Thursday, August 11, 2011

ELCA Assembly starts Monday: How to be involved NOW

To my friends in the ELCA, it is a privilege to work with you.

Our Churchwide Assembly is about to begin, offering a primary opportunity for the ELCA to reinforce its commitment to ending the illegal and unjust Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and to contribute to the goals of two states and normalized relations (and recognition) of Israel with its Arab neighbors — goals favored by the majority of Israeli and Palestinian peoples and by the world community.

Several synod assembly memorials have moved through the process toward the upcoming Churchwide Assembly, filtered and organized by the churchwide Memorials Committee.
See Pre-Assembly Report, Memorial Committee Section VI, pages 39-43
Category A7: Investment for Positive Change in Palestine – at this link.   

Now is the time for you all to inform yourselves about the ways the issues are likely to be presented to voting members next week. We can all contribute to constructive and accurate deliberation. Your synod office can put you in touch with your voting members. Ask for phone numbers or emails, since people are already en route to Orlando and won’t receive postal mail. 

We can take part in at least three important ways:
  • advise our voting members to read carefully the excellent background material (and footnotes) in the Memorials Report. The memorials document is huge. It’s very common for voting members to skip around and read only the “resolved” portions, often at the last minute. Even if this step is the only one you take, it’s very valuable.    
  • encourage voting members to affirm recommendations 1, 2, 3, on Kairos Palestine, nonviolence, and positive economic investments
  • encourage removal of the clause about "boycotts, divestments, or sanctions."     
An excellent resource at the assembly will be Bishop Bruce Burnside from Madison, Wisconsin. He chairs the bishops' Middle East Ready Bench. He can be found with all the other bishops in their section up front.
Here are some background points: 

The synod resolutions are reproduced and bundled in the online report of the Memorials Committee 

Note that the Northeastern Pennsylvania and Lower Susquehanna Synods include this clause in the RESOLVED:   “…while at the same time opposing any movement toward boycott, divestment and/or economic sanctions against Israel.”

The Metro Washington DC Synod omits this last clause of the RESOLVED.  The Memorials Committee has combined elements of the pertinent Middle East peace memorials from these three synods.  

However, the bundled recommendation of the Memorials Committee appears to ignore pertinent information in the Background report, which notes that the 2007 CWA action already excludes divestment as an ELCA option and in footnote 12 explains that “The ELCA has a specific and restrictive procedure concerning any possible boycott.”  

It is not explicit in the Background, but it’s important to remind voting members that the ELCA churchwide staff and synod leaders have encouraged individuals to consider not purchasing goods manufactured in Israeli settlements. This modest version of boycott is consistent with the 2005 Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine in the Stewarding Economic Resources section. (For more about this see the Selective Purchasing Policy Guide.)   

Despite all this history, the Memorials Committee, in its Recommendation for Assembly Actions (p. 43), has painted with a very wide brush and presents this adaptation of the RESOLVED from the NE Penn and Lower Susquehanna synods:  "To discourage boycotts, divestments, or sanctions and commend the policy, “ELCA Economic Social Criteria Investment Screens” to the members, congregations, synods, and agencies of this church;"

While readers of my blog may have varied opinions of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as an overall strategy, I hope we can agree that we would oppose any move to lead the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to shut off the possibility for individuals, congregations and synods to make their own choices about use of these tactics.

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