What the Evangelicals Give the Jews
- Many Jewish voters this November will find themselves at a crossroads: Will they accept their deep disappointment with Barack Obama and vote for his reelection, or will they overcome their own discomfort with Christian evangelicals and vote for the Republican candidate? The irrepressible argument about the appropriate relationship between the Jewish community and Christian conservatives has returned with a vengeance, forcing a fresh response to a fundamental question: Should Jews view our born-again fellow citizens as natural allies or inevitable adversaries?
Unfortunately, the familiar grounds of this debate rely for the most part on inaccurate assumptions and proceed inexorably to illogical conclusions.
Advocates of cooperation and coalition-building—call them Collaborationists—cite Christian evangelicals as an indispensable source of support for Israel, without whom U.S. policy in the Middle East could easily tilt toward the Palestinians and Arab nations more generally. According to the Collaborationist argument, Jews and evangelicals should ignore profound differences in their core values and put aside sharp disagreements on American domestic issues in order to make common cause against the existential threat of Islamofascism.
Meanwhile, skeptics who seek to maintain the traditional Jewish wariness toward fervent Christian believers—let’s designate them Rejectionists—insist that the ardent evangelical embrace of the Zionist project only encourages the most intransigent and fanatical elements in Israel, thereby undermining chances for a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. The doubters, moreover, question the theological sources of Christian Zionism, insisting that sunny proclamations of brotherhood actually mask dark intentions of mass conversion, married to apocalyptic visions that inevitably include the unappetizing prospect of large nuclear explosions in the vicinity of Jerusalem. As if that weren’t enough, Christian conservatives (or, in the preferred locution of their leftist critics, “the American Taliban”) stand accused by the Rejectionists of seeking to impose the sort of ruthless theocratic rule that would make life intolerable for all religious minorities.
The clashing narratives of both friends and foes of the tentative Jewish-evangelical alliance require considerable correction, or at least corrective context.
Collaborationists make their first mistake in assuming that conservative Christians’ support for Israel separates them significantly from their non-evangelical neighbors. David Frum examined public opinion surveys in 2000 and 2004 from the Annenberg Foundation, American National Election studies, and the National Jewish Democratic Council, and he found a “surprisingly small gap in the attitudes [toward Israel] of evangelical Christians as compared [with] other non-Jews.” His conclusion: “Yes, Evangelicals are a little more positive. But only a little.”
Given the overwhelming support for Israel by the public at large, that’s hardly surprising; in fact, Gallup’s most recent survey on the subject (February 2011) showed sympathy for the Jewish state at a “near record-high….All major U.S. population subgroups show greater sympathy for the Israelis than for the Palestinians.” The biggest differences in attitudes toward Israel involved political rather than religious orientation: 80 percent of Republicans backed Israel over the Palestinians, compared with 57 percent of both Democrats and Independents.
Wide-ranging American identification with Israel’s struggle against Islamist terrorism (notably more intense, according to the polls, since the terrorist attacks of September 11) works against Collaborationist claims that evangelical support is so indispensable that American Jews must subordinate their disagreements on core principles in order to maintain an alliance of necessity.
The much larger problem with this line of thought is that the supposedly fundamental splits on basic core values between Jews and Christians do not actually exist. In which areas, exactly, can committed Jews identify irreconcilable differences with serious Christians when it comes to most significant questions of morals, ethics, and righteous behavior? Does anyone suppose that our Baptist neighbors cherish the centrality of the family less passionately than we do, or display a weaker commitment to acts of compassion for the poor, or express a more feeble determination to repair a broken world in the tradition of tikkun olam? Anyone who honestly believes that born-again believers neglect their obligation to “love your neighbor as yourself” hasn’t visited their churches and schools and service organizations to witness the prodigious acts of loving kindness that sometimes put our communal efforts to shame. Aside from such impressionistic evidence, there’s a wealth of data in Arthur C. Brooks’s indispensable 2006 book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, which shows that evangelicals honor the great Jewish tradition of tzedakah at least as well as we do.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Christian conservatives share the common attitudes of the Upper West Side on explosive social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, or gun control, but it would be difficult to claim that those purportedly enlightened approaches are somehow inherently and authentically Jewish. Talmudic law may take a slightly less restrictive view of abortion (particularly when preserving the life of the mother) than do some of the more unbending Christian interpretations, but long-standing Jewish religious tradition still lines up with National Right to Life far more closely than it does with Planned Parenthood.
When it comes to same-sex marriage, leaders of Reform Judaism (and, increasingly, Conservative Judaism as well) may insist that conscience impels their support, but this ethical position derives from a contemporary liberal worldview more than any scriptural outlook that counts as Biblical or Rabbinic. Concerning gun rights, the majority of Jews (who reliably align with the Democratic Party) may believe there’s something disturbingly goyishe about the Second Amendment and the NRA, but our normally voluble sages were eerily silent over the centuries on defining an authentic Jewish position on private ownership of firearms.
Yet those sages most certainly spoke out on the dignity of commerce and the value of wealth creation. And that is worth remembering at a time when the free-market convictions of conservative Christians are likewise held to be in opposition to basic Jewish values. In point of fact, business ethics are one of the principal concerns of Jewish law from the Torah onward, shaping a culture known for millennia for its enterprise and industry in the marketplace.
This heritage may come as news to Jewish activists, graduate students, and museum curators, for whom the romance of ancient Jewish tradition almost exclusively involves bearded immigrant agitators, labor organizers, and embattled leftist intellectuals. But there is no denying that the history of Jewish radicalism in Europe and the United States played out over the course of only 250 years—a brief (if colorful) interlude in a historical panorama of honorable, unstoppable money-making that goes back at least 10 times as far.
In terms of the distinctly American experience, the role of socialist ideals and institutions has been vastly exaggerated in the popular imagination, obscuring the dominant impact of business on the rise of the Jewish population into the middle class (and beyond) within two generations of Ellis Island. Even in the heyday of leftist, Yiddish-speaking New York, Jews aspired to bourgeois respectability far more than they longed to establish an American Workers’ Paradise. In 1904, Eugene Debs ran as the Socialist Party candidate and drew an impressive 3 percent of the national popular vote, but he failed badly in his efforts to carry Jewish New York. In the famous Eighth Assembly District of the Lower East Side, Democrat Alton B. Parker crushed Socialist Debs by nearly 3 to 1, but the “all-American” Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, beat them both and easily swept the neighborhood. After World War II, the ability of millions of Jewish Americans to move to the suburbs (and, ultimately, to provide Ivy League educations for their kids) owed little to Marxist pamphleteers, union bosses, or New Deal bureaucrats and everything to the dynamism of small business.
The long-standing, undeniable connection between Jewish-American progress and the free-market system means that Jews in no way betray their own past by accepting (or, better yet, embracing) the pro-business attitudes of conservative Christians. Like the Puritans in both England and Massachusetts that they claim as inspiration, today’s evangelicals feel unembarrassed by making money and tend to see the process of getting rich as a sign of God’s blessing rather than proof of Satanic corruption. Many privileged, prosperous American Jews may never share the limited-government, free-market inclinations of evangelicals, but it’s absurd to view such attitudes as alien to the Jewish experience.
Contrary to the Collaborationist paradigm, working together for Israel won’t force Jews and Christian conservatives to set aside the values that keep them apart; it’s far more likely that making common cause for Israel will lead them to recognize the shared values that should bring them together.
For Rejectionists, any talk of such cooperation on behalf of Israel or other causes amounts to a betrayal of the very essence of Jewish identity—providing aid and comfort to a potentially lethal enemy of the pluralism that allows unpopular religious minorities to thrive in the United States. For a half century, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has been warning of evangelical efforts to “Christianize America”—as if the nation hadn’t already been thoroughly “Christianized” since its founding (by patriots almost entirely Christian)—and suggesting that emphasis on that proud religious heritage amounts to “defamation” of someone else. Alan Dershowitz, one of Israel’s most effective and impassioned defenders in public debate, wrote a 2007 book called Blasphemy: How the Religious Right Is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence. Note the possessive adjective “our” in the subtitle—as though the “religious right” represents some outside force attempting to swipe a treasure that belongs to us, and to which they hold no legitimate claim.
While accusing born-again Christians of stealing items of our national heritage, Rejectionists also charge them with supporting Israel for the most dangerous imaginable reason: a sense of religious imperative. This indictment rests upon the highly questionable assumption that allies who join your cause out of political calculation count as more reliable and honorable than those who defend your interests because they believe God commanded them to do so.
Nevertheless, skeptics explain their well-developed fear of Christian Zionism by citing the apocalyptic visions occasionally promoted by some of its leading advocates—prominent among them Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel, the most important Christian Zionist group. It’s only natural to feel uncomfortable with impassioned exhortations to speed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its Temple in order to hasten the imminent vaporization of Zion (and the rest of the world) as part of an especially gruesome series of end-times expectations.
But the Armageddon element has been vastly overplayed as an explanatory factor in the deep, broad evangelical support for Israel. In fact, American Christians endorsed Jewish return to the Holy Land long before the development of Theodor Herzl’s modern Zionist movement—or the birth of nuclear weapons. In his fascinating 2007 book Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present, Michael B. Oren (now Israel’s ambassador to the United States) sketches vivid portraits of Christian dreamers and doers who committed themselves to restoring the Jews to their ancestral home more than a century before the reborn Israel joined the family of nations. In 1844, Warder Cresson became America’s official consul in Jerusalem; he held the stalwart conviction that God had created the United States specifically to facilitate the restoration of a Jewish homeland and that the American eagle would “overshadow the land with its wings” in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
In the same year, an influential Biblical scholar and professor at New York University authored The Valley of Vision; or, the Dry Bones of Israel Revived. In that book, George Bush (a very distant relation to the two future presidents of that name) called for “elevating” the Jewish people “to a rank of honorable repute among the nations of the earth” through “the literal return of the Jews to the land of their fathers.” Bush, meanwhile, took a decidedly dim view of the many celebrated preachers and teachers among his Christian contemporaries who anticipated Christ’s “second coming” as imminent or predictable—he denounced their calculations as “one of the most baseless of all the extravaganzas of prophetic hallucination.”
For critics of evangelical involvement with Israel, the obsession with Biblical prophecy in any form counts as not only distasteful but dangerous, serving to encourage the most intransigent segments of the settler movement and other right-wing forces in the Israeli polity. Zev Chafets, who spent 33 years in politics and journalism in Jerusalem (including service as chief press spokesman for Prime Minister Menachem Begin) sets the record straight in his 2007 book A Match Made in Heaven. “The evangelical-Israeli alliance is not a pact between Christian and Israeli religious nuts,” he writes. “It is a well-established relationship between the leaders of evangelical American Christianity and mainstream Israel. Every prime minister since Begin has relied on the support of the Christian right.” Chafets goes on to point out that Ehud Barak, the last prime minister from the Labor Party, authorizes his name to appear as part of the faculty at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
One of the reasons for this close working relationship between evangelical activists and Israeli leaders of every stripe involves the key difference between Christian Zionists and their American Jewish counterparts: Christian conservatives feel no compulsion to tell Israelis how to run their country. Unlike leaders of major Jewish organizations, the born-again brigades provide the elected leaders of Israel with virtually unconditional support, even when they may harbor deep doubts about certain policies. In 2005, Ehud Olmert (then deputy prime minister) arranged an off-the-record meeting with skeptical leaders of the conservative Christian community in order to make the case for the then pending “disengagement” from Gaza. The participants not only provided a respectful reception for Olmert’s message but even suggested a kosher caterer for the extended meeting—a gesture that the visiting Israeli dismissed as unnecessary.
It’s not only the leadership class in Jerusalem that embraces the alliance with evangelicals but also ordinary citizens of all religious and political perspectives. “The dislike and contempt for evangelical Christians that is so integral to American Jewish cultural and political thinking is almost wholly absent in Israel,” writes Chafets. “The average Israeli—even the average anticlerical secular Israeli like me—appreciates evangelical support.”
American Rejectionists naturally respond that it’s easy for people in Tel Aviv to pocket tourist dollars and relish warm sentiments from Christian conservatives because they face scant personal jeopardy from evangelical schemes to impose rigid theocratic rule on the United States. To highlight the purported dangers facing the Jewish community and other non-Christians in America, alarmists (such as journalist Michelle Goldberg in her 2006 book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism) focus breathlessly on colorful, crackpot, fringe operations to suggest that their radical views characterize all or most of the nation’s 50 million evangelicals.
Fortunately, the hysteria over looming theocracy has receded significantly since George W. Bush went home to Texas. We hear far less today of bold, secularist Paul Reveres riding through the countryside to warn the populace, “The Christians are coming! The Christians are coming!” The obvious problem with the demonization of evangelicals is that their agenda involves no radical transformation of the long-standing status quo or any decisive break with American tradition. In high-profile battles over public expressions of religiosity, it’s almost always the antireligious who seek to eliminate some faith-friendly legacy from prior generations—removing Ten Commandments memorials from police stations, blocking student-led prayers before football games, or making sure that Christmas decorations give no hint as to the New Testament origins of the winter festival.
For those who fear the dreaded Christian right, the most legitimate nightmares involve a chilling return to the 1950s, with tough legal restrictions on abortion, nonsectarian prayers in public schools, universal acceptance of the death penalty, no government sponsorship for same-sex marriage, cultural disapproval of out-of-wedlock birth, and less graphic sex, violence, and language in popular entertainment. Twenty-first century sophisticates may shudder at the recollection of such horrors, but they hardly characterize an alien, dystopian dictatorship. Nothing in the mainstream evangelical agenda seeks to refashion America in a way that would make it unrecognizable to someone with memories (or knowledge) of pre-1960s society. If we accept the claim that Christian conservatives aim to impose an un-American theocracy, then that means accepting the idea that Dwight Eisenhower presided over an un-American theocracy.
The decades since Ike’s retirement certainly brought dramatic advancement for the cause of secularism, but it’s far less clear that all the changes served to advance the cause ofJudaism. The intermarriage rate, for instance, generally seen as a crucial indicator of communal coherence and vitality, skyrocketed from 10 percent a half century ago to a current estimate of half of all Jews who marry. In part, this reflects a welcome reduction in anti-Semitic attitudes; as the late Irving Kristol famously quipped: “The biggest problem with Christians used to be that they wanted to kill our children. Now it’s that they want to marry them.” But in addition to the decline of bigotry, the surge in intermarriage also stems from an increase in secularism in both the Jewish and Christian communities. Two unaffiliated, agnostic young people from contrasting religious backgrounds will be far more likely to commit their lives to each another than would, say, a Sabbath-observing, kosher-keeping modern Orthodox Jew and a church-going, Bible-studying, born-again Christian.
Religiously committed people on both sides are more apt to require conversion as a precondition of making a life together, which raises another visceral fear on the part of those who decry Judeo-evangelical cooperation: Christian conservatives will use any partnerships with Jewish organizations or individuals as a means to satisfy their “Great Commission” to win increased acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. For suspicious Jewish Americans, the apparent attraction that evangelicals feel toward Jews is actually the attraction of predator to prey. “Sure, they look at us fondly,” says one of my good friends, who lives in Manhattan and works on network TV. “The same way Michael Moore looks fondly at a cheeseburger.”
Oh? A fascinating 2009 paper by Tom W. Smith of the American Jewish Committee highlighted “Religious Switching Among American Jews” based on 26 surveys by the National Opinion Research Center between 1972 and 2006. The numbers showed that those identified as Jewish at birth were slightly more likely to remain Jewish than born Catholics were to remain Catholic (76.3 percent to 72.6 percent), and slightly less likely than born Protestants (80.8 percent) to keep their religious affiliation. But when it comes to the destination of the religious switchers leaving their faith community, Jews stood out, with the overwhelming majority of departures (59.6 percent) to the religious affiliation known as “none,” rather than to any other organized religion. Less than half of 1 percent of the Jews in the survey altered their religious identity to join a Protestant denomination commonly counted as “evangelical” (such as Southern Baptist).
What’s more, the “gains” to the Jewish population through conversion into the faith (9.1 percent) actually made up a bigger portion of the current community than the percentage of converts among either Protestants or Catholics. And although departing Jews shifted mostly to the unaffiliated/atheist/agnostic categories, the great bulk of those converting to Judaism came from one of the recognized Christian denominations (71.5 percent). In other words, Jews gain far more from Christians becoming Jews than we lose from Jews becoming Christians—with an especially insignificant loss to Christian evangelicals. The interaction with the unaffiliated or the disengaged—the 15 percent of contemporary Americans who affirm no religious commitment at all—shows an opposite impact on Jewish numbers, with losses to Jews four times greater than gains.
As these figures strongly suggest, rampaging secularism represents a far greater threat to Jewish identity than does intensifying Christianity. As Dov Fischer, a California rabbi, trenchantly observed some three decades ago, we have less to fear from “Jews for Jesus” than we do from “Jews for Nothing.”1 This means that Jewish leadership made a disastrously bad bet some 50 years ago when it aligned the community with ardent secularists and militant separationists in pushing for a less distinctively Christian America, as if moving the nation in that direction would facilitate greater Jewish pride and affirmation. The fatuous illogic of this approach becomes apparent at the end of every year with the public agonizing over the “December Dilemma.”
Most Jewish leaders seek two clearly contradictory goals—agitating for the treatment of Christmas as a purely secular celebration at the same time that they try to discourage their fellow Jews from abandoning their distinctive identity and embracing Christmas traditions. It’s far easier to install a Christmas tree (or “Hanukkah Bush”) in a Jewish home if that seasonal symbol has been denuded of all religious meaning. As a celebration of the Resurrection, Easter has been far harder to secularize than Christmas, so, not surprisingly, relatively few Jews feel impelled to give up their Passover seders in order to attend sunrise services or Easter egg hunts. In fact, no one worries over an “April dilemma,” because all serious Christians observe the inescapably religious commemorations of Holy Week and Easter, and even nonserious Jews find their way to festive meals with matzo, wine, and bitter herbs.
Contrary to popular belief, religious vitality isn’t a zero-sum game: A more vibrant and engaged Christian community in no way undermines Jewish commitment. By raising significant religious questions within the society at large, conservative Christians urge Americans of all ancestries and outlooks to conduct their own explorations. If your Jewish family lives in a community where the great majority of your neighbors attend church on Sunday, you are probably more—not less—likely to consider venturing into synagogue on Saturday. In his 2006 book A Jew Among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed, Mark Pinsky, religion reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, described how the Christian community he covered as a reporter led him to stronger identification with his own religious heritage. Even though he describes himself as a “Daily Show Democrat, voting for the furthest left candidate on the ballot,” he found that his interaction with deeply religious Christians (particularly the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ) led him to deeper involvement in his local Reform temple and to his wife’s conversion to Judaism after 24 years of marriage. “It’s made me a more committed Jew,” he told the New Jersey Jewish News.
If conservative Christians raise serious issues of faith and morality in the public square, and normalize activities such as communal worship and Bible study, they will strengthen rather than suppress the healthy impulse of unaffiliated Jews to reconnect with their own traditions. Vivid memories of church-based Jew hatred in Europe led too many American Jews to the mistaken assumption that we would benefit from a society that dismissed religious enthusiasm and in which faith in general played a less potent role. For Rejectionists, the continued commitment to this demonstrably dysfunctional assumption has produced the instinctive allergy to any alignment with evangelicals.
Nearly all Jews feel an urgent impulse to connect in some way with the values of our revered forebears, and for the assimilated and irreligious this instinct produces a powerful urge to reassert the two cherished family traditions that still remain: distrusting Christianity and voting Democratic. Both ancestral imperatives serve to make any cooperation with fervently religious Christians feel like the worst sort of apostasy. On the other hand, Jews who practice Judaism in some form can find better ways to honor their memories of Bubbe andZayde. In that sense, working with evangelicals facilitates greater Jewish religiosity, and greater religiosity facilitates comfortable collaboration with evangelicals.
Collaborationists who have put their ideas into practice universally suggest that associating with Christian conservatives has made them more Jewish, not less. In that context, it’s no longer necessary to promote the idea that Jewish Americans must overcome their horror at Christian influence for the sake of Israel’s security. The stronger argument insists that evangelical Christians deserve our friendship and cooperation because they aren’t just good for Israel; they’re good for America.
And even more unexpectedly, they’re good for American Jews.
Now some Evangelicals are turning away from Israel too
will the presbyterians side with the murderers, suicide bombers and terrorists?
Presbyterians Debate Anti-Israel Measures
July 8, 2010
Dear Friend of Israel,
The Presbyterian Church (USA) -- one of the “mainline” Protestant denominations that used to make up the religious establishment in this country -- is once again embroiled in controversy for its stance on Israel. In the past, the denomination was at the forefront of the anti-Israel divestment movement. At its biennial General Assembly the group has considered an array of resolutions and statements harshly critical of Israel.
As I write this, the PCUSA is again holding its General Assembly, and is again considering adopting controversial statements against Israel. On the agenda this year is a report titled “Breaking Down the Walls” by the church’s Middle East Study Committee (MESC). Critics have lambasted the report for legitimizing doubts about Israel’s right to exist, for endorsing a notorious document authored by virulently anti-Israel Palestinian leaders , and for calling on both Iran and Israel to “refrain from nuclear arms proliferation” -- as if peaceful, democratic Israel and bellicose, authoritarian, Israel-hating Iran pose a similar threat to the Middle East.
But the tide may be turning against the anti-Israel faction in the PCUSA. It is significant and heartening to note that more and more people, including Presbyterians, are speaking out against the MESC report. One pastoral letter signed by a number of prominent Presbyterians called the report “unbalanced, historically inaccurate, theologically flawed, and politically damaging.” Guastav Niebuhr, a prominent religion writer and great-nephew of Reinhold Niebuhr, perhaps the preeminent Protestant theologian of the 20th century, said in a blog post co-written with Katharine Henderson that the report “strays from this path to peace-building and instead deals in neatly-assigned roles Israel as oppressor, Palestinians as victims.”
Still, the fact that such resolutions are even considered for approval at all is a sign that the anti-Israel sentiment in mainline Protestant denominations like the PCUSA runs deep. Despite their lessening influence, the decisions made by these denominations do have an effect on public opinion, and can help influence policy. That is why we must continue to hope and pray that their influence diminishes and that the influence of the majority of Christians who love and support Israel continues to rise.
The PCUSA likely won’t make a decision on “Breaking Down the Walls” until their General Assembly ends later this week. But there is much you can do as this denominational debate continues. First, you can stay abreast of these developments on our Stand for Israel blog. If you are a member of a PCUSA congregation, ask your pastor to speak out against this anti-Israel document. Voice your support for Israel in the political realm. And, of course, pray that the world will come to a truer understanding of the dynamics in the Middle East and stand united in support of God’s chosen people.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Letter to the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Middle East Study Committee's "Breaking Down the Walls"
WRITTEN BY CCJR AD HOC COMMITTEE
JUNE 29, 2010
On June 29, 2010 the following letter was approved by supermajority vote of regular members as an official communication of the CCJR concerning a proposal before the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
“Breaking Down the Walls: Report of the Middle East Study Committee to the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)”
Primary authors, Adam Gregerman and Christopher Leighton,
Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies, Baltimore, MD
The Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations, a network of academic and educational organizations that promotes mutual understanding between Jews and Christians, recently assembled a scholarly subcommittee of members to examine the new report, “Breaking Down the Walls,” by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Middle East Study Committee. The MESC report’s authors state that their purpose for writing is to offer “priestly, prophetic, and pastoral” perspectives on conflicts in the Middle East, above all the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (p. 1). It will be voted on at the Church’s General Assembly in July in Minneapolis.
Because of the report’s extensive discussions of religious texts and topics relevant to relations between Jews and Christians, the CCJR has decided to offer a response. This report has already prompted statements from numerous Jewish and Presbyterian groups. While most have dealt primarily with historical and political issues, we focus largely on the theological and exegetical issues that are raised in the report, especially as they relate to trends in Jewish-Christian relations. We also recognize the diversity of views among CCJR members regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and do not evaluate the policy recommendations and historical sections in the report.
Like the authors, we urgently hope to see a speedy and peaceful resolution of this conflict. We express our deep concern for the many on all sides who are suffering. It is appropriate for our religious communities to encourage peacemaking efforts, including constructive engagement by the American government. Neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian leadership is immune from criticism. Likewise, we expect that foreign organizations and governments, including our own, as well as religious groups will play a responsible role. In particular, we view with dismay interventions by outsiders to ratchet up hostility and violence for their own religious or political ends.
However, we offer a critical evaluation of the MESC report, and identify serious theological and exegetical problems. These include imbalanced or unreliable analyses of religious themes, highly questionable interpretations of biblical passages, and statements reminiscent of traditional Christian anti-Judaism. We believe that this report will harm interfaith relations in the United States and the Middle East, and undermine the prospects for effective negotiations and positive outcomes for all parties.
We have chosen to highlight selected issues that we found especially troubling:
The report’s biblically-based critique of the political decisions of the State of Israel reflects problematic hermeneutical assumptions.
First, without explanation, the report assumes that biblical passages addressed to ancient Israel can be applied to the modern State of Israel. This is evident in the extensive focus on passages under headings such as “Zion” and “Covenant and Land,” chosen for their perceived usefulness in supporting criticism of the political policies of modern Israel (pp. 11, 14-23). However, this is a simplistic and selective analogy between the ancient Israelites and modern Israelis. It ignores the complex issues involved in reapplying millennia-old statements, whether denunciations or affirmations, to later generations of Jews in very different circumstances. We caution against any attempt, by the Presbyterian Church or by other religious groups, to offer a theological evaluation—positive or negative—of the policies of the modern State of Israel through analogy with biblical Israel. The report’s approach is reminiscent of a traditional Christian anti-Jewish perspective, now widely rejected by Western churches, of viewing contemporary Jews as modern versions of biblical Jews, against whom one can reapply biblical critiques of injustice and unfaithfulness. It differs only in its politics from the problematic approach of Christian Zionists and others who reapply biblical promises and affirmations to the modern State of Israel.
Second, also without explanation, the report presents a biblical concept of justice as the dominant theological principle by which to analyze the policies of the State of Israel (pp. 11-27; cf. pp. 38; 59ff.). It is true that justice, though interpreted in diverse ways, is an important biblical and religious value. Nonetheless, the report overlooks or subordinates other, equally relevant theological concepts to justice, which it then uses in a strictly circumscribed fashion. It almost entirely appeals to justice in order to derive a few standards of behavior that can then be applied to modern Jews (but not Palestinians), subsumed under the heading of “[treatment of] others different from ourselves” (p. 13). Again, this approach, emphasizing not only this one principle but just a few specific standards, is highly selective and even biased. What is clear is that it reflects the report’s intention to demonstrate Jews’ failures to fulfill their “covenant responsibilities” because of the actions of the Israeli government (p. 23).
The report is theologically inconsistent. As noted, it often links ancient Israel with the State of Israel in order to reapply biblical critiques to modern Jews. However, without any discussion or exegesis, the report refuses to explore theologically the modern Jewish experience of a (partial) end of exile and the creation of the State. These, the report asserts, should be seen entirely in secular terms and not “validated theologically” as reflections of God’s will (p. 22). Yet this results in a serious tension, and perhaps contradiction in the report. It is logically inconsistent to then criticize the State of Israel for not fulfilling its covenantal (i.e., theological) responsibilities. While denying that the creation of the State reflects divine intentions or is the fulfillment of God’s biblical promises to the Jews, the report insists that actions of the modern State will lead God to punish the Jews (pp. 15, 18). That is, the report implies that God’s involvement in Jewish history is strictly punitive. This furnishes another example of the unacceptability of any theology that simplistically links biblical and contemporary contexts.
A similar inconsistency is found in the report’s almost exclusive emphasis on biblical passages containing divine threats against the Jews, to the exclusion of passages that contain divine promises. For example, the report omits or dramatically de-emphasizes texts that refer to God’s promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants. It says Presbyterians believe “that the ‘land-grant’ to Abraham’s offspring described in Genesis is not so much a matter of ‘rights’ as it is a matter of ‘responsibilities’” (p. 18). Without explanation or interpretation, the report simply endorses this one-sided perspective on a complex biblical tradition, elevating threat above promise. It also misreads key passages to derive sharply critical meanings for modern Jews. For example, the citations of passages supposedly illustrating God’s warnings to Jews “about the potential loss of the promises [of the land] through deeds of injustice” misrepresent what the texts actually declare (p. 18, referring to Genesis 18:19; Leviticus 25:23-24, 38).
The report expresses disappointment that the creation of the State of Israel did not fulfill biblical hopes for the “dawn of an age of peace.” It sets the Bible’s eschatological dreams over and against Israel and the Jewish people. The creation of Israel, the report says, did not lead “other peoples and nations to worship and study the teachings of the one true God.” Likewise, though Jews benefited from the creation, “the longed-for age of peace and reconciliation has yet to come” to all humanity. This unrealistic comparison implies a unique clash between the State of Israel and God’s will for all humanity that would actually be true of any nation. It also recalls past accusations of Jewish false messianism and ethnocentrism (pp. 16-17).
The report implies a linkage between the ancient Israelites’ brutal “holy war” in Canaan and contemporary Israeli policies. Its denunciation of Joshua’s fulfillment of the “land promise” through “land violence” serves as a parallel to Israel’s actions, which it sees, like Joshua’s, as leading to “the displacement of the others who have long lived there.” However, this reference to Joshua’s genocidal slaughter (itself of questionable historicity) is a strikingly disproportionate comparison. Furthermore, this linkage suggests that modern Jews, while more often criticized for their disobedience to God (e.g., p. 37), are yet faithful to the most deadly and immoral aspects of the biblical tradition (p. 19).
While the authors reinterpret and sometimes reject biblical texts that might offer support to Israeli policies or the existence of the State, they consistently omit any discussion of whether Israeli or American Jews themselves rely on such texts or traditions. The report’s perspective on the political use of the Bible is largely unrelated to Jewish views on any of these complex topics. One would not know from the report that few Jews adopt such an exclusively theological view of the policies and existence of the State of Israel.
The report reveals a bias against Jews and Judaism, and is reinforced by supersessionist themes.
The report implies that the current plight of the Palestinians is fundamentally the result of Israel’s misdeeds, and specifically of Israelis’ unfaithfulness to the requirements of the Jewish religious tradition (p. 37-38). It does not subject any of the other parties in the region to a similar theological critique out of their own religious sources.
While it is appropriate for Presbyterians to rely upon Christian scripture in developing their own views, the report also cites New Testament passages when making demands upon Jews and Muslims. For example, the report suggests that the best model for reconciliation in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is “Christ’s death [which has] broken down the dividing wall of hostility between any two peoples” (p. 24, referring to Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 2:14). The report superimposes a Christological model that is either alien or irrelevant to Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians.
Similarly insensitive is the choice of the title of the report, taken from this same verse in Ephesians. It hints at the report’s critique of Israel’s Separation Wall / Fence. However, it also recalls the New Testament author’s advocacy of the abrogation of the Torah because it divided Jews and Gentiles. For a report largely focusing on the policies of the State of Israel and partly addressed to Jews, the choice of this title and verse suggests a broader critique of Judaism generally.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) deserves credit for past efforts to improve Jewish-Christians relations. However, the MESC report, if approved in its present form, will not make a positive contribution. It fails to meet the Church’s own high aspirations to “establish a new basis of trust and communication with Jews” and never to countenance the “denigration of Jews or the belittling of Judaism” (see “A Theological Understanding of the Relationship between Christians and Jews” at http://www.pcusa.org/oga/publications/christians-jews.pdf). We believe this report threatens to unravel a vital web of relationships, even as we respect and affirm its concern for the Church’s relationship with Palestinian Christians in their context and its urgent concern for peace. We are disappointed that it fails to offer a theologically responsible and coherent approach to an enormously complex issue and distorts the biblical witness in profound ways.
We offer these comments in a spirit of collegiality and a shared commitment to peacemaking and interfaith harmony. We want to repeat our genuine concern over the plight of the most vulnerable persons, caught up in protracted turmoil over which they have little control. We believe that Christians, Jews, and Muslims together should call upon all those with political responsibility and influence to work urgently to remedy the present intolerable situation.
We respectfully ask the General Assembly to consider our response in light of the serious concerns raised above before voting on the report.
The Ad Hoc CCJR Committee on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Middle East Study Committee Report
Dr. Adam Gregerman
Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies, Baltimore, MD
Rev. Dr. Christopher Leighton
Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies, Baltimore, MD
Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski
Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL
Rev. Dr. Peter A. Pettit
Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA
Dr. Ronald A. Simkins
Creighton University, Omaha, NE
As you have heard, when the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian
Church (USA) convenes on Friday, the report of their Middle East Study
Committee "Breaking Down the Walls" will be voted on.
I believe that it is critical that Jews follow this issue because the
report is both anti-Judaism and anti-Israel in very disturbing ways. If
this passes, as may well be the case, it will be a serious step backward for
Christian-Jewish relations both in this country and around the world. There
has been a strong response today from the Council of Centers of
Christian-Jewish Relations [CCJR].
You can access the release here:
and the full text of the letter of response at ³click here² at the
middle of that page.
The 100+ page Presbyterian report is also linked there.
One of those involved in drafting the letter of response is Dr. Adam
Gregerman, who is the Jewish Scholar at the Institute for Christian and
Jewish Studies in Baltimore and my son-in-law.
There is unfortunately a good deal of material here for sermons,
bulletin articles, and responses in the Jewish and general press.
British Methodist Report on Israel - Simon Rocker (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
Jewish leaders have condemned a "skewed" report on Israel prepared by the Methodist Church, warning it could set back interfaith relations for years.
The report, to be debated at the church's national conference later this month, calls for a boycott of goods from "illegal" West Bank settlements, and political lobbying to end Israel's occupation and the "siege of Gaza."
Over the past few days, Jewish organizations in London and Manchester have protested about its contents in meetings with Methodist representatives.
Presbyterians push to demonize Israel
By D. BLOOMFIELD
Church's report unconvincing in support of Israel.
You probably don’t remember but before June 1967 there was peace in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. There were no fedayeen, no terror attacks, no PLO. Only after it was “colonized in the 20th century” by Jewish immigrants from Europe who took “the land of Palestine from a majority of its inhabitants at gunpoint” did things go sour.
First came the Nakba, the catastrophe that was the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, followed 19 years later by the “illegal” occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
That’s the view the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) will be asked to endorse next month when it meets in Minneapolis to consider a report by its Middle East study committee.
Peace could again prevail over the land if the Israelis would only withdraw from all the lands occupied in 1967. To that end, the report calls for the US to halt all military and economic assistance for Israel.
“If there were no occupation, there would be no Palestinian resistance,” says the report.
The Israeli occupation is “the major obstacle to regional stability” and is “an evil that must be resisted and removed.” The authors show they understand “resistance” is a euphemism for terrorism, but say it is the Israelis’ own fault for inflicting so much suffering on the Palestinians.
“Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian.”
IT WOULD be too easy to dismiss such unreality as terminal naïveté, but there is something much more poisonous here.
The 172-page PCUSA report says the “primary” cause of the Middle East conflict is “the ongoing Israeli occupation...
and American complicity in this unjust enterprise.”
You can read it at http://www.pcusa.org/middleeastpeace/ pdf/middleeastpeace- fullreport.pdf. It also includes a lengthy Kairos Palestine document, by an affiliated group of Christian Palestinians, that further pushes the demonization and delegitimization of Israel.
Taken together, the contempt for Israel is so blinding that it not only justifies Palestinian terror against the Jewish state but is little bothered by the avowed goal of Hamas and Hizbullah, like their Iranian mentors, to wipe Israel off the map.
But that may be because the authors question whether Israel should be on the map in the first place. The report insists “we support the existence of Israel,” but that is unconvincing in the context of the entire document.
This document ignores Arab refusal to recognize the Jewish state, the attempts to destroy it at birth and the threats to drive it into the sea. It was the Jews’ own fault for being there in the first place. The report reaches back to biblical times to delegitimize Jewish claims to the land. Jacob, aka Israel, stole the birthright from his brother Esau and refused later entreaties to combine their interests and dwell in the land together.
(Proof those Jews can’t get along with anyone.) It denies that the Jews have “rights” to the land as Abraham’s descendants, only “responsibilities... for what is being done in and with it.”
Abraham’s covenant applies equally to Jews and Christians.
The ancient Hebrews under Joshua took the land illegally from the Canaanites by “holy war.” In a very revealing footnote (p. 21), it says: “The phrase ‘the right of Israel to exist’ is a source of pain” for authors of the report, “who are in solidarity with Palestinians who feel that the State of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights.”
While questioning Israel’s Law of Return for Jews, it insists there must be a “right of return or compensation” for Palestinians “to Palestine- Israel.”
National Jewish organizations, which the report accuses of “complicity in the excesses of Israeli policy,” have unders t a n d a b l y denounced the document.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has said it is “distinctly onesided, traffics in troubling theology, misr e p r e s e n t s Jewish history.”
ADL has called it a “toxic mix of bad history, p o l i t i c a l l y motivated distortions and o f f e n s i v e attacks on Judaism and Israel.” The Jewish Council of Public Affairs has called it “blatantly anti-Israel and reduces the Arab-Israeli- Palestinian conflict to a caricature of right and wrong.”
“It’s a highly-selective use of text, history and circumstances to form an anti-Israel narrative,” said JCPA’s Ethan Felson. “They give significant voice to anti-Zionists, condemn companies that sell to Israel and allow for the demonization of Israel. That’s several red lines.”
AT ITS 2004 meeting PCUSA voted for divestment from Israel but was forced to back down two years later when many members objected, but this latest report leaves little doubt its authors endorse the policy. The group promised to take a more balanced approach but so far there the evidence points in the opposite direction.
Next month’s PCUSA meeting in Minneapolis has an opportunity to reject the anti- Israel, anti-Jewish excesses of its study committee or to inflict further damage on the church’s relations with the Jewish community.
“The church has a choice to make,” Felson added. “There is much valid witness for Palestinians that does not call into question the church’s integrity or endanger its relationship with Jews, or they can choose this brand of witness with all its toxicity.”
The Presbyterians say their goal is peace, but their heavily biased assessment can only make peace harder to attain by reinforcing the growing skepticism by an Israeli public that sees delegitimization, not a twostate agreement, as the goal of the Palestinians and their supporters – and give fuel to those Palestinians who believe the time is coming when the world will force Israel to, in the immortal words of Helen Thomas, “get the hell out of Palestine.”
The gist of the horrible Presbyterians
To distill this extensive document down to its essence, in one language or
another you have to read carefully, this is what it says:
1. That Israel is a delegitimate entity that neither the League of Nations
nor the United Nations had the right to create.
2. That Israel was only created because of the Holocaust and the Arab
Palestinians are paying for it.
3. That tracing our roots to the land throughout the Bible and the course o=
Jewish history is worthless. We have no claim to *any part of the land of
4. Nevertheless, with a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, Israel should
behave according to it. *No one else has to act that way!*
5. That the *true and rightful* inhabitants of *Palestine* are the Arabs.
6. That it is the fault of the Jews for *all* the violence that has
7. That the occupation of the *all* areas since the Six Day War is a sin
8. That the United States should completely reverse its support for the
State of Israel by withholding financial and political aid until Israel
complies with resolutions from the United Nations, no matter how one-sided,
anti-Semitic, racist and suicidal they will be.
9. That companies should follow *BDS boycott, divest and
10. That the conditions in Gaza are all Israel's fault.
11. That terrorism *against Israeli civilians *is legitimate.
12. That the problems of Christian Arabs, of which there are many, are
PLEASE Presbyterians. go to this site and watch and read
Friday, February 26, 2010
moral bottom of Presbyterian church
Presbyterians Usher in the Jewish Holiday of PurimDivestment and the War Against the Jews, Part 2010.
The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA) is about to release a report which denounces Israel as a “racist” nation which has absolutely no historical, covenantal, or theological right to the Holy Land. The report calls for the United States to withhold financial and military aid to Israel and for boycotts and sanctions against Israel. That’s not all. The report also endorses a Palestinian “right of return” and “apologizes to Palestinians for even conceding that Israel has a right to exist.” According to the press release, it also states that Israel’s history begins only with the Holocaust and that Israel is “a nation mistakenly created by Western powers at the expense of the Palestinian people to solve the ‘Jewish problem’.”
In addition, PCUSA has also resolved to divest in companies that supply military equipment to the American Army, e.g. Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, etc.
In 2004, this Church became the first mainline Protestant denomination in America to “approve a policy of divestment from Israel.” This was rescinded, but in 2008 the Church “created a committee dominated by seven activists holding strong anti-Israel beliefs. The lone member sympathetic to Israel, quit in protest when he saw their radical agenda.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center notes that 46 members of the US Congress and Senate are Presbyterians and fears potentially “significant repercussions in the political domain” as well as a negative “impact on interfaith relations.” They urge us all to protest directly to the top leadership of the PCUSA “to stop this dangerous campaign which denies the legitimacy and security of Israel,” and to “reach out to your Presbyterian friends.”
Posted by truth seeker at 9:43 AM 0 comments
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Presnbyterian Church again on the attach vs Israel
hursday, February 25, 2010
Presbyterian Church's again blames wrong party
February 23, 2010
A statement from the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) regarding the work of the General Assembly Middle East Study Team.
A human rights organization within the Jewish community has issued a statement about the report to the 219th General Assembly (2010) from the General Assembly committee to prepare a comprehensive study focused on Israel/Palestine. The statement says, “…we are deeply troubled that current moves underway in the Church radically depart from its 2008 commitment that its review of Middle East policies would be balanced and fair.”
The Middle East Study Team’s report, which will be released by Friday, March 5, 2010, contains a letter to the American Jewish community. The study team begins the letter by saying:
We want to be sure to say to you in no uncertain terms: We support the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation within secure and recognized borders. No “but,” no “let’s get this out of the way so we can say what we really want to say.” We support Israel’s existence as granted by the U.N. General Assembly. We support Israel’s existence as a home for the Jewish people. We have said this before, and we say this again. We say it because we believe it; we say it because we want it to continue to be true.
The team, which engaged in intensive study, meetings, and travel to the Middle East since their appointment following the 218th General Assembly (2008), continues:
And, at the same time, we are distressed by the continued policies that surround the Occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, in particular. Many of us come to this work out of a love for Israel. And it is because of this love that we continue to say the things we say about the excesses of Occupation, the settlement infrastructure, and the absolute death knell it is sounding for the hopes of a two-state solution, a solution that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has supported for more than sixty years.
Several previous General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have adopted statements about Israel/Palestine. Two excerpts:
In 2004: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has approved numerous resolutions on Israel and Palestine, repeatedly affirming, clearly and unequivocally, Israel’s right to exist within permanent, recognized, and “secure” borders (for example: 1969, 1974, 1977, 1983, 1989, etc.). It has deplored the cycle of escalating violence—carried out by both Palestinians and Israelis—which is rooted in Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories (cf. statements of successive assemblies since 1967). Presbyterians have continued to be concerned about the loss of so many innocent lives of Israelis and Palestinians (see “Resolution on the Middle East,” approved in 1997, and “Resolution on Israel and Palestine: End the Occupation Now,” approved in 2003).” GA Minutes, 2004, p. 66.
In 2006: We call upon the church…”To work through peaceful means with American and Israeli Jewish, American and Palestinian Muslim, and Palestinian Christian communities and their affiliated organizations towards the creation of a socially, economically, geographically, and politically viable and secure Palestinian state, alongside an equally viable and secure Israeli state, both of which have a right to exist.” GA Minutes, 2006, p. 945.
I join the Middle East Study Team that will be reporting to this summer’s General Assembly in asking all people to continue to pray, and work, for the peace of Jerusalem."