In Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston, Mississippi-born Rev. Frederick Seay, pastor of his city’s First Presbyterian Church, “no expert of affairs in the Middle East,” has never been to Israel and has scant ties with Sugar Land’s small Jewish community.
Last week both were among 120 Presbyterian leaders in this country, members of the clergy and the laity, who signed a full-page ad in The New York Times that strongly criticized the church’s vote in June in favor of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution at a national conference. The 310-303 approval of a motion to withdraw about $21 million invested in three U.S. corporations that operate on the West Bank made the 1.8-million-member church the first one in this country to approve a pro-BDS resolution.
The vote in Detroit, at the General Assembly of PC-USA, inflamed many parts of the American Jewish community, and seemed to threaten interfaith ties between U.S. Jewry, Presbyterians and possibly some of the wider Protestant community.
“While most people on all sides of this debate share a common goal of a just and lasting peace, unfortunately the decision for divestment fueled polarization rather than peacemaking,” Rev. Henderson said of her decision to join the signers of the Times ad. “The ad was assembled by an ad-hoc group of leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who believe divestment strengthens the extreme positions on both sides of this conflict without alleviating the suffering of Palestinians … [a] group deeply committed to a just and lasting peace between the Palestinian and Israeli people,” Rev. Henderson said.
Rev. Seay, who calls himself “a child of the Presbyterian pew,” said he signed the ad as a statement against the pro-BDS vote that he called “very one-sided.” The vote, he said, “didn’t speak for all Presbyterians. Frequently, people in the pews assume” that the Presbyterian representatives who voted in favor of BDS represent the entire denomination.