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Evangelical Christians come under attack as more move to oppose Israeli occupation

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on 16 Comments

On October 26, 2014, the Jerusalem Post carried an article entitled “Bethlehem Bible College – purveyor of anti-Israel propaganda” in their Christian News section. The Rev. Alex Awad, a Baptist minister who works both for Bethlehem Bible College and The United Methodist Church, was personally named as part of “a blatant attempt to demonize Israel.”   The article goes on to denounce a video the college produced on the bombing of Gaza.  Though not immediately apparent, the writer of the article is on the staff of “Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting,” a controversial US based pro-Israeli organization.

That the Jerusalem Post felt it necessary to publish this frontal attack on a well known Bible college is actually a good sign.

The mainstream Israeli press, and no doubt Israeli policy makers themselves, are now having to deal with the fact that unqualified support for Israel’s territorial expansion can no longer be assumed even among US Evangelical Christians. While it is certainly true that many of the most ardent supporters of the occupation are so-called Christian Zionists, there are growing numbers of theological conservatives, including some who might be included among the “Christian Right,” who are viewing the human rights situation in the Holy Land in a far different light.

Much of this change has to do with a greater variety of trips to the Holy Land, trips that include the West Bank and encounters with an indigenous Palestinian Christian community.  Tourists who in years past might have been limited to visiting Holy sites are now returning home with a sense of profound indignation at the way Palestinians have been treated. I am one such tourist myself; I’ve taken sides on this issue whereas before I was quite neutral.  I also know my experience is not unique.

There is also increasing opposition among Evangelicals to a Biblical understanding that gives modern day Israel the right to all of historic Palestine. According to Dr. Gary Burge of Wheaton College, such interpretations have trumped the teachings of Christ (PDF): “Christian Zionists believe in Jesus, but I wonder if they are always thinking like Christians in this matter. They have uncritically inherited the territorial world view of Judaism and wed this to prophetic predictions that are unsupportable.” Dr. Burge is one of a growing number of critics of Christian Zionism among moderate and conservative Evangelicals.

I’ve found in my own advocacy work that alliances with self identified conservative Christians are far easier to come by these days, and in Rev. Awad himself I hear one of the truly inspirational voices for our time. He advocates a Christian vision that “does not set any people above or over other people (but) rather expresses God’s unconditional love to both Jews and Gentiles.” At the same time he is indeed a strong critic of Israeli policies, and has spoken out for specific divestment from the occupation in many church settings.

Rev. Awad’s views and mission are being embraced by a growing number of younger Evangelicals, as has been pointed out in a recent article by Dr. Burge in “The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.” He writes, “… this younger generation is more troubled by injustice than they are inspired by prophecy. They want to devote their lives to the common good, and this includes direct participation in ethically troubling contexts such as Israel/Palestine.”

I would ask advocates for a just peace in Israel and Palestine to recognize the possibility of broadening their alliances to include Evangelical Christians, particularly those who are younger, and recognize this parallels other recent developments, such as the surge in awareness and activism by younger Jews in the US.  As to the concerns expressed in the Jerusalem Post, supporters of the status quo in Israel and the US should indeed be worried about this challenge to their narrative.

John Wagner
About John Wagner

John Wagner is a United Methodist minister and a founder of United Methodist Kairos Response.

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16 Responses

  1. Kay24
    November 7, 2014, 8:38 am

    The zionists have become the menacing secret society in the US, it threatens, intimidates, and twists arms, it issues warnings, and makes Americans, or even non Jewish groups, who dare to stand up to them, criticize them, or bring focus to their brutal crimes, and disgusting occupation, an example for others. Our Congress who have been bought by them, our media who dare not cover their crimes, or do not want to, are all part of this.
    It is time Americans stood up to this scourge, that is silencing all those who use our freedom of speech, by attacks and threats. We are not the land of the free while we allow these elements whose priority is to protect an alien nation, not ours, to operate within our shores.
    I hope these brave Christian churches tell these evil forces to go to hell.

  2. just
    November 7, 2014, 8:53 am

    Welcome news.

    It’s about time…

  3. piotr
    November 7, 2014, 10:59 am

    I would like to make “Appalachian comment” on the frequent Hasbara claim that was presented in the JP article linked here:

    One of the false accusations made against Israel employs oft-repeated Hamas propaganda that says Israel targeted civilians in Gaza. Even if one does not want to believe what the IDF website says about the multiple steps it takes to warn civilians in advance of a strike on a military target, statistics concerning the identity of the fatalities should be convincing.

    According to a July 14, 2014 article titled “Reporting of Casualties in Gaza” on the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America website, “fatalities are disproportionately among young males, which corresponds with the characteristics of combatants.” In addition, “only about 12 percent of the total fatalities are female, though females make up half the population.”

    Here, in Appalachian woods, the biggest annual event is the deer hunt. In my state there are about a million participants, and they kill several hundred thousand deer. There are several seasons for the hunting, and when there is a season to hunt males, the hunters kill very few females. According to the Hasbara logic, hunters act in self-defense, responding to deer aggression and making all steps to avoid innocent casualties. For example, all innocent individuals can learn when and were the hunts are conducted, perhaps years in advance! And if that were not sufficient, there are warning shot! (Very useful to figure out when not to hike even if you did not check the web site of Game Commission.)

  4. Boomer
    November 7, 2014, 11:25 am

    Rev. Wagner,

    Thanks for this report. Given the history of recent decades, it is hard to be hopeful, but still it is good to try to make things better. Thanks for making the effort.

  5. Donald
    November 7, 2014, 11:32 am

    “fatalities are disproportionately among young males, which corresponds with the characteristics of combatants”

    That was from a BBC article which was also picked up by Rudoren at the NYT. It’s based on one fact–about 1/3 of the dead were males in their 20’s, but they only correspond to 9 percent of the population (I’m citing from memory). But young males are the ones most likely to be outside during wartime and that’s true whether they are fighters or not. They could be outside to get supplies for their families or to do rescue work or even (as young men everywhere sometimes are a bit reckless) just to see what is happening. It’s possible a fair size chunk of the dead in that demographic were fighters, but that is entirely consistent with the vast majority of the dead being civilian.

    So the claim means nothing, but once made it becomes part of standard hasbara–you can probably expect to see this claim made from now until doomsday.

  6. JLewisDickerson
    November 7, 2014, 1:21 pm

    RE: “I would ask advocates for a just peace in Israel and Palestine to recognize the possibility of broadening their alliances to include Evangelical Christians, particularly those who are younger, and recognize this parallels other recent developments, such as the surge in awareness and activism by younger Jews in the US.” ~ John Wagner

    MY COMMENT: Amen! One of the most hopeful signs today is the growing number of theological conservatives (including some who might be included among the “Christian Right”) who are viewing the human rights situation in Israel/Palestine in a far different light from that of the “Christian Zionists”. I welcome their participation.

  7. MRW
    November 7, 2014, 4:54 pm

    this younger generation is more troubled by injustice than they are inspired by prophecy


    • pabelmont
      November 9, 2014, 12:04 pm

      I am not a Christian and so am a bit bemused. does the “prophesy” here arise from the New Testament and if so is it (said to be) written or inspired by God? And does it have anything to do with Christ? I can almost imagine a religion with two or more sets of independent and possibly antagonistic beliefs, one belief of which is the Christian teaching of Love (which might be supposed to embrace Human Rights concerns and peace concerns) and the other is a story about Rapture, End-Times, War of Armageddon, etc., which seem to be consistent — when interpreted as prophies for our times — as embracing anti-human-rights and war.

      Wikipedia tells us: The obscure and extravagant imagery has led to a wide variety of interpretations: historicist interpretations see in Revelation a broad view of history; preterist interpretations treat Revelation as mostly referring to the events of the apostolic era (1st century), or, at the latest, the fall of the Roman Empire; futurists believe that Revelation describes future events; and idealist or symbolic interpretations consider that Revelation does not refer to actual people or events, but is an allegory of the spiritual path and the ongoing struggle between good and evil.

      That is, if we are to believe The Great Wiki, the book of revelations has been interpreted in several ways, presumably by serious Christian scholars — and only one of these allows that it may be a prophecy for our times.

      This would seem to offer Christians of all beliefs a CHOICE and support for Israel in today’s world would not seem to be mandatory.

      • Mooser
        November 9, 2014, 12:38 pm

        “I can almost imagine a religion with two or more sets of independent and possibly antagonistic beliefs,”

        Almost? You might want to go the rest of the way.

      • lysias
        November 9, 2014, 5:54 pm

        I think Martin Luther was right in wanting to expel the Book of Revelation (what as a Catholic I grew up calling “the Apocalypse”) from the Scriptures.

        But, if you include it, I think it pretty clearly includes an attack on the non-Christian Jews of the time (“synagogue of Satan” and all that), even if recent scholars like Elaine Pagels want to interpret that language to be an attack on certain Christians whom the writer did not like.

      • bilal a
        bilal a
        November 10, 2014, 5:31 am

        quite the contrary, the Bible condemns non-universal ethics:, Christian and otherwise:

        Josephus [Against Apion, 2.14], represents one calling them “Atheists and Misanthropes, the dullest of barbarians”; and Tacitus [Histories, 5.5], “They have a hostile hatred of all other men.” However, the contrariety to all men here meant is, in that they “forbid us to speak to the Gentiles

        from 1 Thes 2:15

        who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and who have persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God. They are enemies of the whole human race

  8. Horizontal
    November 7, 2014, 9:54 pm

    It’s about time a Christian church started acting more Christian. May the awareness continue.

  9. hammersmith
    November 8, 2014, 1:28 am

    The Zionist hold on evangelical Christians is increasingly limited to the most ignorant and bigoted or their various sects, who, in an odd sort of way, have as much in common with Al-Qaida as with Zionist Jews, both being a despised by the mainstream.

  10. michelle
    November 9, 2014, 2:55 pm

    G-d Is Truth
    G-d Bless

  11. bilal a
    bilal a
    November 10, 2014, 5:21 am

    The Washington hostile elite is now threatening the national security and economic well being of its American host:

    Who Leaked the Obama-Khamenei Letter?
    How did the Israelis know?

    • just
      November 10, 2014, 8:50 am

      of course they are.

      it’s what they do. our “special relationship” is not only a danger to US national security, but also to the security of the world.

      Money, Money, Money.

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