A Call to Tear Down Walls of Hostility and Division

It has now been two months since the close of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly. While there was considerable confusion about what the Church did and did not do in regards to Israel, ultimately the Assembly revealed the continuing divide over Israel. I continue to consider the events of that week to have been a success for those of us opposed to BDS, and determined to work for a two state solution. The Assembly’s willingness to adopt a statement that respects the rights of both Jews and Palestinians to self-determination itself was a huge rejection of anti-Zionism.

The General Assembly also offered other signs of hope.   For me, one of the brightest moments came when a young 17 year old young adult advisory delegate emerged in the Middle East committee as a voice for reason and exhibited strong leadership, writing an important minority report in opposition to a flawed study the Assembly was being asked to approve.

Nivin Lee is a high school senior from Wichita, Kansas. He is a ruling elder at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church, which for his age, points to Nivin’s leadership potential. During the debates of the Middle East Issues Committee, Nivin proved to be an insightful leader, and he gives me much hope for the future. His speech before the full General Assembly, speaking to a room of about 1,000 people was passionate, and equally insightful.

With Nivin’s permission, I am reproducing parts of it here.

I’m going to do what we Presbyterians do best. Open my bible. The wall at Jericho was an impenetrable force. 17 feet high, 5 feet thick, solid stone. Now Joshua, had to get his men through the wall. They faced hunger, starvation, death, and hatred, not so different from what people face today in Israel-Palestine. These people that we passionately love, face, what seems like a hopeless situation.


Since the 221st General Assembly, The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, or ACSWP, studied the issues we see in Israel-Palestine, what seems a hopeless situation. Overture 08-06 contains their summary assessment, and proposed recommendations…. We believe the 36-page report to be critically flawed by its tone and rhetoric.


In our committee’s deliberation, we debated about historical inaccuracies, divisive rhetoric, the devaluation of a strong and viable two-state solution, and values that were included or neglected as guidelines for action. We like the idea of a values based approach for the PC(USA). We love the call to “build up community and pursue reconciliation.” However, we believe the tone and rhetoric in the report does not accomplish this very goal. The language, assumptions, and intent, make unfair characterizations.


This report as currently written dismisses or ignores some critical hardships, places blame on one side, and frames an aggressive narrative that moves us backwards in our efforts of unity and reconciliation.


The issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are troubling, complex, and calls us to action, which is why PC(USA) agencies are carrying out justice and mission work in Renewables, Technology, Microfinance Loans, and Education, which then translates into job opportunities, sustainability, and, most importantly, reconciliation.


We do NOT want such polemic rhetoric to overshadow our good work in the region, which is why a refinement to this report is necessary.


Friends in faith, 2 Corinthians 5:19 tells us “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”  We need to find a better way that will move us beyond a tally of debts.


Some people ask me: “Why does God allow these walls to pop up around them, around us?” I wish I had all the answers. But it seems to me, that God does his BEST work, in hopeless situations.  After all:


Moses was cornered by a sea and the most powerful army in the world.

Daniel’s college roommate was a lion,
Esther was a woman, and in today’s society, that doesn’t lend too many benefits,
Timothy was too young (yeah that’s pretty ironic),
Peter was a coward,
Paul was a murderer,
Lazarus was dead,
The wall of Jericho was too strong,
And Jesus died on a cross.

But wait, there’s more.


God split the Red Sea,
Daniel and the lion made up,
Esther spoke up and the king listened,
Timothy built an altar,
Paul never faltered,
Peter spoke up,
Lazarus woke up,
The walls of Jericho came tumbling down,
And Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.


We’re called to tear down this wall of division and hostility. It’s high time we raise our voices, and bring peace, justice, unity and reconciliation to all; regardless of political identity, nationality, or language; regardless of who threw the first stone, who threw the last stone, or who threw the most stones; and most importantly, regardless of what side of the wall they are on.


Friends in Faith. Peace be with you.

Nivin Lee gives me hope. He is one of many voices who reject the vitriol of the BDS Movement, and seeks a balanced way in promoting peace. We need more voices like his.

About the Author
Michael Gizzi is an active member of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, and an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). A political scientist and professor of criminal justice at Illinois State University, Gizzi is actively involved in research on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. His opinions are his own, and not those of Illinois State University.
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