Rev. Bill Borror is senior pastor of Media Presbyterian Church and a member of the Middle East Monitoring Group established by the 219th General Assembly. He is also the overture advocate for the overture on Middle East peacemaking from Presbytery of Philadelphia. Rev. Borror wrote a powerful letter to the GA commissioners from Presbytery of Philadelphia and gave us permission to reprint it on our website.
Dear Fellow Presbyters,
I will be serving in two capacities at the assembly. The G.A. is sending the members of the Middle Eastern Monitoring Group to be available as a resource for commissioners. I also was elected by the presbytery to be the advocate for the overture that we passed calling for investment in peace. As you prepare for G.A., I know there is a lot of information and materials coming your way. While at G.A. you will be inundated as well. I was a commissioner in 2006 and served on the Peacemaking committee that dealt with divestment. The overt lobbying and the covert attempts behind the scenes to manipulate the process were the two most troubling aspects of the whole experience and sometimes I found it hard to say my prayers in the midst of it. But in spite of all the pressure, the committee found a consensus and served the church well and I did see glimpses of God in the process.
The Israeli-Palestinian issue is a complicated one in spite of attempts to reduce it to either a Palestinian justice issue or an Israeli theological issue. The Peacemaking Committee/IPMN event at Church of the Mall advocated a position that will be well represented and argued at the Assembly. It’s hard not to be moved by the impassioned anger of a Mark Braverman or the legitimate points of the Kairos document or the images and stories that the Israel Palestinian Mission Network (IPMN) provides. Equating the situation to South Africa or the pre-civil rights segregated South is a powerful tool to persuade us to seek similar solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli impasse. But none of the above analogies accurately encompass the multiple layers and dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, either now or in the past. As thinking Christians we are required to seek the broadest truth possible and not take shortcuts in the name being prophetic. History is full of examples of well-intentioned Christians who in the name of Jesus and justice unleashed unintended disastrous consequences.
For those of you who heard Braverman it is important to keep a few things in mind. First of all he made a series of charges under the heading of “damned lies” without giving any facts to support his assertions. To dismiss the entire peace process of the last thirty years is neither accurate nor fair and contrary to consistent calls of numerous General Assemblies for both parties to engage in peace negotiations. To equate the two state solution with endorsing “an apartheid system” is contrary to the international consensus and the consistent position of the PCUSA which as recently as 2010 reaffirmed the right of Israel to exist and called for creation of an independent Palestinian state. To talk about the security wall without mentioning the terror and loss of thousands of innocent Jewish and Arab lives during the Second Intifada is just plain wrong. One thing that Braverman was clear about is that the call to divestment is tied to a de-legitimizing of the Israeli state and a moving towards a one state solution, which is increasingly the goal of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) movement. Most of the divestment overtures coming to the assembly would share similar sentiments.
I have said repeatedly that if I thought divestment would actually improve the lives of Palestinians and move us closer to peace, I would support it. As a member of the Middle Eastern Monitoring Group, I have come to appreciate the sincerity and passion of my colleagues who support BDS. But it won’t; and isolating Israel will not bring them to the negotiating table. All of our closest ecumenical partners agree with this and have said no to the divestment option. In spite of all the difficulties I have with the current Israeli government and what is going on in the Palestinian territories, the ultimate solution is one that only the Israelis and the Palestinians can find together. Israel is not an apartheid state and though it has critical flaws in its approach to its own Arab citizens, it is still the safest place to be a Christian in the region by far. Perhaps the most dangerous “bad idea” that Braverman shared was that ultimate force for change in the region is American churches becoming more active in opposing the state of Israel. What hubris it is to believe that our overtures will bring about justice In the Middle East when as a denomination we consistently fail to adequately address issues in our local communities. If we truly loved justice, we would begin by treating each other better.
As I write this, the Moslem Brotherhood seems poised to take power in Egypt, putting the future of the Coptic Christians in jeopardy ; Syria is in a defacto state of civil war with civilians being murdered daily; citizens of Lebanon are afraid to protest because of Syrian secret police; terrorists are in Yemen plotting attacks of mass destruction against the West and moderate Arabs; female students are being poisoned in Pakistan; Kurds and Shi’as are being murdered in Iraq; Iran is failing to disclose to the international community what they are really up to with their nuclear program and 42 rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza. Not only does our denomination remain silent about most of these issues, but we fail to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this immediate context let alone in the larger historical one.
The Philadelphia overture is for the most part as symbolic as any vote on divestment would be. The difference is that the intent and spirit of our overture seeks a just peace without destroying interfaith relations or assigning blame. It reflects a cooperative spirit beyond partisan bickering that has emerged over the last several assemblies. If you are committed to the long hard work of peacemaking, then support your presbytery’s attempt to help the denomination find a better way.