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A Welcome CorrectionAlan WisdomSeptember 9, 2010
I have good news to report. A General Assembly agency that made a mistake corrected itself. This was a hard thing to do, I’m sure. We at the IRD have made a few mistakes over the years and have had to issue some corrections. So the PCUSA’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) deserves credit for doing the right thing.
Here’s the story: At the General Assembly in July, we in Presbyterian Action and many other friends worked very hard to bring a very unbalanced Middle East Study Committee (MESC) report closer to balance. Articles were written, oral testimony was given, and commissioners were briefed so that they could take action to ensure fairness towards the legitimate concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians.
And the commissioners did take action! They made major changes to affirm unequivocally Israel’s right to exist, and delete or downgrade sections of the MESC report that contained offensive language or biased narratives hostile to Israel. The result wasn’t perfect (products of a General Assembly committee rarely are), but it was a tremendous improvement and we were thankful. Here is the report that I wrote on this surprising and gratifying turn of events at the assembly in Minneapolis.
But as I noted in that report, we could not rest content with the assembly’s adoption of a document. We had to watch how the denominational agencies implemented the document. Did they respect and reflect the spirit of fairness that motivated the assembly commissioners? Or would they carry on the pro-Palestinian partisanship that had characterized the initial draft of the MESC report?
You can imagine our dismay when we saw an early and very bad sign. In an August 12 email summary of the General Assembly, ACSWP reported—incorrectly—that “[t]he Middle East report was approved virtually unchanged, with two appendices removed.” It caricatured critics of the original pro-Palestinian report as “persons seeking to defend virtually all Israeli policies from moral criticism” and alleged that they employed “massive and frequently personal pressure” on commissioners.
ACSWP portrayed the final MESC report as directing all criticism against Israel alone: “The Report’s strongest recommendation, that U.S. aid to Israel’s very conservative government be stopped as long as the settlements are not stopped, showed widespread understanding that the two-state solution is virtually impossible and the Christian population virtually gone, primarily due to Israel’s 47 year military occupation. “There was no indication of any concern about radical Islamist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which attack and seek to destroy Israel.
This ACSWP email report was hardly the expression of fairness and balance for which we had been hoping. A number of friends voiced their concerns to ACSWP. And, thankfully, ACSWP responded in the right spirit. It issued a correction on September 2.
The ACSWP co-chairs and coordinator wrote, “We apologize for the negative effect the brief summary has created among a number of people who care deeply about finding a road to peace and justice in the Middle East, as we do also.” They clarified: “While few of the document’s recommendations were changed, these changes contributed to the construction of a strong and constructive policy which achieved the support of the Assembly. In addition, two long appendices were removed and a new appendix consisting of eight narratives by Israelis and Palestinians will be added. ACSWP regrets that it did not highlight in its brief summary the significance of these changes to the construction of a consensus supporting the report.”
“By focusing only on some of the efforts of some proponents [critics of the original MESC report],” the ACSWP officials wrote, “we did not present the full picture of all advocates presenting their views to commissioners. We honor the spirit of the General Assembly as a place where sincere disagreements can and should be brought. The substantial support received by the Middle East Study Committee report as amended exemplifies this spirit and provides a strong basis for social witness by all Presbyterians.”
This is indeed a welcome correction, and we commend ACSWP for it. The committee acted as Scripture calls us to act. None of us can pretend to be without error. We try our best to carry out the mission that God has given us. And when we fall short in some manner, we own up to it, make amends insofar as possible, and seek the grace of God and our fellow believers.
Knowing our own need of grace, we can also extend grace.
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