New York City’s Union Theological Seminary votes to divest from Israel’s war on Gaza

New York City’s Union Theological Seminary votes to divest from Israel’s war on Gaza


As student protests around the world call for their educational institutions to divest from companies with ties to Israel, we speak to the Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, an ecumenical seminary affiliated with Columbia University that is one of the first schools to begin divesting from companies that “profit from war in Palestine/Israel.” Jones says divestment is an extension of Union’s “long policy of trying our best to bring our values, our core mission and our conscience to bear on how we invest our money,” and credits student activists with pushing the administration to action. Jones criticizes Columbia’s decision to arrest student protesters with a “police takeover” and “violent decampment,” in contrast to Union’s approach to student political expression. “We support students learning what it means to find their voice and speak out for justice and freedom,” she says.

Serene Jones writes:

From my office at Union Theological Seminary, I have watched in the past few weeks as Columbia University’s anti-war encampments have been torn down and student demonstrators have been arrested. I’ve also watched as the surrounding streets grow more and more bloated with every kind of repugnant publicity seeker imaginable, from politicians to marching Proud Boys to an endless stream of outside protesters and press.

But I’ve also had the chance to see the protests up close, where the simple message of the demonstrators can still be heard: Stop the war, now. And I’ve learned a lot about who these protesters really are.

First and foremost, these encampments are filled with students from different religious traditions — Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, unaffiliated as well as spiritual but not religious students. They are finding solace and courage among themselves, frequently singing songs from religious summer camp or their parents’ own faith-based anti-war protests of the 1960s.

In this moment, Union has also offered spiritual support. On April 21, their first Sunday in place, I was asked by Union students to accompany them to the Columbia encampment to offer a Christian Communion service. I of course said yes. A weary group of Union students, alumni and local clergy bundled up on a very cold spring afternoon, went through the police checkpoints and formed a circle in middle of the encampment. One of our many brilliant students preached a sermon on the biblical story of Ezekiel witnessing that vast valley of dry bones, a wrenching text with its present-day corollary in Gaza and Israel.

As she preached, silence fell across the whole encampment as people slowly drew closer. Students listened and wept. I wept tears of intense grief. Some students rocked as they prayed. Some shouted “amen.” Some sat on the ground, arms wrapped around each other. Another student led a simple, open-table Communion service, inviting everyone to feast.

As this Christian ritual unfolded, I watched in awe as the line to take Communion grew longer and longer, making it impossible to divide up people into sharply defined traditions. More tears ran down people’s faces as they partook, as tears likewise kept running down mine. [Continue reading…]

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