Israel and the Presbyterians

I was raised as a Presbyterian and the relationship continues today as a long-standing family connection. My father was a Scottish immigrant. The Presbyterian church is called The Church of Scotland, Dad was a Presbyterian, and I suspect my relatives on Dad’s side of the family keep their connection to the church. If I’m forced to choose, that’s who I am. I’m not Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, or Methodist. I’m Presbyterian.

While I’m Presbyterian, I also have a long-standing affection for Israel. I remember the scenes from an old black & white Hollywood film, probably Exodus, where besieged and desperate Jewish leaders listen to the radio as news comes in of a UN vote giving legitimacy to the Jewish state. I remember the beginning of the Seven-Day war, when classmates at my high school in Munich stood in line at the Israeli consulate to enlist in the IDF. I remember the image of little Israel, attacked simultaneously and repeatedly by larger neighbors, punching above her weight and surviving every time. I know that today, Israel is the oldest democratic state in the Middle East, and a faithful friend to the US.

So, I was confused and surprised to discover the hostility to Israel from some Presbyterians in the US, specifically the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or PC(USA). To clarify, the Presbyterian church in the US is not unified on the issue of Israel.

PC(USA), the villain in this story, is the largest Presbyterian church in the US, with about 1.76 million members. The second largest Presbyterian church in the US is the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Wikipedia puts PCA membership at about 367,000. Briefly, as described in the article ‘13 Differences Between the PCA and the PCUSA‘, the larger PC(USA) “routinely takes stands on a host of political issues ranging from immigration to increased funding for public schools to condemning big tobacco to divestment from Israel”, while the smaller PCA “generally hesitate to take stands on issues that do not clearly fall under the oversight of the church”.

On June 20, 2014, the PC(USA) General Assembly, according to an announcement, “narrowly approved divestment from three United States companies doing business in Israel-Palestine”.

One-sided as it may be, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The PC(USA) General Assembly also voted 482 to 88 to instruct the church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy to prepare a report providing “the most up-to-date information regarding all aspects of the Israeli occupation of Palestine”. The language of the document approved by the PC(USA) General Assembly shows clear evidence of anti-Israel bias. The committee is asked to provide

the most up-to-date information regarding all aspects of the Israeli occupation of Palestine including

(a) the present status and pace of illegal settlement building;

(b) the appropriation of Palestinian land and natural resources;

(c) the restriction of movement on Palestinian citizens in Palestine;

(d) the extent to which human rights are denied to the Palestinian people.

The listed items are all actions by Israel. No need to include Palestinian actions in the report? Nothing about missile launches against Israeli civilians? Nothing on kidnapping and murder of Israeli civilians?

The committee is also instructed that

This study guide should honestly point out that…For every two-year period occurring between General Assembly meetings, Palestinians are suffering an increasing loss of their human rights, freedom, livelihoods, property, and even their lives.

Obviously, the assumption is that these bad outcomes for the Palestinians are Israel’s fault, and the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Hezbollah are blameless.

It goes on in this way for the rest of the document, over five thousand words. This is all very disappointing, but consistent with left-wing thinking common in the West. Clearly, PC(USA) leadership is dominated by left-wing elites. It’s not clear whether the leadership’s thinking is shared by the membership, but PC(USA) membership is shrinking while their evangelical, non-political competitor, PCA, is growing.

I’m left to wonder what is the source for anti-Israel bias? Is it self-contempt and embarrassment at the relative success of Western society? Is it a knee-jerk sympathy with the downtrodden, no matter how hostile, contemptible, and violent they are? Or is it our old friend, simple anti-Semitism?

 How odd of God to choose the Jew,

But not so odd as those who choose

The Jewish God and hate the Jew.

The bottom line

  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), bad.
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), losing membership.
  • Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), blameless.
  • Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), gaining membership.
  • Palestinian Muslims, reaping the fruits of their knuckle-headed labor.

3 thoughts on “Israel and the Presbyterians”

  1. You’ve mentioned two flavors of Presbyterianism, one good and one bad. Here are some more: American Presbyterian Church (founded 1979)
    Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
    Bible Presbyterian Church
    Christian Presbyterian Church
    Covenant Presbyterian Church
    Cumberland Presbyterian Church
    Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America
    Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in America
    Evangelical Presbyterian Church (established 1956)
    Evangelical Presbyterian Church (United States)
    Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church
    Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
    Free Presbyterian Church of North America
    Korean American Presbyterian Church
    Korean Presbyterian Church in America
    Orthodox Presbyterian Church
    Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
    Presbyterian Church in America
    Presbyterian Church in the United States
    Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
    Presbyterian Reformed Church (North America)
    Reformed Presbyterian Church – Hanover Presbytery
    Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly
    Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States
    Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
    Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod
    United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
    United Presbyterian Church of North America
    Upper Cumberland Presbyterian Church
    Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States.

    I happen to attend an EPC church at the moment, but in the past we’ve attended PCUSA, OPC, and PCA churches, among others. I agree with your assessment of the PCUSA. Their theology has taken them far afield from teaching the gospel, and they’re shrinking as a result.

  2. A core problem here is religion. Until people stop believing in the evil fantasy that is religion–a group hallucinatory holdover from prehistory which is unlikely to disappear any time soon–they will continue to use it anize and support their hatred of others.

  3. Dear Mr. Johncla,
    You mention above that Israel is… “the oldest democratic state in the Middle East..”

    Can you please tell me why – and give me examples – of your believe that Israel is a Democratic government?


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