Books to help your soul: 10-7-11
Out anti-gaying a preacher: 10-10-11

When people of faith disagree: 10-8/9-11

This post may seem to be about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the ways in which my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has found itself (or made itself) entangled in aspects of the controversy.

Israeli_palestinian But it's really only tangentially about that. Instead, it's about how people of the same faith who disagree about important issues can (and should) engage each other in respectful civil discourse instead of degenerating into trash talk and personal attacks of the kind we often find in the political world.

People of faith should be showing the way, and two friends, the Rev. Scott Myers and the Rev. Brian Ellison, both Presbyterian pastors, have been demonstrating how to show that way recently.

Here's the crux of the matter:

A Presbyterian Church (USA) committee that Ellison heads decided recently to recommend next year to the denomination's national governing body that the denomination consider adding Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions to its list of companies it won't invest in because Caterpillar, in the view of Ellison's committee, profits from the "non-peaceful" use of its products by Israel against Palestinians. (I've linked you to the Religion News Service story about this matter. To read the JTA [Jewish Telegraph Agency] story about it, click here.

Ellison, pastor of Parkville Presbyterian Church in suburban Kansas City and chairman of the denomination's Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee, thinks his committee's recommendation is the right way to go.

Myers, pastor of Westport Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo., and, like Ellison, a long-time proponent of and participant in Christian-Jewish dialogue, disagrees.

So soon after the committee's recommendation was made public, Myers sent an e-mail to several people, including me and Ellison, asking people to join him in opposition to the move.

"I am very much opposed to this recommendation. I hope you will help to oppose this recommendation and defeat it when it is voted on by the upcoming General Assembly. Why? Here is a morally cloudy and complicated situation, in which both Israelis and Palestinians share blame, exhibit serious flaws and major fault."

Scott added other reasons, too.

A good thing Scott did in sending the note was to include Ellison on his list of recipients.

Which prompted Brian to respond. Here's part of what he said:

" I believe you are completely wrong about this recommendation, and--respectfully--I think you have gravely misunderstood it. I believe our very specific recommendation is a positive step for seeking a just peace and ensuring the security and wholeness of all Israelis and Palestinians. If you would like to talk with me further about it before issuing further public correspondence on the topic, please know I am willing to do that any time, and I'm just up the road in Parkville."

To which Scott said, yes, let's talk. We should always talk.

I don't know where this disagreement will come out, (and, for the record, although I have found merit in the arguments of both sides, I have tended to side with Scott on this matter) but I do know that this is how difficult matters on which people of good faith disagree should be handled.

We need not question each other's motives. We need not attribute to the other side ignorance or stupidity or anything else. We can simply air our differences, make our best case and -- in this case -- let the larger church decide.

Good work, Scott and Brian.

(To read the denomination's news release about the committee's recommendation, click here. To read the committee's full report, click here.)

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I am increasingly awed by the cosmos -- and by how little we know about what makes it up and how it works. When the Nobel Prize in physics just went to scientists whose work has to do with dark energy and dark matter, it was a reminder, says this engaging New York Times op-ed by a leading research scientists, of how little we know. More than that, however, the work these scientists are doing continues to make people who believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old look foolish. Such faith-based positions are part of what is driving some young people away from fundamentalist churches that stand in the doorway of scientific discovery, refusing to let their students enter for fear that a literal interpretation of Genesis will be challenged. How sad that some people of faith reject almost everything about modernity, to say nothing of post-modernity. And how sad that we seem unable to talk about this openly and respectfully the way Scott Myers and Brian Ellison talk about divestment in Israel.


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