Meetings: My Close-Encounter with a Presbyterian Professor

In 1996, I received my doctorate from the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo (SFTS), California.  SFTS is really a gorgeous school, nestled in the foothills of Marin County. One could hardly have asked for a better place to study and engage so many thought-provoking teachers. I believe I was the first rabbi ever to go through their Doctorate of Ministry program. It proved to be a wonderful learning experience that introduced me to Biblical Greek, Christian biblical exegesis, history, ethics, spirituality, and theology.  For that, I will be eternally grateful.

By the way, SFTS is a Presbyterian seminary.

Walter Davis was one of the Seminary’s most important leaders while I was there. Walt, (who fought in Vietnam) and I became pretty good friends. I remember him taking me aside after I finished attending a lecture given by Lewis Rambo (he is no relation to Sylvester Stallone ). During one 1995 summer session, Walt said to me, “Michael, I really must apologize for the Presbyterian Church’s failure to come to the Jewish people’s aid during the Holocaust.”

Surprised, I thought about his remarks and said to him, “Walt, if you really want your Church to atone for their apathy during the Holocaust, there is something important your Church can do.” He asked, “What can we do?”  I replied, “Be a friend of the State of Israel—have your Church do everything in its power to make a difference in ensuring Israel’s health and stability. Your Church’s work would go a long way in making up what the Church failed to achieve in the dark days of the Holocaust.” Walt promised me that he would see to it that the Church would become a good friend of Israel.”

Martin Buber often wrote about the spiritual meetings people have and how they sometimes function like miniature epiphanies from God in our lives. I believe Buber’s insights are correct. I might have forgotten about this mystically-directed conversation had it none been for the Presbyterian Church’s animus against the State of Israel.

In 2004, the Church wanted to approve a policy of divestment from Israel. Unpopular with church members, it was later rescinded.

In 2008, church leaders attempted to re-engineer the Church’s Middle East policies and created a committee that unabashedly maintains anti-Israel policies. One supporter of Israel who served as a member of this committee, quit in protest after he saw their radical agenda.

This was the proposed agenda:

•  the report calls for the US to withhold financial and military aid to Israel

•  the US  apologizes to Palestinians for even conceding that Israel has a right to exist

•  the US  declares that Israel, if defined as a Jewish State, must be inherently racist

•  US embraces the Kairos Palestine Document, produced by Palestinian Christians, calling for boycott and sanctions against Israel and endorses full Palestinian ‘right of return‘ to Israel which would lead to the demise of the Jewish democratic state

•  US denies any connection between biblical covenants and the Jewish people. Israel’s history, it claims, begins only with the Holocaust, a nation mistakenly created by Western powers at the expense of the Palestinian people to solve the ‘Jewish problem’

I believe that the Jewish talk-show host Dennis Prager said it best:

“I have argued in this column that the greatest sin is committing evil in God’s name. As bad as the evil committed by secularists, such as communists and Nazis, has ever been, the most grievous evil is that which is committed in the name of God. For not only do religious evils harm their victims, they also do lasting damage to God-based morality, which those of us who believe in God and religion consider the only viable antidote to evil. That is why Islamic terror is so evil. Not only because it targets the most innocent of people for death and torture, but because it does so in the name of Allah and Islam.

It takes a particularly virulent strain of moral idiocy and meanness to single out Israel, not Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, or terror-supporting, death-fatwa-issuing Iran, or women-subjugating Saudi Arabia, for condemnation and economic ruin. One of the most decent societies, one of the most liberal democracies in the world, is fighting for its life against Islamic fascists who praise the Holocaust and publicly call for the annihilation of Israel — and the Presbyterian Church calls for strangling Israel!

Apartheid state? This Goebbels-like Big Lie, concocted by the world’s anti-Israel and anti-American Left and by those who want Israel destroyed, is now an official doctrine of the Presbyterian Church. Israel is a nation whose population is one-quarter non-Jewish Arab, with the same rights, including voting and its own political parties, as Jewish citizens; a nation whose second official language is Arabic, the language of those who wish to annihilate the Jewish country; a nation that occupies a tiny sliver of land known as the West Bank only because Jordan, overwhelmingly composed of Palestinians, invaded Israel in 1967 in order to destroy it and thereby lost its ownership of the West Bank.” [1]

I would add that when Saudi Arabia refuses to allow Christian symbols or places of worship in their country, the Presbyterian leadership acts as if this form of religious apartheid is acceptable. When Arafat and the Palestinian Authority pilfer billions of dollars from the Palestinian people, the Presbyterians make a toast to  their Palestinian buddy for being such an inspirational leader.

When women accused of adultery are routinely stoned in several Arab countries, as are homosexuals, that too doesn’t bother them much either. A militant Iran, inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini’s hatred of the West, also doesn’t concern them because the Mullahs are pious Muslims. Threats to “destroy the Zionist entity” for mysterious reasons will not register on the Presbyterian Richter Scale. However, military threats made toward the peaceful Gulf States by Iran, is morally “kosher”  to the Presbyterians.

When China exploits its children in factories, the Presbyterians wink and smile at their Chinese friends.  And let us not forget about the victims of Darfur. Strange, why hasn’t the Presbyterians threatened divesting their monies from the Sudanese and the Muslim nations supporting this evil regime?

Yet, Israel is different.  Would the Presbyterian consider divestment against these countries for their sins of bigotry, racism, misogyny, and genocide? Why only Israel? Anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows the real answer: it is anti-Semitism. While it is no longer fashionable to hate “Jews,” it is considered praiseworthy to despise “Zionists.” No matter how much Israel helps a suffering world–be it in Haiti or South East Asia–Israel can do no right according to the Presbyterians leadership.

It is a pity Walt Davis and his fellow Presbyterian leaders have proven that not only haven’t they learned any ethical wisdom from the Holocaust  in WWII, their moral crusade may result in a possible new Holocaust in the future; as atheist philosopher George Santayana observed, “He who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it.” They move about like a bat without radar.

Members of the Presbyterian Church need to challenge their leaders and hold them accountable. My experience has taught me that vast majority of Presbyterians I have encountered reject the kind of diatribes we have come to hear from the Presbyterian thinkers and liberation theologians.

In the Middle East, there is probably enough blame to go around for everyone that is involved. Turning back the clock and delegitimizing  Israel, calling it an “Apartheid State,” is a wrongheaded solution. Scapegoating Israel for all the problems of the world is not going to solve the human problem of envy and malice that operate in the heart of Muslim extremism. However, we need to find constructive ways to build bridges that will help create a meaningful peaceful existence for everyone living in the most troubled region of the world.




4 thoughts on “Meetings: My Close-Encounter with a Presbyterian Professor

  1. admin says:

    This article may be a little dated, since it was published in 2004:

    The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today called the actions taken by the Presbyterian Church USA to fund the missionizing of Jews and its call for divestiture from companies doing business with Israel “offensive and distressing.”

    In a letter to the leader of the Presbyterian Church USA, Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, and Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs, wrote:

    We were offended and distressed by the actions of the Presbyterian Church USA at your most recent General Assembly pertaining to Jews and Israel. Specifically, we cite the vote to continue funding the Avodat Yisrael Church, and other missionizing churches targeting Jews, and the “overture” or resolution calling for divestiture from Israel.

    Targeting Jews for conversion to Christianity is an insult to the Jewish people. History has shown us that the backdrop for intolerance toward Jews in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, was the absence of Christian respect for Judaism’s legitimacy.

    Your unbalanced and unfair characterization of the Jewish community’s concern for the safety and security of the State of Israel is deeply troubling. To assert that there is a moral equivalency between the racist policy of apartheid and the efforts to protect the citizenry of Israel is unconscionable. To further suggest that the same technique used to break the racist policies of apartheid, that of divestiture, be employed against those doing business with Israel is to support that inaccurate and unjust moral equivalency.

    The PCUSA’s “overture” on Israel’s security fence, which is characterized as “the Wall” as if we were referring to the Wall that once bisected Berlin, is unfair. This fence is a temporary measure which has proven to be effective in protecting innocent people from terrorist attacks. When these attacks cease so will the need for a protective barrier. That will only come about when responsible Palestinian leadership is ready to make good-faith efforts at negotiation and peace-making and call an end to terrorist attacks on innocent Israelis. Your overture makes no mention of the causes which led to the need to take drastic measures of protection.

    The recent actions of the General Assembly calls into question the efforts of interfaith dialogue between Presbyterians and Jews. We have been taught that unless one knows what hurts the other, that person cannot profess love for the other. We are hurt and the need to share that hurt with you comes with the concomitant plea that we make the effort to learn to respect one another and return to a dialogue that is meaningful and transformative.

  2. Yochanan Lavie says:

    Sounds like we have nothing to talk about with the Presbies, and that no matter what they think about themselves, their institution is our enemy. Unless they have since given up their liberation theology crap and missionizing, which I doubt.

  3. admin says:

    I happen to like liberation theology. I studied most of their thinkers. The weirdest Liberation theologian I read was a Palestinian Christian who spewed quite a bit of anti-Semitic rhetoric. It’s a pity nobody told him about how Christians are being persecuted throughout the Middle East. The coin of liberation theology works both ways.

    When you look at the religious totalitarianism that exist in the Islamic world, and its hatred of women and people who are outside its camp, a liberation theology might actually be effective used in challenging the people to overthrow the corrupt regimes that operate from within its own midst.

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