Monday, July 24, 2006

Christian Zionism: Not that Innocent

In a recent post about Evangelicals and Israel, Alan Stewart Carl talked about a number of people in the American Evangelical community who fervetnly support Israel. He views these groups as very helpful in supporting Israel:

Pat Robertson claims the support is born of a shared covenant and a common enemy (radical Islam). Of course, others point out that evangelical support for Israel is also heavily influenced by Biblical interpretation. The prophecy of Armageddon and the second coming of Christ cannot occur unless Israel is whole.

It is this aspect that has led many to view the Evangelical/Israeli alliance with skepticism and derision. But I think such distrust is misplaced. Yes, the Biblical tale of Armageddon isn’t particularly nice to the Jews, but there’s no evidence that any of these Evangelical groups are planning to hurry things along. They are sincere in their support of Israel and should not be condemned simply for believing in the Book of Revelations.

History does not offer many examples of overt let alone fervent Christian/Jewish alliances. Anti-Semitism has been the norm for centuries upon centuries. So I, for one, am glad to see such pro-Jewish voices coming from American Christianity—even if I don’t agree with every policy position they put forth.

Given that the Democratic Party has traditionally been and still very-much is a pro-Jewish, pro-Israel party, it appears as if America can proudly claim to be the most anti anti-Semitic nation on Earth (well, outside of Israel). That’s at least one positive unifying belief in today’s divided culture.

I really fear that Alan is not that aware of what has been called "Christian Zionism" and that it has severe implications for peace in Middle East and the war against Islamic fundmanentalism.

First, one should know what these "Christian Zionists" are all about. This

defintion comes from Donald Wagner:

Christian Zionists insist that all of historic Palestine -- including all the land west of the Jordan which was occupied by Israel after the 1967 war -- must be under the control of the Jewish people, for they see that as one of the necessary stages prior to the second coming of Jesus. Among their other basis tenets:

• God’s covenant with Israel is eternal, exclusive and will not be abrogated, according to Genesis 12:1-7; 15:4-7; 17:1-8; Leviticus 26:44-45; Deuteronomy 7:7-8.

• The Bible speaks of two distinct and parallel covenants, one between God and Israel, one between God and the church. The latter covenant is superseded by the covenant with Israel. The church is a "mere parenthesis" in God’s plan and as such it will be removed from history during an event called the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-17; 5:1-11). At that point, Israel, the nation, will be restored as the primary instrument of God on earth.

• Genesis 12:3 ("I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you") should be interpreted literally -- which leads to maximum political, economic, moral and spiritual support for the modern state of Israel and for all the Jewish people.

• Apocalyptic texts like the Book of Daniel, Zechariah 9-12, Ezekiel 37-8, I Thessalonians 4-5 and the Book of Revelation refer to literal and future events.

• The establishment of the state of Israel, the rebuilding of the Third Temple, the rise of the Antichrist and the buildup of armies poised to attack Israel are among the signs leading to the final eschatological battle and Jesus’ return for his thousand-year reign. The movement looks for the escalating power of satanic forces aligned with the antichrist that will do battle with Israel and its allies as the end draws near. Judgment will befall nations and individuals according to how they "bless Israel."

Christian Zionism, which includes the group Alan, refers to, don't believe in any attempts at peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, especially the Palestinians. It also tends to be anti-Arab and anti-Muslim. Here is what Pat Robertson says about a "two-state solution (Israel and a Palestinian state):

If a Palestinian State is created in the heart of Israel with sovereign power to deploy troops, import modern weapons-even weapons of mass destruction-and operate with full secrecy and diplomatic immunity, the ability of the State of Israel to defend itself will be fatally compromised.

Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake-the entire world is being convulsed by a religious struggle. The fight is not about money or territory; it is not about poverty versus wealth; it is not about ancient customs versus modernity. No-the struggle is whether Hubal, the Moon God of Mecca, known as Allah, is supreme, or whether the Judeo-Christian Jehovah God of the Bible is Supreme.

If God's chosen people turn over to Allah control of their most sacred sites-if they surrender to Muslim vandals the tombs of Rachel, of Joseph, of the Patriarchs, of the ancient prophets-if they believe their claim to the Holy Land comes only from Lord Balfour of England and the ever fickle United Nations rather than the promises of Almighty God-then in that event, Islam will have won the battle. Throughout the Muslim world the message will go forth-"Allah is greater than Jehovah. The promises of Jehovah to the Jews are meaningless.

"We can now, in the name of Allah, move to crush the Jews and drive them out of the land that belongs to Allah."

In short, those political initiatives that some have asserted will guarantee peace, will in truth guarantee unending struggle and ultimate failure. Those political leaders who only understand the secular dimension of Israel's existence and who cavalierly dismiss the spiritual dimension will find that they receive the mess of pottage of Esau rather than the inheritance of Jacob.

Some groups like the

International Christian Embassy promote a view that Israel belongs only to the Jews and that anyone who divides the land (which would include the West Bank and Gaza) would fall prey to God's wrath.

In short, these groups do not want to give the Palestinians one piece of land. They have rejected agreements from Camp David, to Oslo to the current "Roadmap." For them, to divide the land is to commit a grave sin.

What is also interesting as that Christian Zionism tends to ignore the Palestinian and Arab Christians who have resided in the area for nearly two millenia. Corrine Whitlach of the Churches for Peace in the Middle East, notes:

U.S. Christians travel to the Holy Land as pilgrims and are a major segment of the tourism industry. They visit the holy sites but most have virtually no contact with Arab Christians themselves. Arab Christians hold strongly negative views of Christian Zionism, which is considered by some to be an instrument of Western colonialism and American imperialism. The zealous support given Israel’s claim of sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and the building of settlements in “Judea and Samaria” by these Western Christians angers both Christian and Muslim Palestinians. Some evangelical churches have supportive relationships with settlements.

Among Palestinians, there are the traditional churches – Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic – and the so-called “reform” churches established in the 19th century – Lutherans and Episcopalians or Anglicans. They work ecumenically through the Middle East Council of Churches. These Christians consider themselves, and are considered by the Muslims, to be an integral part of the Palestinian community, even though they are a minority of less than 2%.

From his Jerusalem office, Bishop Munib Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, has written that “Christian Zionism is the enemy of peace in the Middle East.” The Rev. Naim Ateek, director of Jerusalem’s Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theological Center, has called pre-millenialism a “heresy” and Christian Zionism a “menace.”

Just because they support Israel, doesn't mean these people are good. In my view, they hold views that are rather bigoted towards Arabs. They also will only make the crisis worse not better. Israelis rightly need security and need to not have to face daily rocket attacks or suicide bombers. However, the Palenstians need a place they can call their own. Both are important and negotiators from around the world have to work to hammer out a lasting peace that will honor both sides. The Christian Zionists are an anathema to any peace process.

The Christian Zionists also threaten our campaign against terror. People like bin Laden have used the Palestinian conflict as a recruitment tool to join his genocidal brand of Isalm. We need to find ways to "drain the swamp" and not give bin Laden and ilk a leg up.

Finally, I want to speak as a Christian pastor. The Jesus I worship is one who brought people together. He met people from all walks of life, Jewish, Samaritan and Roman. I don't see how once can merge an ideology that seems to be very narrow in its viewpoint with a God who loved the whole world and sent his Son to bring us all salvation. As a Christian, I believe God loves both the Jew and the Arab, the rabbi and the iman.

Mainstream Americans should not ally with these people. They are not interested in peace. No matter how you slice it, Christian Zionism is just another form of religious fundamentalism.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Paris (of the Middle East) Is Burning

Beirut's Southern Suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, after Israeli airstrikes. Courtesy the Washington Post.

As I see and hear of the devastation going on in Lebabnon these days, I am reminded of the late summer and early fall of 1982 when I was about 12. I was recuperating from a tonsilectomy and basically spent the day watching TV, especially CNN (yes, I was a news junkie way back then). The civil war in Lebanon filled the TV screens, especially the Israeli invasion. I remember seeing damaged buildings everywhere as this once beautiful seaside city was being pummulled from within and without.

Of course, the civil war ended in 1990 and Lebanon slowly tried to rebuild itself. Beirut once again became the "Paris of the Middle East" a cosmopolitian city, trying to put its past behind it.

And now it's all blown to hell. Literally.

As I've listened to the news and read all the blogs, several things have come to mind regarding the situation.

Criticism of Israel doesn't always equate anti-Semitism. Every time a dustup occurs in the Middle East someone somewhere, most likely in Europe, criticizes Israel and predictably, someone somewhere, most likely in the United States, accuses the critics of either aiding and abetting anti-Semitism or calling them bigots outright.

I find such name calling silly to say the least. One can criticize the government of Israel for an action and yet not be bigoted toward Jews. No government, especially a democracy like Israel, is above reproach. In the recent case, I think Israel was right in hitting Hezbollah after the group took two Israeli soliders, but it overstepped its bounds by then attacking civilian centers like Beirut and destroying Lebanon's civic infastructure. That shouldn't make me an appeaser to anti-Semitism. There is a lot I disagree with on the other side as well, that doesn't mean I'm anti-Arab or anti-Islamic.

Yes, there are some people who are downright haters of Jews and Israel and they should be condemned. But those who are cheerleaders for Israel (and to a lesser extent the Palestinians) need to stop painting all who have a contrary view with such a broad brush.

Israel's Unilateral Peace Process didn't work. Very seldom do bloggers say they made a mistake, but this one will. I tended to think that Israel's plan of pulling from Lebanon in 2000 and pulling out of Gaza last year was the best way to ensure peace in the current context. Many supporters who side with Israel are indignant that Hamas and Hezbollah still mess with Israel after they made these moves of peace. But the problem here is that these tactics were made just by one side. The Palenstinians were ignored in the process over Gaza which gave Hamas an opening. One news source I was reading noted that Israel pulled out of the Sinai two decades ago, and the baorder between Egypt and Israel remains secure. The reason? Because the two nations came to the table and hashed things out. In 2000 and 2005, Israel just pulled out expecting the other side to just be quiet. The only way peace can be achieved here is through hard fought diplomacy, not by just going it alone. The past week has taught me that Israel has to get back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians as well as other regional actors to make peace. Taking your marbles and refusing to play doesn't ensure that the rockets hitting Israeli cities like Haifa will stop. Which relates to the next thing I've learned:

The United States needs to go back to being an "honest broker" and acutally use diplomacy. This President seems to think that the way to solve things in the Middle East is through the barrel of a gun. Also, you don't talk to evil actors like Syria or even groups like Hamas. Can the military bring about peaceful solutions? Sometimes. I mean utterly defeating Germany and Japan in World War II did bring about a lasting peace. But the Middle East of 2006 isn't Europe and Aisa circa 1942. Diplomacy means that sometimes you have talk to people that you can't stand. Because the US has this "moralistic" foreign policy where we don't have anything to do with bad people, we have boxed ourselves in a corner and basically have nothing better to do than to watch. In the past, someone like a Herny KIssinger or James Baker would be flying to Damascus or Jerusalem and meet with leaders to get the two warring parties to stop. Now, I don't think James Baker had some kind of lovefest with the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, but Baker knew that al-Assad the elder was a power broker and you had to sometimes deal with a devil for the greater good.

We all know that Syria has pull with Hezbollah. So why isn't President Bush sending Condi Rice to Damascus and talking to Bashar al-Assad?

Elections alone don't make a democracy. The Bush Administration has made democracy promotion a main part of his Middle East policy. So, we have seen elections and Iraq and the Palestinian terroritories and to a lesser extent Lebanon. In all cases, the result have been relatively weak governments unable to perform basic services. When governments are weak, the you have terrorists like Hezbollah coming in and filling the void.

Maybe this is further proof that Bush isn't much of a conservative, but shouldn't he be trying to bolster institutions that make a democracy strong? What good does it do to see people vote for governments that can't secure people or get rid of terrorist organizations?

I need to make clear that I don't have a dog in this fight. While I am criticizing Israel, none of the actors have clean hands. The Palestinians and other Arab states also share the blame and that's why the United States need to be a broker and not taking one side.

I hope the warring can stop and I hope peace can surely come to the region. I don't have much hope with the current actors, but I do have a little hope.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stem Cells

You know, I've never written about this issue before. I guess there's a first for everything.

President Bush finally got out his veto pen today. After five years in office and saying yes to everything Congress sent to his desk, he decided to say "no" to a bill that would have allowed more research on embryonic stem cells.

While the President has made his far right base happy, you have to wonder what the implications will be for congressional Republicans this fall. With a majority of Americans approving stem cell research, and Americans already in a bad mood towards the Republican leadership, methinks the public will want to punish the President for his veto and sacrifice a few GOP legislators.

For me, this cuts both ways....sort of. You see, just this past week, I found out that my 80-something Aunt Nora was diagnosed with Alzhiemer's. So, this research might prove helpful to her and millions of others who are struggling with this disease. I am upset at those who don't say anything about the unused embryos until they might be considered for stem cell research. If they are so important, why don't they protest these embryos being stored and even thrown out after a time?

On the other side, I feel uncomfortable with those who see embryos as just a bunch of cells. Well, yes they are cells, but an embryo is potential life and should at least be treated with respect. Are they the moral equivalent of human being? No. If I have to choose between my Aunt Nora and an embryo, I would have to choose my aunt. This shouldn't mean that we treat the embryo as something of little value. Because of its potential, there has to be a certain amount of respect in how we use it. The long and the short of is, that an embryo is more than a toenail, but it ain't Aunt Nora either. In our rush to pursue this technology, we have to be careful that embryos don't become a commodity. I think the scientific community has done that and I also think that's why we need federal funding and oversight-to make sure that embryos aren't treated as something to be bought and sold.

Time will tell how the President and the Republican party will pay for today's veto. What I do wonder is what the President would say to my Aunt Nora and her children.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Israel vs. Lebanon: A personal view

I haven't said anything yet about the recent conflagration in the Mideast, though I probably will say something soon. In reading all the press acounts, radio reports, TV news, I get the sense that people look at this crisis with a sense of distance. We take sides and forget that in the middle of all this, there are people on both sides that are scared to death. Israelis and Lebonese are hiding in fear of being hit by bombs. Children are frieghtened.

Slate Magazine linked to this Lebonese blogger who shares a letter between an Israeli and his friend in Lebanon.

Read this and remember that while governments and terrorist groups fight amongst themselves. It is the PEOPLE that are being affected.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Rainbow of Bigotry or Lady Liberty Sings the Blues

Courtesy the New York Times.

Lady Liberty got an
"extreme makeover" by a Memphis megachurch. The attempt is another scary mixing of church and state. I could wax about the rise of the "Christianists" as Andrew Sullivan calls those who use religion for political ends, but I want to talk about the fact that the so-called Christianists are not as some would believe, a bunch of lilly-white nutcases. For example, World Overcomers Outreach Church, the folks behind this defiling of the Statue of Liberty is an African American congregation. The New York Times piece talks about the fact that the pastor, Alton R. Williams has taken out full pages ads condemning gay marriage. Indeed, if you look at their church website, you can sign a petition to support the Federal Marriage Amendment and you can call the church if you desire to "free" from homosexuality.

My observation is that many pro-gay people, especially on the left end of the spectrum, tend to ignore the fact that the anti-gay movement is not simply a bunch a white bigots singing a second verse of bigotry. Sometimes they say that anti-gay African Americans are duped by whites or that they are being used. The long and the short of it is this: 1)Blacks don't know any better; and 2) Because of our experience with racism, we are more sensitive to how gays are treated.

The fact is, blacks do know better. I grew up in the Black Church. I faced a lot of homophobia. I remember being teased in church. I remember hearing a pastor preach against gay marriage during a Christmas Eve Sermon. I also know that at my parent's church, the pastor (who was having an affair)objected to having a lesbian working with the church choir, even though the congregation loved her.

The fact is, African Americans are human beings. We are as capable as anyone else to love and hate people. The fact that we faced three centuries of discrimination doesn't necessarily mean that we are more loving towards others.

Maybe one of the biggest challenges right now is that the Black Church needs to face up to its own homophobia and the larger pro-gay forces need to stop prentending that we African Americans are the "noble savages" and realize that the anti-gay forces doesn't just include the likes of white preachers like James Dobson. Gay groups need to soundly condemn pastors like Apostle Williams as much as they do the Dobsons, Fawells and Robertsons of the world.

Hate can come in many colors.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day

Every Fourth of July, National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" does a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence with various reporters and hosts from NPR. It's always a good listen, so sit back and enjoy.

Have a good Fourth.