[Episcopal News Service] Editor’s note: Click here to view the Episcopal Voices of Conscience letter and its signatories, which was released on Jan. 18.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings have said that a draft letter pressing the Executive Council to intervene in the implementation of the Episcopal Church’s policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely unhelpful and disregards due legislative processes.
“Just as we don’t proof-text Scripture, we don’t proof-text resolutions, and our polity does not provide Executive Council as an appellate process,” Jennings told ENS after seeing a copy of the draft letter. “Each triennium, however, faithful Episcopalians who disagree with a decision of General Convention work to craft new legislation for a new convention, and that process is open to all of us.”
“Our work must begin by listening to those who live and work and have their being in the midst of the current conflicts, and equally attend to the conflicts in our own communities,” Jefferts Schori told ENS. “We cannot build a lasting peace by directing or imposing strategies on others. We can encourage non-violent and transparent methods like those Jesus and his disciple Martin Luther King, Jr. did.”
The as-yet unsigned draft letter, titled “A Prophetic Challenge to the Executive Council,” includes a date of Jan. 21 to coincide with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and invoking King’s call for justice.
The letter, seen by Episcopal News Service, calls on Executive Council to “immediately move forward with our church’s corporate engagement policy so that our financial resources are not being used to support the infrastructure of this suffocating occupation” and to provide a public account of this work.
“The church’s corporate-engagement policy with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unchanged since it was adopted in 2005, and its implementation is reflected in at least one shareholder resolution over the course of the past triennium, and in fact was the first major denomination to file a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 19 years ago,” said Alexander Baumgarten, director of the church’s Office of Government Relations.
“Some Episcopalians had sought a different course for that policy at this past summer’s General Convention, but the House of Bishops declined to pass it after expressing concern that it could set a trajectory toward supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel,” said Baumgarten, who also noted that the House of Deputies separately rejected boycott, divestment, and sanctions by an overwhelming margin.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of the major issues addressed at the 2012 General Convention, during which the Episcopal Church supported a resolution on positive investment in the Palestinian Territories. Meanwhile, the House of Bishops agreed to postpone indefinitely a conversation on corporate engagement.
“I am grateful that The Episcopal Church is currently poised to make such a positive economic investment,” Jefferts Schori told ENS.
Resolution B019 affirms positive investment “as a necessary means to create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure” in the Palestinian Territories. It also calls on the church to support “the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian study on peace with justice in the Middle East,” and produce an annotated bibliography of resources.
Resolution C060, which was tabled, would have called on the church to engage “in corporate social responsibility by more vigorous and public corporate engagement with companies in the church’s investment portfolio that contribute to the infrastructure of the occupation.”
One of the main arguments against adopting C060 centered on the fact that the Episcopal Church already has a policy of corporate engagement as recommended in the 2005 report of the Social Responsibility in Investments committee that was endorsed by Executive Council.
“General Convention is a great witness to the work of the Holy Spirit,” said Jennings. “Our work at convention is led by the Spirit, and we pray, worship, and sing in the midst of it to remind us that we serve God through our democracy. When we are done and legislation is passed, we stand together.”
Baumgarten agreed. “What we saw from the General Convention this past summer was a conscientious decision, after much debate, to call the Episcopal Church to walk a road of intentionality in bringing new people into the fight for a just peace to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to take the road of reconciliation rather than further division,“ he said. “That decision affirms and builds upon 30 years of resolutions that call the Episcopal Church to support justice for all parties to the conflict.”
When called by ENS, the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves of Hawaii, listed in the document’s properties as an author, declined to go on the record until the statement had been released or to share the latest version.
The draft letter also calls on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council to add its voice to other denominations that in October 2012 wrote to Congress “calling for accountability of Israel’s use of foreign aid from our government. The voice of the Episcopal Church is woefully missing in the request our colleagues made to Congress.”
Jefferts Schori has said that she was away from the office when the October letter to Congress was being developed, and was not aware of its existence until after it was made public, but has since expressed the belief that the strategy and content reflected in the letter are at odds with the course that the General Convention has asked the Episcopal Church to take.
“Signing hortatory statements or partisan letters almost always raises the conflict level, and discourages those on the receiving end of criticism from the kind of openness or vulnerability that is a necessary prerequisite to negotiation,” she said. “Given marked absence of such openness, other methods for motivating participation in negotiations seem most needed right now. That does not mean we should be condoning injustice or aggravated violence by any of the parties. It does mean we have to recognize that progress will not be likely or possible without active insistence that the parties come to the table and stay there.”
One of the effects of the letter to Congress has been a suspension of some longstanding dialogue between multiple Christian denominations and Jewish counterparts who support and work collaboratively toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The American Jewish Committee, one of the Jewish groups that withdrew from the dialogue process, was among those who had earlier praised the stances adopted by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention.
“The Episcopal Church has demonstrated its commitment to a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a rejection of unhelpful one-sided judgments aimed at Israel that do not advance the cause of peace,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations, who attended General Convention as an invited interreligious guest. “The path toward peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis is the return without preconditions to direct negotiations for a two-state solution.”
Later in October 2012, Jefferts Schori wrote to then presidential candidates President Barack Obama and the Hon. Mitt Romney to use their campaign debate forum “to articulate strong support for a just and peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as a clear plan for how you would work to support that goal in the next four years.”
Jefferts Schori also joined 35 Christian leaders in signing a January 2013 letter calling on Obama urgently “to redouble his efforts for meaningful progress in the realization of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
General Convention’s Resolution B019 reaffirms the church’s official policy, based on resolutions passed at its previous General Conventions, committing to a two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized state of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people, with a shared Jerusalem as the capital of both.
The draft letter says that “Israel must be held accountable for allowing an occupation for 45 years that suffocates the dreams of freedom that Palestinians hold every bit as much as African Americans sought on that day when Dr. King told the world that he had a dream. Occupation cannot be justified as a tool of security.”
The letter also says that “just as this church stood with South Africa and Namibia during the dark days of apartheid, so we recognize that we need to be standing with our sister and brother Palestinians who have endured an apartheid that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has described as worse than it was in South Africa.”
The SRI committee report from 2005 acknowledged, however, that the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is not the same as the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
“In the case of South Africa, the entire system of apartheid was illegitimate, and no actions short of dismantling it could be countenanced by the world community. The goal was the end of that South African regime,” that report said. “The case of Israel is different. Church policies clearly support Israel’s right to exist, and no companies should be involved, however inadvertently, in any way with organizations engaged in violence against Israelis. Companies can and should operate in Israel proper.”
Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani has said that investment in the Palestinian Territories and in the ministry of the Jerusalem diocese is what is needed at this time.
“As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers, to continue to provide hope where it is dim, to be voices of the voiceless, and to be advocates for a just and durable peace,” Dawani told a July 2011 conference at Lambeth Palace. “We must work together with people of other faiths to encourage the politicians to put politics aside and meet midway, where all people are equal; the marginalized and the powerful, the poor and the wealthy, men and women, children and the elderly, regardless of faith or social status.”
Jefferts Schori visited Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza over Christmas, a trip she said “led to encounters with people of good faith from each of the Abrahamic traditions, people seeking peace with justice for all.”
“Their voices were ones of moderation, not so easily heard in a world of polarizing headlines,” she told ENS. “To a person, they asked for solidarity and accompaniment by people of faith from other parts of the world. Our task as Episcopalians is to pray and work for peace – in our own countries as well as in the Middle East – through conversation with those who disagree with particular strategies, refraining from demonizing opponents, and building bridges across the chasms dividing our societies.
“May your kingdom come, O Lord, and speedily. May our work be fruitful in contributing to peace.”
— Matthew Davies is editor/reporter of Episcopal News Service.