Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Christian Zionism and American Evangelicalism"

Arminian Bible scholar Scot McKnight quoted a boilerplate attack on Israel by former Sojourners' editor, "journalist," and "social justice" activist Ryan Rodrick Beiler:

This, in turn, elicited two corrective comments from a reader:

Scot, I was on the tour (mentioned in the article) that visited Alex Awad in Bethlehem. One of the things that the article missed is that while many of the people in my group could agree with Alex on points of theology i.e.. Jesus fulfills the need for a sacrifice, etc. The nationalism that permeates much of the Palestinian Christian church turned a lot of people off. It is a complicated conflict, but if Christians are going to argue for a Palestinian state they need to do so on the basis of basic human rights. Unfortunately, those human rights are absent from the Palestinian Territories apart from anything Israel might be doing. The PA has promised that a future state would be based on Sharia. It regularly intimidates journalists who challenge the corruption within the leadership. The PA has also promised a future state would not permit Jews to live there. So it is difficult for me to see how one can argue about justice for a people that promises to be unjust to its own people. Please [be] more thoughtful. 
To your question, within the Palestinian Christian community there are several key groups. One group is the old churches like the Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran churches. This group is largely nationalist and very influenced by Palestinian Liberation Theology,ie "Palestinians are crucified every day..." type rhetoric. The second group would be the Evangelical churches that are evangelistic to a degree, but are reluctant to criticize the PA and are very anti-zionist. The third is the Evangelical churches that are overtly evangelistic and are not anti-Israel. There is a surprising number of these churches. The most famous among those of us that engage in this stuff is Bethlehem Baptist Church. As you might imagine those groups do not get along well. 
When my groups went to Bethlehem we met with leaders from the two Evangelical camps. It was a stark difference that my group picked up immediately. The anti-zionist Evangelicals spent a lot of time talking about their struggle with the occupation (which I accept is significant) while the evangelistic Evangelical church talked about his outreach to the community, the small groups and small businesses they were trying to assist. So the issue was less theological and more political. The less political the church, the more pressure they receive from their own side (if you are soft on Israel you are seen as a collaborator), but the gospel is changing hearts. By nationalism I am meaning that sense you get when the political seems to be the priority focus and the gospel is used as a political tool. 
I could go on... The situation is very complex and deserves more than all Christian Zionists are heretics and all Palestinians are terrorist type rhetoric. If you can avoid that stuff you will help greatly.

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