Carl Medearis is described by CNN (the religion blog of which he contributes today) as “international expert in Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations and is author of the book Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism.” Unfortunately, he’s not writing about those things. Instead, he’s looking deep into the hearts of those who support Israel, and finding the evil therein:
This week at the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has promised to ask for recognition of a Palestinian state. If he does, the United States will veto. Why?
Largely because of something we’ll call Christian Zionism, an American theological movement that preaches a Christian obligation to help Jews reclaim the biblical Promised Land.
Um, no, that’s incorrect, but thanks for playing. The Obama administration is made up of people who wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room as “Christian Zionists” (the publicly prominent of which are almost all conservative Republicans with zero influence in the executive branch, where the decision about the veto was made).
As the Palestinians press ahead in their bid for statehood, prepare to hear from this crowd. These Christians number in the tens of millions and they go into a state of frenzy every time a politician so much as winks at the idea of Israel giving up a few settlements or withdrawing to pre-1967 borders.
They’ll tell you their concern has nothing to do with their particular interpretation of the Bible and everything to do with America and Israel’s national security interests.
Don’t believe a word of it.
When it comes to U.S. policy on Israel and the Middle East, Christian Zionism is the elephant in the room.
Christian Zionism may be the elephant inside Medearis’s head, but nowhere else. I know there are all kinds of people on the political left and some on the far right who are convinced that Israel and its demonic child AIPAC (the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee) runs America, that “Christian Zionists” (read: dispensationalists) are using Israel to try to bring about the end of the world, and that neocons are behind both, rubbing their hands together greedily like the Elders of Zion (of Protocols fame) and contemplating their imminent world takeover. (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes all this, too, speaking of the Protocols). Hey, I read Veterans Today, James Wall, Mondoweiss, etc.; believe me, I know my conspiracy theories. What neither Medearis nor any of the others ever demonstrate is that the “Christian Zionist” movement gets any hearing whatsoever in the current administration.
Television evangelists like Pat Robertson and John Hagee mobilize millions of Christians every year to write to their congressmen demanding that Israel be allowed to expand settlements indefinitely. They seem to oppose every peace deal that comes to the table.
There’s a reason for this. In their minds, the modern Israeli state is not only a fulfillment of biblical prophesy. In a bizarre twist that leaves most outsiders dumbfounded, Christian Zionists say the Bible predicts that Jews and Palestinians will forever be at war until Jesus returns.
Except for the “millions of Christians” who supposedly robotically write to Congress every year on orders from Robertson and Hagee (this is simply a fantasy; Congress doesn’t hear from millions of Americans of whatever religious background on any single issue in the course of a year), this is probably a fair statement of what many–maybe most–dispensationalists think about biblical prophecy and modern Israel, though some evidence might be nice. They are, of course, seriously misguided in trying to connect specific modern events and entities to biblical prophecy, and should be denounced for the effort at all times. It’s also a fair statement of what Robertson and Hagee think about Israeli settlements and potential peace agreements. I think they are misguided about these as well, though those are matters of prudential political judgment. But here’s the real point: what do Hagee and Robertson have to do with the U.S. veto at the United Nations?
When you hear some Christian politicians say, “The land belongs to Israel”, what they’re really saying is if America blesses Israel – that is, if it gives uncritical support to the Jewish state – God will bless America. If America curses Israel, God will curse America.
When it comes to Israel and her neighbors, many Christian Zionists believe that peacemaking is the devil’s work.
Note the pattern: extravagant charges that involve a certain amount of mind-reading about the intentions of those with whom Medearis disagrees, vague references to “some” and “many,” and a complete lack of evidence that anyone in particular believes what Medearis attributes to “Christian Zionists” as a whole.
One of the reasons Jesus was crucified was because of his refusal to embrace a nationalist agenda. But Christian Zionism blesses military action by the modern state of Israel, under the banner of “national security,” including the demolition of Palestinian homes to pave the way for new settlements.
One has to wonder what these two things have to do with one another. Are Israeli Jews supposed to refuse to defend themselves because Jesus was crucified? Does Israel forfeit the right of self-defense, and the right to be supported by Christians on just war grounds, because of Jesus’s refusal to become entangled in first century Jewish nationalism? I’m not suggesting that Christians should support Israel uncritically (on the matter of home demolitions, for instance, or settlements). But Medearis seems to be casting doubt on the validity of Israeli military operations per se, which would make it the only nation in the world where self-defense is not part of the government portfolio.
So how would Jesus vote this week if he had a seat at the U.N.?
Surely love, compassion, justice and peace-making would top his lists of concerns for all involved. Maybe he would give a new parable – the Parable of the Good Palestinian – offending all who would hear.
Ignore that last as a non sequitur. The rest might sound good–certainly Christians are called to live by the virtues of “love, compassion, justice and peace-making.” But Medearis seems to think that there’s a simple one-to-one relationship between those virtues as characteristics of Christian life, and the operations of international relations. Given that we live in a fallen, God-defying world where self-interest rules the ways of nations, that is just nonsense. It’s especially nonsensical to think of that in terms of the United Nations–you know, the people who run the Durban Conference on racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia, a forum for various totalitarians and authoritarian regimes to unleash their inner anti-Semite–or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which neither side can be said to operate according to Christian principles, nor should they be (what other country does?). My suspicion is that Jesus would, if asked, decline a seat at the U.N., and instead stand outside the building at Turtle Bay with a sign saying, “Repent!”
Rather than allowing obscure Old Testament promises to dictate our foreign policy, what if we stuck to the clear commands of God – love your neighbor, your enemy and the foreigner in your midst – which appear in Exodus, Leviticus and three of the four gospels.
I agree that Old Testament promises should have nothing to do with American foreign policy. I question, however, the theological basis for suggesting that the foreign policy of a secular republic that has multiple religions within its citizenry should be based on biblical ethical commands that are meant for individuals who are numbered among the people of God.
Many Christians in America think of Jews and Christians as “us” and anything that sounds Muslim or Arab as “the other.” But the call of Jesus is to be more loving towards the “other” than towards the people we think of as “us.”
This command works both ways. When I’ve had audiences with leaders in the Hezbollah or Hamas, I tell them the same thing: That Jesus said to love your enemies. Who are your enemies? Israel.
You’ve got to tip your hat to a guy with that kind of nerve. Why he thinks that Muslim terrorists who embody the principle that it is OK to hate (in fact, to kill) your enemies, who see themselves as carrying out the command of the Koran (Sura 5:33, 9:73, as well as many verses of the hadith) would care about the [mistranslated and interpolated] words of Jesus in the gospels, I have no idea. But it’s still got to take a very real kind of courage to speak that way to Hamas and Hezbollah.
It also has nothing to do with whether the Palestinians request for recognition as a state should be vetoed by the United States. But that can be said of much if not all of this column.