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Friday, 20 June 2014

What I will say if the PCUSA chooses to divest

In a few hours our General Assembly will decide whether or not to divest from 3 American companies whose products are being used for nonpeaceful activities of the Israeli military in the Occupied Territories. There is likely to be more debate and more tension in the room than during our discussions of same gender marriage.

Coming into the assembly hall this morning we were flanked by grey t-shirted men whose shirts proclaimed that divestment would "leave them out."

I am very nervous about this conversation and the "fallout" after the decision.

Yet I am moved to support divestment and to do my level best to explain this decision with clarity and compassion to those willing to listen.

My first call Monday morning will be to the staff of the local synagogue with whom we have a longstanding and deep relationship. My hope is that the rabbis will welcome a conversation. My hopes for that conversation will be to...........

1. Listen to the understanding of my colleagues and clarify that our decision to divest is one of getting our own financial house in order as an expression of our hope that the occupation will end and determined efforts to work toward a two state solution will begin again.

2. Report on the positive investment of the Presbyterian Foundation in alternative energy, fish farming and microlending, which are serving to bring economic development to an area which will hopefully, one day, be part of a sovereign state of Palestine. I will remind my colleagues that our investments in Israel continue as a viable part of our denomination's portfolio.  I will ask if my colleagues would be interested in joining together in a project of this nature as an expression of hope for the Palestinian people.

3. Ask the synagogue friends to help me and my congregation become more aware of Jewish suffering in various places in the world, that we may stay vigilant in our efforts to address anti-Semitism everywhere, including in the depths of our own hearts.

4. invite members of the synagogue, Christians and Muslims (including Palestinan Christians and Muslims) to read together the book "Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy for Healing and Transforming the Middle East" by Rabbi Michael Lerner as a small group.

I pledge my willingness to have these kinds of conversations with anyone who desires them.

I have decided what I feel I can say to my Jewish friends and colleagues if we pass divestment. I am not sure yet of what I will say to the Palestinians I know and to our dedicated Mission coworkers who work daily in the West Bank and Jerusalem and experience the despair and hopelessness of the Palestinian people who wonder where the world's passion is for peace.



Monday, 2 June 2014

Do Talk to Strangers

This post is part 6 of a series of responses to questions posed to candidates for moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA). I am standing for moderator of this assembly. 

Q: In our interactions with people of other religions and faith traditions, as Presbyterians we seek respectful dialogical relationships and authentic witness. How do you understand the relationship between witness and dialogue with people of other religions and faith traditions?
A: I have invested a lot of time and energy in interfaith work. I consider dialogue a spiritual practice. It is a patient speaking of truth as I know it, and a humble listening for wisdom from others.

The church I serve, University Presbyterian Church,  launched an adult interfaith education center 13 years ago, with important leadership from the pastor at the time, Lib McGregor Simmons.  Named the “SoL” (Source of Light) Center, we offer short courses such as “the Global Refugee Crisis,”  “Abraham in Judaism, Islam and Christianity,” and “The Spiritual Practice of Forgiveness.”

A course I had the opportunity to design was “Who Speaks for Islam?” drawing on the title of a book by the same name.

During the class, I interviewed women from Iran and Pakistan, and men from Turkey, Jamaica, Iraq and the US. I asked them about their jobs, their families and their practices of faith. During this course none of us who were Christian spoke about our faith, yet this was the beginning of dialogue. Dialogue creates a space of honor and hospitality for the “other” and lets him/her tell their story on their own terms. By offering space to people from numerous places and experiences, we also communicated something I feel is very important about dialogue: do not set up a situation where one person represents an entire tradition.

 One of the most powerful moments of this interview process was when I asked the Turkish man, “what would you like the group to know that I haven’t asked?” he responded,  “Thank you for not asking me about terrorism. Thank you for asking me about my life and what I care about.”  

Dialogue is our witness to Jesus Christ, as we honestly share our stories with one another. Dialogue recognizes that we all have something to learn from others, and that God’s wisdom is not confined to the lips and hearts of those who share our particular faith. Dialogue can inspire and transform. We leave the results of these encounters to God.