UCC Divestment Reflection

My name is Carolyn Klaasen, I’m a member of the New York JVP chapter, and I was one of the 9 JVP members that attended the United Church of Christ General Synod. There are two moments from our time at the Synod that I want to share with you.

The first was during a worship service the night before the divestment vote when Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian pastor from Bethlehem, preached a sermon about finding God in unexpected places. He took us through thousands of years of sacred history in the land of Palestine, telling us over and over again how God had unexpectedly been present in the midst of empire after empire. Then, switching to our current moment in Cleveland, he honored our Jewish delegation. “Who would have thought that nine Jews would be at synod to fight for Palestinian rights? God is in unexpected places.” He then challenged the delegates to consider that they, too, might be an unexpected place from which God would bring change to Palestine. In that moment I fully believed that divestment could happen, that divestment would happen, and that the BDS movement would end the occupation.

The second was the next day during the divestment deliberations. The last delegate to speak urged the synod to divest, but to do so knowing that this action would upset many of the delegate’s Jewish partners back home. He asked them to commit returning and explaining this vote to their partners, even though those conversations would be hard ones. My heart sank listening to his words, thinking “who wants to do that? If this is the last thing they hear, they’ll vote no.” A few minutes later, when we saw that 80% of the vote was in favor of divestment, I realized I had misjudged our partners in the UCC. They voted to divest with clarity about their decision, knowing that it would not be popular but confident that God was calling them to answer the call issued by their Palestinian partners.

One of my favorite things about the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions is that it asks us to acknowledge and address our own complicity in the occupation of Palestine. It invites us, the international community, into the struggle for justice by focusing our attention on the roles our money, our government, and our communities play in the occupation. Watching our partners in the UCC answer that call with such moral clarity has given me hope that increasingly more of our communities – even our Jewish ones – will join them.


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