In mid-January, the Presbyterian Church (USA) announced publication and distribution of a new package titled Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide. The 74-page booklet with accompanying CD-ROM is intended to be a “how-to guide for class leaders and focused discussion prompts make it an ideal resource for multi-week exploratory education programs in churches, mosques, synagogues, and all classroom settings.”
I first read about the booklet and some of its endorsements back on January 15th, in a post at Mondoweiss by Annie Robbins. Surprisingly, in the two-plus weeks since the announcement, the tract has apparently not been denounced as anti-Semitic by any leading Zionist organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, for instance, which has vehemently attacked the church’s leadership in the past.
I haven’t ordered the booklet yet. At the church’s mission network web page, the manual appears to be very well done – scroll down.
So I’ve been waiting for reviews of the material to show up. On January 31st, Joe Catron published a sort of review for Electronic Intifada. Catron has read the booklet and taken notes as he viewed the material on the CD. He notes that the main issue the Presbyterian Church (USA) takes with what Zionism means is its mixing of selected religious beliefs, dogmas, passages and so on, with politics. Catron quotes from the CD:
“With Zionism Unsettled, we are hoping to shine a light on the effects of Zionism as a political ideology that is justified by appeal to selective biblical texts,” Walt Davis, co-chairperson of the IPMN’s education committee and Zionism Unsettled project coordinator, told The Electronic Intifada.
“There’s a good deal of examination of various theologies in Zionism Unsettled, but through the lens of how they have been affected by a nationalist ideology,” Davis added.
“The problem now is that the issue is no longer just a secular political ideology; it has become an ideology infused with biblical and theological justifications. Therefore it now needs to be examined through a theological lens too.”
Apparently, the guide approaches Zionism as a sort of myth, similar to what led many Southern U.S. Christian churches to justify slavery before the Civil War, and led Afrikaaner Calvinists to embrace political apartheid as being warranted or even mandated by biblical teachings. Catron quotes on myths:
“Israeli and American myths of origin are similar and derived from the same biblical sources,” Zionism Unsettled says, noting that “the history and ideology of settler colonialism have been so central to the political history of the United States that it is not surprising the political and religious leadership in the US has been predisposed to uncritical support for the Zionist movement.”
The publication and dissemination of this educational packet in the months before the church’s 2014 general assembly may or may not have been intentional. I haven’t read anything indicating it was:
The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be held from June 14 to 21, 2014 at the COBO Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan. This biennial meeting brings together commissioners and advisory delegates from all 172 presbyteries, as well as other delegates and observers from around the world. We begin and end with worship, and in between there are celebrations, deliberations and inspirations for everyone. See the proposed docket.
Detroit, a city rediscovering its future and celebrating its rich diversity will play host to the assembly and provide inspiration to the church. All of the general proceedings and worship will be streamed live, but you are invited to learn more here or to join us as we seek to hear scripture calling us to “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).
In 2012, the assembly narrowly voted down a motion to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlitt-Packard, but passed a motion to divest from any business with or investment in Israeli interests in the Occupied Territories. At the time, an attendee noted:
It was interesting to watch the 2012 General Assembly debate concerning divestment. The Presbyterian Church has youth advisory delegates who don’t count on the final vote but vote before the voting delegates. The divestment motion for the Presbyterian Board of Pensions barely failed but the youth delegates nearly unanimously supported it. Generational overturn inside the Presbyterian Church will ultimately change things.
The list of Christian churches worldwide who view the “facts-on-the-ground” applications of Zionism with increasing concern is growing rapidly. It is hard for wikipedia to keep up.
Catron concludes his EI review:
With divestment set to return to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s agenda in Detroit this summer, two years of dialogue, education, and organizing by activists within the church may be nearing fruition.
Meanwhile, members, perhaps young delegates, will be studying the dangers of a myth called Zionism.
Picture from gnuckx licensed under Creative Commons