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June 22, 2014 4:04 pm

Presbyterian Church USA Considered Banning the Word ‘Israel’ From Prayers

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Presbyterian Church Assembly. Photo: Screenshot.

There was another resolution that was considered by the Presbyterian Church USA that did not pass, but the comments to that resolution show that they took it very seriously:

The Presbytery of Chicago overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.), to

1. distinguish between the biblical terms that refer to the ancient land of Israel and the modern political State of Israel;

2. develop educational materials, with the help of our Presbyterian seminaries, for clergy, church musicians, worship leaders, and Christian educators regarding the “ancient Israel/modern Israel” distinction; and

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3. inform our ecumenical partners of this action, nationally and globally—particularly within Israel and Palestine.


This overture was prompted by the publication of the beautiful new publication of Glory to God, The Presbyterian Hymnal, 2013, which has a section of hymns under the unfortunate heading: “God’s covenant with Israel.”

The use of the phrase “God’s covenant with Israel,” is open to interpretation by the reader/singer. Is this “biblical Israel”? Is it the “modern State of Israel”? As one Palestinian American Presbyterian who is a ruling elder said in a letter to those responsible for the publication of the new hymnal:

“Because I am a Palestinian Christian, I am uneasy with the word “Israel” in “God’s Covenant with Israel”—I am always told, however, that what is meant by “Israel” is Biblical Israel and not today’s Israel; but do all Christians know this? With the prevalence of Christian Zionism, which the G.A. repudiated in 2004, I highly doubt it. Even if not intentional, this language is inflammatory, misleading, and hurtful” (Open Letter, October 2, 2013).

One response would be to rephrase it as “God’s Covenant with Ancient Israel,” or, as Thomas Are, retired Presbyterian minister, said in a recent blog, “God’s covenant with the Poor, or even “Our Covenant with the Oppressed” [11.26.13; http://thomas-l-are.blogspot.com/2013_11_01_archive.html], but there are other examples of the problem. In Advent, we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. …” Does that justify the modern political State of Israel? At the least, it is confusing and unclear. Our Christian Palestinian brothers and sisters call us to make this distinction clearly.

Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, says: “The establishment of the State of Israel created … an intended confusion. … Huge efforts were put by the State of Israel and Jewish organizations in branding the new State of Israel as a “biblical entity” (The Invention of History: A century of interplay between theology and politics in Palestine, Mitri Raheb, editor, 2011; Diyar Consortium, pp. 18-19).

While it was rejected, the underlying theme was considered a major issue:

The Advisory Committee advises that this overture be answered with the following action:

“The 221st General Assembly (2014) instructs the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Mission Agency to develop a short insert or sticker for publications used in congregational worship and study with wording similar in meaning to the following:

“‘Please note in using these texts that the biblical and liturgical “land of Israel” is not the same as the State of Israel established in 1948, which is a contemporary nation state. The Bible contains differing descriptions of the parameters of Israel. Promises of land generally come with obligations to God for justice to be practiced with all inhabitants. Later in Scripture, the Gospel is to be preached to ‘all nations’; in Jesus Christ all peoples are included in God’s promise. Similarly, ‘Zion’ is frequently used in the Bible as a reference to the city of Jerusalem, but in Christian tradition this does not refer primarily to a specific geographical location or political entity but to ‘the city of God’ found throughout history and to the completion of God’s purpose in the age to come. Presbyterian General Assemblies have affirmed the principle that the current physical Jerusalem be shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, both Palestinians and Israelis, living in peace with justice.”

“Further, the General Assembly directs that the Office of Theology and Worship and the Office of the General Assembly share the insert language with an explanatory letter encouraging its use within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and among our church partners internationally, particularly in Israel and Palestine, noting where fuller treatment of the concern may be found.”

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