[The Rev. John H. Thomas, Senior Advisor to the President and Visiting Professor in Church Ministries at Chicago Theological Seminary, and former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, shares his thoughts on faith, ministry, theological education, and the public role of the church in the world in his weekly blog, where you can read the full entry.]
If it isn’t sex, it’s the Middle East. At least that seems to be the case when mainline denominations meet these days for their biennial gatherings. This year the Presbyterian Church (USA) will be considering a lengthy report on the conflict between Israel and Palestine that broadly supports the vision of a an independent and secure Israel residing within internationally recognized borders, along-side of and recognized by an independent, economically viable Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as a shared city hosting the capitals of both countries. The report clearly asserts that “violence is not an acceptable means to peace, regardless of its rationale.” The Israeli Occupation of the West Bank is denounced as is the blockade of Gaza, and a variety of advocacy measures are encouraged, including investing in economic development projects in the West Bank and Gaza and pressuring US firms like Caterpillar that continue to profit from the sale of products that support the Occupation or home demolitions.
All this seems relatively main-stream these days. But just this week a group of prominent Presbyterian tall steeple pastors and the leaders of Auburn and McCormick Seminaries issued a letter condemning the report as “unbalanced, historically inaccurate, theologically flawed, and politically damaging. Its critical defects,” they said, “threaten the Presbyterian Church’s impartial role as a peacemaker.” I’ve read the letter and the report carefully. I came away from that exercise reminded that often, regardless of what an author writes, readers tend to see what they want to see. Of particular interest, however, was the assumption that churches ought to be “impartial peacemakers” and that more than anything else, we must be “balanced.”