A vote for divestment comes up each year at regional church conferences; and this year at the quadrennial worldwide General Methodist Conference, it was again lost in a two to one decision voted on May 2.
At the General Methodist Conference, the vote to divest church funding from companies that support military occupation in Palestine lost. A disappointment, it came as no surprise to past delegates who had seen it regularly defeated.
The vote for divestment comes up each year at regional church conferences; and this year at the quadrennial worldwide General Methodist Conference, it was again lost in a two to one decision vote in Tampa, Florida on May 2.
For a strong coalition of supporters determined to stop church support for the occupation, disappointment also signaled hope. Sporting bright yellow T-shirts, advocates from several groups had united to educate delegates about humanitarian concerns repeatedly trampled by votes that defy Christian values by investing church funds in companies that support occupation and oppress Christian as well as Muslim Palestinians.
Promoting this message, the Jewish Voice for Peace joined Christians, visiting Palestinians, ministers, peace groups and individuals to support the United Methodist Kairos Response in a unified appeal to Christian conscience to divest from companies that disregard humanity by sustaining occupation.
The campaign was part of a broad nonviolent BDS strategy to garner support for Palestinian justice with a movement based on an appeal to Christian values.
Homemade signs pinned to the distinctive yellow shirts asked delegates to question the supporters about support for divestment, which would withdraw funds invested by the church from companies that provide weapons and machinery to support the occupation.
Humanitarian as well as religious grounds justify a position to support withdrawal of church investments in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard, companies that make and supply equipment designed to destroy property and impose human misery while reaping profits from church investments.
Organizer Anna Balzer of JVP and Suzanne Hoder, representative of UMKR, though disappointed, said that the vote had a bright side. Supporters imparted information to delegates unaware of facts on the ground, and said more teaching about the cost and human impact is needed.
The strong unified advocate presence evidenced a future “win” for divestment at upcoming regional conferences. Conferences in Northern Illinois, California Pacific, New York and Western Ohio had already voted to pull investments. Hoder said she expects more will follow their lead.
A reception sponsored by UMKR, drew delegates, many from African countries, to hear experiences from indigenous Palestinians about injustices suffered by Christians in Palestine. Rev. Alex Awad of Bethlehem Bible College, Zahi Khouri, Chairman of the Coca Cola Company in Palestine and US Government economist Philip Farah were among influential Christian Palestinians who described the impact of occupation on Christians, often marginalized or neglected by the mainstream media.
Kairos Palestine, a doctrine written by patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem, attacks divestment on humane and moral grounds; and calls upon world leaders to heed the cry of the oppressed. Used in 1985 during the struggle in South Africa against apartheid, it received strong support by highlighting Christian principles that promote human dignity for all peoples.
The impassioned speeches by influential Palestinians affected a compromised vote. While Christian fundamentalism and heavy pressure by Israeli lobbyists influenced the outcome, the call for “positive” investing to bring about change for peace, may indicate that stories by visiting Christians about being strangled by the occupation had influence.
Though the failed vote ensures United Methodist Pension Funds would continue, two proposals against occupation and settlements passed. Regarded as “token,” it indicated thought concerning Christian values and humanity sacrificed to occupation.
On the same day the outcome of the vote was learned, the Islamic Community of Tampa had invited Christians, Jews and advocate supporters to an evening meal prepared by Muslim members. Speaking in front of Christians, Jews and Muslims, Anna Balzer said that in spite of disappointment, important connections had been made, information was widely distributed, and personal contacts increased more supporters.
Hoder said defeat reflects disregard for the Christian principles; talking to people raises awareness and connects the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination with other movements as did the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa. Delegates carry home a message of justice for Palestine represented in cooperation among diverse faiths and ethnicities working together to uphold justice as the cornerstone of all civilized religions.