Rep. Wolf Rips His Church for Being Hard on Israel, Sensitive to Muslims' Concerns
(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Frank Wolf took his Presbyterian denomination to task Tuesday for a decision to divest from three U.S. companies doing business with Israel in the disputed West Bank, even as it chose not to support a recent pledge of solidarity with Christian minorities in Islamic lands lest it be perceived as “anti-Muslim.”
Speaking on the floor of the U.S. House, the Virginia Republican also decried a Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) decision to amend its constitution to recognize that marriage can be between “two people,” not only between “a man and a woman.”
The stances adopted by PCUSA’s General Assembly in Detroit on Friday left him feeling “increasingly alienated” from his church, Wolf said, adding that “giants of this tradition … would find it difficult to recognize the PCUSA church today.”
The assembly voted to divest holdings – worth a total of some $21 million – in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola, on the basis their products are used by Israel against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Wolf called the decision “deeply misguided” and said it came against “a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and even here in the United States.”
“The denomination’s action on Israel stands in stark contrast to its inaction on the persecuted church in the region,” he said, charging that the PCUSA had expressly declined to sign a “Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action” in support of Christians and other religious minorities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
Wolf said that document, “carefully crafted with input from faith leaders” in the U.S. and the Middle East, had been signed by more than 200 religious leaders from across the nation, who “came together across ecumenical lines to pledge to do more to help beleaguered minority faith communities.”
But the PCUSA, he said, “privately expressed concerns that this action would be perceived as an ‘anti-Muslim’ statement.”
“With the PCUSA’s decision not to associate itself with this urgent call to action, I find myself once again out of step with my denomination in profound ways.”
The divestment decision adopted Friday by a vote of 310-303 incorporated several amendments including one saying the action should not be construed as “an alignment with the overall strategy of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.”
Still, the Palestinian BDS National Committee welcomed the PCUSA decision, calling it “inspiring and morally courageous” and urging other church denominations to follow its example.
Wolf was not alone in condemning the decision to divest from the three companies and comparing Israel’s record to other countries in the region.
“Even Christians who doubt that the modern nation of Israel represents a specific fulfillment of biblical prophecy can appreciate that Israel is the only major nation in the region that champions democracy and promotes the freedom of worship,” Nathan Finn, associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary said in a statement to the Baptist Press.
“Rather than simplistically criticizing Israel, no matter how politically correct that action may be at this moment in our own nation’s history, when Christian denominations gather, it would be a more biblically faithful stance to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122:6),” Finn said.
The First Presbyterian Church of Fort Myers, Florida, a PCUSA member, distanced itself from the decision.
“We cannot and will not support Presbyterian Church USA in its misguided decision to divest itself of stock in companies whose products Israel uses in the occupied territories,” the local News-Press daily quoted senior pastor Paul deJong as saying after a church session Monday night unanimously opposed the vote. “We stand in full support of Israel’s right to protect its citizens and of all American companies to engage in honest free enterprise.”
The New York Post said in an editorial that Israel was “the only place in the Middle East where Christian minorities can practice their faith freely.”
“The hypocrisy of the vote, which declared that the Presbyterian church ‘cannot profit from the destruction of homes and lives,’ is underscored by the group’s silence on the slaughter in Syria and Iraq, not to mention the persecution of its fellow Christians elsewhere in the region – including by the Palestinian Authority.”
Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had some advice for Presbyterians supportive of the resolution.
“I suggest to them to take a plane, come here and then if we can manage it, let’s arrange a bus tour for them in the region,” he told a Jewish media summit in Jerusalem on Sunday. “Let them go to Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq. And my only suggestion for them is that – well, I have two suggestions for them: One, that it be an armor-plated bus; and two, that they shouldn’t announce that they’re Christian.”