Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission network launches new study guide on Zionism,
praises church’s courageous engagement with controversial Israel/Palestine issue
IPMN members speak from the heart…
February 13, 2014 The recent publication of Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has generated a flurry of interest both inside and outside the church. The 74-page booklet examines the history, ideology, and impact of Jewish and Christian Zionism and is described by its editorial development team as “a study guide based on a forthcoming anthology of essays, along with additional related materials.” The resource is available for purchase in single copies or bulk at http://store.pcusa.org/2646614001.
“I am proud that the PC(USA) does not shy from controversial issues,” says Rev. Katherine Cunningham, moderator of IPMN and member of Presbytery of the Palisades in New Jersey. “The church confronts all the divisive issues of our wider society – including, for instance, attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Zionism Unsettled takes a new approach to one of the most hotly-debated and intractable issues of our day – the historical and contemporary relationship between Israel and the Palestinians – by examining the ideology and theology that have shaped the conflict.”
In its new publication exploring the effects of Zionism on Israelis and Palestinians, IPMN draws inspiration from the PC(USA)’s stated commitment to justice issues. In 2012, the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh overwhelmingly passed a resolution to “recognize with joy and thanks to God the historic stance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in pursuit of justice as a central mandate of our church, a mandate that calls us to uphold the need to be faithfully partisan in situations of injustice and to speak truth to power, wherever necessary as we pursue justice, without fear of retribution or the delay of deflection.”
The Presbyterian Church’s focus on global justice has a strong manifestation in the Middle East. Denominational engagement in the Middle East stretches back nearly 200 years, with the church having first established hospitals, schools, and churches in the region as early as the 1820s. The special relationship cultivated in the intervening years with the indigenous Arab Christian minority has fostered a heightened awareness among many Presbyterians of the tumultuous events of the past century and their impact on the inhabitants of the land that Christians, Muslims, and Jews hold to be sacred.
Pauline Coffman, resident of Chicago Presbytery and one of several content editors of the book, explains the framework of the study guide. “On the one hand, Zionism Unsettled lifts up the tragic history of Jewish persecution that led many Jews to embrace Zionism as a necessity for Jewish self-preservation. At the same time, the book relates the less-well-known and also traumatic history of Palestinian displacement and loss that has occurred as a consequence of the establishment of a Jewish state in their midst.” Coffman continues, “An understanding of both people’s narratives is absolutely essential to understanding the contemporary struggle for rights and land.”
“We understand there are those who hold strong opinions that diverge from the multiplicity of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim perspectives presented in Zionism Unsettled,” says IPMN member Don Maclay, a resident of Philadelphia Presbytery. “We respect their right to disagree. We are also heartened by thoughtful, supportive reviews by Rabbi Brant Rosen and Mark Braverman.”
“Talking about emotionally-charged issues is difficult, but necessary,” observes Rev. Craig Hunter, a member of Grace Presbytery in Texas. “We hope that even as our interfaith relations with some Jews are challenged by disagreements over Israeli policy, all parties will be able to maintain a civil and respectful approach to those disagreements.”
Rev. Katherine Cunningham says, “In publishing Zionism Unsettled, we are upholding deeply-felt convictions and principles rooted in our faith. Our vision for interfaith relations is not based on self-censorship or avoidance of controversy, but a mutual capacity to recognize and transcend disagreement based on shared values. We invite civil and respectful dialogue among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.”
Note: The Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) is one of more than 38 geographic networks doing mission work through the PC(USA). Unpaid volunteers – members of local Presbyterian congregations – staff the church’s mission networks, where they are charged to serve as the church’s “eyes and ears.” Network volunteers, motivated by special knowledge of and affinity for a particular region, report to the wider church about the welfare of Christians and others in regions around the globe, including Cameroon, Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Thailand, and Vietnam and many more. IPMN is the only network established by action of the church’s General Assembly.
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