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June 23, 2008

Will Religious "Journalists" Get the Backstory of Kirkpatrick's Invite to Jewish Leaders?

In an apparent effort to mend fences with the Jewish community in the United States, Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, is asking to dialogue with the very leaders his church jabbed in the eye when it issued a revised version of a document condemning anti-Jewish bias in the denomination's witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The question for the religious news outlets that did such a miserable job of covering the document when it first came out -- most notably, Christianity Today, Christian Century, Presbyterian News Service, Presbyterian Outlook, Religion News Service, and Ecumenical News International is how to cover Kirkpatrick's invitation.

Will they realize that original version of the document regarding anti-Jewish bias was the result of three year's worth of dialogue between Jewish leaders and the PC(USA) and that by revising the document -- without discussion -- they threw the fruits of this work into the trash?

While Christianity Today and RNS could possibly cover the controversy the way it deserves to be reported, it is very unlikely that Christian Century (whose star columnist, James Wall, serves as a member of the Steering Committee of Friends of Sabeel North America -- a group that has defended the anti-Jewish polemic that is at the heart of this controversy -- will step up to the plate.

And Ecumenical News Service, dependent as it is for support from mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. (including the PC(USA), will likely take a pass on robust coverage of the controversy, especially since Clifton Kirkpatrick serves as president of the World Assembly of Reformed Churches, one of the main sources of support for ENI.

Consequently, those interested in the background will have to go elsewhere for information about Kirkpatrick's "invitation." Until a miracle happens, here is some background:

The letter containing the invitation, dated June 18, 2008, was sent to Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Dr. Carl Sheingold, executive vice president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

In the letter, signed by Kirkpatrick and Linda Valentine, executive director of the PC(USA)'s General Assembly Council, states up front that making changes to the document regarding anti-Jewish bias has "strained relationships" between the PC(USA) and the Jewish community. These changes have "awakened mistrust between us, and we regret this," the letter reads.

Kirkpatrick and Valentine state that the new version "has provoked a great deal of reaction, and many questions. We want to give more careful consideration to the issues, and to continue the process of developing a more useful resource or resources on this topic." (In other words, the document in question is likely to go through yet another round of revisions.) The document then includes a call for "further conversation" between Jewish and PC(USA) leaders.

We hope that you will agree to join us for this conversation, and also to talk about other matters that may warrant our attention coming out of the Assembly itself. We look forward to making arrangements with you for such a get together, to talk together about who should be part of the conversation from both of our communities, and to develop a useful framework for the time we will have with each other.

What is remarkable about this invitation for "dialogue" is that it comes after more than three years of dialogue that began in after the denomination approved a resolution titled "Confronting Christian Zionism" at its General Assembly in 2004. This overture (12-03) included positive references to a number of works that had echoes of ancient anti-Jewish teachings. This dialogue, which began on a local level in October 2004 between Rabbi Yeheil Poupko, the Judaic Scholar for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and leaders of the PC(USA) in the Chicago Presbytery ultimately involved Jay Rock, interfaith coordinator for the PC(USA) and stated clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick.

By the spring of 2007, Poupko and Kirkpatrick were corresponding with one another about the presence of anti-Judaic passages and phrases in documents lifted up by the denomination. Kirkpatrick knew about the dialogue, he even participated in it.

The document released in May 2008 (which acknowledged the presence of anti-Jewish themes and ideas in PC(USA) resolutions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict) was the fruit of this dialogue -- which was brusquely discarded a few weeks after it was put on display on the denomination's website, and replaced with another document that downplayed the previous admission of wrongdoing. In response, numerous Jewish leaders, (including Poupko) sent a letter (not online) to Kirkpatrick that provides some background. The meeting describes two meetings between Jewish leaders, members of the Chicago Presbytery and Jay Rock, the denomination's interfaith coordinator. (The meetings were held on Setp. 4, 2007 and April 16, 208.)

The letter to Kirkpatrick reads:

At both of these meetings, and in the time between and after them, there was open, good, honest, faithful, and trusting communication. While we recognized and respected the fact that this was to be a Presbyterian document, we appreciated the sensitivity that our interlocutors demonstrated in response to the observations we made about the draft that we discussed at our April 16, meeting. The orignial version was posted on the website on May 6th, 2008 represented the fine result of that meeting and of that process. As you know, from a letter that we sent do you and from other letters that you recieved from national Jewish leadershipo, we saw the first document, Vigilance Against Anti-Jewish Ideas and Bias, as historic in nature. We were pleased to express our gratitude, appreciation, and respect both personally and professionally.

And then on June 6th, 2008 we learned that a revised, 'expanded version' of Vigilance Against Anti-Jewish Ideas and Bias, would be forthcoming, which we saw for the first time this past Wednesday, June 11, 2008. In our view this 'expanded version' is a highly problematic document produced in a manner that negated the good will engendered by the process that we entered into last September with you and your colleagues. We feel betrayed. We simply do not understand how an 'expanded version' such as this woudl be put forward without your even talking to us.

This excerpt puts Kirkpatrick's June 18, 2008 invitation for dialogue in context.

1. Kirkpatrick and the church he leads engages in dialogue with Jewish leaders.

2. The PC(USA) issues a document in response to this dialogue.

3. Then, apparently, without discussion, the PC(USA), issues a new version of the document in question.

4. In response to complaints, Kirkpatrick asks to have another discussion with Jewish leaders.

Will the journalists responsible for covering religion in America cover this story or ignore it? And if they cover it, will they give Kirkpatrick a pass?

(For more background, please see CAMERA's analysis "Presbyterian Officials Prepare for General Assembly With Bait and Switch Tactics.")


Posted by dvz at June 23, 2008 04:37 PM

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