A message for Israel and Evangelicals: Genesis isnât a policy guide
With a dogmatic loyalty to Israel born out of a literal interpretation of the Bible, is the American Christian Right the new Jewish lobby in US politics? Mixing religion and statecraft isnât just dangerous and unwise. Itâs sacrilegious.
ByÂ Walter Rodgers / June 27, 2011
The sign is part of a wider phenomenon: theÂ American Christian rightâs dogmatic support for Israel and the Jewish stateâs claim to the âHoly Land.â Itâs a loyalty born out of a literal interpretation of the Bible and its apocalyptic narrative and a view that ascribes divinity to a physical place. And this reflexive support for Israel has spread to the broader conservative base and American political scene in general. Look no further thanÂ Glenn Beckâs âRestore Courageâ trip toÂ Jerusalemplanned for this August, which at least oneÂ GOPpresidential contender has noted he will attend.
Such religious attachment isnât an isolated theological agenda. Itâs at the heart and history of the conflict in theÂ Middle East.
But with a Palestinian bid for statehood planned for September and escalating tensions in the region, thereâs too much at stake to use God as a real estate broker. To avoid a potentially violent flash point, leaders must look to a peaceful constituency â not the political ploys â of the worldâs great religions, all converging in this Holy Land.
Mixing religion and foreign policy
Mingling religion with foreign policy has a longstanding history: from the Islamic armies of Allah marching across the first millennium Christian world, followed later by two centuries of theologically dubious European Christians crusading across Mediterranean lands. In some respects, we moderns have never escaped medieval traditions. The problem is that these traditions are the foundation on which diplomats are still forced to build.
âIsnât it unwise to use the Bible to settle real estate disputes?â I asked the pastor of the conservative congregation whose sign Iâd passed.
âWe take the Bible literally, every word,â he replied on the other end of the phone.
âWhat about Genesis 15:18, where Jehovah promised Jews all the land âfrom the river ofÂ Egypt[the Nile] unto the great river, the river Euphrates [thinkÂ Baghdad]â?â I said, âSurely you donât think Israelis have claim to a huge chunk of Egypt,Â Jordan,Â Syria,Â Lebanon, andÂ Iraq, do you?â
TheÂ evangelical clergyman replied, âI am kind of excited to see what God will do for Israel.â He went on to tell me he thought all Arabs and Palestinians living within Israeli borders should be deported to neighboring Arab countries, an idea that has had underground currency in Israel for more than a decade. âGod made aÂ covenant with the Jews that the land would be theirs in perpetuity,â the minister explained.
Finally I asked, âWhen you say âHold Godâs land,ââ I asked, âwhich God are you talking about? Isnât the Islamic Allah just another name for God?
âNo, Allah is a false God,â the evangelical clergyman said, lending credence to Muslim fears that some in the West are out to delegitimize their faith.
The concept of ‘The Holy Land’
At the root of the issue is the concept of âThe Holy Land.â Although the idea of the Holy Land didnât exist in Jesusâ time and didnât emerge until some centuries later,Â Timothy Robinson, a theology professor atÂ Bright Divinity School atÂ Texas Christian University, noted that âfor a lot of Christians, there is a deep connection to earth where Jesus may have walked.â
Israeli tour guides often fabricate facts to gull the would-be pilgrims, Mr. Robinson said. âThere is a lot of tripe they feed the crowds, especially Evangelicals.â Israeli tour guides generally ignore genuine Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem like Lazarusâs tomb. That would divert tourist dollars to Arabs and lend legitimacy to Palestinian claims to being the âfirst Christians.â
The very idea of the Holy Land is a sticky wicket. So many of the sites in the âHoly Landâ are simply âtraditional,â lacking any historical corroboration. The grotto below the Church of the Nativity inÂ Bethlehem, said to be where Jesus was born, is a prime example. I recall a discussion I had with one Israeli rabbi who privately acknowledged the worship of land itself probably violated the second commandment against graven images.
Theologically based claims to the Holy Land drive politics andÂ undermine peace in the region. When theÂ US Congress slavishly cheered and fawned over Israelâs prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in his recent address to a joint meeting of the House and Senate, it was, I suspect, as much this evangelical Christian constituency that lawmakers were pandering to as to the âJewish Lobby.â
Mixing religion and statecraft isnât simply dangerous and unwise; it also smacks of sacrilege.
Zealots and policymakers alike need to shift away from any obsession with the concept of a Holy Land and recognize that thousands of years of worshiping real estate has only produced several millenniums of war and shameful bloodshed. If there remains any constituency for peace, thenÂ the angels of humanityâs better nature â charity, tolerance, and simple decency â must supersede the religious triumphalism that seems to be too much in evidence today.
- FYI – Pope urges Christians to overcome apathy with evangelization. (jwitness.wordpress.com)
- Israel and the next Flotilla (ikners.com)
- What you don’t own is worth nothing (ikners.com)
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- An Alan Sabrosky view on Palestine and Israel (ikners.com)
- Evangelical Protestants sympathize with Israel, survey finds (jta.org)
- European Jewish Congress lobbies against unilateral Palestinian state (jta.org)
- What Israel Does For The US (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- My Country, America and/or Israel, ‘Tis of Thee (duanegraham.wordpress.com)
- Jewish state of Israel may do some rethinking on Flotilla and journalists. (ikners.com)
- The Jewish State of Israel is forever building anything to make the Palestinians go somewhere else (ikners.com)
- “A Peace You Cannot Defend Will Not Hold” (jpundit.typepad.com)
- Uri Avnery on recognising the Jewish State of Israel (ikners.com)
- Zionism: For Israel, the least of all possible evils (israelleft.com)
- PM: PA Recognition of Jewish State is All That’s Needed (israelnationalnews.com)
- June 2011 Newsletter (shalomministries77.wordpress.com)
- Michelle Bachman On Israel: “I’m Really One Of You” (hooglyboogly.co)