctrine of Discovery, the rationale for this resolution made this connection: “European American peoples of the United States arrived in North America with an unquenchable thirst for land, claiming the Doctrine of Discovery as justification for the brutal conquest of indigenous lands and the destruction of native peoples.”
The leading proponent of Christians repenting from the Doctrine of Discovery is Native American activist Mark Charles from Washington, D.C. He has spoken recently at major Christian conferences including Urbana and the Justice Conference. Among his assertions is that that the Declaration of Independence is “systemically racist,” and that: “Everything you own is stolen.”
Another resolution at General Assembly originating in the Presbytery of National Capital called for a “comprehensive review of the history of the Doctrine of Discovery,” a process which would include “contacting Native American tribes and individuals” to better understand the doctrine. However, that resolution was superseded by the resolution apologizing to Native Americans.