Rev. John Dorhauer has a problem. He just got elected president and general minister of the United Church of Christ (UCC), a liberal Protestant denomination with approximately 900,000 members and 5,000 churches in the United States. His election was part of the UCC’s 30th General Synod, which took place in Cleveland, Ohio – where the denomination is headquartered.
Dorhauer, who was the sole nominee for the post, was a disappointing choice for some delegates at the synod who had hoped that the church would elect anyone but a straight white guy as its leader. The church’s members are 80 percent white, but opposition to white privilege is a big part of the agenda of the denomination’s activist community that dominates its General Synod. For some of these activists, Dorhauer’s nomination was an insult.
Before the balloting, some delegates approached the microphones to report their unhappiness that the denomination, which has never elected a woman as its leader, would be electing yet another straight white male as its president.
“I cannot, I will not, I do not believe there is not among us one woman who is qualified to lead this denomination. What face are we projecting to the world about who we are?” said Rev. Anna Humble, an association minister in the UCC’s South Central Conference, which serves churches in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Rev. Alice Hunt from the Chicago Theological Seminary, one of the women who served on the nominating committee that chose Dorhauer as the sole candidate, defended her committee’s decision.
“Just because our committee selected a straight white man does not mean our work was sexist or racist or hetero-normative. The eight women on this committee have spent a lifetime overcoming institutional male privilege. We fully support the nomination of John C. Dorhauer,” she said.
Despite the disappointment over his race, gender, and sexual orientation, Dorhauer won the election with 89 percent of the overall tally, with 621 votes in favor, 77 against, and 33 abstaining.
It’s an overwhelming victory, but it doesn’t come without a downside. Dorhauer’s biggest problem is not that he’s a straight white man leading a church whose activists are dedicated to combating white privilege.
His problem is that he is at odds with the passage of a controversial BDS resolution that took place at the same General Synod that elected him.
In an interview with the Huffington Post published soon after the vote, Dorhauer expressed “mixed emotions” over the BDS resolution, which calls on the denomination to boycott Israeli products made in the West Bank and to sell its stock in companies that do business with the Jewish State. (Interestingly enough, the General Synod passed no resolutions condemning ongoing violence against Christians in Syria or Iraq at the hands of ISIS -but it did pass a resolution commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.)
Dorhauer told the Huffington Post that he will follow the Synod’s directive in support of BDS, but that he “will do so wondering if the benefits of our divesting from those companies is equal to cost to the relationships that we have with people who are critical to our movement towards justice, not just in Palestine but in many other places.”
Dorhauer is right to be concerned. The proponents of the BDS resolution engaged in an ugly bit of Jew-washing to get the resolution passed, invoking the presence of activists from the marginal group Jewish Voice for Peace at the General Synod to protect themselves from the charge of singling out Israel for condemnation.
One delegate who opposed divestment stated the problem in stark terms: “We have named the enemy and do not allow them to have a voice at the table,” she said.
While mainstream Jewish groups were absent from the assembly, the synod did hear from Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran Pastor from Bethlehem known for his tendency to erase Jews from the Land of Israel. During his sermon on Monday night, the day before the BDS resolution was approved, Raheb referred to “Palestine” when it was clear from the context that he was really talking about ancient Israel. “Throughout, the Bible … the God in whom the people of Palestine put their faith appears to be silent,” Raheb said before invoking the desecration of the Jewish Temple at the hands of the Babylonians.
He didn’t stop there. “Sisters and Brothers, it is not by chance that the divine revelation took place in Palestine,” he said. “The people of Palestine, our forefathers and foremothers were able to discover a unique answer to [the question] ‘God where are you?’ and that answer made history.”
Interestingly enough, Dorhauer did not express his concerns about BDS prior to either his election as General Minister and President of the Denomination or to the BDS vote itself. He remained silent with good reason. The activists might have been able to get past Dorhauer’s gender, race, and sexual orientation, but would have had a much more difficult time overlooking his apparent opposition to the divestment resolution.
Dorhauer wanted the job, so he kept his mouth shut and promised to follow orders once elected.
Congratulations, Rev. Dorhauer.
The job is all yours.