United Methodist Lobby Proposes Divesting From Israel, Investing In North Korea, Legalizing Prostitution

John Lomperis is the director of the United Methodist Action program of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

The world's lone Jewish state must be singled out for punitive divestment campaigns, while we should at the same time promote economic investment in North Korea, whose government has done absolutely nothing in the area of human rights worthy of specific criticism. And we should take our broad support for sex outside of marriage one step further by advocating legalizing prostitution.

This was the moral vision offered by our United Methodist Church's apportionment-funded D.C. lobby office, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) at its Spring 2015 board of directors meeting.

The main business of this semi-annual meeting was adopting, rather hastily, dozens of petitions and resolutions that will be submitted for consideration at our denomination's 2016 General Conference. The GBCS's head staffer, since early 2014, is the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, while its board president is Bishop Robert Hoshibata of the Desert-Southwest Conference.

A resolution they adopted on the ongoing conflict in the Korean Peninsula manages to run over 3,000 words while awkwardly avoiding any specific acknowledgement of the brutal human-rights abuses by the world's most repressive dictatorship, the North Korean regime. The statement purports to "adequately acknowledge the Korean people's long suffering" but places the blame entirely on "external powers fighting for colonial expansion and military hegemony," while avoiding acknowledgement of the suffering inflicted by the North Korean government.

At one point, the GBCS resolution goes out of its way to highlight a feel-goody symbolic gesture of unity between representatives of the two Koreas over a decade ago, to help promote a factually selective narrative about both national governments' commitments to peace and reunification. Meanwhile, this GBCS resolution simply ignores more recent actions of the North, such as its murderous shelling of a South Korean island, its infamous cyber-attacks on an American company, its calling South Korea's female president a "crafty prostitute," "bitch," and "cold-blooded animal," and its likening U.S. President Barack Obama to "a monkey in a tropical forest."

Why does the GBCS choose to be silent about blatant sexism and racism when the perpetrators are Communists?

At one point in this resolution, the GBCS even cites the unreliable, uncontrolled Wikipedia open-source website as its sole source of information for a certain factual claim. Such lack of care in getting the facts straight is not limited to this resolution. Other GBCS resolutions from this meeting make very strong, detailed factual claims without bothering to cite any sources.

On the positive side, this Korea resolution, quotes another group "reject[ing] any form whatever of dictatorship" while urging democracy and human rights (albeit without being clear if there are any dictatorships in the region), calls for assistance in North Korean refugees seeking asylum (albeit without calling out China's horrific treatment of them), and notes as problematic North Korea's withdrawal from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and the Communist regime's violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework (albeit while also making a show of even-handedness in casting blame on the United States for other things).

At the insistence of one more conservative director, the resolution was amended to specifically call on the North Korean government "to abide by all internationally agreed principles of human rights and humanitarian law."

But the GBCS's choice to avoid acknowledging the Stalinist nature of the North Korean regime serves as a foundation for some ill-informed policy agendas. In this resolution, the GBCS calls "for the removal economic sanctions against" North Korean and encourages foreign investment to economically help that nation. One of the few stated reasons offered for this GBCS goal is that it is "a high priority" of the Communist leadership.

Shamefully, this resolution also uncritically treats the North Korea's Korean Christian Federation (KCF) as simply a legitimate Christian body rather than acknowledge its true identity as a puppet of the Communist government that serves, with the help of its enablers like the GBCS, to create a false impression of religious freedom existing in that Stalinist police state.

The GBCS's so willfully turning a blind eye to the brutal ways in which Christians are singled out for imprisonment and torture is mind-boggling. But it follows a sad pattern of this UMC agency using the banner of "social justice" to perversely whitewash and cover for some of the worst human rights abuses in the world. Last year, the GBCS co-sponsored a panel in which a key speaker actually defended the North Korean regime against "demonizing and propaganda."

I recently wrote about how if the GBCS is unwilling to listen to the cries of tortured North Korean Christians, couldn't it at least raise its moral vision to the level of stoner comedian Seth Rogen. Is even that too much to ask of a United Methodist Church agency?

Meanwhile, the GBCS continues to pile on in its years-long campaign of one-sidedly singling out the world's lone Jewish state for critique.

After some dissent by a minority of directors from the GBCS's usual left-wing echo-chamber culture, directors adopted a petition calling for divestment from the construction-equipment company, Caterpillar, because of how the Israeli government uses its products in managing in maintaining "the occupation." The resolution also broadly opposes construction of Israel's security barrier (which has involved disruptive incursion into Palestinian land) without expressing any concern for the Jewish lives it has saved from suicide bombers.
A main aim of another resolution adopted by directors also appeared to be to further advance divestment against Israel, although this specific target was not explicitly named in the resolution. Entitled "Establishing a Screen to Remove and Avoid Investments in Illegal Settlements on Occupied Land," the resolution would demand all UMC denominational agencies pull out divestments from any companies that operate factories or use resources from "occupied land," or that have any direct or even subsidiary presence in, are at all involved in construction, financing, or "[p]roviding support services to "an illegal settlement." Given Israel's complex political and economic realities, such sweepingly worded restrictions could make it especially difficult to allow United Methodist investment in a number of companies doing business with Israel.

At the last General Conference, the GBCS and other liberal caucuses pushed for divestment from Caterpillar and two other companies (Motorola and Hewlett-Packard) over their business with Israel, and were overwhelmingly defeated. Both a senior officials of the UMC's pension-investment board and a leading Palestinian activist in the anti-Israel divestment movement have indicated that the human-rights records of these three specific companies are not worse than others in which the UMC invests.

Not deterred by moral consistency, the GBCS not only rushed through this resolution at its most recent directors' meeting, but in August heavily promoted and took part in a conference where speakers admitted that the push to divest from select companies like Caterpillar was part of a wider agenda of Boycotts, Sanctions, and Divestment, which one speaker defined as "boycotting all things Israeli," and where another speaker was not above resorting to anti-Semitic stereotypes about greedy Jews. Other highlights of that GBCS-related conference were the conspiratorial claim that the U.S. Congress "is an occupied Israeli territory," the assertion that "it is not Hamas's rockets," and "it is not Hamas's underground tunnels" that were responsible for "why we don't have peace right now," and a speaker refusing to condemn the anti-Jewish hatred and violence promoted in the Palestinian media.

Oddly, the blame-Israel faction of our denomination, with which the GBCS has completely identified, has strongly rejected the path of "positive investment, not divestment" when it comes to Israel, but now advocates that path for North Korea. The difference, according to the GBCS's moral vision, is that democratic Israel is the one who should be treated as a villainous, human-rights-abusing rogue regime.

John Lomperis is the United Methodist Director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He has an MDiv from Harvard Divinity School and is the co-author of Strange Yokefellows: The National Council of Churches and its Growing Non-Church Constituency. Connect with him on Twitter @JohnLomperis.

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