Presbyterians Expected To Soften Line on Investing in Israel

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The New York Sun

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is considering a change to its ban on investing in Israel.

The church has also decided to remove the gender assumptions in the traditional evocation of “The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

Two years ago the assembly passed a motion urging that the church withdraw its investments in a “phased, selective divestment” from multinational corporations operating in Israel.

Now, instead of an outright ban, the church is considering a new formula that will allow investments in Israel but restrict the placing of the church’s money in peaceful businesses.

It is proposed that “financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits.”

A church spokeswoman, Mindy Marchal, said that this new language suggests that the church committee which monitors investments should now consider divestment only as a last resort.

The committee believes the “customary corporate engagement process,” which includes correspondence, direct talks, proxy voting, shareholder resolutions, and personal meetings with corporations, are adequate to gauge whether investments meet the church’s restrictions.

The church once threatened removing investments from Caterpillar, Motorola, ITT Industries, and United Technologies because the companies provided military equipment and technology to Israel used in the occupation of Palestinian Arab territories. Whether these companies will be considered to be involved in peaceful activities remains in doubt.

The committee passed the new recommendation by a vote of 53-6 at the 217th General Assembly held in Birmingham, Ala. The full assembly, including 534 commissioners, lay people, elders, and pastors, will convene tomorrow to discuss the committee’s recommendation.

Moderator of the Committee on Peacemaking and International Issues, Gretchen Graf, said the proposal “removes words that had been inflammatory, in some cases, because they were technical and misunderstood.”

After the calls for divestment in 2004, some Jewish groups accused the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) of singling out Israel without taking a balanced look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ms. Graf said the church had tried to accommodate those complaints through “conversations all across the country with Jewish brothers and sisters.”

The change in the church’s policy is not a foregone conclusion. “As of Friday, about 21 people were signed up to advocate a pro-divestment stance,” Ms. Marchal said, though Ms. Graf said, “The committee commission is not aware of significant opposition at this point.”

[The divine Trinity – “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” – could also be known as “Mother, Child, and Womb” or “Rock, Redeemer, Friend” at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action yesterday by the church’s national assembly, the Associated Press writes.

Delegates to the meeting voted to “receive” a policy paper on gender-inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it. That means church officials can propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity, but congregations won’t be required to use them.

“This does not alter the church’s theological position, but provides an educational resource to enhance the spiritual life of our membership,” legislative committee chair, Nancy Olthoff, an Iowa laywoman, said during yesterday’s debate on the Trinity.

The assembly narrowly defeated a conservative bid to refer the paper back for further study.]

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