June 17, 2014 at 1:00 am

Presbyterian committees in Detroit weigh same-sex marriage, divesting from companies in Israel

Committee members have a moment of prayer before discussion during the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church convention in Detroit. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Presbyterians who gathered Monday for a national convention considered divesting from three companies that do business in Israel over concern about the country’s treatment of Palestinians.

The Middle East committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) spent hours debating several resolutions that deal with the crisis in that region of the world. The full General Assembly will vote on the resolutions Friday. .

Another committee at the Presbyterian assembly is examining the same-sex marriage issue.

“Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions have stubbornly refused to acknowledge the link between their products and human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories,” said the Rev. J. Mark Davidson, who pastors the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to the committee members gathered at Cobo Center as part of a biennial convention scheduled through Saturday. “Companies that cause and profit from harm should not receive the resources that God has entrusted in our care and management.”

Davidson said that while some argue positive investment “is the way to go, but positive investment dodges the hard questions and does nothing to end occupation or the expansion of the illegal settlements of Palestinian land.”

In a statement Monday, Motorola Solutions said it “values the confidence of our investors and appreciates the dialogue we have had with the Presbyterian Church over the years.”

“Motorola Solutions provides communications systems to customers in more than 100 countries around the world,” it said. “Our customers include governments, enterprises and non-governmental organizations. As a well-respected and responsible corporate citizen, our global activities are conducted in accordance with U.S., local, country and other applicable laws, as well as our own code of business conduct. Our company has a long record of working with customers in countries throughout the Middle East and supports all efforts in the region to find a peaceful resolution to their differences ... .”

Caterpillar Inc. said Monday the company “has deep respect and compassion for all persons affected by the political strife in the Middle East and support a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“However,” it said, “we believe it is appropriate for such a resolution to be reached via political and diplomatic channels.”

Representatives for Hewlett-Packard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Two years ago in Pittsburgh at its last biennial convention, the Presbyterian church came three votes short of divesting from those companies in a 333 to 331 vote.

Some Jewish groups and leaders attended the Presbyterian hearing and shared their concerns about casting Israel as the sole problem in the Mideast conflict.

“The way I see divestment, I really see it as putting the blame on Israel and not to acknowledge that there’s plenty of blame to go around,” said Corey Rosen, 22, of Franklin, who attended the committee meeting Monday after talking about the issue with a member of his B’Nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield.

“Both sides are to blame and saying that we should divest from companies that do business in the West Bank is just ignoring 70-plus years of Palestinian and Arab rejectionism and putting the whole blame for the conflict on Israel. I don’t think it’s fair.”

But Laila Bernstein, 32, of Boston, a member of the national Jewish Voice For Peace, which supports divestment and flew here for the convention, said, disagreed, saying that “it’s clear to me that divestment is one of the only ways to have a nonviolent response to the occupation.”

“Divestment has been a tool in many movements in the past,” she said. “And it’s been an effective tool for justice.”

Rabbi Alissa Wise, a director of organizing at Jewish Voice for Peace, said while multiple perspectives have arisen in the debate, divestment aims to bring about change. “If we’re really serious about reaching peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians … the time for divestment has come.”

Meanwhile, the assembly is considering a proposed amendment to the church constitution that would redefine marriage as between “two people” instead of “a man and a woman.” It also is considering “affirm pastoral discretion” in performing marriage ceremonies.

Views on both sides were presented to the Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues on Monday.

Teaching Elder Robert Austell of the Presbytery of Charlotte, N.C., said during the meeting he “has been wrestling with Scripture for 25 years and can find no justification for any other biblical relationship than between a man and a woman.”

Libby Davis of the Redwoods presbytery said in an assembly release that her husband, a Presbyterian pastor, “would love to perform the marriage of our lesbian daughter-in-law without ecclesiastical repercussions. We wait for you to make this happen, to obey what their conscience tells them Jesus wants them to do.”

The committee was expected to consider proposals Tuesday and was tentatively scheduled to report its recommendations to the full assembly on Thursday, officials said.

lfleming@detroitnews.com
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