Monday, May 23, 2016

"Methodists Reject Divestment" :-(

Watching from the Plenary Floor

The United Methodist General Conference of 2016 is history.  For a week or so it was “news,” as delegates debated issues ranging from the financial to the spiritual, coming to conclusions that many watchers found alarming!  For, to those of us of a liberal – or even a “moderate” mindset - those who believe that justice, peace and social principles are the heart of the Church- this Conference took the United Methodist Church on a sharp turn to the right and recovery, if it happens at all, will be a long and painful process.

And, while it is beyond the scope of this blog to go into a diatribe about church politics, I mention this to give background to what happened – and didn’t happen – with regard to resolutions regarding Israel/Palestine that came before this august body.

Local activists helped with protests against injustice
Divestment was expected to be widely discussed (argued!).  Individuals, Annual Conferences (including my own) and church agencies had all submitted resolutions asking the church to divest from Caterpillar, and from “the big 3” (Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard).  Other resolutions asked for a “screen” to eliminate “bad actors” from the Church’s portfolio and resolutions asking that the Church express its displeasure with the Occupation to the US Government.  On the “other side,” there were resolutions to take the Methodist Church out of the US Campaign to End the Occupation (a coalition that the church helped to start), resolutions to forbid calling Israel to task for perpetrating the Occupation and even resolutions on “Anti-Semitism,” that were little but thinly veiled attempts to cease even the slight progress that the church has already made towards Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

while Caterpillar continues to aid the destruction of Palestinian land
The divestment resolutions never got out of committee.  Fatally wounded by strong lobbying (which included telephone calls to delegates from Israeli consulates and ambassadors and a video prepared by the Board of Pensions and sent to delegates in Africa and the Philippines), and dealt death blows by representatives of the Board of Pensions, who were so desperate to keep any discussion of divestment off the plenary floor that they offered a “compromise” on which they subsequently reneged, setting the stage for the headlines, “Methodists Reject Divestment.”  And, while literally true, the headlines don’t tell the entire story. 

It’s true that, given the political climate of the Conference, the resolutions may well have been defeated by the larger body.  Certainly, a motion to divest from fossil fuels was defeated on the plenary floor.  The Board of Pensions does not like be told what to do!  Occasionally they do the right thing (such as a few months ago when they divested from two Israeli banks and put three more on their “do not buy list -  But they often do the wrong thing – such as continue to invest in Caterpillar despite more than 10 years of “engagement” that has produced no results.  Or as investing in Israeli settlements after the 2012 General Conference declared settlements illegal (in accordance with International law) and voted to boycott settlement products.  

Voices of peace - Alex Awad and Mark Braverman
But observing in one of the legislative committees during the first week of the Conference, I was struck by a few delegates who seemed to “get it.”  Delegates who were knowledgeable about the Occupation and concerned about how the church’s social justice principles often appeared to be in conflict with the actions the church was taking.  And, I believe, the hope for the future lies in people like these – the man from[DP1]  Cote d’Iviore who addressed the group in French to express support for oppressed people, or the young pastor from North Carolina who compared Israel and Palestine to the big brother who breaks his little brother’s legs, only to have the little brother scolded because the he wasn’t “playing nice.” 

And there were a few resolutions passed that will help the church to work for justice in the Middle East. 
  To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

 [DP1] d

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