Resolutions and Committee Reports that call for divestment often reduce the “wicked problems” they address to a simple zero-sum-game, where TEC, CPF, and individual Episcopalians are either labeled complicit in injustice or are change-agents. The reality of issues like climate change and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are far more complicated. For instance, resolution A020, which calls fossil fuel divestment, ignores the potential good of stakeholder engagement with energy companies. Energy conglomerates invest significantly in alternative and renewable energy sources often because of pressure imposed by their shareholders (see how companies like Shell and BP have responded for shareholder demands to diversify the energy conglomerates’ holdings). Divestment cedes the Church’s leverage as a shareholder to be a force and voice for good.
The rhetoric of divestment is even more toxic in the case of the Israel/Palestine conflict, where the call for divestment from companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation in resolution C017 oversimplifies the situation at the risk of favoring one sides’ human rights at the expense of another’s. The so-called Boycott-Divestment-Sanction (BDS) movement is based on the analogy that Israel resembles apartheid-era South Africa. However, such an analogy is problematic not least because Israel’s justification for its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is based on security concerns and not racial ideology. When Israel has made good faith efforts to unilaterally withdraw from occupied Arab territories in Gaza and South Lebanon, terrorist organizations, Hamas and Hezbollah, have respectively filled the void Israel left behind. Even the legitimate Palestinian National Authority is ambivalent over Israel’s right to exist at all, which only helps to prop up Israel’s severe treatment of Palestinians by lending credibility to the truism—often repeated by Prime Minister Netanyahu—that “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.’” Nevertheless, Israel should not be exculpated from real crimes against the Palestinian people. Israel’s responsibility as a democracy founded on the principles of human rights, demands that they extend those same rights—including the right of national self-determination to its nascent Arab sister state.
Whether the issue is the real threat of climate change to the viability of our planet or the real plight of the Palestinian people and their right to a homeland, divestment is an all-too-easy answer to problems – as well as to people who deserve more understanding and compassion. The Church is uniquely positioned to offer the very grace that these wicked problems demand. Yet, in view of our charge to be peacemakers, what does it say about TEC’s ministry when its hope for reconciliation in the Middle East is the weaponization of its investment portfolio?
Fortunately, Episcopalians have found alternative ways to be about Christ’s business of peacemaking. Take, for instance, the response of Episcopalians right here in the Diocese of Texas to the injustices of the status quo in Israel. An organization called Jerusalem Peacebuilders has partnered with Al Ahli Arab Hospital (itself a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem) and Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Treatment Center to set up Gaza’s only oncology unit—it is estimated that only 40% of cancer diagnoses are treated in Gaza on account of the difficulty of being permitted to exit the region. Jerusalem Peacebuilders has also worked to bring together young American, Israeli, and Palestinians in schools in the Holy Land as well as in summer institutes across the United States. Through programming geared toward conflict resolution, youth have the opportunity to share their stories, hopes, and fears with one another across divisions that many would have believed were impassible. In this way, something of the Kingdom of God and the long hoped for Peace of Jerusalem is gleaned amid the friendships of youth. These ministries reconcile by building relationship, healing bodies, as well as hearts.
It may be important for General Convention to responsibly consider its investments and make statements to that effect, but it is far more important for the Church to be about God’s business mending the broken lives of God’s people.