Overture [12-05]: When is truthful dialogue not truthful?

Overture 12-5 calls for the PCUSA to have a “truthful” dialogue with the Jewish community, seemingly meaning the American Jewish community of which 90% of its leadership have ceased to have real dialogue with the national leadership of PCUSA because of our failure to listen and dialogue with them faithfully. First, Simon Wiesenthal Center ceases communications with PCUSA, and most recently the moderate AJC has stated they will focus on local congregations but will refrain from speaking with national entities.

Why would these Jewish groups cease conversations with our denominational leaders? Well, an answer can be found in the language of 12-5 itself. The overture seeks to empower the denomination to determine what is anti-Semitic and what is not, even though the United States government, through the Obama Administration, the EU Parliament and the anti-Defamation League have worked to offer a definition that allows for criticism of the policies of the State of Israel, while still clearly defining what is considered anti-Semitic. Will the PCUSA also seek to determine to define what is sexist, racist or homophobic rather than listen to the communities most directly impacted by such vile language?

Or perhaps it is the language that suggests that voices in America cannot truly hear the voices of oppression from thousands miles away. If anyone understands oppression, the Jewish community in America does, as still to this day, they face desecrated synagogues and graveyards, they are forced to have security systems in place that no church in America has and the rising anti-Semitism that is not a mirage but real. How many U.S. churches have to hire security for Easter the way U.S. synagogues have to hire armed security for the High Holy Days?

Furthermore, while the PCUSA has a deep desire to see peace in Israel and Palestine, American Jews have friends and family in Israel and know the issues far more intimately than Presbyterians. The Reformed and Conservative Movements have been hard at work to bring about a more egalitarian state in Israel much longer than PCUSA has been working on the issues of Israel and Palestine. Many of the NGO’s that are doing tremendous work Israel and Palestine to build bridges are supported by the American Jewish community.

Yet, 12-5 endeavors to have a more “truthful” dialogue with the Jewish community, which really means, they want to be able to have Jewish Voices for Peace to be its dialogue partner, a group that is so far out of the mainstream of the Jewish community that their influence is far greater inside the PCUSA than it is in its own faith tradition. How would we feel if a religious group said they wouldn’t talk with us unless we allowed the PCA to be in the room? Why is it that we are only offering confidentiality to just those who condemn Israel? Should not all conversations between dialogue partners have some sanctity of privilege so that we can be truthful with one another?

But notice that in the desire for a more “truthful” dialogue there is no listing of Palestinian groups who vehemently oppose the BDS movement? Notice that there is no desire to have dissenters to the Abbas government, a government which human rights organizations have condemned for lack of a freedom of press, expression and democratic principles. Nor does the overture offer an opportunity for Palestinian Christians who have been oppressed by their fellow Palestinians to be a part of the dialogue.

It would seem however, that the only truth this overture wants to hear is the truth offered by its authors, which is not how truth is to be attained.