Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Key figure in Presbyterian anti-Israel movement will resign PCUSA post, continue as president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches

from the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal: "Top Presbyterian official will leave in '08: Kirkpatrick in 3rd term as stated clerk" by Peter Smith

A top official in the Louisville-based Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be leaving his post when his term expires in June of next year.

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who has been elected to three terms as stated clerk of the denomination since 1996, announced his impending departure yesterday.

"This has been the best job I have ever had," he said in a written statement, but "the time has now come for me to conclude my service."

He could not be reached for further comment last night.

In his statement, Kirkpatrick, 62, said he plans to spend more time with his family and in his post as president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a body of more than 200 Protestant denominations.

The stated clerk is the top church officer in the denomination, responsible for such things as church property, research, church legislative sessions and legal matters.

Even before taking the World Alliance position, Kirkpatrick regularly traveled the world, visiting with partner churches and speaking out on crises in Sudan, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Kirkpatrick has been a frequent target of conservative critics within the church. They have cited the denomination's membership decline -- which began in the 1960s but continued unabated during his tenure -- and his handling of ongoing controversies over homosexuality in the church.

His office announced plans earlier this year to cut seven positions, or about a 10th of its staff, because of declining donations. He has acknowledged some of the decline is due to congregations withholding funds out of protest, but has said the churches' economic struggles are a bigger factor.

Other Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) offices also have cut staff in recent years.

In his statement, Kirkpatrick said that while his work "has been a great blessing, it has also taken a significant amount of time and energy and has been accompanied by more than a fair share of stresses and strains. A change in my life patterns is probably in order."

In case you don't know about Kirkpatrick's history with respect to anti-Israel advocacy, here's a little background, starting with Kirkpatrick's two-step regarding whether or not Israel practices apartheid (from this webpage called "Presbyterian double-talk"):

"Although the decision to 'initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel' may be presumed by some to invite comparison of Israeli policies with those of apartheid South Africa, the assembly has not asserted any moral equivalency between the two. The two situations are distinct."

- Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, "Statement from the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)," Presbyterian Church (USA), July 20, 2004 (emphasis added).

"Surely you can understand the frustrations of Palestinian Christians and Muslims forced to live under a clear form of apartheid."

- Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, "Letter from Clifton Kirkpatrick to President Bill Clinton," Presbyterian Church (USA), undated (emphasis added).

Two years ago, Solomonia had some discussion of Kirkpatrick's tendency to defend terrorism while opposing preventing or responding to terrorism. He believes and consistently portrays violence against Israeli civilians as the fault of Israel, not as part of the ongoing war against Israel's existence. Meanwhile, he casts all anti-terrorist measures by Israel as rooted in irrational fear, not as responses to a real threat.

Solomonia linked to a letter Kirkpatrick sent to Presbyterians in Dialogue for Peace, a group of Presbyterians with a different view of the Israeli Arab conflict than his own. (That link is now dead, but the letter can be found here.) Kirkpatrick, while purporting to take an evenhanded approach, in fact disparages Israeli security concerns and inflates their responsibility, as is his wont. He also "praises" Presbyterians in Dialogue for Peace for reaching out for Jewish views on the conflict, but chooses some very odd language to do so, stating "(y)our decision to put yourselves in the hands of (emphasis added) the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Houston Rabbinical Association as a way to see something of the situation 'on the ground' in Israel-Palestine demonstrates your interest in getting a fuller understanding of the complexities you describe." That phrase "put yourselves in the hands of" draws attention to itself by its strangeness. It speaks to Kirkpatrick's fear of being manipulated by Jewish groups, and may be a deliberate disparagement of Christians he believes to be under Jewish control.

Kirkpatrick has an unnerving habit of taking contradictory positions. His letter goes on to both deny (and disparage) charges that his group is biased against Israel, and to defend that bias as a necessary counter-balance to Israel's power.

The ability to be "fair" and "balanced" (note quotation marks) rests upon the recognition that at present, things are grossly out of balance with respect to issues of power, economic stability, living conditions and even the issue of daily survival. Until that imbalance is acknowledged and addressed, rather than exacerbated, there will be no resolution. Indeed, as Phillips remarked: "I returned with two others who were with me, believing that in the name of security, Israel is destroying security."

I believe that we, along with most Presbyterians, long for the same outcome for the people of the region, which is a secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians within viable, internationally recognized borders, in which there is no justification or need for violence, one against the other. Or, as the Bible puts it, "…neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid." (Micah 4:3-4)

This raises the question (as Will Spotts was quoted asking here), how can Kirkpatrick claim to both advocate peace and use phrases like the "need for violence"? That phrase rationalizes acts of terrorism without addressing the issue directly. Kirkpatrick, although unable to understand why a neighbor might want to build a wall to keep out neighbors intent on killing grandmothers at seders and schoolgirls in supermarkets, CAN understand the "need" for the killing to take place. That kind of understanding is better called misunderstanding.

Goodbye Rev. Kirkpatrick...


Anonymous said...

Sadly, I don't believe his departure will help anything. While he has been at the forefront of Presbyterian anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias, the organization (national leadership of the PC(USA)) is dominated by a culture of bigotry and public dishonesty.

Adam Holland said...

I share your belief as well as your sadness. I still hope that this can be turned around, however. One thing that would help would be the separation of the anti-Israel plank from the leftist platform, because this is not a true right/left ideological battle. In fact, the Arab lobby has insinuated itself into whatever end of the political spectrum it finds to be fertile ground, including both the anti-globalist and the Islamist far right, two very different constituencies. In the case of the mainstream Protestant denominations, it may be the progressive wing that's most receptive to anti-Israel propaganda , but there is not real connection between that issue and other left issues such as gay rights, women's rights, etc. It's a coalition of convenience that would surely fall away should there be a direct confrontation between its members. The fact is that Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East -- the only one that provides rights to women and gays -- and the potential for an Islamic liberal democracy with similar rights seems remote at best. The Protestant progressives are in a conundrum of their own making: they are advocating against a progressive, liberal democracy in favor of reactionary, theocratic or nationalistic dictatorships. That paradox can only become more apparent over time. One hopes that the ideological blinders of those like Kirkpatrick or Janet Lahr Lewis will eventually not be sufficient to conceal that truth from their eyes.

Anonymous said...

adam -

Your point is well taken. There is a fundamental disconnect between the other values endorsed by the left and this one.

However, I have been more inclined to try to winnow the moderates and reasonable people away from the far left because this seems to be firmly entrenched. I have been stunned by the refusal of many of my ideologically leftist friends to even hear opinions contrary to the narrative they have chosen to support.

Historically, I have been very able to get along with a wide range of people, where I disagreed with their views, but could understand where they were coming from and vice versa. This issue has, in several instances, created a situation where I can't even communicate with some friends and family members. It's as if there is something interfering with the ability to think rationally.

In the context of mainline denominations, another factor is involved. The leadership truly hate 'conservative Christians' and regard them as enemies. If 'conservative Christians' support Israel (albeit sometimes for reasons I don't approve) they must be wrong. This is not true of the membership of these denominations, but the failure of members to adequately oppose what is clearly moral blindness and insensate bigotry makes them tacit supporters of it.

I guess the long and short of it is this: I am far less hopeful that this can be turned around. It must be attempted, but it will be far more difficult than I ever imagined (or than I think many fair minded people believe).


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