Difficult choices: Israel/Palestine resolutions

Marshall Scott reflects on the resolutions on Palestine and Israel as they came to the floor of the House of Deputies on Monday July 9:

The issues of the lives of Palestinian Christians living in the Occupied Territories came today to the floor of the House of Deputies. It came after two hours of testimony in the legislative Committee on National and International Concerns; and after more than two hours of work within the Committee. It was pretty clear that this would be an important issue. We had no fewer than twelve resolutions on the topic, with at least eight sharing the exact same content.

The title of the resolution we started with, B019, was “Israeli-Palestinian Peace and Support for the Diocese of Jerusalem.” That by itself raised a question: how, really, is the Episcopal Church going to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians? That is the problem, really, of titles of resolutions. It can be hard to have a title that quite captures what one wants to do. It’s often easier to identify the goal one wants to see than to really claim how we want to – often how we can – pursue it.

We also know we had a second related resolution we needed to discover. That was C060, with its very similar name, “Peace in Palestinian/Israeli Conflict.” The core, the force of this resolution was “vigorous and public corporate engagement,” and “information on products made and distributed from illegal Israeli settlements so that they can make informed consumer choices” – possible means of economic action. We determined as a House to consider the two resolutions together, and to discuss both before voting on either.

There are times when the specifics of content are less important than the stories that inform content. No one questioned the need to support our brothers and sisters who are Palestinian Christians, Anglican and otherwise. No one questioned that life in the Occupied Territories of Palestine is painful and unjust. Rather, the concern was how to do so. But, it was more difficult than that. The concern was really whether to take a stand that might have important effects under the longer term – in this case, boycotts and divestment from publically traded companies that, in the language of C060, “contribute to the infrastructure of the Occupation” – when that stand might be met by the Israeli government in ways that in the short term hinder the ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

So, how do we decide? How do we decide between possible short term difficulties and possible long term success? How do we choose between predictable if uncertain dangers now, and predictable and certain extended difficulties possible shortened? And how do we ask known folks now to take short term risks (or better, increased short term risks) as opposed to taking known but lesser long term risks while we wait for a different solution?

This is not an idle question. The model most often brought to the Committee was Apartheid-era South Africa. Divestment was a tool that was employed successfully in making apartheid unacceptable to the South African government of the day. It brought hardship to black South Africans as jobs were lost and businesses suffered. It also brought the South African government to recognize that the displeasure of the wider world, and especially of institutional investors, would cost something.

And, it did work. Indeed, the strategy of divestment was supported by the Church of Southern Africa. They were willing to accept the short term cost for the long term goal.

On the other hand, we’ve had a much more recent, if much less apparent parallel. The tension over full inclusion of all the baptized into all sacraments of the Church has had something of the same language to it. Anglicans across the world were unhappy with the Episcopal Church. Often they said, “How shall we speak to our (Muslim/Evangelical Christian/culturally conservative) neighbors, if our siblings in The Episcopal Church have taken this position?” Americans (for in this case I can’t speak for my Episcopal siblings in non-US dioceses) would ask, “If we take this stand, do we put GLBT folks at greater risk where they are not accepted?”

At the same time, there have been those (and, again, in my experience these have been largely Episcopalians in US Dioceses) who have been committed to more definitive words (because actions have sometimes been hard to define). They felt a strong Episcopal witness was more helpful to GLBT siblings in other parts of the Communion. They felt that a strong Episcopal witness was also necessary to faithfulness to GLBT folks in The Episcopal Church. When the Presiding Bishop spoke of “standing in a crucified place,” she was, I think, speaking of the Episcopal Church; but GLBT siblings in the Episcopal Church understand that it was GLBT siblings, both in the Episcopal Church, and in the wider Communion who’d been asked to accept crucifixion.

And so the questions remain: do we choose short term risk for long term goals? Do we choose short term peace to continue our work, even if it makes the goal take longer? And how do we ask others to make the sacrifices brought about by our choices? I don’t have a clear answer for that. I think it makes a difference to ask those in the crucible. I think it made a difference that the Church in Southern Africa supported divestment. But when that support isn’t explicit, I don’t have any clearer an answer than anyone else.

I know what we did today. We called for study and engagement; but not for the more inflammatory resources that were originally presented. We called for corporate engagement and for information to make consumer choices; but we didn’t call explicitly for divestment or boycott. We did not exclude those things, but neither did we call for them.

And having done those things, we wait for God’s time and history to reveal to us whether our choices were constructive. I don’t know, and don’t expect to know for some time, what was “right.” What I do know is that those were the questions on the floor today of the House of Deputies; and that every speaker felt the tension between those difficult choices.

The Rev. Marshall Scott, Deputy from West Missouri, writes for Episcopal Café/Daily Episcopalian and is a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

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