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Presbyterian Leader Begins to Question Anti-Israel Actions of His Church

July 9, 2014 4:49 pm 10 comments

Presbyterian Church Assembly. Photo: Screenshot.

It’s funny what an embarrassing interview on national television will do to a guy.

When Heath Rada, the recently elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), was eviscerated on CNN a few weeks back, it must have been pretty embarrassing. Fortunately enough, it looks like Rada has learned from the experience, and has done some thinking about the circumstances that led to his embarrassment. He might even do something about them.

The interview took place after the PC(USA) held its General Assembly in Detroit. At the GA, which lasted from June 14-21, the denomination approved an overture that called on the denomination to divest from three companies whose products are used by Israel’s defense establishment – Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard, and Caterpillar.

During the CNN interview, Rada was asked by network anchors about the continued sale of Zionism Unsettled on the PC(USA)’s website. The text, produced by a group of hard-core anti-Israel activists in the church, demonizes the Jewish State and its supporters by blaming American Jews for a non-existent stifling of debate about Israel and Zionism. The text also downplays Islamic hostility toward Jews (and Christians) in the Middle East.

No responsible church would sell the text, which was endorsed by former Klansman David Duke, but the PC(USA) did, despite numerous protests. (Duke by the way, also praised the denomination’s decision to divest.)

In response to the questioning about the continued sale of the text on the denomination’s website, Rada stated  “It still is available but there are some elements over which we do not have control. That is being explored right now to see how we’re going to handle it.”

The follow-up was withering: “Can you explain how you don’t have control? You either sell it or you don’t,” Victor Blackwell asked.

One reason why Rada’s performance was so disastrous is that he was being asked to defend indefensible decisions made by the denomination’s staffers in Louisville. It was they who have given the anti-Israel activists in the church free rein. But it was Rada who was set up to take the fall for their actions. Wouldn’t you liked to have been a fly on the wall when Rada met with church staffers after the interview?

Rada’s appearance on CNN was a public relations catastrophe for the denomination, and probably a blow to his ego, but it may have contributed to a decision to stop selling the booklet on its website a few days later.

But the fallout continues. In an article published at the denomination’s online newspaper, Presbyterian Outlook, Rada asked some questions that indicate he realizes something is not right with the Church he helps lead. In addition to asking if divestment really is the right way to go, Rada posited:

Is “Louisville” in touch with the needs of the church? In other words, are we as a denomination directing our central offices to serve our church in the ways that are most needed, as opposed to having the staff direct the priorities they believe to be important?

This is not an innocuous question, but is instead a challenge and a warning to the church staffers who run the PC(USA) on a day-to-day basis from the offices in Louisville, Kentucky. It is these folks, including the church’s Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, who have allowed a small number of anti-Israel activists to use the denomination’s assets in their efforts to demonize the Jewish State.

Polling data indicates that a majority of Presbyterians do not support the anti-Israel propaganda that has been broadcast by the denomination over the past decade, and yet “Louisville,” as Rada called it, keeps allowing the stuff to be broadcast under the Church’s name.

And it also allows the anti-Israel activists to set the tone at the General Assembly, resulting in decisions that are contrary to what the denomination supports.

So it’s official The PC(USA)’s highest ranking layman is wondering if the folks who run the denomination on a day-to-day basis are ignoring the desires of the people who pay the freight. He’s also wondering if divestment really is the peacemaking strategy the church should pursue.

That’s a good thing.

Dexter Van Zile (@dextervanzile) is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (@cameraorg).

10 Comments

  • Kevin Williams

    “Christianity” in action makes one give Judaism a more serious look. Especially since the gospels were written after all of Paul’s letters. More than one “scholarly” source has identified Paul as the father of Christianity. We don’t have that proud of a history now do we?

  • Just a clarification. The Presbyterian Outlook is not the “denomination’s” online newspaper. It is an independent journal that attempts to cover all sides of the Presbyterian denomination that is the PC(USA).

    The denomination’s Presbyterian News Service only publishes to the denomination’s website and releases ‘news releases’ which may be picked up by other news associations.

    The PC(USA)’s monthly magazine “Presbyterians Today”, is a journal that covers all the ‘nice’ things that go on in the PC(USA), nothing controversial.

    The hubris of the PC(USA) having a magazine and news service that basically says that the only Presbyterians in the US are members of the PC(USA) is astonishing.

  • Michael Neubert

    Better late than never.

    In Committee debate, they voted to continue to offer “Zionism Unsettled” because they oppose “censorship”.

    Later, during Assembly debate, Rada interrupted the vote in progress to allow people hear the stories of Palestinian suffering one more time. Did he change the minds of three voters? If so – he swung the vote to the Liberal side, it was that close.

  • Christianity has tried for centuries to not only distance itself from its Jewish roots, but to turn on those roots and demean and destroy Judaism. Finally, in the beginning of this century, Christianity finally saw that Judaism is not the enemy. Respect for others and their beliefs are a core part of Judaism and a part of Christianity that they’ve turned their backs on for far too long. Rather than follow the teachings of Jesus of love and inclusion, Christianity has let itself be led by power and corruption. Now, they see it in Islam and the tide is turning. Hopefully towards the light they saw they believe in.
    Just saw this on their site. http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/6/27/zionism-unsettled-no-longer-sold-pcusa-website/

  • William Pollack

    Ms. Clovelly,

    After 5,700 years of longing for the return to their own homeland where pogroms, Holocausts, Inquisitions and so forth would no longer destroy innocent millions at the whim of foreign governments, I imagine the Jewish people would not be terribly interested in your shallow comments. “Reform in Judaism and Jewish self consciousness does impinge on Christian belief”? I believe the New Testament derived from the old. Perhaps it is the Christian who should reform their thinking and understandings in support of others who merely seek to be safe in their own country. And while this Church is so terribly concerned with not financially supporting companies doing business with Israel, why not go all the way and boycott every scientific, medicinal, software and advancement you use daily – much of which was developed in Israel. Some of those medicinal items may one day save your life. So, you better think first about what kind of boycott you support. This Church should be ashamed of itself. Their leadership and David Duke have much in common.

    Thank-you.

  • You are one loyal shabbosgoy, Dexter!

  • Julian Clovelley

    I rather wonder what all the fuss is about. We are talking of divestment in terms of people being made the suggestion that they might, of their own volition, choose not to hold shares in particular companies. That is hardly an action that inhibits the operation of any of those companies

    With regard to the question of debates concerning Zionism, that sounds to me like a very good idea. It would seem to be much debated within the Jewish communities, so there seems every reason to debate it elsewhere. My own opinions on the subject of modern Zionism seem much echoed in parts of the Jewish and Israeli comunities. At best I see it is a very outdated group of views that generally portray an inaccurate picture of both Judaism and Jewishness and indeed of Jewish history and culture.

    I think it is important to bear in mind that Christianity contains within it a “peculiar” attitude to both Judaic Scripture and towards the Jewish people. As such reform in Judaism and Jewish self consciousness does impinge on Christian belief. Zionism is therefore relevant and will be debated from all sides, unless Jewish people as a whole decide to abandon it and thereby make the question irrelevant.

    Or of course unless as a people they decided to assimilate.

    • So, let’s see

      According to you,

      Our ideas of having a Jewish state are “outdated”
      We Jews “impinge” on Christian belief
      We should abandon Zionism or assimilate, I.e. perhaps abandon Judaism (so we don’t impinge on you, of course.)

      And you wonder why we need a Jewish State with people like you?

      How about we debate Christianity and your sordid history of genocide?

    • Why don’t the above two commenters focus on the real apartheid in the world? You won’t hear either of them talking about the mass killings and forced exodus of Jews from Arab lands, countries they inhabited for a thousand years before Mohammed was even a fetus. Nor will they talk about the mass obliteration of Christian communities in the Arab world. Just a bunch of despicable Jew haters masquerading as anti-Zionist.

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