Why the Presbyterian Church (USA) chose boycott and divestment

Feb. 8, 2015, 8:41 p.m.

As the Undergraduate Senate prepares to vote on whether to ask Stanford to divest from companies supporting the occupation, I thought it might be helpful for you to know a little about another boycott and divestment campaign. The denomination of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in 2012 to recommend a boycott of all Israeli products coming from Palestinian occupied territories and in 2014 to divest from companies supporting the occupation. This was a prolonged conversation and process of education within the denomination filled with more arcane procedures than we have room or patience for here. But there were basically two reasons for their decision.

First, this was a response to a call from Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian Christian communities. In their Kairos Palestine document of December 2009, 13 Christian denominations want the world to know, “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering,” and the ongoing tragedy of the occupation. Just as the churches of South Africa published their own “Kairos South Africa” document in 1985 calling for help from the international community, so now Palestinians are pleading for our help. Some have said that the BDS movement is a cabal of anti-Jewish or anti-Israel extremists but this document shows that it is composed of a broad spectrum of Palestinian civil society that, for all their differences, seeks reconciliation and peace through justice.

The second reason for supporting boycott and divestment was very simple: We do not want to profit from the suffering of others. How we spend and invest our money says a lot about our values. This is true for individuals, institutions and governments. It is a barometer of our values. For this reason, the PCUSA has long since divested from military contractors, alcohol, tobacco, gun manufacturers, etc. The PCUSA was part of the divestment campaign from South Africa. The PCUSA also divested from a Canadian oil company working in Sudan because of that country’s human rights violations.  And in the summer of 2014 the PCUSA voted to divest from three companies supporting the occupation. The PCUSA voted to divest, not because we thought it would prove efficacious, but because we refuse to benefit from the suffering of others.

The divestment campaign challenges us to consider where the money that supports our institutions comes from. Just as we don’t want to profit from conflict or blood diamonds of Africa or harming the environment, we also don’t want to profit from the demolition of Palestinian homes and orchards and the destruction of so many lives because to do so would contradict our values. We do not want the endowment of this great university to be tainted with the blood of Palestinian suffering.  A vote for divestment is a vote for nonviolent resistance to oppression and suffering, to liberate not only the Palestinians, but also our Israeli brothers and sisters from the scourge of injustice.

Geoff Browning

Geoff Browning is a Presbyterian minister and campus pastor for Progressive Christians @ Stanford. This is a personal opinion and not necessarily the opinion of the PC@S students. Contact Geoff Browning at geoff.browning ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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