Presbyterian Leader Begins to Question Anti-Israel Actions of His Church
by Dexter Van Zile
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).