Presbyterians Adopt Paper on Jewish-Christian Relations
JOHN A. BOLT
Jun. 17, 1987
BILOXI, Miss. (AP) _ Presbyterians adopted a study paper Tuesday establishing guidelines for Christian-Jewish relations, making only minor changes in the document that had been rewritten to answer concerns of Middle Eastern Christians.
With little dissent, the 199th Generall Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) adopted ''A Theological Understanding of the Relationship Between Christians and Jews,'' and accompanying calls for a conference between Presbyterians and representatives of the Middle East Conference of Churches.
The paper backs affirmation of the Jewish faith but was modified to eliminate implied backing for Israeli land claims.
It renewed a call for Palestinian participation in negotiations on Israeli- occupied land and included a statement that God's promise of land to Israelis was a ''biblical metaphor for sustainable life, prosperity, peace and security.''
''The political state of Israel is not to be given theological justification, '' said Harold Nebelsick, chairman of the committee that wrote the final draft.
The original paper has been extensively rewritten since discussions began here in committee meetings Thursday. The Rev. Benjamin Weir, a former hostage in Lebanon, and two Middle Eastern Christian leaders had complained that the paper gave Bibilical support to Israeli land claims in Palestine and suggested that Christians should not attempt to convert Jews.
That language was changed because ''the modern state of Israel cannot be validated theologically,'' said David Lenegar, a delegate from Bethel, S.C., who worked on the revisions. ''We wanted to get God out of the real estate business.''
Weir, the Rev. Salim Sahiouny, head of the Presbyterian Church in Syria and Lebanon, and the Rev. Albert Isteero, president of Cairo Theological Seminary, all told the commissioners Tuesday they supported the rewritten paper.
''This paper can be used as a study paper to reflect on this very central issue,'' Sahiouny said.
The paper was adopted for ''study and reflection,'' and church officials were directed to appoint a group to meet with the Middle East Conference of Churches and come back to the denomination in 1989 with appropriate recommendations.
In other action Tuesday evening, the assembly refused to undertake a study on whether it should reconsider its refusal to ordain homosexuals. The denomination permits admitted, practicing homosexuals to become members, but refuses to allow them to hold office.
However the assembly voted later to undertake a ''review and update of previous studies on human sexuality,'' specifically refusing to include language which would have prohibited the study from considering ordination of homosexuals.
The assembly voted later to ask the federal government to eliminate ''laws governing the private sexual behavior between consenting adults,'' and ask federal and state governments to pass laws forbidding discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation.
Earlier Tuesday, the Presbyterians narrowly voted to relocate their headquarters to Louisville, Ky., accepting a businessman's offer of free office space overlooking the Ohio River.
The 199th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), after a two- minute silent prayer, rejected two committee recommendations and voted 332-309 to pick Louisville over Kansas City, Mo.
John Mulder, president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a leader in the effort to bring in the headquarters now jointly in New York and Atlanta, told the commissioners, ''This is a gift. ... It's not a traditional business deal. It comes with one condition. You must accept it.''
''Stewardship is is issue before you today,'' Mulder said, adding that the money saved can be used ''for the sake of the mission of the church.''
David Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of Humana Inc., offered to the denomination an abandoned warehouse on the riverfront, and the community offered $6.2 million for renovation of the space. State and city political leaders joined Louisville religious leaders in Biloxi to press their case with the 650 commissioners at the nine-day assembly.
A finance committee report said that after 10 years, the denomination would be able to own the Louisville building for $1. To own the site in the Kansas City proposal would cost $21.5 million, the committe said.
Most of the move will be completed by mid-1988, but some agencies, mainly those related to publishing, will not finish the move until the end of 1990.
Presbyterian Church (USA) was formed in a 1983 merger of the New York-based United Presbyterian Church (USA) and Atlanta-based Presbyterian Church (US).
In the afternoon, the assembly adopted without dissent a resolution rejecting the ''Christian Identity Movement,'' described as religious groups with a ''theology of racial purity, anti-Semitism, and violent overthrow of the government, all in the name of Jesus Christ.''
The resolution appeals to members of the movement ''to turn from their error.'' The resolution says members of the movement include the Ku Klux Klan, Posse Comitatus, Christian-Patriots Defense League, The Order and Aryan Nations.