For people who have been present for recent General Assemblies, it is very clear that this Assembly changed the tone and substance of conversations that have been ongoing for more than a decade. The Way Forward recommendations to make some radical changes in the organizational culture of the denomination were approved without any significant opposition from commissioners. The fossil fuels debate made clear that 1) Presbyterians want to be an active part in creating a clean environment and 2) by an 80-20% vote expressed a desire to engage aggressively in dialogue with energy corporations to that end. The report of the Middle East Committee that has taken hours for many consecutive assemblies took about thirty minutes this year.
The 2018 commissioners talked about difficult issues in a civil, respectful manner that sets a high standard for General Assemblies going forward. For this, we at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace are extremely grateful to the commissioners, as should be all loyal Presbyterians. While we certainly would have voted differently from the majority on a number of overtures, the goal isn’t to prevail on all issues. We wouldn’t be a diverse denomination if one viewpoint prevailed on all issues.
In future newsletters, we will be focusing on our goals of getting more congregations involved in grassroots organizations such as Hand in Hand and Project Rozana who are building interpersonal relationships between Israelis and Palestinians that are the required foundation blocks for lasting peace in the future. We will also be working in Presbyteries to generate dialogues as to how we can work in interfaith partnerships to be more effective peacemakers in the Middle East.
Finally, we will also be sending our several newsletters to clarify what we think needs to be done to ensure that future General Assemblies are a safe place for divergent opinions. The death threat issued against our dear friend Bassem Eid because of his testimony before the Middle East Issues Committee is something we take very personally and seriously. We can’t let the weak response of GA officials to that scary situation stand. Frankly, the incident is something that all Presbyterians should understand as a serious threat to speakers at future assemblies. Will we tolerate the presence of individuals who make death threats or bully speakers and/or commissioners? Or can we find, as have many organizations, a way to balance free speech with a safe place for free speech.
May God’s blessings flow from the actions of the 2018 General Assembly.