Mainline Protestants and Israel
So enamored are today's mainline Protestant churches with the Palestinian Arab "narrative" that they seem to have altogether forgotten, or denied, their own prior history of support for Israel and Zionism. Indeed, some of them appear to be trying to derail the Zionist enterprise altogether.
The English Puritans who came to North America in the 17th century linked their fate in the New World to that of biblical Israel. By the early 19th century, the Presbyterian minister John McDonald was urging Christians to help the Jews of Old World Europe to return to Zion. Later in the 19th century, the Methodist preacher William Eugene Blackstone traveled far and wide to campaign for the same cause. Many Anglicans were similarly disposed. In Britain, Lord Balfour described himself as a "Zionist." In March 1948, despite the persistence of anti-Semitism in the United States, fully half of Protestant Americans voiced support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Today, the mainline denominations, which represent a dwindling yet still influential minority of American Christians, regularly take left-wing positions on matters of both theology and politics, and their attitude toward Israel has changed decisively. Theologically, most of today's Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and others no longer believe that the Bible is the word of God or should be interpreted as literally true. The theological basis for connecting the people of Israel to the land of Israel has consequently evaporated. Politically, the institutions of mainstream Christianity have embraced much of the Left's antipathy toward Jewish national self-determination and a view of the Arab-Israel conflict in the black-and-white terms of oppressors and victims. The results are visible in such recent initiatives as a document being circulated by Methodists that calls for boycotting goods produced in the West Bank, or the vote of the UK's Anglican Communion in favor of economic divestment from Israel.
It is true that these denominations have objective interests in the Arab world, rooted in concern for the diminishing numbers of Palestinian Christians struggling to survive in an environment of increasingly ascendant Islamic extremism. But it is also true that church activists living or stationed in the Middle East wholeheartedly endorse Arab political sensibilities and lobby aggressively inside their institutions against the Zionist enterprise. Further skewing the picture, the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, an umbrella organization of mainline church bodies, propagates a version of the Israel-Arab conflict that is insidiously damaging to Israel's survival.
Given this stacked deck, it is easy to appreciate the relief of Jewish organizations when, at a recent meeting of the policymaking body of the Presbyterian Church, a plank defaming Israel as an "apartheid" state failed to pass. But, while condescending to endorse Israel's right to exist, the Presbyterians simultaneously approved "for study" the disingenuous Kairos document—"the Christian Palestinians' word to the world about what is happening in Palestine." This document labels the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank as "aggression," "evil," and a "sin" that must be "resisted and removed." Violence is ostensibly abjured, but "peaceful resistance" and "boycotts" are legitimized. The Presbyterians have also obliquely called for withholding military aid from Israel in order to pressure it back to the armistice lines that ended the 1948-49 war.
This "Presbyterian answer" to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has left church leaders boasting that they may have "stumbled upon a way of building peace." In fact, what they have done is to place the Jewish state unjustly in the dock and to single it out for undeserved opprobrium—an act that might more properly be considered an occasion not for self-gratulation but for soul-searching. In light of it, the wholehearted support for the Zionist enterprise coming from the vibrant evangelical wing of American Protestantism is all the more heartwarming and, politically, indispensable.
Christianity which used to be 20% of the population in Israel has dwindled to a less than 2%.
Even the Pope, in one of his speeches, has asked Christians to get more involved in what is happening in the Holy Land and support the projects done by this group of Christians and Jews.
Nevermind, in a couple of decades, the Pope will not find any Christian with whom he can speak -they will all be in Rome, or somewhere else -but not Israel; and that's not the fault of the Jews.
Who will be left to maintain the Christian holy sites?
Jews? Surely not Muslims whose usual attitude is " where's there's a church, let's build a mosque over it." This is a fact that can be checked out in the field, by the way.
I'm a Jew who lives in "the territories" and I, together with many other Jews, work with Christians in Bethlehem to help raise funds to feed Christian children and provide them with housing and study grants, among many other things.
Are any Presbyterians aware of this? What is the "Presbyterian answer" to the Christian Palestinian-Jewish Israeli undertakings?
Maybe somebody should ask them.
I prefer to see the unholy alliance between main line church and the Palestinians as a consequence of the churches' long dalliance with the New Left and its radical political bedfellows during the 1960s and 1970s. For the Left, Israel represented not merely "Establishment" (to radical Jews), but came to be in their coalescing critiques both an extension of the American military-industrial complex and that ultimate North-South/Third World villain: a colonialist settler state.
It is probably wrong entirely to dismiss the diminishing role of the Old Testament narrative in support for Zionism: certainly that played its role among British supporters in the Balfour era, and in the rather simple mind of that American haberdasher-president, Harry S Truman, for whom Chaim Weizmann's visage was that of a biblical prophet. The Hebrews of old were, and to some extent still are, part of the greater national mythologies of those Protestant nations: the United States and Britain, both of which share a common literary heritage in the Bible as a canonical cultural work.
Christians, in the realm of Zionism, are to some extent damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they oppose Israel as a matter of "Christian witness," as was asserted in the draft MESC report for the Presbyterian General Assembly this year, they are hypocrites because they fail to own up to the role of Christian Scripture as the fountainhead of western Jew hatred. For the Presbyterians, this has led to the disturbing argument for ending the safe haven for Jews, the need for which was created by Christian Antisemitism in the first place.
If they support Israel on scriptural grounds, they merely leave those of us few committed Jews who read the New Testament for historical purposes scratching our heads as to what Christian Zionists are talking about. One need only look at Chapter 8 of the Gospel of John or chapters 9 and 10 of Paul's Epistle to the Romans to understand what I am talking about. These are examples only--there is very little love for Jews in the New Testament.
These are difficult truths, but it would be far better to look them in the face and wonder why than to merely repeat the curious idea that that so many highly observant Christians are devotees of the Jewish state while simultaneously believe that every word of the successionist New Testament is true.
Speaking only for myself as a child of survivors, I am reluctant to accept the support of Christian Zionists when I cannot see how they come to their views through Christianity.
Any port in a storm is an idea that has usually brought Jews to grief over the course of European history.
In my experience very few Jews read the New Testament. Jews are overwhelmingly ignorant of Christianity beyond the charge of deicide. They certainly do not understand the finer points of the Rapture and the need for witness Jews. I am suggesting that Israelis and Jews worldwide don't make themselves comfortable in an alliance with Religious Zionists because they think the Christian take is quaint; they do it only because Jews reasonably believe they are threatened today and they are casting about for all friends in the West and in the US in particular.
As I commented above, I don't understand why any Christian denomination or sect would come to a support for Israel through their Scriptures. There is one neutral ground, I suppose, namely that Christians feel far more confident in Jews to protect Christian holy sites than they do in any Muslim state. Particularly on the Christian Right, hostility toward Islam and Muslims is right out in the open.
I am not personally comfortable with such an alliance at all, and believe that Israel can (and must)survive without active support of others on purely (non-Jewish) religious grounds. Such friends can evaporate too quickly with changes in political climates.
I'm sorry but you are misunderstanding the Christian scriptures, especially the ones cited. They do not teach antisemitism; indeed, have I expressed antisemitism?
Here is a very brief summary of what Jesus and Paul are actually saying: Since Jesus is the prophesied Messiah, anyone who believes in him and follows him (whether Jew or Gentile - but the Jews are offered salvation first) evidences the supernatural change of heart by the Spirit of God (Deut 30:6 and Ezek 36); but those who reject him (whether Jew or Gentile) evidence their abandonment to Satan and are mere empty religionists outwardly.
These convictions are not unique to the Christian scriptures but were first preached by Moses and the prophets (see the song of indictment in Deut 32 and Dan 9).
Furthermore, Biblical/Mosaic Judaism is not antithetical to Biblical Christianity, but Rabbinic Judaism/Talmudism is antithetical to both.
The Jews are honored with a calling to live especially for the true God (according to his terms) but that is no guarantee that the calling is honored by all. This is the complaint of Moses and the prophets. As a Gentile I am invited to enter into this calling according to the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12: 3). Not everyone (whether Jew or Gentile) responds favorably to this honored calling. This is not antisemitism. If I did not give my heart to the Messiah, I would prove myself belonging to Satan too.
I do understand the Christian Scriptures (at least the Catholic NAB). But I understand them differently from you because the perspective of a committed Jew and a committed Christian are not the same.
I would like to answer your comment more fully, with a reference or two. Buts its late, so I will try to do that tomorrow if comments are still open.
Morality is too often based on subjective feelings about what is right and what is wrong.
Even antisemites have their morality. It is not based on objective criteria and when it is used to create policy it becomes one sided.
Moral thinking told many mainstream Protestants that Zionism is a worthy cause, and it now tells the same Protestants that it isn’t a worthy cause. What has changed?
What has changed is the fact that Jews were in the recent past seen as oppressed which means that they were seen as needy. Today they are seen as the equal of any other people. This means that Protestants have to deal with them as equals. Some of them have found this to be too much. At bottom they don’t think of Jews as their equals which is why they support their enemies, those who would destroy the Jewish State.
All in the name of morality of course.
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