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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

I don’t get it

It will be obvious to my many readers, (or ‘my reader’), that there are many things I don’t understand. For instance, ‘eschatology’; lots of Christians today seem to think it’s a recent invention. “Hey Folks, Look Out, we’re in the Last Days; didn’t see that coming did you?”

But the NT writers  know about eschatology, including Paul if his answer to the Thessalonian Christians is anything to go by. But it’s also there in the gospels, “be ready” (Matt 25). So, then, if Paul wanted us to be ready for ‘the End Times’; and there’s lots of evidence he expected it soon; why don’t we hear him saying to the Jews, “hurry up and get back to Israel so Jesus can come back”. If the NT record is anything to go by the idea never crossed his mind. “Jesus is the Messiah, follow him”, time and again, but never, “haste ye back to Jerusalem”.

If having Jews back in the land of the holy one was that important we’d expect to see a mention of it in the writings of the Christian New Testament. But there’s not even a whisper of a hint. Get it?

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alt-Right -Richard Spencer

Richard Spencer, as reported in Ha’aretz, makes clear what has been evident to many of us for years, Zionism is racist nationalism. Uncomfortably, Israel’s nationalism is compromised by Jewry’s ethnic diversity; uncomfortable, not least, because of historic parallels. Israel invites Jews anywhere and everywhere to ‘come to Israel’, but they’d better be religious and orthodox at that. Spencer wants to protect white Americans. Black ones, many of whose families came under duress (polite way of not mentioning ‘slavery’) hundreds of years before Mr.Trump’s family, can go back where they came from. Not that that is always easy to work out – black people can be ‘mixed heritage’ too.  The parallels Spencer draws are not liked by Zionists, which doesn’t mean they aren’t accurate. Nationalism is nationalism whatever other label is attached: alt-Right (=white supremacist) for America, Zionist for Israel; I don’t know what term Mugabe uses for black Zimbabwean’s but I’m pretty sure he’s got one.

Spencer is probably happy to call himself a ‘white zionist’ as long as the real ones go to Israel and stay there. Nationalists can unite – as long as they do so at a distance. At the period in history when we are most inter-connected fear of ‘the Other’ causes many to look for simplistic solutions. Simple solutions are available; typically they are ones used by bullies. They are short-sighted and therefore short-term. We need wise people as leaders – where are they?

 

 

Herzl, Weizmann, Jews and Faith

Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann took a dim view of some of their fellow Jews; that is apparent from their writings.

Herzl and Weizmann may be regarded as key architects of Zionism, without them it may not have happened; would not have happened at the time and in the way it did. Herzl, in his writing and lobbying for ‘the Jewish State’ could be said to be substantially responsible for bringing form to a fairly vague hope. Even so, his ‘centre of gravity’ seems to have changed depending on which national leader he had been speaking to or was about to meet: the Kaiser, the Sultan, the French Prime Minister. Later, following Herzl’s early death,  it was Weizmann use of his wartime contacts with members of the British Cabinet who brought ‘the dream’ closer to reality with the declaration that has gone down in history associated with the name of Arthur Balfour.

There was much that Herzl and Weizmann disagreed about, but we don’t have to read between the lines to work out one area of agreement that ought to be quite worrying. Discounting ‘assimilated Jews’ who, for Weizmann at least, were either not ‘real Jews’ or were close to being traitrous, both seem to believe that Jews were incapable of living in harmony with any other group of people for any length of time. (In this regard it should be noted they seemed entirely ignorant of the experience of that body of Jewry that existed in the Middle East.)  Herzl was more upfront about this -in his diary he records that he and Max Nordau agreed that Jews were the cause of antisemitism, (this could, of course, be a circular argument), more background in my 100 day blog

Weizmann may have been more nuanced, recognising the contribution of such powerful advocates and financial supporters as Justice Brandeis in America and Samuel and Rothschild in Britain. Nevertheless it is there implicitly in his counter arguments to anti-zionist Jews who were concerned that Zionism put them in the position of ‘serving two masters’.  It is also there, almost explicitly, in the positions taken by successive Israeli governments, and especially in the language of Ben Netanyahu, who, following the Paris attacks, visited France and told the Jewish community in effect, ‘you can only be safe in Israel’. And the financial and political support given to Israel by Jews in Britain and America looks rather like ‘hedging their bets’.

Is there a theological perspective on this? One such might be the Ezra-Nehemiah-Haggai restoration ‘angle’, which is so anxious about assimilation that even talking to neighbours looks like treachery. Cooperation is impossible, and intermarriage is a cause for community remorse and penitence. Not much has changed in two-and-a-half thousand years. We are wise to notice that many of those neighbours would have had as good right to call themselves ‘Israelite’ as did the returnees.  But the message from the patriarchs was not so much ‘beware of foreigners’ as ‘beware those foreign gods’. Ancient Israel was not the only people to falter in making the distinction, it persists today. Israel’s ethnic mix is certain evidence that God is not concerned with ‘pure DNA’, (which we know today to be impossible).

The message to the patriarchs also contained indications often ignored, “and you shall spread abroad …” (Gen 28). Couple this with the covenanted expectation that, “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession … you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Ex 19), and we face an interesting and vital question: what could it, must it, mean to be a kingdom of priests? Word given to Jacob-Israel and to Moses must be taken seriously by God’s people; of any era. Surely a kingdom of priests is a mediating kingdom, since priests function as intermediaries between God and humankind. It is equally surely impossible to act as mediator whilst remaining utterly separated. The ‘separatedness’ of the Levitical priesthood did not cut them off from their fellow Israelites.

Jews, if they truly are inheritors of the promises to Abraham and Israel, must be dispersed, at least until their messiah comes. How can they fulfill this commission while they live in physical and spiritual ghettos. And a nationalistic ghetto can have no place in God’s ‘creation-economy’. This is an insurmountable problem for Zionism and its Christian manifestation. Not only do they misunderstand the prophets, not only do they, almost certainly unintentionally, sidestep the gospel; they fail to function according to the mandate to which they claim heritage. The genuinely religious Jews at least see the point and reject Zionism. They continue to wait for the Messiah who, for Christians, has already come.

The politically religious make selective use of the faith to justify a political outcome that suits their purpose; Jews are, or appear to be, safer. They have a point. Secular Jews make a claim, that logically should be rejected, based on a gift from a god in which they don’t believe.

The Christian Zionist claim is as disturbing as is Herzl’s belief that Jews are the cause of antisemitism. Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, Christian Zionists believe that the presence of large numbers of Jews outside Israel delays the ‘Second Coming’, a term that has to be qualified because many of them seem to believe that the 2nd will actually be a Third. It seems that God’s timetable is subject to the travel arrangements of several million Jews who show little inclination to leave their homes and jobs in Britain and America to go the Palestine.

Strangely, especially for the Christian version of Zionism, the Jews at the time of Jesus had no difficulty in accepting dispersion, although it took the leadership, the Rabbis, a hundred years to catch up. Once the early church, almost wholly Jewish, got into its stride, it accepted the challenge to ‘go’, and went and told the world the good news of Jesus.  That good news was of righteousness and justice for all, especially the poor, the weak, the powerless, and this was exactly the mandate given to Abraham and to Jacob. It was exactly as anticipated by Israel’s prophets, although previously poorly understood. If religious Jews want to build a temple, Christian Zionism wants to help them – so that it can be destroyed.

Have they not understood that the temple was Messiah, and that his body was destroyed on a cross and was rebuilt after three days, exactly as Jesus prophecied, (John 2:13-22, cp Mk 9;31). If the Jerusalem temple, modelled on the tabernacle, was a teaching aid to earth the faith of Israel in the certainty of God’s presence, so the new temple of Jesus Christ exists to earth His Spirit through His people throughout the whole earth as testimony to God’s Great Love. That temple cannot be destroyed.

Zionism thinks that Jews cannot live alongside others and survive. God said, ‘spread out, sing the songs of zion, teach the world’. Christian Zionism is equally out of step with God’s timetable and plan. It is a Macabbean response two millennia after the failure of the first attempt. It was mistaken then and more of a mistake today since the Messiah has come and shown us the different way, the ‘Way of The Lord’. Both Zionisms are redundant, worse, they are counter-productive and undermine the gospel.

Letter from a (desperate) friend

Only yesterday I received this. I’m posting it now in the hope that Christians in leadership in US and UK will see it. If you know someone(s) who is a church leader, please make them aware of this plea from sister and brother Christians.

You may find some of the phraseology strange; you may disagree with some of the sentiments. That’s OK: but, I urge you to listen to the authentic voice of our Middle Eastern Faith. Is the ‘story’ one-sided? Yes, but far less so than the one we usually hear. If you are familiar with my blog you will know that I check my sources. I’ve spent time both at the British Library and the National Archives, apart from the books I’ve bought. May I assure you that the actual story is far, far worse than anything you have heard in the mainsteam media. Please –  read with care, and, if you have questions, all you have to do is comment…

‘Open letter from the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine’ Open-letter-to-WCC-2017-final-NCCOP

Remembering 100

Why are centenaries so important?  Few remember what happened 100 years ago; some of us have difficulty recalling what we were doing 100 minutes ago, let alone 100 days or years. Even those who years exceed 100 were probably too young to notice much that was happening in 1917.  So, why remember?

For every family, community, people; memory is important. Our relationships are constructed from memories – good or bad. Whether as a family, a nation or a faith group it is memories that form our history and it is our shared history that binds each to the other. Most written history has been that which the rich and powerful wish to be remembered. The weak and powerless have been ‘dust’ swept aside to make space for the strong.

Ours may be the first generation in which the voice of ordinary people has been heard and, to a limited degree, noted. It’s only a limited degree. Children are still abused, enslaved to provide cheap goods, or trafficked as cheap bodies. Women in too many places, even in supposedly modern civilised nations, are still regarded as second-class, subservient, available playthings. And those with disabilities are praised for a month and ignored for 47, until the next Olympics.

So, why remember 1917; why would the UK government want to ‘celebrate’; why count down to November 2nd; why focus attention on a letter of fewer than 70 words?

Alongside the ‘good’ memories, the bad ones we remember most easily are those that hurt us most: when we are lied to, made promises that are broken, when we are treated ‘like dirt’. The letter from Alfred James Balfour to Lord Rothschild (the ‘Balfour Declaration’), dated 2nd November 1917 broke promises already made in secret to Sharif Hussein and to the French. (Subsequently further incompatible promises were made to the US and to the League of Nations).  Broken promises have a habit of coming back and hurting us. That is the case in the Middle East today. Ask why Britain and the US are not trusted by the nations of that region and you need look no further than the promise of democracy. One Hundred Years on from those broken promises, the only democracies we in the ‘moral West’ are prepared to tolerate are those who kow-tow to our commercial wishes. Whether in South America, Asia or the Orient, it is only acceptable if it fits our capitalist-militarist model.

So, Yes, I will be remembering, and I’ll be counting down to 2nd November; to the opportunities lost for peace with justice in Palestine and the Middle East. I will be mourning the moral failure of church and state in providing Zionism with a nation state at the expense of the people who were already there. I shall be sad at the ongoing persecution of a people whose only wrong-doing was to be at home, in the place where another, stronger and more violent people, wanted to be.

But, I shall also be celebrating. I will cheer for those Jews – some of whom I am privileged to count as friends – who stand up for the historic values of Judaism and who confront Zionism with passion and intellect. And I shall celebrate the Palestinian Church, the ‘Living Stones’, who refuse to be moved. I shall also hope. Hope that more and more Christians in UK and US will become aware of the evils that have been done in our name and in the name of our Lord, and who will stand up and speak out.

Balfour – a call to repent

100 years ago this coming November British Evangelical Christians helped to promote what would become one of the worst, but least recognised injustices in our imperial history. With the arrogance of power the leading statesmen of Britain allowed themselves to be seduced and pressured into agreeing that Palestine and the Palestinians would become subject to the desire of Zionist Jewry. Chaim Weizmann’s political pressure on those statesmen and the consequent letter from Robert Balfour to Lord Rothschild on 3rd November 1917 created the present catastrophe that is the Middle East. Aided by a little-known and recent theological invention, Jewish desires for safety and security – mainly aimed at the ‘new world’ of America – were diverted to the Zionist dream of a secular, socialist utopian nation state: for Jews.

No doubt that first paragraph will produce cries of ‘antisemitism’, but aside from those simpler attempts to limit freedom of analysis there will be some who say that the situation in the ME today cannot be blamed on Israel. Were that criticism to be qualified by the word ‘only’ I’d agree; but Israel, in the guise of Zionism, is where it began. Might Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia etc. be in a similar mess had Israel never come into existence? Possibly, but that kind of speculation solves nothing; we are where we are because of where we have come from.

Israel today bears significant responsibility for the divisions and violence in the region, and those Jews who have chosen to remain outside Israel but who offer political and economic shelter are equally culpable. Neither may we absolve Arab leaders who have consistently failed their people.

But it is evangelical Christianity that must stand in the dock, in the spotlight, under judgement. We have given credence to a theology cobbled together from ‘proof texts’ that ignores great chunks of the Bible and lent credibility to supposedly biblical claims that secular Zionism has manipulated for its colonialist agenda. Is there an  evangelical theologian who is willing to justify a ‘coming’ of Jesus before his ‘second coming’, (logically making it a third coming)? Is there an evangelical preacher who is prepared to support the creation of an oppressive nation state rather than living and preaching the kingdom of God? Sadly, the answer to that second question is ‘yes’.

Some people are saying our government (UK) should apologise for the Balfour Declaration. I understand, but I don’t agree. An apology would change nothing, it would be meaningless. What is needed, from church leaders, Christians, and the governments of UK and USA is repentance. We must ‘change direction’ – the meaning of the Greek word. The church is called to preach, teach and live the kingdom message of righteousness, justice and peace; just as were Abraham and Jacob. That requires us to cease unquestioning support for Israel, (as well as other unjust regimes in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan etc.) and to apply pressure to all parties to work together with people of goodwill in their communities to bring about the changes essential for peace. The sequence – righteousness – justice – peace, is correct, it can be no other way.

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