Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Very Strange Love Affair Between Conservative Christians and Israel and the Very Real Harm it is Causing Our Fellow Christians in the Middle East

I receive regular barrages of American Fundamentalist Christian platitudes backgrounded by lovely holy land scenery extoling both the virtues and necessity of Christian support for the state of Israel.  You know the story.  How Israel is surrounded by ‘enemies’ who are all plotting its destruction.  How Israel is the only true democracy in a region dominated by dictatorships and Islamist regimes, and how it remains the one true beacon of freedom in that part of the world.  Bollocks.

My Christian Fundamentalist and Evangelical friends seem to have forgotten the real reason for their support of Israel, namely that when Israel achieved nationhood in 1948, it was immediately hailed by Dispensationalists as a sign that God was finally fulfilling prophecy, and that with Jews being restored to the promised land the Temple was surely about to be rebuilt and the end was certainly at hand, certainly within our generation.  (First see this article by Tim Weber. An this is John Hagee's take on why Christians support Israel, written for Haaretz.)

Well more than 60 years has come and gone and two things, at least, are clear.  First, the Israel of today bears no resemblance to Old Testament Israel and remains a modern secular state, not an OT-style theocracy.  Nor has modern Israel taken steps to re-ratify the Covenant.  That's not what these people are about.  Secondly, the end has not yet come.  Nor will it.  At least according to the road map charts of Revelation expounded upon at length for more than 100 years by hard-core Dispensationalists everywhere.  Give it up, people.  You’ve had to change your predictions so many times (Remember, the USSR was Gog.  The European Union the 10 horns of the Beast.  And my favorite – You all can forget about having to live according to the Sermon on the Mount because that wasn’t intended for us in the so-called ‘Church Age’ but rather for the Jews during the Millennium!) you really have no credibility left whatsoever.  In the meantime, we Christians have been relieved from having to support the state of Israel because there we find the linchpin of God’s eschatological plans.  I’ve looked hard for any sign of anything eschatological in today’s Israel and it isn’t there.  You can go ahead and support Israel like you might be partial to any other nation. I quite like Suriname, myself.  But don’t make it a moral imperative for Christians to support the policies of the Israeli government, especially when some of those policies don't themselves seem very moral, or support the existential concept of Israel or be mindless in your wrath against those who dare question Israeli policies, say with regards to illegal West Bank settlements or the government seizure of Palestinian land.

But this blind support for today’s state of Israel beggars belief for another, and in my opinion, much more serious reason.  It causes Western Christians to be completely insensate to the real story of persecution and hardship happening right now in Israel and throughout the Middle East.  It’s not the Jews who are in danger in the Middle East.  It’s the Christians.

Over the past 30 or so years, whenever a country has undergone religious radicalization, Christians end up getting persecuted and pushed out.  Thousands of them.  This has happened in Iran.  This has happened in Iraq.  This has happened in Turkey. This has happened in Algeria. This is happening in Egypt.  This has happened in Afghanistan.  This has been happening in Pakistan.  This has been happening in Palestine.  And Christians have faced pressure and persecution even in Israel, the Israel of so-called Christian Zionism.

But it is about to happen big time in Syria.  Syria has a significant minority population of Christians, mostly Orthodox and so-called Oriental (non-Chalcedonian) Orthodox.  And while the longtime al-Assad family dictatorship has been repressive, to its credit the government has managed to create a society where majority Sunni Muslims live in tolerance with their minority Christian and Alawite and Shiite and Druze neighbors.  The government’s over-the-top harsh response to initial protests against its repression has spiraled into the civil war it is today.  And in the enveloping chaos, Alawites, from whose number the al-Assad family comes, have sought to protect their privileged status in all the wrong ways, provoking ever more shocking displays of inter-communal vengeance.  And in all this, Christians are caught in the middle and are already bearing the brunt of threats and violence, being forced at gunpoint to flee their homes as different Muslim groups conduct their version of religious cleansing.

I mention this because the silence on the part of the so-called Religious Right in America is deafening with respect to the plight of Middle Eastern Christians.  How is it that you people will raise a gazillion dollars to support Israel and shout down any dissent to Israeli government policy and swear your allegiance to the idea of Israel, but you can’t be bothered to notice that your fellow Christians throughout the Middle East are being persecuted, driven from their homes, tortured, imprisoned, killed, even massacred?  Have I missed something?

Please pray for the Christians in Syria.  And for the Christians in Palestine.  And for the Christians in Lebanon and in Egypt.  Pray for the Christians in Iraq and Turkey.  In Iran and Pakistan.  In Sudan and Algeria and Tunisia.  Many of these Christians are the progeny of Christian movements that go back in Christian history as far as one can go.  They are the ones who need our support.  The Israelis have nuclear weapons and the best army and airforce in the region.  But our brothers and sisters in Christ there have nobody who will stand up for them, or stand in the gap for them.  It’s time for us to let go forever our eschatological fantasies and face up to the realities endured today by our fellow believers.  Because if Christian history teaches us anything, it may not be long before we are the ones who find ourselves in need, praying that there might be someone out there someplace who might courageously stand up for us in our time of desperation.