Recovering Evangelicalism – Seeking a Justice-based peace in the Middle East –

Archive for the ‘Evangelical Christianity’ Category

Why Only Israel?

A very good question, usually asked by supporters of Israel who want to know why Israel’s critics don’t also criticize other nations*.  So, yes; why only Israel? And I’d like an answer to the following:

  • When Bashar Assad is subjected to sanctions for dealing with an Islamic extremist invasion, why is Israel allowed to get away with the collective punishment of Palestinians contrary to international law?
  • Why is Israel allowed to attack people in Gaza with international impunity but when Gazan’s resist they are called ‘terrorists’ and subjected to sanctions and a blockade?
  • Why, when Israel carries out assassinations on other territory it goes without censure yet when it ‘appears’ that Russia assassinates someone in Britain ‘the West’ retaliates without waiting for conclusive evidence?
  • Why, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait was it OK to form an international force to kick him out while doing nothing to enforce international law over Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights?

‘You shall not bear false witness’   Not in my name, not in Jesus’ Name.

* They do!

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Walking the walk – Only the Brave?

http://meec.org.uk/walking-the-walk-only-the-brave/

My new post on website blog

Mistaken Identity

Well here it is, my new book. It feels odd writing that, as if it’s not the first. It is, available here in print and here on kindle – quite why they don’t show up in the same place I don’t know, but getting all the formatting details right has been an exercise in endurance. If you decide to buy it and read it comments and corrections will be appreciated.

What’s it about?

Much or the discussion about Israel has had as a background the notion that the Jews are ‘God’s Chosen People’. Given my experience in Israel-Palestine I wanted to explore the ‘chosen people’ idea without, as far as I could, preconceptions. I have tried, within my limited ability, to write the story of God’s people from the Bible, seeing how it links in to the kingdom good news that Jesus brings. It challenges the system of Christian Zionism, but also I believe challenges Christians to think seriously about our place and our mission in God’s world.

P.S. Sorry you have to pay for it; kindle-Amazon is a business, and the print version has to be printed, packaged and sent. In the unlikely event I become rich – we’ll have a party!  Be blessed.

The Ryle justification

Humility is essential when addressing one such as J.C. Ryle, first bishop of Liverpool and beacon of 19th century Anglican Evangelicalism, and I am sure there will be those who suggest that humility is not my strong point.

In his book ‘Are You Ready for the End of Time’ Ryle claims that Christians have taken literally the biblical condemnations – and applied them to the Jews – and taken spiritually the promises – and applied them to the church. There is a deal of truth in his warning, and much that he writes to which we should pay attention, even 150 years after he published. If he is correct in diagnosing a problem, he is wrong in identifying the treatment; seriously mistaken in his understanding of how the prophetic works. Ryle insists that, whether for the first or second advent, (and his direct concern is of the Second), our interpretation of prophecy must be literal and exact. If only scripture were that straightforward. As a beginning example, not of prophecy but of God’s direct word, we have the flood story. In Genesis chapter 6, to himself God says, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created, people together with animals…”. Then to Noah,

“I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth… I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy it from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.”

Sounds fairly straightforward, especially if we take it literally and exactly, ‘but Noah found favour in God’s sight’. Taken literally and exactly as Ryle wants involves a literal and exact contradiction. The problem isn’t God’s; it is Ryle’s, and ours. The ancient peoples of Israel would have understood. Here is a relatively simple example of how paradox is used to create tension in a story. God will destroy: God will destroy utterly: but grace is present, if faith can be found.

Ryle, in his book, demands that we speak to ‘the Jew’ as literally about the Second Coming as we do about Christ’s first; that we are as exact with Isaiah 11 as we are with Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 is clearly understood by Christians as referring to Jesus, see for example Acts 8: 26-39. Yet even here there is paradox. The one who was “despised and rejected by others”, the one who had “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” was so undesirable that – paradoxically to spell it out – he attracted hundreds to hear his words and feel his healing touch. Some even thought he might be Messiah. If there is paradox here then try reading Isaiah 53 in the context of chapters 48 onwards (noting, perhaps especially in this context, chapter 49 verses five and six).

Ryle wants his readers, including presumably those who promote the modern state of Israel by quoting him in their publicity, to pay as exact and literal attention to Isaiah 11 as to Isaiah 53. Let us see what happens when we do. The first problem is where to begin. The chapter and verse divisions so familiar to us are a relatively late development: chapter divisions from the 13th century and verses from the 16th. (Complicating matters, The Masoretic text, so I understand, is in some places divided differently).

We could begin for example in chapter 8 where is prophesied that the king of Assyria will take the spoil of Samaria’ and ‘Sweep on into Judah as a flood’ with the strange ascriptions ‘Immanu el’ ‘God is with us’. Exactitude here is problematic, for, whilst Assyria took Samaria, and, one presumes, it’s ‘spoil’, in 722 BC., it was another Empire and a different century before Judah was overtaken: by Babylon in the period 597 to 585 BC.  Does it need a ‘nod’ toward that ‘failed prophet’, Jonah, for us to understand that prophecy often foretells a future that will happen unless we change. The paradox, present from Moses onwards (read Deuteronomy) is that even when people change, as with, for example, Hezekiah, it won’t be sustained, see Manasseh (2 Chron. 29 & 33).

Moving on into chapter 9 we meet an early ‘fulfilment’ reference from Matthew’s Gospel ‘so that what has been spoken…’ (Matt 4: 13-17 referencing Isaiah 9:1-2). Chapter 9 has the verse, ‘For a child has been born for us …’ clearly: even exactly: a first Advent reference. That being said Chapter 10 verse 1 on could stand for the Israel of today,

‘Ah, you, who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice … what will you do on the day of punishment …?’

In the same chapter we read of ‘a remnant of Israel’, ‘a remnant of Jacob’ and we are told:

For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God will make a full end, as decreed in all the earth. Isa 10:22-23).

the text could indeed signify the second advent beginning as it does ‘on that day’ (v.20) but not without difficulty. If we are looking for literal exactitude we must ask when were the people of Israel even ‘like the sand of the sea’. Also, is ‘that day’ at verse 20 the same day as ‘that day’ at verse 27, a problem that extends into Chapter 11 at verses 10 and 11, and on into chapter 12 at verse one.

If these chapters speak exactly and only of the second Advent then Chapter 11, set in the middle of them, raises further problems for Bishop Ryle. Is the ‘shoot’ and ‘branch’ of verse 2 the same as the ‘root of Jesse’ at verse 10; and, if not, why, and what determines the difference? If verses 1 to 3 are clearly first advent where do we locate the subsequent verses? They seem to be both now, verse 5, but not yet, verse 6. For Bishop Ryle and those who use his writing in support of Israel, the modern nation state, problems multiply from verse 10. These verses, given as evidence for a Jewish pre-second-coming ‘restoration to their land’, are actually evidence to the contrary. Only ‘on that day’ will ‘the Lord… extend his hand… and assemble (them) from the four corners of the earth’. Taking this text literally and exactly, if it is ‘second Advent’, then the assembling of Israel and Judah takes place on that day and not before. (All of which raises important questions as to the meaning of ‘on that day’. Questions which cannot be dealt with here).

Another text put forward by Bishop Ryle, and used by Balfour ‘celebrationists’ as justifying belief in the restoration of Jews to their land before the second Advent, is Jeremiah 30: 10-11. Once again these verses, placed in their context, are far from straightforward, especially given Ryle’s insistence on a literal and exact understanding. Verse 11 for instance concludes, ‘… I will chastise you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished,’ which, when compared with the fate of ‘all the nations’ seems good until we read on into verses 12 and 13: ‘… Your hurt is incurable and your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you.’ This continues into verse 15, ‘why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great…’ . But, ‘for I will restore health to you…’ in verse 17. Could it not be more evident that we are in the realm of metaphor and paradox. However much we may desire helpful literalism, scripture denies us; there is work to be done.

Here, again we have ‘that day’ in verses 7 and 8 and ‘the days’ in verse 3. Whichever way we read these verses, if they refer to a nation of Jacob returning to Palestine that event must be post-second Advent. If the attempt is made to locate verse 8 in the events 1947-9, we are required to make a biblically unjustifiable separation from verse 9, ‘they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, who I will raise up for them’. In any case verse 8 depends on the action of ‘the Lord of hosts’, on that day’. There is a clear indication of an event that is Righteous, and completed with an identified individual about whom there can be no doubt, by contrast with a wholly human, and heavily unrighteous, series of events which began before 1948 and continue to this day.

Ryle’s use of Daniel chapter 12 verse 1, I find particularly odd. To be sure, Michael is identified as ‘the protector of your people’ but there is nothing here about restoration to the land. Taken as literally as possible ‘your people shall be delivered’ is not to land but to judgement. Christians believe that Jesus will return for the final judgement. Daniel writes ‘many shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ . There is nothing here to justify belief in the restoration of Jews to Palestine (on the assumption – unproven and unprovable – that Jews are the ethnic descendents of Jacob-Israel and sole inheritors of the land promises to Abraham and Jacob).

Evangelicals lacking courage

Fear of being called ‘antisemitic’, of being thought divisive, of losing influence or income? Are these some of the reasons few evangelical charismatic church leaders have had the courage to engage with Christian Zionism. (Odd, when we engage easily enough with the LGBT issue). Palestine has too easily been dismissed as a local difficulty with complicated history involving disputed texts and of little relevance to ‘our ministry and mission’. I have heard from ministers, “there’s no interest among my congregation” – as if that should be a defining factor – when I know people in their congregations who are interested.

Not relevant. When ‘extremist terrorism’ arrives on our doorstep and we demand instant explanations from politicians, the easy answer is, it’s a different religion or culture. It isn’t necessarily meant arrogantly, but that is what it is. Is religion in UK or USA or Germany or Denmark, one-dimensional?  “Those terrorists hate us”; a statement that ought logically to be followed by the question, “why?” and some attempt at rational analysis, is left hanging, as if it helps solve the problem.Obviously it doesn’t; and the logic is not actually that difficult, as long as we are prepared to look candidly at our history.

Cultures and religions have coexisted in relative peace and calm for centuries in many parts of the  world. Not that it has always been peaceful and calm, we know life is more comlicated. But, if people hate us —  and surprisingly few do — from where does the hate come? Extremism is not something cultured in a petrie dish that unhappily escaped due to some laxity in Frankenstein’s laboratory. It has a background, a history. People do not, usually, put themselves in harms way without good reason. In the last 100 years Britain and America sent hundreds of thousands of young men to fight, and many to die, motivated by a desire to defend their homes and a hope for freedom. It is lazy and arrogant thinking to assume that terrorism is fuelled by motives less powerful, even less pure, than our own.

Our Evangelical and Charismatic failure to attend to both history and theology in dealing with Christian Zionism; sometimes in a misguided attempt to avoid involvement in politics, (as if ); is the more sad from the perspective of our kingdom mission imperative because of the immense damage Zionism and its so-called ‘Christian’ parter has done and is doing to God’s world and God’s gospel.

Lord Have Mercy.

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.

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