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Theology & the Arab/Israeli Conflict
Israel - Middle East
Friday, August 12, 2011
Alf Cengia

Since indulging my interest in Middle East affairs as they impact Israel and the rest of the world, I’ve become aware of the selectiveness of various media reporting.  I divide this media into two main categories – secular and religious.  The latter is what concerns me here.

The Palestinian Leadership’s belligerent statements, actions, oppression of its own people and unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state have gone largely ignored – especially by this religious media.

I believe this intense focus on Israel in contrast to the lack of scrutiny towards the Palestinian Leaders has been detrimental to the plight of the Palestinian people, whether Muslim or Christian.

There’s an exponential rise in the oppression and persecution of Christians extant throughout the Middle East regions from Lebanon and Egypt to Iraq and Pakistan.  Not just Christian suffering – but Muslim as well.  Yet this seems to fall off the religious media’s radar.

Regrettably, these religious activists too often focus on a pseudo-cause to Middle East problems – Israel.

Anglican theologian John Stott recently passed away.  I read a few of the internet obituaries and commentaries.  They all rightly paid homage to Stott’s achievements.  But activist and Anglican priest Stephen Sizer’s version highlighted to me the extent of the anti-Israel activism that has firmly embedded itself into many sectors of the church.  In somewhat opportunistic fashion, his blog took note of Stott’s death:

“John Stott went home to glory this week.  He will long be remembered as a pastor and teacher and inspirational leader of the Anglican evangelical community for over 60 years.  Less well known is the courageous stand John took on the need for justice and peace in the Middle East.”

Prior to his passing, Stott had contributed a recommendation for a book Sizer had written.  That book attempts to delegitimize the events leading to and following the founding of Israel, and the support it receives - especially via “Christian Zionists”.

In part of his review, Stott wrote that:

“I myself believe that Zionism, both political and Christian, is incompatible with biblical faith. Stephen’s book has helped to reinforce this conviction.”

A major premise of Sizer’s book is that Israel’s birth was illegitimately engineered by Zionists who exerted extraordinary influence on politicians and that it was based on faulty theology.  Moreover, Israel’s birth apparently resulted in the dispossession of Palestinian owned land and consequent oppression by Israeli hegemony.

Hence, the continual support of Israel by America and Christian Zionists is one of the chief causes of the Middle East conflict.

Furthermore, the author suggests that some Zionist supporters of Israel harbor an agenda to advance Armageddon.  While commending the book for calling Evangelicals to break the “spiral of hatred and violence”, the retired Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, Riah Abu El Assal stated:

“…we must obey the teachings of the Prince of Peace who has called us to a ministry of reconciliation rather than listen to the false prophets of Armageddon whose apocalyptic message is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy." (Emphasis mine)

In contrast to this, Anglican Stuart Robinson, in “Mosques & Miracles” (2004) understands Middle East problems as fundamentally linked to Islam.  Of Palestinian Christians he writes:

“It has been estimated that the number of Arab Palestinian Christians has been reduced to fewer than 30,000 among the 3.4 million inhabitants of territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority.  Fifty years ago the Palestinian population was 25% Christian…It has been further estimated that partly because of the pressure on Christians to either convert to Islam or to get out, some 2 million Christians left their homes in the Middle Eastern countries during 1993-97.” (p100)

David Pawson wrote a commendation in a Forward to Mosques & Miracles.  Robinson directly contradicts Sizer on so many points that it is a twist of irony that Pawson also wrote of Sizer’s book:

"…my fellow Zionists… will be disturbed by my agreement with much of Sizer's criticism of this position… I am grateful to Stephen Sizer for drawing attention to the legitimate criticisms of dispensational Zionism.  He has rendered a service to the cause of Zionism which was needed."

It appears to me that in certain instances theological difference is the stick which some choose to beat Israel and Zionists with.  Sadly, the modus operandi often used to discredit support for Israel is to focus on whatever sensational or carnal elements that exist within the Zionist movement.

In a 2009 lecture delivered to a seminary, a non-dispensational theologian attempted to present a balanced position to the Christian interest in Israel.  Yet while condemning extremes on both sides he concluded his talk by strongly commending two people who are at the forefront of anti-Israeli activism.

In the final analysis, his view wasn’t balanced.  What he did (perhaps not intentionally) was germinate the idea that Israel commits frequent misconducts and, thereby, supporting it hurts the Middle East peace process.

If we examine the “spiral of hatred and violence”, we’re forced to look at current ME events and consider the causes.  As an example, the word “freefall” has been used by several media reports to describe the debacle in Syria.  The tragedy occurring in that country cannot be attributed to Israel or Zionists.

Global Arab Network notes that:

“Most Arab States and Arab media have chosen to remain silent about the brutal crackdown by the Syrian regime against unarmed civilian protesters.  The international stance has been disappointing but the shameful Arab silence is baffling.”

FrontPageMag refers to the Syrian catastrophe as Syria’s Killing Fields.  In one instance it reports:

“Some videographers have paid with their lives in trying to document the brutality of the Assad regime, as snipers deliberately search the crowd and try to assassinate anyone with a camera.”

The whole ME scenario is so dire, Fox News reports that:

“The House is on the verge of voting to create a new diplomatic post charged with defending religious freedom overseas, following a string of attacks against religious minorities in the turbulent Middle East and beyond...”

A commentary by Ruth King “End of the Middle East Christian?” looks at Christians affected by events in Lebanon and Egypt. Quoting Brigitte Gabriel:

“When the Moslems and Palestinians declared Jihad on the Christians in 1975, they started massacring the Christians, city after city.  I ended up living in a bomb shelter underground from age 10 to 17, without electricity, eating grass to live, and crawling under sniper bullets to a spring to get water.”

News of intense persecution in Indonesia appears to vindicate Stuart Robinson’s premises:

"The GKI [Indonesian Christian church], given the hostility and abuse of power by the civil authorities, has issued an appeal, sent to Fides, which launches an "SOS" and states that, given the increasing tension, "the Christian faithful are at risk of mass persecution".

None of the above has to do with Israel.

The problem is that many Christians view the ME through a theology that filters out a biblical need for an Israeli existence.  I suspect Israel’s existence is a sore-point for them.  From that position they see Christian support of a secular Israel (which denies Christ) as unnecessary and naïve meddling which exacerbates the problem.

Matthew 5:9 is often invoked by those who disagree with Christian Zionism.  This presumes much.  It also flies in the face of the phrase “ministry of reconciliation” when these same people travel to Islamic dominated countries to discuss Israel’s alleged occupation of Palestinian land.

This isn’t peacemaking; it’s fomenting the problem.

I’m convinced that their theology also causes them to miss important secular points of Jewish history, the facts surrounding Israel’s return to “Palestine” and their consequent struggle for existence.

A far more balanced approach can be found in Dr Michael Rydelnik’s “Understanding the Arab/Israeli Conflict”.  While Dr Rydelnik understands Israel’s presence in the land to be prophetically significant, he is under no delusion that Israel is perfect.  Like Stuart Robinson, he also has a heart for Muslims trapped in Islamic hegemony.

Dr Rydelnik believes that ME peace won’t happen until Messiah returns.  However, he suggests three things that Christians must do until then – pray for peace; work for peace, and “proclaim God’s peace through Messiah Jesus” (p 220).

I heartily agree.

About Alf Cengia

Last week:  Israel's Crude Behavior



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