Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, issued a video on February 10, 2022; his second attempt to clarify a statement he issued on Dr. King´s Birthday Holiday which has been condemned by many of the American Jewish community´s most representative organizations. In the latest video, it is impossible to miss the sincerity and conviction of the Stated Clerk´s presentation. Unfortunately, his position demands more than sincerity and conviction. We expect the Stated Clerk to make statements that are crystal clear in supporting the policies of General Assemblies. In this case, he needs to stay within the parameters of GA statements regarding antisemitism, and interfaith relations.
In 1987, the church published The Theological Understanding between Christians and Jews in which it states “We acknowledge in repentance the church’s long and deep complicity in the proliferation of anti-Jewish attitudes and actions through its “teaching of contempt” for the Jews. Such teaching we now repudiate, together with the acts and attitudes which it generates.” In 2018, the General Assembly approved an overture calling for the denomination to “reach out in open and truthful dialogue with our Jewish colleagues.”
In the video, when the Stated Clerk says that Israel does not exist by its own strength but that there are ¨global entities¨ involved in ¨collusion¨ to support Israel, he invokes, intended or not, the centuries-old antisemitic tropes of conspiracies by powerful Jews around the world to achieve their own ends. Language matters.
When he repeats his earlier charge that Israel has enslaved Palestinians, he uses inaccurate, volatile language. The Stated Clerk seems to view slavery as the only term to describe a lack of freedom. Even the most critical GA policy statements regarding Israel have never charged Israel with enslaving the Palestinians.
The Stated Clerk says that we can criticize friends and they will still talk with us ¨if they are really friends.” Can we really blame the Jewish community for not wanting to listen to the Stated Clerk anymore? After all, if we are accused of helping to enslave people, we will probably view those accusers as people we don´t want to meet.
The problem behind the Stated Clerk´s statements and beliefs may be rooted in reliance for advice from Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP is an organization that describes itself as “Jews with a conscience”, a description that means Jews who do not support their positions have no conscience! In contrast to the positions of JVP, which might represent 2% of the community in the US, a Pew poll survey “found that 82 percent of American Jews said that supporting Israel was essential or important to ´what being Jewish means to them.´”
Time and again, the leadership of PCUSA has danced to the drum of this fringe organization, instead of engaging the greater U.S. Jewish community. If polling by Pew and other organizations demonstrates anything, it reveals that JVP does not represent our Jewish colleagues.
The Stated Clerk would be wise to stop listening to fringe voices within the American Jewish community and begin the kind of dialogue with mainstream Judaism that takes place between many Jewish and PCUSA congregations and clergy at the local level. The recent statements and video by the Stated Clerk are putting those interfaith relationships at great risk.