During my years in Alexandria, I have been privileged to know many very fine members of the Christian clergy. Among the people I have admired and appreciated most have been the pastors of two of the local Presbyterian Churches, George Pera of Westminster and Gary Charles of Old Presbyterian Meeting House. Though Rev. Pera has been retired from his pulpit for ten years, he remains an active force in our community, but not his former pulpit (which has just welcomed a brand-new pastor). Rev. Charles departed this past summer to answer the call from a church in Atlanta, leaving behind a roster of accomplishments, including the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium.
And I certainly don't have to remind the congregation of the warmth and hospitality Westminster (and Trinity United Methodist) provided us during our renovation.
So the vacancy of those two pulpits has left me without local resources to consult on the maddening decisions of the church's parent body, the Presbyterian Church USA, that have antagonized Jews at home and abroad.
The three decisions include a condemnation of Israel's security fence, divestiture of holdings in companies that "profit from Israel's occupation of the West Bank" (their words), and financial support for a Presbyterian church of "messianic" Jews.
Of course, I am outraged, as are you. And of course, many of my Presbyterian friends are embarrassed, even as they defend the democratic process of decision-making that led to the stances. And, of course, we and they are concerned that these actions on the part of a major Protestant denomination may lead to other similar actions by other Protestant groups. But the question behind the anger and consternation is more critical, and that question is "why?" Why just us, why just now, why at all?
In these few column inches, I cannot offer a comprehensive theory, but I can offer a challenge worth considering for all of us. The answer has to do with the still-unresolved conflict within Christendom about the status of Israel among the nations – the State of Israel, the Land of Israel and the People Israel. Just below the surface of genuine Christian love and appreciation of Jews and Judaism lies this uncomfortable vestige of an era past. Compare it to an appendix in the human body – benign until it is irritated, and then a potentially fatal influence on the entire system.
Do not be smug or self-righteous about this dilemma. It is not entirely external for us. As Americans, we suffer from the same conflict about race, class and personal comfort. As Jews, we suffer from the same conflict regarding other faith traditions, other ethnic-based interest groups and, most insidiously, what we think we are "owed" by a hostile world. That is to say, when our secret pain is inflamed, it can poison our better impulses.
Judaism and Christianity speak a different language of faith in dealing with these conflicts. Our tradition commends study as the primary path to discernment; their tradition commends prayer. The goal, however, is the same: wholeness in God's eyes. That notion is present in Judaism's prayers as it is the Presbyterian's study of the issues: shalom. Wholeness is achieved only by honesty – not as much about the issues as about the self.