by Dexter Van Zile
The bureaucrats in Louisville who run the day-to-day operations of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are looking more and more dishonest and stupid with each passing day. For non-Presbyterians, they are a cause for disdain. For the dwindling number of people who actually belong to this church, they are becoming a source of embarrassment.
They are supposed to be religious leaders who tell the truth, but in fact, they behave like politicians offering unbelievable denials and evasions. Oddly enough, it’s the “peacemakers” within the denomination who have gotten them into trouble. (That happens a lot, doesn’t it?)
The source of their trouble is Zionism Unsettled, a nasty little text produced by the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA). (Remember the name of that organization because it’s important.) This booklet attacks Israel, Jews, Judaism and Zionism in a pretty ugly way.
It’s so bad that David Duke, a neo-Nazi who has cavorted with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a pretty nasty anti-Semite himself, rejoiced when he got his hands on it. (No, I didn’t send it to him!) PressTV even rejoiced. (No, I didn’t send it to them either!)
The fact that David Duke endorsed a document produced by the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (again, remember that name!) was apparently a source of embarrassment for the folks in Louisville.
On Feb. 13, the folks in Louisville tweeted a number of times that they didn’t have anything to do with the document, which was produced by Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA). (I keep repeating that name, don’t I?).
But people weren’t having any of it. People (such as Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin) kept referring to the document as either a “Presbyterian” or “PC(USA)” document.
That rankled the folks in Louisville who finally issued a press release that described the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (that name again!) as an “independent group — which speaks to the church and not for the church.”
The assertion that the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is “independent” of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is patently false.
First, the organization was created by a 2004 resolution of the denomination’s General Assembly.
Then there’s the organization’s name, which includes the words “Presbyterian Church (USA).”
How can anyone honestly believe that the IPMN is independent the PC(USA) when it’s very name includes the entire name of the denomination that created it?
If the IPMN is not part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), then it is infringing on the denomination’s trademark!
There are a number of organizations associated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) – such as The Layman and Presbyterians for Middle East Peace that are independent from the denomination, but IPMN is not one of them. These organizations do not fundraise or distribute their materials through the PC(USA).
By way of comparison, the IPMN raises money through the PC(USA)’s website. And the PC(USA)’s online store is apparently the sole place on the Internet where people can get a copy of Zionism Unsettled, (at least until the IPMN and the folks and Louisville can work out a distribution deal with the people who run David Duke’s website. Maybe James M. Wall, former editor of Christian Century, can broker a deal.)
The point is that IPMN is not “independent” from the PC(USA). It is dependent on the PC(USA).
The authors of the press release invoke that old mainline canard that the IPMN “speaks to and not for” the PC(USA).
I have been hearing this phrase for years. Officials from the United Church of Christ’s headquarters in Cleveland have said this in reference to votes taken at its General Synod.
When people like what the General Synod does, the UCC folks in Cleveland issue press releases saying the UCC declared or approved this or that. But whenever there is any pushback, then the folks in Cleveland will tell you that the General Synod was “speaking to, but not for” the denomination as a whole.
The message is “Oh, that resolution? The one everyone is clobbering us for? We didn’t have anything to do with it. You need to talk to somebody else.”
When you point out that the folks in Cleveland orchestrated the passage of the resolution in question from start to finish (because that’s how they view their jobs), the next gambit is, “You don’t understand our polity.” This is mainline speak for “Good luck trying to find anyone to hold accountable in our church!”
What the Presbyterian mandarins in Louisville are trying to do is portray their lack of oversight over IPMN’s anti-Semitic propaganda as operational independence. This is evident in that part of the press release that reads “The IPMN booklet was neither paid for nor published by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”
This raises a number of questions, the most obvious being, “Who did pay for the booklet? The Saudi Royal Family?”
I’m only half joking. There is precedent for this sort of thing. If you look at the tax documents for Americans for Middle East Understanding, the people who publish The Link, an anti-Israel publication cited by Rev. Dr. Gary Burge in his book Whose Land? Whose Promise? (another, um, problematic text), you’ll see that it is funded in part by Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company. According to AMEU’s tax documents (990s), Saudi Aramco gave $70,000 to the group in 2012.
If such donations were being given to IPMN, there is no way to know because the organization operates under the aegis of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which does not have to disclose its financial information with the IRS.
And try as I might, I have been unable to find any 990s for the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which confirms what I have been saying all along – it’s part of the denomination itself – no matter how many times the folks in Louisville say otherwise. Either that or if the IPMN is independent of the PC(USA) it has violated the law by not submitting its 990s to the IRS.
Which is it?
And what the folks in Louisville don’t seem to understand is that any donations given to the IPMN – even if they go into the organization’s separate bank account – are ultimately donations to the PC(USA) itself – because the IPMN is part of the denomination.
The fact that no adult within the PC(USA) exerts any oversight over the organization does not mean that money given to the IPMN is not ultimately donated to the PC(USA), because it is. No matter how you slice it, the PC(USA) is responsible for the publication of Zionism Unsettled.
PC(USA) officials have tried to hide behind some sort of plausible deniability about the IPMN’s actions for a long time. In 2009, I corresponded with officials in Louisville about the crazy, anti-Semitic stuff published by the IPMN.
The denomination’s Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons responded to my concerns about IPMN’s website by reporting in an email “The Network operates as an independent organization with full control over their website. You should make direct contact with it if think (sic) changes should be made.” Translation: “You don’t understand our polity.”
Jay Rock the person in charge of the PC(USA)’s interfaith programs responded to my concerns in a similar manner, telling me I got it wrong in asserting that the IPMN was part of the denomination’s “organizational structure.” He continued, “Like our 35 other country and area networks, it is not accountable to any office, nor does it report to any staff person in the PCUSA structure; it also, like the other networks, receives no funding from the church. Please take up your concerns directly with the network.” So there it is again. “You don’t understand our polity.”
In 2010, I corresponded with the now-deceased Cynthia Bolbach soon after she was elected moderator of the PC(USA). She said she wasn’t “the appropriate person to respond” to my concerns about the IPMN, which “should properly be addressed to the Reverend Dr. B. Hunter Farrell, Director of World Mission, of our General Assembly Mission Council.” When I spoke with Farrell, he said that at some point, the denomination was going to issue a set of rules that groups like the IPMN would have to follow if they wanted to maintain their affiliation with the PC(USA). Apparently, nothing ever came of these rules. If they were issued, they do not seem to have any impact.
The PC(USA)’s General Assembly scheduled to take place this summer in Detroit, could quickly bring an end to the problems presented by the IPMN’s behavior, (and the failure of the folks in Louisville to constrain the organization) with a simple vote that disbands the IPMN and distances the denomination from the hateful materials it has produced over the course of its existence.
All of this talk about the General Assembly, and the failure of the folks in Louisville is the height of banality, for there are larger issues at stake.
Religious and ethnic minorities are being ethnically cleansed in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East with hardly a word of protest from the PC(USA). It’s an evil, violent campaign that threatens to destroy Christianity in the region of its birth. And the way things are going, it will likely be ignored by the PC(USA)’s upcoming General Assembly.
For sure, the GA will spend a lot of time talking about Israel and Jews, though.
Dexter Van Zile (@dextervanzile) is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (@CAMERAorg).