Category Archives: politics

Is Election the Same as License?

“I will curse those who curse you…” (Gen 12:3)

I anticipated some negative reactions to the most recent blog entry and have gotten them. Generally, objections center around Israel’s status as God’s chosen people and seem to reflect the idea derived from God’s promise of protection to Abraham that Israel enjoys almost untouchable status in God’s eyes. To be “on Israel’s side” is to be on God’s side; to oppose Israel, for whatever reason, is to oppose God. Besides, the Palestinians, my critics have reminded me, do not want peace either, at least not if it means accommodating a Jewish state. I want to reiterate, therefore, a few assertions and expand upon them with a few additional observations – “mostly from the Bible.”

First, the term “anti-Semitism” has become an imprecise term when used in relation to the modern nation-state of Israel. Indeed, its roots are somewhat imprecise, since an “Anti-Arab” stance (Arabs are Semites) would also, technically, be anti-Semitism.  In any case, classically, the term refers to a historical Christian attititude toward Jews, related to Christian supercessionism (the idea that the Christian Church “supercedes” Israel as the “New Israel” or the “True Israel” and that, therefore, God’s covenant with Israel is null and void; contra Jeremiah 34; Isaiah 40; and Romans 1) and involving the incorrect depiction of Jews as “Christ-killers.”  To be critical of Israelite policies and practices is not anti-Semitic, since even someone who loves Judaism and Jews can be critical of specific behaviors.  I am not “anti-son” when I correct my child’s behavior. In fact, wishing for someone, even some nation, to be better than it is is a higher form of loyalty that accepting – even endorsing – misbehavior.

Second, the modern secular state of Israel hardly equates with the people of Israel.  The majority of Jews in Israel are non-observant. Some citizens of Israel are Arab. Incidently, neither does “Arab” equate with Muslim. A significant proportion of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs are Christian. In its current form, the modern state of Israel hardly represents a reconstitution of Israel as God’s chosen people.

Most importantly, and this is the locus of all my criticisms of the modern state of Israel and its current policies and practices, contemporary Israel does behave like God calls the people of God to behave.  Specifically, God called Abraham and his descendants to bring blessing to all the families of the earth (including Arabs; Gen 12:3), to be a light to the nations (including Arabs; Isa 42:6). Through the prophet Jeremiah, God even promised that, “after I have plucked them (Israel’s neighbors) up, I will have mercy on them again and I will bring them to their inheritance again, and to their land, everyone of them. And then, if they will indeed learn the ways of my people…then they shall be built up in the midst of my people” (12:15-16, all translations mine). In a manner highly relevant to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories and even of its Arab citizens, God frequently expresses the commission for Israel to bring blessing to the nations in terms commandments governing its treatment of the marginalized in their midst, especially the “sojourners,” “resident aliens.” I will list only a few of these commandments along with the question, “Is this how the modern state of Israel treats the disenfranchised?”  Incidentally, the argument that the Palestinians might be better treated if they would only accept their diminished circumstances is tantamount to blaming the victim. In fact, these commandments also often include the reminder that Israel should be eager to protect “sojourners” since it knew the life of the oppressed sojourner in Egypt. Moreover, just as God liberated Israel from this oppression, God frequently calls upon Israel to play the role of liberator, too.

“There shall be one law for the native and for the sojourner/resident alien who sojourns among you” (Exod 12:49).

“…you will do no work [on the Sabbath day], neither you…nor the sojourner living within your gates” (Exod 20:10; Deut 5:15 adds a reminder that Israel was once enslaved; cf. Lev 16:29 and passim).

“And you will not afflict or oppress a sojourner/resident alien because you were sojourners/resident aliens in Egypt” (Exod 22:20; cf. Lev 19:33 and passim).

“…you shall leave them [the last gleanings] for the poor and the sojourner” (Lev 19:10).

“The sojourner sojourning with you will be like a native, and you will love him as yourself, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. I am YHWH  your God” (Lev 19:34).

I am not anti-Semitic.  On the other hand, I am unwilling to “choose sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If anything, I bemoan the circumstances created by the European powers in the period from the end of WWI to the UN Declaration giving birth to Israel. Giving a homeland to persecuted Jews was a worthy endeavor.  Taking a homeland from the Palestinians was unjust and cruel.  The deed is done now, however. Now, choosing between the Palestinians and the Israelis can only perpetuate the consequences of poor policy. Now, I for one, ask that both sides seek a means to coexist. With regard to Israel, this would mean recognizing the imbalance of power and acknowledging the real human costs of that imbalance.

To assume that God takes sides in this conflict is to betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel (cf. Acts 10:34).  I know that bringing peace to the Middle East will be complicated, but I cannot decide for either party.  As an American Christian, however, I must acknowledge that the process is unlikely to make any real progress as long as a power such as the United States, driven largely by evangelical Christian misunderstandings of the Bible, effectively taking sides, treats Israel as though it were untouchable.

Israel’s United Monarchy III

Israel’s United Monarchy 3 – FPC Richmond 10/17

Israel’s United Monarchy II

Israel’s United Monarchy II – FPC Richmond 10/17

A Series of Biblical Vignettes A Propos Pledging Allegiance

“Seek the welfare of the city” (Jer 29:7)

Christian proponents of a variety of doctrinal statements, ethical stances, and public policy positions often proclaim their viewpoints “biblical” either because they assume that the status quo ante must represent the divine will or because their position seems best to reflect a single biblical passage or a small grouping of passages. One could argue that, Continue reading A Series of Biblical Vignettes A Propos Pledging Allegiance

Plain Language is Difficult to Misinterpret, but Easy to Ignore

For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deut 30:11-14 RSV)

This summer, I have been blogging about the harm done by propagating misinterpretations of scripture. In most cases, the scripture passages in question have at least been tricky enough to open the door for such misinterpretation – although not enough to excuse it.  Recent events at Charlottesville, just a few miles to the west of my Continue reading Plain Language is Difficult to Misinterpret, but Easy to Ignore

Mere Christianity

Lately, I have read about and heard directly from pastors who have been accused of being political from the pulpit although they thought that they were simply preaching the Gospel. We live in a time when people on both sides of the political spectrum stand ready to take offense. Continue reading Mere Christianity

America First or Not my Problem

Mark 9:37

For a couple of weeks now, I have been preoccupied with the perception that the public discourse influences even believers toward stridency, rigidity, and lack of compassion. Oddly, at the same time, I have been hearing again and again in my mind’s ear the lyrics of a children’s hymn I learned to sing in Vacation Bible School:  “Jesus loves the little Continue reading America First or Not my Problem

Get Thee Behind me… (Mark 8:33)

“Hadst Thou taken the world and Caesar’s purple, Thou wouldst have founded the universal state and have given universal peace. For who can rule men if not he who holds their conscience and their bread in his hands? We have taken the sword of Caesar, and in taking it, of course, have rejected Thee and followed him.”  The Grand Inquisitor, Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky

President Trump has dangled the forbidden fruit before the church with his promise to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment that prohibits non-profit organizations, including the church, from taking overtly partisan political action Trump has complained that the effect of the amendment on religious institutions is that “their voice has been taken away.” To Continue reading Get Thee Behind me… (Mark 8:33)

Confusion: Rights or Love

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Cor 14:33 RSV)

Last week’s blog included the sentence:  “Let the cacophony begin.” It has.

I have not intended to focus this blog on politics, but, like Moses’ experience with the burning bush, the current din of confusion in the political realm beckons me to turn aside to listen.  When I do, I hear that a significant component of the confusion involves the mistaken identification of national interests in self-protection with Christian motivations. Continue reading Confusion: Rights or Love

Tireless Exertions

A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. Eccl 1:4 RSV

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

I was born in February of 1957, when the union still had only forty-eight states, three years after the US Supreme Court handed down the historic Brown v. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483), and just a few months before the first nine black students enrolled in Little Rock Arkansas schools implementing the ruling.  Local sit-in campaigns began at a Woolworth Continue reading Tireless Exertions