Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"On Amending W-4.9000 Regarding Marriage" dragging the State into the mire of an apostate church

Not now apostate but ...

As I read through Hudson River Presbytery’s overture 020, “On Amending W-4.9000 Regarding Marriage,” I was struck by the many confessional and biblical problems in the rationale section. The overture is asking that the words “man and woman,” be changed to “two people” in some cases and “the couple” in other places.

Also the line “Marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman” is to be changed to “Marriage is a covenant between two people (‘the couple’) and according to the state also constitutes a civil contract.” One further sentence that is extremely troubling is the change from “In the name of the Triune God the minister shall declare publicly that the woman and the man are now joined in marriage” to “In the name of the Triune God the couple are [sic] now joined in marriage.”

In the rationale there are at least four glaring confessional and biblical problems.

One problem is in the very first sentence of the rationale, “Marriage is beyond gender.” No, marriage is about gender, and Jesus allows his listeners to understand by basing his pronouncement about divorce on the biblical account of God’s creation of Adam and Eve. He goes to the original creation story, the first coupling, one man and one woman is God’s design. The two complement and complete each other, because of this they are helpers to each other. (Matt. 19:3-6)

Two other problems are biblical accounts that are misinterpreted. One is about Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch and the other is Peter’s vision of the unclean animals and his ministry to the gentiles in Cornelius’ home.

The rationale states:

“We join those in the early church by stepping into line behind people like Philip, who, in his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, was moved to overturn his previously narrow perceptions and prejudices and make the circle of God’s family much wider than his previous religious upbringing had allowed him to imagine (Acts 8:26-38) and Peter, who was given a vision that the lines he had previously drawn between clean and unclean were too narrow and had to be abandoned to embody God’s loving way (Acts 10:9-22).”

In fact, there are many problems with this statement. Philip did not overturn previous “narrow perceptions and prejudices.” Instead he was transformed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That meant that the laws that pertained to the temple worship in Jerusalem no longer applied to him or to any other who received the gospel. (Deut. 23:1) He had not let go of what was bad, narrow or could be called prejudice.

Philip was not free to sin nor was the eunuch. But now the eunuch could take hold of that promise in Isaiah 56:4-5. He is not given a name in Acts but remarkably from the Old Testament he receives a promise of “a name better than that of sons or daughters.” And it is an everlasting name. That is Isaiah, in Revelation the name expands to all (we are all, after all, eunuchs toward God since we are fruitless without him.). There we receive a new name that is Christ’s name. We are found in him. (Rev 3:12) We are transformed and made holy in him.

I have written in another place about Peter and his vision of the unclean food. In that text, after Peter has been shown a sheet full of unclean creatures and told to eat from them, he hears a voice telling him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” Now notice the words “What God has cleansed.” God has taken something that is ceremonially unclean and through the eternal Son’s fulfillment of the law, by a perfect life, death and resurrection, has made the unclean clean. But how does humanity become clean?

“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14b)” Looking also at 1 Peter :18-19 as well as Eph 1:7-8a, we know as Christians that we are made new, whole and clean in Jesus Christ. And we are called to holiness. All of this is about “God’s loving way.” In love he gave the Jews the law that he might bring them to the promises of Christ. In love he gave his eternal Son that all of us might be clean and free. But he has not in his love called us to sin. As Paul writes, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

The last problem I see in this overture I believe forebodes serious events for the Church in the United States if it or others like it passes. It means the Church will lose her soul to both the culture and the State. She will certainly be denouncing both the Bible and the Confessions. It also means that orthodox pastors in the PCUSA will be put in dire straits.

The Hudson Valley Overture states that:

“In a state that already permits same-gender marriages or civil union, ministers and ruling elders would be relieved of the fear of ecclesiastical charges and would be able to respond equitably and pastorally to marriage requests by all, not just some, members of their congregations and to do so without fear of charges filed in ecclesiastical court.”

When I read this I am forced to think of Christians in so many places and so many ages who have not bowed before the unrighteousness of fallible rulers and laws. They have not rewritten their constitutions, Scriptures or Confessions in order to better conform to a decadent society. And in fact some of our confessions were written in just these kinds of circumstances. The Theological Declaration of Barmen is one.

Looking at the first part of Barmen the writers point out that the Church in Germany was being overtaken by “alien principles” and that if the principles were “held to be valid” the Church would cease to be the Church. (8.07)They go on in the body of the Declaration to insist that no government or ruler or anyone even in the Church could use the Church to proclaim another revelation.

Because, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scriptures is the one Word of God which we have to hear and have to trust and obey in life and death,” then we must “reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.” (8.11-12)

Finally they deal with the separate duties of church and state leaving the Church free to proclaim God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

“We reject the false doctrine as though the State, over and beyond its special commission [the task of providing for justice and peace], should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.” (8.23)

"We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission [“calling to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled”], should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.” (8.24)

The circumstances of this insistence that the church not proclaim what the State proclaims when it is not God’s Word is more clearly explained in the sermon on Barmen given to the Barmen Synod before the vote on it was taken. For this part of Barmen, Pastor Hans Asmussen stated:

“When the State proclaims an eternal kingdom, an eternal law, and an eternal righteousness, it corrupts itself and with it its people. When the Church preaches a political kingdom, an earthly law, and the justice of a human form of society, it goes beyond its limits and drags the State down into the mire with it.”[1] (Emphasis mine)

The latter part of Asmussen’s statement is exactly what this overture is doing. The Hudson River Presbytery is asking the Church to both preach and participate in a human form of justice that is contrary to Scripture. It is not a part of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ as he is known in the Holy Scripture. If the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) allows same gender marriage into her constitution and thereby into her churches she will cease to be the Church. And she will by her actions drag the State down into the mire she has created.

[1] “An Address on the Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation in the German Evangelical Church,” Pastor Hans Asmussen, Appendix VIII in The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, by Arthur C. Cochrane (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press 1961), 261.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Grabbed by the love of Jesus

I love the story that Andrew Purves tells about feeling that Jesus had grabbed him by the scruff of the neck as a mother cat does her kitten. In that case you go where the loving mother cat wants you to go. After reading a pastor’s sermon where he calls the redemptive story of Jesus’ death and resurrection a fiction made up by the writers of the New Testament, I thought of Purves’ story again. My first thought was to pray for this pastor that Jesus might walk into his life and grab him by the scuff of his neck and surprise him with salvation. And I have, and do and will.

But the next thought I had was how better to have the mother cat take you where there is safety in her care than to have the Lion grab you with finality and judgment. And my third thought is how all of us are so rebellious toward the goodness of Christ, even when it is gently placed like a cloak around our shoulders. Praise God for the great mercy and love of the Triune God, the Father who sent the Son, the Son who submitted his life for our sake, the Holy Spirit who woos and seals and walks us home.

"But Jesus called them to himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant. And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28)."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

“A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis:” false beginnings, twisted thoughts- part 3

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in his Holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4)

We are all longing for the peace of Jerusalem, but it cannot come twisted and incomplete.

Professors Nahida Gordon and Fredric W. Bush in the paper entitled “A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis combine the issues of the partition of Palestine and the Palestinian refugee problem with two of Israel's wars with the Arab nations. Their statements about Israel’s 1948 war for independence as well as the 1967 war Israel fought against Egypt, Jordon and Syria are incomplete and often historically inaccurate. Picture the Western Wall of Jerusalem taken by en:User:Chmouel,

The authors’ statement on the 1948 war begins with an explanation of the influx of Jewish European immigrants into Palestine. They write, “The Palestinians who in a short span of three decades saw the ethnic composition of Palestine change dramatically due to the British facilitation of immigration of Jews into Palestine objected to the partition plan." They go on to state simply and rightly that there was violence on both sides.

But the way the rest of the paragraph is written the implication is that the Palestinians became refugees during the violence that occurred between November 29,[1] 1947 (the date of the UN recommendation of the Mandate), and May 14, 1948 (Israel’s declaration of independence). There is a further statement that the Arab nations attacked Israel in order to save the Palestinian refugees from expulsion. Going even further is the thought that Israel was better prepared militarilythan the Arabs.

I have already answered these kinds of statements in a posting on the booklet, "Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace" published by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).[2]

Immediately after the UN announcement, Jewish people all over the world rejoiced. But by the next morning they would begin fighting for their lives. As Walter Laqueur, who is not a conservative, but an excellent historian, in his comprehensive book A History of Zionism: From the French Revolution to the Establishment of the State of Israel, states:

"The next morning [after the UN Mandate announcement] the Palestinian Arabs called a three day-protest strike, and Jews in all parts of the country were attacked. On that first day of rioting seven were killed and more injured; the fighting continued to the end of the mandate. The next months, as chaos engulfed Palestine, were a time of crisis for the Jewish community. ...The most pressing task facing the Jewish population was to strengthen its defenses, since the Arab countries had already announced that their armies would enter the country as soon as the British left. Syria was not willing to wait that long: an 'Arab Liberation Army" inside Palestine was established in February with the help of Syrian officers as well as irregulars." (p. 583-84) (Emphasis mine)

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein writes, “In 1948, after the UN Partition went into effect, five Arab armies attacked the fledgling State. Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League announced, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”[3]

The point here is that the Arab nations attacked because they did not agree that there should be a Jewish State. (And here is an additional thought, Arab anti-Semitism goes back centuries, it did not suddenly appear with the birth of Israel.)[4]
It is also important to note that Israel was not prepared militarily as were the Arab nations. Once again, as Laqueur puts it:

"While Britain continued to supply arms to the neighboring Arab countries, and America had declared a general arms embargo, the Jewish forces had great difficulty in obtaining supplies. By February the Arab forces were on the offensive throughout the country. While they did not succeed in capturing Jewish settlements, they all but paralyzed the traffic among them, and even Jerusalem was about to become a besieged city. The Jewish relief force sent to the help of the Ezion settlements had been wiped out to the last man, a terrible loss by the standards of these days." (p583)

Bush and Gordon make short work of the 1967 war. They write, “In June 1967, Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. At the end of six days, Israel had taken the Gaza strip and the Sinai from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan from Syria.” The authors then go on to write about the United Nations Security Council and resolution 242. This is shoddy historical writing. It leaves the reader without any understanding at all. Perhaps the authors did not know the circumstances of the Six-Day war.

The history is complex but includes bombardments from Syria, an Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran so that Israel had no route to Asia. The removal of UN peace keepers by Egypt and threats from several Arab States including this from the Voice of the Arab Radio Station, “As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. We shall not complain any more to the UN about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”[5]

The story is far more complex than I have written. Please see the article “The 1967 Six Day War” , at the Jewish Virtual Library. There are many complex problems between Israel and Palestine. When institutions such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and committees such as the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee attempt to help sort out the needs of each nation and yet begin with so much one-sided misinformation they eliminate from the discussion all of those who care about truth. And then peace can never come.

[1] The paper at one point refers to the 29th, at another point to the 19th, the 29th for the UN’s recommendation is the correct date.
[2] See
More from the Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network's booklet Steadfast Hope The IPMN is advised by some of the same leadership as the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee. Their views of Israel and Palestine are usually the same.

A Rabbi Reflects on the Horizons Study of Joshua - Part I See also Richard Kraus, “The Roots of Anti-Semitism.” This paper disproves that the State of Israel is the sole cause of Arab anti-Semitism.
[4] See again “
The Roots of Anti-Semitism.”
[5] See The Jewish Virtual library, Michael Bard,
“The 1967 Six Day War.”
Reading the Rest of the Story:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Where is Your God?

"My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long they say to me, 'Where now is your God?'" (Psalm 42:3)

"Where is your God? People ask us the question in a doubting or mocking way. Death and sin, want and war, as well as bravery, power, and honor-that is what people see. But where is your God? We need not be ashamed of the tears we shed because we do not yet see God, because we cannot demonstrate God's presence to our sisters and brothers. Those are tears that flow for God's sake and that he records in his book (Ps. 56:8). Where is your God? What can we answer? We can only point to the person who in life, death, and resurrection proved himself to be God's true son. In death he is our life, in sin our forgiveness, in distress our helper, in war our peace. 'You shall point to this person and say: that is God' (Luther)."

"Lord Jesus, when I am tempted, because I cannot see God and his power and love in this world, let me firmly look upon you, for you are my Lord and my God. Amen"

All of the above is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (Sermon for the 6th Sunday After Easter, June 2, 1935-"found in a collection of sermons from Finkenwalde.") from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditations on the Word, Tran. & Edited, David Mcl. Gracie, 2nd edition (Lanham: A Cowley Publications Book 2008) 56. Picture by Stephen Larson

Friday, March 26, 2010

Our hope: the death and resurrection of Jesus

I have been reading about the horrific crash in Kentucky in which eleven people were killed. Now the news is saying the van belonged to a Mennonite church going to a wedding in Ohio. That is so sad but they are Christians and with the Lord. Praise God for his resurrection. Their Pastor Leroy Kauffman stated to the Associated Press, “"We're experiencing a lot of heartache and a lot of sadness, but with that a hope," Kauffman said. “We know where these people are going, they were all saved Christians and walking with the Lord."

Because this has touched me very much yet reminded me that this coming week is given over to the mourning and yet rejoicing of Jesus' death and resurrection for our sakes I thought I would place a video of music sung by a Mennonite choir.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

“A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis:” false beginnings, twisted thoughts- part 2

One of the more interesting books I have read this year is Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History by David B. Goldstein. He is "professor of molecular genetics and director of the Institute for Genome Science and Policy’s Center for Population Genomics and Pharmacogenetics, Duke University.”

Goldstein along with some of his peers has traced the history of several Jewish groups using genetics. All of the stories are amazing, engrossing and, well, scientific. And one story in particular is helpful to one of the subjects I will write about in this posting. It is the question, “are the Jewish immigrants to Israel linked in any way to ancient Israel?”

This is an important question and although it comes later in the paper entitled “
A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis, authored by Professors Nahida Gordon and Fredric W. Bush, it is a question which I believe sets the outcome for several arguments about Israel’s right to exist. And that is an existence questioned in the paper they offer to the 219th Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly.

Stating that the Israelis are claiming their right to the land due to their return after 3000 years, the authors of the paper write:

“The Israeli ‘narrative’ claims that they are uniquely the descendents of the Jews from Palestine. Scientific inquiry into this claim is complex with varying opinions on the amount of admixture of Jews from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East with gentile ancestors. Some research appears to indicate that they, along with the present day Palestinians of Christian and Muslim faiths, all share very similar genetic associations and represent the descendents of people of Palestine from 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. Other research supports the contention that there is more admixture with European gentile populations, particularly among the Ashkenazi Jews. Clearly to state that present day Israelis are returning after two or three millennia to their ancestral home in Palestine and that they uniquely are the descendants of the Jews of Palestine is not supported by scientific evidence.” (Emphasis the authors)

So what does this paragraph actually say? The authors are giving the reader a choice: choose to accept that Jewish European immigrants’ ethnic makeup is predominately European and hardly connected to ancient Israel or choose to accept that all of the Jewish immigrants from all continents share with all other ethnic groups of Palestine an equal or unique relationship to the ancient Jews or ancient Israel.

First of all I just have to ask, would any of the radical Muslims, like Hamas, accept an idea that they are related to the ancient Jewish people?

But to be serious, of course the Arabs and the Jews are cousins, their genetics have some similarities, but that does not mean that the Palestinians share in any kind of direct line to ancient Israel. But this is where some of the genetic work of Goldstein and his colleagues help. And this particular genetic link is simply amazing.

Although the temple no longer exists so there is seemingly no need for a priest to offer sacrifices, still there are male Jews who still claim that priesthood. As Goldstein puts it:

“Although the Jews have had no high priest for almost two thousand years, there are still individuals who consider themselves to be Cohanim, directly descended from one of the many priests who served in the temple in Jerusalem.”[1]

He goes on to ask the question:

“The presence of Cohanim today is a powerful testament to the enduring abilities of the Bible and oral tradition to shape the modern world. But how is it that nearly two thousand years after the Cohanim lost their jobs in Jerusalem, there are still priests around to perform ceremonial duties?”
[2] [Remember the Cohanim is an inherited position]

To follow the trail Goldstein and the other scientists take is too long for a blog posting but the outcome is important. Tracing the Cohanim’s genetic trail and the time periods for various mutations, the professors take the priestly line back almost 3,000 years. Goldstein writes:

“When the last figure had been entered, we were stunned into silence. ‘We are in the first Temple,’ I said eventually. We were both quiet again for a time. When we accounted for the ‘hidden’ mutations in the microsatellites, the figure we got is about three thousand years before the present, or right about the time that Solomon is thought to have been building the Temple in which the priests would serve.”[3]

Goldstein covers other research, including Jewish groupings found in India. And he tries to connect the Ashkenazi Levites with the ancient peoples of Kazaria but is unable to do so. But the point is the Jewish immigrants do have a unique connection to ancient Israel. But more than that, they are a nation now, a Jewish nation. And even better, they have the faithfulness of God whose gifts and calling are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28)

I will deal with authors Bush and Gordon’s views of the 1948 and 1967 wars in my next posting. I am putting a video below that is the beginning of a movie “The Forgotten Refugees.” Although I have put up most of the videos connected to the movie before I believe it is relevant to this subject and will lead into my next posting.

[1] David B. Goldstein, Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History, (New Haven: Yale University Press 2008) 22.
[2] Ibid., 23.
[3] Ibid., 37-38.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

“A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis:” false beginnings, twisted thoughts- part 1

A Review

The paper A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis, offered among other papers by the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee was written by two members, Professor Nahida Gordon and Professor Fredric W. Bush. They state in their opening paragraph that they take “sole responsibility” for the contents of the paper. However in the recommendation paper all of the members ask the 219th Presbyterian General Assembly under VIII to receive “A Plea for Justice.”

Additionally in the paper “Human Rights Update 2010 Recommendation,” produced by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, the members of that committee answer a request from the 218th GA to “Identify Violations of the Civil Rights of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the United States and Other Areas of the World, Along with Other Incidents of Violation of Religious Freedoms” by pointing to “A Plea for Justice.” So not only are the two members of the MESC responsible for the paper two whole committees, the MESC and the ACSWP, are responsible. And this is a horrific paper.[1]

The paper begins by referring to the Armenian genocide and focuses on those refugees who fled to Palestine. They are contrasted with the Jewish refugees who fled Europe after the Holocaust. According to the paper while the earlier Armenians lived peacefully beside their Arab neighbors the new Jewish immigrants “took the land of Palestine from a majority of its inhabitants at gunpoint.” (emphasis mine)

And while the author’s acknowledge that some Jewish people had lived in Palestine continually and paint a picture of constant peaceful relations among all of the peoples until the “European immigrants arrived,” as usual, the story is not so simple.

An example of part of the true story includes the town of Hebron where Jews had lived for hundreds of years. As new immigrants, probably from Eastern Europe, became a part of that community in 1929 a horrible massacre of at least sixty-seven members of the Jewish community occurred. The whole Jewish community was forced to leave and was unable to return until after the 1967 war.[2]

Another example that cannot be so simply put:

“In February of 1920 a party of Arab raiders suddenly attacked the Jewish Settlements of Tel Hai and Metullah in the extreme north of the country. … This sent a shock through the Palestine Jewish community, but it was only a foreshadowing of things to come. On April 4, an Arab procession for the festival of Nebi Musa—the Prophet Moses—in Jerusalem deteriorated into an anti-Jewish riot that lasted three days. Synagogues were desecrated and burned, property destroyed, six persons killed, and two hundred wounded.”[3]

Ronald Sanders, author of The High Walls of Jerusalem: A History of the Balfour Declaration and the Birth of the British Mandate for Palestine, goes on to tell of the secret Jewish defense group that was then formed. And some of these kinds of defense forces would commit their own atrocities. But it cannot all be laid at the feet of “European immigrants.”[4]

The authors of “A Plea for justice: A Historical Analysis “go on to write about the Balfour Declaration and the mandate of Palestine insisting that Britain and the United States violated international laws. Among other things they point to article 22 of the League of Nations and point V of Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations fourteen points.

They also point to the General Assembly’s Declaration on the principles of International Law. Using this complaint they go on to refer to the Israeli ‘occupation’ in terms of the whole of Palestine, inferring that the occupation they are concerned about includes the State of Israel.[5] They write:

“The occupation of Palestine began in 1922 by the British and continued in May 14, 1948, to the present time by Israel when unilaterally, it declared itself a state.”

The paper hardly commences, but by page three has already given a false history of Israel’s beginnings and declared that the occupation includes all of what is the State of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. There is no footnote here as in another paper. This is in your face anti-Zionism, the kind that can be equated with anti-Semitism. The authors do not agree with the idea that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state.

This is part 1 of a series I am writing; I will next look at the author’s views of the 1948 war, the 1967 war and what they believe about the true identity of Jewish immigrants from Europe!

[1] I have a posting on this paper at, The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy: Ignoring Christian persecution, maligning Israel

[2] For a very good over view of this incident, which includes some kind and caring Arab citizens go to the Jewish virtual Library at

[3] Ronald Sanders, The High Walls of Jerusalem: A History of the Balfour Declaration and the Birth of the British Mandate for Palestine, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1983), 653.

[4] Ibid.654.

[5] Most of the references used in this section are taken from books by anti-Zionist and anti-Israel Arabs and Jews. One author in particular, Alfred Lilienthal, who is a Jewish man, is an interesting person who has even been cited by David Duke. To read an eye opening exchange in the Senate about an Arab boycott, in 1965, of all Israel products and businesses and any company that had a Jewish person on staff with references to Lilienthal go to A foot note to him is, "The American-Arab Association for Commerce and Industry [part of the boycott] has about 100 company members, many of whom do business in both Israel and the Arab States. Alfred M. Lilienthal, the association's secretary and counsel, is a lecturer and journalist whose vehemently anti-Israel views are well known."

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy: Ignoring Christian persecution, maligning Israel

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a hidden problem in their General Assembly “Human Rights Update 2010 Recommendation” paper. Anti-Semitism, in an interesting form, is residing there connected to the neglect of suffering Christian believers. Besides the main subjects of their report they attempt to give answers to three referrals from the 218 General Assembly. The third referral, my concern, is listed as:

"2008 Referral: Item 07-01. On Calling for Tolerance and Peaceful Relations Between the Christian and Muslim Communities, Recommendation 6. Identify Violations of the Civil Rights of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the United States and Other Areas of the World, Along with Other Incidents of Violation of Religious Freedoms, as Part of the Regular Human Rights Report to the General Assembly—From the Presbytery of Newton (Minutes, 2008, Part I, pp. 14, 15, 507–10)."

The ACSWP answers that referral with this:

“To speak directly to this third referral, in the case of this General Assembly, the most substantial discussion of Muslim, Jewish and Christian interreligious incidents is in the historical perspective appendix to the Middle East report. They cite the U.S. State Department Religious Liberty report on Israel and the Occupied Territories, finding discrimination against both Muslims and Christians and neglect of their holy sites.[1] The nature of Church/State or religion/state issues differs, of course, in Muslim majority countries and Israel. The instances of torture discussed in the third section of this Update largely include Muslim detainees, and certainly religiously linked extremism is affecting the conditions of Christian minorities in certain conflict areas. We expect to do more with this referral in the future.”

The Members of the ACSWP have neglected Christian suffering in Arab lands with the vague words, “The nature of Church/State or religion/state issues differs, of course, in Muslim majority countries and Israel.” The only words which are clear in this statement are, “They [the Presbyterian (U.S.A) Middle East Study Committee] cite the U.S. State Department Religious Liberty report on Israel and the Occupied Territories, finding discrimination against both Muslims and Christians and neglect of their holy sites.”

So using
A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis, the most appalling of the papers among those produced by the Middle East Study Committee, the ACSWP neglects the horrendous persecution happening to Christians in the Arab countries of the Middle East. They instead focus on the disputes about holy sites in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

But reading the U.S. Department of State’s, “
2009 Report on International Religious Freedom” pointed to by both the ACSWP and the PCUSA’s Middle East Study Committee one sees differences that are as wide as good is from evil. For instance the report on Saudi Arabia states, “Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice.”

Or, on Iran: “Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shi'a religious groups, most notably for Baha'is, as well as Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish community. Reports of government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs continued during the reporting period.”

Because the ACSWP has not yet dealt with Christian persecution in the Middle East but instead switched the focus of religious suppression to Israel and to a document that is historically biased and incomplete I intend to write several postings reviewing “A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis.”

[1] While the ACSWP paper refers at this point to the historical perspective appendix in the Middle East Report they are actually quoting from the paper “
A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis, and using also that paper’s end note of the U.S. Department of State’s 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom and its listing of Israel and the Occupied Territories. See note 16 & 17 under 5. “Present Day Occupation.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace: a Press Release

An organization, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, consisting of Pastors and laity in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are concerned with fairness and peace in the Middle East have released a press report:

" Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

Media Release
March 15, 2010

Proposing a disturbing shift in policy direction, a Middle East Study Committee (MESC) Report for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. states that the study group sees, "the occupation as the major obstacle to regional stability,..." This reverses the denomination's evenhanded, historical position that Israel's occupation of Palestinian-claimed land and regional threats to Israel's existence are both major obstacles to peace. Decoupling the two obstacles to peace, the Report makes the theologically and politically naïve assumption that peace would blossom in the Middle East if only Israel would end its occupation of the disputed territories.

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP) is not surprised at the radical conclusions of the costly report given that seven of the committee’s nine members had evidenced a strong bias toward a one-sided Palestinian narrative. The prejudicial slant of the committee's composition ignored the mandate from the denomination's General Assembly that the committee's membership represent the diversity of opinion on the Middle East that exists within the denomination as a whole. One member of the committee resigned after the first meeting, in part, to protest the overwhelmingly slanted makeup of the committee.

One committee recommendation appropriately calls "on the U.S. government to pursue the goal of guaranteeing continued security for Israel from an atmosphere of fear of rocket attacks or other forms of violence." However, many of its other recommendations, if followed, would seriously undermine if not actually eliminate Israel's security.

For example, the Committee recommends 1) "the withholding of U.S. government aid to the state of Israel as long as Israel persists in creating new West Bank settlements"; 2) "Endorses the Kairos Palestine document (“A Moment of Truth”) in its emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation; lifts the document up for study and discussion by Presbyterians; and directs the creation of a study guide for the document through the appropriate channel of the General Assembly Mission Council"; 3) "Calls on the Israeli government to end immediately its blockade of Gaza, and on the U.S. government to end any support it is giving to the blockade…."

Is it possible to foresee a secure Israel with absolutely no U.S government aid and all that is implied by revoking support? How is Israel's security enhanced by an end to the blockade of Gaza with no mention of a strategy to stop the flow of weapons into Gaza that are used against Israel's civilians? In what way does the Kairos document emphasize love of enemy and reconciliation when at the heart of its strategy it demands, "Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations, NGOs and certain religious institutions call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation."? How can a document be viewed as reconciling while calling for an severe economic boycott of Israel and a strict separation of religion and state which, if achieved, would put an end to Israel as a Jewish state?

PFMEP rejects the assumptions and conclusions of this report and considers its acceptance by the PCUSA 219th General Assembly to be the exact opposite of what is necessary for the PCUSA to have a meaningful voice for peacemaking. Peace will only be created when 1) concrete steps are taken by Israel's neighbors to insure Israel's security and 2) the occupation of the West Bank is ended so the creation of an autonomous Palestinian state can proceed.

In the United States, the Jewish and Presbyterian communities have worked together for generations to secure social justice and peace. Acceptance of the MESC’s report by the PCUSA 219th General Assembly and the adoption of its recommendations will sever Presbyterian-Jewish relationships at the national and grassroots levels in ways that will take generations to rebuild. Such an outcome is not only undesirable; it is unnecessary.

PFMEP believes the report should not be received by the General Assembly. It would set the PCUSA on a tragically partisan political course rejected by previous General Assemblies. It should be discussed and categorically rejected because of its naive worldview. After spending much time and money to produce this report, it is sadly, an offense to serious-minded peace-makers.

For more information contact:
Rev. John Wimberly
Steering Committee Member, PFMEP
Western Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C.
Telephone: (202) 835-8383

The web site is new and will be expanded with a great deal more information and links in the coming weeks. For more information for those interested in coming to the 219th GA in Minneapolis as support for Presbyterians for Middle East Peace or for information about tax deductible giving please contact Gary Green at .

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Boycotting and divesting against Israel a Kairos thought

In light of this from the Kairos Palestinian Document:

"4.2.6 Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations, NGOs and certain religious institutions call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation."

and this:

"Therefore, we call for a response to what the civil and religious institutions have proposed, as mentioned earlier: the beginning of a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel."

I thought my readers would enjoy this video.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The worm that feeds on the soul of the Church: an exchange of letters

Now we know and we know a lot more.

Now we know why two years ago before the 218 General Assembly a paper written and placed on the PCUSA’s web site apologizing for the Church’s anti-Semitism was changed without any announcement and yet with the same title. That paper was titled “Vigilance Against anti-Jewish Bias In the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”

I wrote about it here: Not just a broken confession of sin but a disappearing one!

This is part of what I wrote: “This newly revised document is changed in many ways. An attitude of humility in the face of past wrongs has turned to arrogance. … this sentence, “However, we are aware and do confess that anti-Jewish attitudes can be found among us,” has been removed. Instead the paper refers to Israel as ‘oppressors.’”

Now after reading some letters of complaint written by both the Secretary of the National Middle Eastern Caucus, Raafat L. Zaki, and the Moderator of the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus, Fahed Abu-Akel to several leaders of the GAMC of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I understand a little more about how the anti-Jewish bias worms its way into the soul of the PCUSA. National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus Letter

The letters are complaints about not being consulted before the papers "Christians and Jews: People of God" and “Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslim Relations" written by Jay Rock and Joseph Small, were approved by the GAMC. (The papers are coming before the 219th General Assembly.)

After going over all the papers recommended by the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee and noting that they did not consult any members of the main Jewish organizations in the United States I find this newest complaint by the Presbyterian Middle East Caucus amazing.(1) I find some other things amazing. But first I should say that except for a very few ideas I found the paper “Christians and Jews: People of God,” a reasonable paper and finally one that is fair to the Jewish people.

Here are some things I found amazing in the letters of complaint: One writer found that the paper on Christians and Jews was “shabby” and had “questionable content.” And those statements are underlined and in bold!

Also the letter writer, Zaki, felt that the paper on Christians and Jews was like other such documents that “have influenced perspectives in the United States on issues of war and peace in the Middle East, and ultimately resulted in the support of two wars in Iraq, and policies that allowed the subjugation and disposition of the Palestinian people. It is such documents that have had tremendous negative impact on the lives of 18 million Christians in the Middle East and have rendered hundreds of thousands of us [those from the Middle East] refugees and in Diaspora.”

Another complaint was that the writers of the paper did not subscribe to supersessionism,(the replacement of the Jews by the Church), also Zaki complained that the paper did not uphold the doctrine of the Trinity. (I did not find that in the paper and I am fairly clear about the Trinity as most of my readers know.It may be that because Rock refers to the paper on the Trinity that Zaki has this complaint. While I don't care for the Trinity paper either it doesn't inform the paper "Christians and Jews: People of God.") I think perhaps Zaki’s problem may be that Rock writes that God continues to be faithful to the Jews.

Abu-Akel has suggested “that this paper not be sent to the General Assembly until consultation is done and our Christian partners in the Middle East as well as Middle Eastern Presbyterians in the US are invited to participate in the process.”

In these letters of complaint twice the paper I mentioned above, “Vigilance Against anti-Jewish Bias In the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” is mentioned. Once in the letter by Zaki, but also in Abu-Akel’s letter. The latter writes, “It has not been two years since he [Jay Rock] issued the ‘Vigilance’ statement without proper consultation; and subsequently I and other concerned Presbyterians had to fly to Louisville (at our own expenses) to meet with you and GAMC staff to discuss it.”

Now we know why it was changed.

This is politics trying to over-ride theology and fairness. This is what we have asked for and received-to have all the Middle East issues and their bitterness show up in our own back yard because we have not remembered that “The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)And “that God has shut up all in disobedience so that he may show mercy to all.”(32)

(1). I see that one of the members of the Presbyterian Middle East Caucus is Elder Lucy Janjigian one of the members of the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee and an American Palestinian. One of those who found it troubling for the committees' report to affirm Israel's right of existence.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Recommendations & all the documents-breaking faith with the Jewish people

The document "Breaking Down the Walls: Part Two: Recommendations, written by the The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Middle East Study Committee is filled with political recommendations that extend far beyond the Israel and Palestine problem.

Yet the committee initially blames all problems on the Israeli and Palestinian issues writing “The undue influence of outside forces continues a history of colonial interference throughout the Middle East. Yet most expert observers and popular opinion polls confirm that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is playing a central role in exacerbating region-wide grief and grievance.” If I wrote, that having said the above the committee is blaming most of the problems in the Middle East on Israel, most readers would exclaim that isn’t what they said.

But what does the paper “Our Witness: ‘What We Have Seen and Heard’ say? “Inexcusable acts of violence have been committed by both the powerful forces of the Israeli military and the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, as well as, the Palestinians, of whom a relatively small minority has resorted to violence as a means of resisting the occupation.” (Italics mine)

And “As the MESC traveled throughout the region, the overwhelming consensus of all members was that Israel’s occupation of the West bank and Gaza is a sin against God and fellow human beings. While there are subordinate factors that contribute to the lack of a just peace in Israel-Palestine, the major issue for a just peace is the continued occupation that has been ongoing for the past forty-three years.”(Italics mine)

This is the problem throughout most of the Recommendation Document. Recommendations are in many cases stated in what seems to be a fair even handed way but when they are tied to the other documents written or recommended for study by the committee they are almost always pointing toward Israel.

A whole list of human rights and moral principles are affirmed under section I. And few would quibble with most of them yet tied to the other documents and the accusations made by those documents readers will understand that the committee believes Israel has broken most of these human rights and moral principles. Therefore the section on human rights is largely about Israel although the recommendation does not say so.

For instance under the rights section is this, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) affirms-The moral goal for nations to create a nuclear-free world and toward that goal, to sign and comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other relevant treaties.” When the reader looks at the paper “Our Witness: “What We Have Seen and Heard” they read about Iran’s attempt to develop a nuclear warhead and then they read this, “While this growing fear [by the Israelis over Iran’s plans] is a deep concern, an equal concern is the number of nuclear warheads that Israel currently stockpiles and thus the growing sense of Iranian vulnerability and insecurity.” (Italics mine)

Another problem with the recommendations is the attempt to make equations that are unequal. For instance equating the use of anti-Semitism in the Middle East with Islamophobia, and the attempt to equate the Holocaust with the Nakba (the loss of homes and exile by around 750, 000 Palestinians during the 1948 war that secured the new Jewish State of Israel). The recommendation, listed under IV. “Urgent Actions for a Comprehensive Peace with justice in the Middle East” is:

“Calls all parties in the Middle East to cease rhetoric and actions that demonize others, whether that takes the form of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, as well as rhetoric and actions that threaten the well –being of another nation or people. This includes threats by Iranians and members of Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel, sponsorship by Iran of Holocaust-denial conferences, Israel efforts to deny the Nakba and threats of mass transfer (expulsion) of the Palestinians into Jordan or elsewhere, and perpetuation of maps and textbooks that deny the existence of internationally recognized borders, states, and occupied territories.”

There appears to be a lot of excellent thought put into that statement. However there is a vast difference between Holocaust denial and the denial of Nakba. I will explain. The Holocaust in all of its horror is undeniable, but the Nakba has a mixed history. Few Israelites would deny that the 1948 war caused untold trauma because of the dislocation and, yes, even massacre of Palestinians. But that isn’t the complete story. Jewish people were also massacred and not all refugees were ‘forced’ out of their cities and homes.

My other thought is that in the Middle East there is a vast disparity between the use of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Palestinian television even has children’s programs that use gross anti-Semitism. So while both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are terribly wrong the recommendation does not address the real issue. And totally left out of any of the equation is any mention of anti-Zionism which is now the new anti-Semitism.

Perhaps the most troubling part of the Recommendations document is two places that address the Kairos Palestine Document and another which would allow the General Assembly to receive the report
A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis.

Under “For the Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” the 219th General Assembly (2010) the Kairos Palestine Document is recommended “in its emphasis on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation,” and the recommend includes lifting up the document “for study and discussion by Presbyterians.” This also includes providing a study guide.

In another posting I have shown that this is not a pacifist document. Not only does it blame Israel for any terrorist acts by Palestinians it also commends all of those who died in service to their country which could include those who died committing suicide attacks. But the most damming part of the Kairos document is its move toward turning Israel into a non-Jewish state. I have quoted from the document in a different posting:

“Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion, preferring one citizen over another. We appeal to both religious Jews and Muslims: let the state be a state for all citizens, with a vision constructed on respect for religion but also equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism and not on domination by a religion or a numerical majority.” (Emphasis mine)

My answer to that is “A Jewish state is not by necessity a religious state, and notice the term “numerical majority” has been slipped into this equation. All of this is to say that the Kairos Palestine Document is asking that there no longer be a Jewish State in the Middle East.” I wrote that the Kairos Palestine Document attempts to unravel the idea of a Jewish State and substitute the idea of a sacred land for diverse faiths. The posting is
Presbyterian Middle East Study Team & "The Kairos Palestine Document" no longer a Jewish Nation?

The Kairos Palestine Document also has the possibility of being ‘received’ by the denomination under part VIII. “Engaging This Report.” There it asks the 219th General Assembly to receive the Appendixes and other documents which includes the Kairos Document. But, as I stated above, there is another troubling document the committee is asking the Assembly to receive “A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis.” This document not only begins with a manipulative and untruthful early history for Israel it ends suggesting that a one state solution is the only possibility.

So a whole series of documents, at least one reminding the readers, that a two state solution has always been the policy of the Presbyterian Church includes one with this statement:

“An objection to a one-state solution is the fear that Israel will cease to be a Jewish state. However, Mark Satin, claims that the majority of those proposing a one-state solution do not question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state but rather ‘they question the wisdom of its existing as a specifically Jewish state when Jewish life and culture could be equally well (arguably more securely and benignly) preserved in the same region in a secular, democratic state that was constitutionally sensitive to the needs of all its peoples. …” (46) (Italics the author's)

The paper goes on to speculate on such things as “The state would have to be bilingual with both Arabic and Hebrew signage and all legal documents. The issue of what to call the country can be resolved.” (47)

This in the face of several statements by the Study Committee that the time is almost past for a two state solution and their use of authors such as Ali Abunimah who proposed a one state solution in his book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, is troubling.[1] Taken altogether the many documents compiled, written and recommended by the PC(U.S.A) Middle East Study Committee represent an assault on the Jewish State of Israel. If the General Assembly votes for these documents they will have broken faith with the Jewish people both those who make up the state of Israel and those who are citizens of the United States and elsewhere.

[1] (For a posting about Ali Abunimah and his speech at a Presbyterian Church see
Is an overture for a one state solution looming on the horizon?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Middle East Study Team-a one sided story

Commentary on "What We Have Seen and Heard" and some "recommendations":

Two of the main new and final documents released by the Presbyterian (U.S.A.) Middle East Study Committee are D. What We Have Seen and Heard the last section of part 1 and Recommendations. The third part consists of Notes from a Humanistic, Liberal Zionist: A Personal Narrative, A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis and the Appendices.

In this posting I want to mostly address “What We Have Seen and Heard,” which I believe allows the reader to understand not only why the study committee formulated their theology, letters and recommendations the way they did, it also proves that as far as issues about the Middle East go they are not a diverse group. I will also look at a few of the recommendations. My next posting will focus on only the recommendations which I find, in some places, grandiose and in other places vague.

I may do a later posting on “A plea for justice: A Historical Analysis” by Nahida H. Gordon and Frederic Bush, two members of the committee. This is a very long paper and as I began to read it I found their early history of modern Israel was a one-sided incomplete history that gives a slanted view to the rest of the paper. It deserves a fuller review.

But the first and most important point I want to make in this posting, and the next, is that despite the insistence in the recommendations as well as in the theology paper that the study committee agrees that Israel has a right to exist the focus of the committee is on an Israel that would not be a Jewish State.

For instance, one of the recommendations under the subtitle “III For the Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” is f. “Endorses the Kairos Palestine document (“A Moment of Truth”) in its emphasis on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation; lifts the document up for study and discussion by Presbyterians; and directs the creation of a study guide for the document through the appropriate channel of the General Assembly Mission Council.” As a have explained in another posting the Kairos Palestine Document encourages the existence of a non-Jewish Israel.[1]

Our Witness: ‘What We Have Seen and Heard”: The methodology as explained in the first part of the paper “has been to engage as many representatives from a spectrum of perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict and to embrace the witness and concerns of our Christian partners in the region.” But the resources used proves that the perspectives were generally all pro-Palestinian and certainly not toward a Jewish Israel.[2]

Two Unparalleled Experiences: The paper is shaped by the thoughts of Avraham Burg the author of The Holocaust is Over; We Must rise from its Ashes. (correction see below)* The idea is that both the Jewish and Palestinian people are suffering from “psycho-trauma” and that is affecting the way they react to one another. The Jewish people are reacting to the six million people killed in the Holocaust and the Palestinians are reacting to what is called the Nakba (the Catastrophe) the losses suffered by 750, 000 Palestinians who became refugees from their homes and lands during the 1948 war for Israel’s independence.

Using a different author, Steven R. Feldman, the committee members quote his very coarse words:

“The emotional baggage of the Holocaust and the displacements of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians affect people’s perceptions of the objective reality of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, a reality in which people are being killed. One side may perceive the blowing up a bus or a disco as justified retaliation; the other side may perceive the isolation of Gaza and the killing of far greater numbers of Palestinians with tanks and F-16s as justified retaliation. The objective reality remains the same: people are dying.”

There are at least three things wrong with these thoughts:

1. Such words as ‘emotional baggage’ used to describe the affects of the Holocaust on the Jewish people is insulting.

2. Equating the Nakba with the Holocaust is demeaning and over simplistic. Historically we know that some Palestinians were forced out by some Israeli troops. We also know that some fled and others were encouraged to leave by the Arab states that started the conflict.

3. Attempting to use emotions evolving from the Holocaust as the reason for Israel’s actions in defense of her citizens is Orwellian and scary.

And here is a clearer explanation of that last thought. The blowing up of buses in that paragraph above is made to seem less than “the killing of far greater numbers of Palestinians with tanks and F-16s.” But the blowing up of a bus is meant to kill innocent civilians while the tanks and F-16s no matter how awful, and they are awful, are meant for defense. This part of the paper is a propaganda piece which belongs in the pages of such books as Animal Farm.

Vignette: In the paper four members of the Presbyterian Middle East Study team give personal accounts of their feelings as they travel in the Middle East and as they dialogue with each other and various representatives of the region. One of the stories is by Nahida H. Gordon. She is an American Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem and lived in Jaffa.[3] Gordon mourns the loss of her home in the 1948 war and asks the question, “-why were the Palestinians deemed to be an expendable people for the purpose of assuaging the guilt of Western Christianity?”

Lucy Janjigian is also an American Palestinian born in Jerusalem. She begins her troubling story by writing that “Around 1946, militant Zionists began blowing up British soldiers and policemen. July 22, 1946 was Palestine’s Sept 11." There is nothing in her personal story about the horrible accounts of Arabs killing Jews during this time but it happened as well. Janjigian manages to find quotes and references to Israel’s actions as Nazi like and the separation wall as an apartheid wall.

Susan R. Andrews who was past Moderator of the General Assembly writes about several Middle East Countries and persons, including an “elder-physician from Iraq and a pastor from Iran. She also reveals her perspective on the history of Israel’s early beginnings with this statement, “I see a church packed with Christians in predominantly Muslin Amman Jordan—most of the families displaced by the 1948 invasion of Palestine by Israeli-soldiers.” (My emphasis.)

The last person is an Evangelical Pastor, John A. Huffman, who has some good things to say about Israel as a sign of God’s keeping power. But he does not seem to understand the problems Israel faces and called for divestment before he was chosen to be on the committee and calls for divestment now. I have two main reasons for pointing to these vignettes.

The first is they show that the members of this committee were not diverse in their feelings about Israel. The second is that in the recommendations the committee is asking to continue on for two more years shaping the policies of the PCUSA in the Middle East.

Once again under the subtitle “For the Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” the committee recommends:

“The 219th General Assembly (2010): …Authorizes the creation of a Monitoring Group on the Middle East for the next two years that will consist of the members of this study committee to assist the appropriate General Assembly Mission Council offices and the Middle East staff team in monitoring progress and guiding actions to ensure adequate implementation of policy directions approved by the General Assembly, given the growing complexity and interrelatedness of issues in the region.”

If we are going to keep attempting to guide the continuing conflicts in the Middle East specifically that part which belongs to Israel and the Palestinian people we need a far more diverse group of people. Not necessarily diverse in theology although that is good, but diverse in their feelings and attitudes about Israel. And not just one or two pro-Jewish-Israel people but as many as there are pro-Palestinians. (In this committee there was only one pro-Israel person who left because of discouragement)

As I have stated before and will again, may God have mercy on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).

[1] See
Presbyterian Middle East Study Team & "The Kairos Palestine Document" no longer a Jewish Nation?

[2] See Appendices “List of Contacts Made by Middle East Study Committee”

[3] The theological paper presented by the committee had within its footnotes, for the sake of the two American Palestinians on the committee this thought, “The phrase ‘the right of Israel to exist’ is a source of pain for some members of the 2009-2010 Middle East Study Committee, who are solidarity with Palestinians who feel the state of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights.”
* I have attributed One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israel-Palestinian Impasse to the wrong author. The author is Ali Abunimah.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Witness of the Scriptures: A Biblical Theological Reflection: A Reformed Christian's response

The Presbyterian Study Committee on the Middle East has released their second section, “Witness of the Scriptures: A Biblical Theological Reflection.”* In their earlier release of an introduction and letters they stated that the biblical reflection would be a Priestly one. I disagreed with their term in my posting on the first part of their work, Report of the Middle East Study Committee to the 219th General Assembly: Is it priestly? I still have disagreements.

And so let me begin by stating first of all to my Jewish friends, my response to the study paper with be from a Christian point of view. It is necessary that it be from that viewpoint because this is a paper that will be voted on by a Christian denomination. It must be thought about from a Christological point of view. It is because I am a Christian, devoted to Christ, but also it is because you are my friends that I take the view I do.

One more qualification. I again state I must come from a Christological view and therefore from a biblical view, so I must disregard the Muslim texts used in this paper, not out of disrespect for Muslims, but because their sacred texts are not for me holy Scripture.

The Committee with this theological reflection looks at Justice, Zion, Covenant and Land, and Reconciliation all from what they perceive to be the Old and New Testament viewpoint. They have wisely used many biblical texts, but they have not always used them wisely.

Reconciliation and my foundation: The under girding of my response: Jesus Christ is Lord and it is his life, death and resurrection that not only shapes our view of scripture, which is his word, but it also forms our relationships with others and in particular our relationship to the Jewish people. So I will turn to the last subject of this paper to retrieve the most important connection the Christian has to God. I will look first at reconciliation.

The authors take the New Testament verse Eph 2: 14, “For he himself [Christ] is our peace, who made both groups [Jew and Gentile converts] into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,” and apply it as a universal principle to the Middle East situation.

They write that although the early Christians saw the verse as dealing with hostility between Gentile and Jewish converts, the Holy Spirit has led twenty-first century Christians to understand it to mean that the death of Christ has “broken down the dividing wall of hostility between any two peoples or groups within God’s creation.” Biblically, in the setting of this particular text their statement is not true.

The verse is preceded by Paul’s thoughts that now the Gentle believers have been brought into the “commonwealth of Israel” which includes its covenant and promises. But what has brought them in? What has reconciled them to God? The blood of Christ. The cross has been applied to the lostness of the Gentiles and they have come home to the Father.

The authors attempt to validate their interpretation of Eph 2:14 by using Col. 1:19-20, which they refer to as “cosmic” theology. But what they are actually doing is universalizing salvation. They also see Jn. 12:23, 32 and Romans 5:10 in this way, moving away from any kind of orthodox view of the atonement that connects Jesus’ death distinctly to the church.

Christianity is about a particular relationship with God through the saving death of Jesus, to attempt to apply this to Islam, Judaism or any other religion as a mediating principle is dishonest. As I stated in my posting on the introduction, to be priestly as a Christian is to function as one who is united to Jesus Christ because of his redemption. It is to proclaim in an honest manner that Christ is Lord.

It is important then to look at the several subject matters the committee has addressed and see them from a true Christological position:

Justice: The first subject the committee addresses is justice. They bring to the paper a great deal of Scripture and important thoughts on justice, both from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. They define who must do justice and to whom it should be done. This is good.

But they disconnect from Christology and in doing so some texts are misused. For instance when attempting to define what justice is they write, “The Bible in general and Jesus in particular answer in this way. Justice is promoting truth; …” and then in reference to Jesus' ‘answer’ they use Mt. 22:16 and John 18:37-38. Mat.22:16 is Jesus’ enemies trying to trap him with a question about giving tribute to Caesar and they flatter him by saying that he is truthful and “teach the way of God in truth.” They were probably not sincere and there is no definition of truth in the verse.

The other verses, John 18:37-38, contains Pilate’s question about Jesus being a king. To this Jesus answers “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” And what did they leave out—that Jesus is the Truth. (John 14:6)

So proper Christology is missing and because of it justice flounders. Biblically believers can only do justice because they have been redeemed and transformed. This is the believer’s message to the nations. Christians believe they must pursue peace and justice but it can never be outside of the parameters of a biblical theology that upholds the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Justice belongs to God and not only must he define it (and he does in Jesus) but it flows from his own work. The paper makes doing justice a universal law that is disconnected from a redeeming, transforming Savior. And so it disconnects and distorts needs in the Middle East.

Zion & justice: The committee makes the distinction between physical Jerusalem and the New Testament’s vision of Zion the heavenly Jerusalem. They posit acts of justice as that which allowed the people to remain in Zion or Jerusalem. They give the reader a great deal of texts to prove their point. And they are not wrong but they are incomplete.

Israel is connected to Zion because of her faithfulness to the law which includes justice, but it also includes this “You shall have no other gods before me.” Doing justice and being faithful to the God of Israel are never severed in the biblical texts. Israel was unjust in her forgetfulness of God. She followed the Baals and other foreign idols whose tenets and ways were full of injustice.

Yet the study paper hints that other religions worshiping on ‘Mount Zion,’ Jerusalem, was to be part of the final reconciliation. The common bond here is only justice. After hinting of this the authors write, “It is thus noteworthy that while Jerusalem has indeed become a place holy not only for the Jews but also for Christians and Muslims the longed for age of peace and reconciliation has yet to come.”

Almost all of the references to both spiritual Zion and physical Zion that are found in the New Testament are offered in the paper and finalized by writing that early Christians “fully transferred the locus of God’s concrete presence in the world of space and time from the place of Zion—that is, Jerusalem—to the person of Jesus, who had been crucified and raised from the dead just outside Jerusalem.”[1] They then ask the question, “So what do Christians make of the claim that a link endures between God’s covenant with Abraham and the promise of land?”

“Covenant and Land—and Justice”: Here the theological study rubber meets the Christological road and bounces—off the road. First the author’s ply the reader with the constant refrain “Presbyterians …” So we move from biblical theology to what Presbyterians believe or not. And references are constantly given to a 1987 paper that was not adopted by the 199th General Assembly but simply received and commended for study.

But the important thoughts in this section are, according to the committee, that land for the Jewish people is more than a gift it is a “leasehold” with a set of responsibilities. And we can’t be sure what the land boundaries are because it has changed over thousands of years since God gave his promises to Israel. As it is put in the document, “Thus, Presbyterians believe that one cannot define ‘the land of Israel with any kind of religious specificity. The varying boundaries of ‘the promised land’ have always been more a matter of ‘Realpolitik’ than of theology.”

We have an aside that Presbyterians approach with something like “horror” the Old Testament passages that state that God told the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites. A Jewish scholar is used to suggest that not only does a strand of anti-Semitism run though the New Testament but some parts of the Hebrew Bible hold “unsavory” and immoral ideas. But this all fits into a mold with contradictions.

We are told that the Christian and Muslim Palestinians have lived in the land for a long time and therefore they have rights, as well as responsibilities, to the land. The authors quote, “Now, ‘Byzantine Palestine was, for Christians, a Holy Land but [it was] also a homeland, a place where men and women tilled the ground and planted orchards, built homes and raised families, bought fish and sold olives, buried parents and grandparents.’ And when Jerusalem was captured by the Persians in the seventh century of the Common Era, it was the Christians, not the Jews, who sang a lamentation over the Holy City.”[2] (It should be stated at this point that the Jews have lamented over Jerusalem for two thousand years.)

So because the theology is not grounded in a Christology that reflects Christianity the paper basically places the Palestinians in the land on the grounds that they have lived there, truly lived there, it is their life, while keeping justice is emphasized for the Jewish people. (There is even an apology to the Palestinians for using the term “The right of Israel to exist.”)[3]

Rather than connecting to the coming Christ the paper connects to a spirituality of land and place. The authors write, “We have set forth the biblical emphasis on Zion as a place for all nations and peoples to worship the God of justice and learn war no more and as a place where people’s covenant responsibilities are to be fulfilled and God’s justice is to be practiced toward all persons.”

A theology of land as a means of some kind of final reconciliation may replace Christian Zionism but it also replaces any sense of the rule of law, the need for defense against enemies by a secular state, which happens to be Jewish, or even the demand that a two state solution is a commonsense practical undertaking. This is spiritual blackmail, not Christian blackmail, but spiritual blackmail. If voted for by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) it will be Presbyterian blackmail.

The biblical approach to a Jewish Israel and the Jewish people for the Christian is to see them as a sign of God’s faithfulness. God made promises to keep his chosen people and he has kept his promises. Israel as a Jewish nation is about God’s faithfulness. God chose the Jews to bring forth the Messiah. As Jesus said, “Salvation is from the Jews.”(John 4:22b) The Palestinian Christians are our brothers and sisters through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But none of us can forget that “from the standpoint of God’s choice they [the Jews] are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and calling are irrevocable.” (Romans 11: 28b-29)

Download Witness of the Scriptures: A Biblical Theological Reflection

[1] It is interesting here, as well as alarming that the authors refer this belief to the early Christians. Perhaps I am reading too much into their words, but after seeing references to the Koran used as sacred text in this paper I have to ask if the committee fails to see the locus of God’s presence in Jesus Christ?

[2] Robert Wilken, No Religion is an Island: The Nostra Actate Dialogues, ed. Edward Bristow (Fordham University Press, 1998) 133.

[3]“The phrase ‘The right of Israel to exist” is a source of pain for some members of the 2009-2010 Middle East Study Committee, who are in solidarity with Palestinians who feel that the state of Israel has denied them their inalienable rights.” This is proof of how badly this committee was stacked toward those who are pro-Palestinian.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Report of the Middle East Study Committee to the 219th General Assembly: Is it priestly?

Part of the “Report of the Middle East Study Committee to the 219th General Assembly was released on the 5th of March. “Breaking Down the Walls,” so far simply consists of the introduction and letters to various communities. The theological part will be released on the 8th and the rest on the 10th.

In the introduction the committee states, “Our voice is one, which is priestly, prophetic, and pastoral. The first voice that will be heard in this report is a priestly voice speaking of our theological understanding of justice, Zion, the land and reconciliation.” They go on to suggest that they will be priestly, prophetic and pastoral in letters, biblical & theological reflections, experience and recommendations.

We do not know the meaning of any of this except what that means in letters to various groups including the Jewish people of the United States and the people of Israel. We will wait awhile longer, perhaps the study team hopes, we will soak in the words of the letters so as to be prepared to accept the rest.

This statement alone makes me apprehensive; “The first voice that will be heard in this report is a priestly voice speaking of our theological understanding of justice, Zion, the land, and reconciliation.” But a priestly voice belongs not to the knowledge of theological issues or even biblical ones. It isn’t about knowledge or even experience. It is about God’s work of setting aside a whole people and making them the elect, the holy.

It belongs both to the Jewish people, set aside on the mountain, and to the Christian believer set aside by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the priestly voice is not the voice of a few but of a whole people. John H. Elliot in his commentary on 1 Peter in the Anchor Bible series writing of 1 Peter 2:4-10 (about the priesthood) stresses the continuation of the Christian believer with Israel but it is on the basis of what God has done. My point is how can nine people offer to the whole world (and the letters almost do that) a priestly word? Even more importantly how could a General Assembly offer to the whole world a priestly word?

Well truthfully they could but it would be the word of a people set apart by God, united to their great high priest Jesus Christ. And so the word would be true proclamation. The word would be the words of Jesus that he is Lord and that word would be spoken not only to the Jew and the Christian but also to the Muslim. So … this word spoken by these nine people must be a different word. It must be a secular and religious word but not the gospel and certainly not priestly.

So what are they saying…that is not the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ? What is this secular and religious word? (Once again for the time being it can only be what is known from the letters)

Here are a few things of what can be known: In the letter to the Ecumenical community we know that there are some differences of opinion but we do not know what the differences are. We know that the
Kairos Palestine document is commended and that this document that pushes for a non-Jewish state is considered so important that “we ignore” the voice of the authors “at our own peril.”

So how does this fit with the letter to Israel. It would seem that the agreement with the Kairos Palestine Document would be a contradiction in the letter to Israel. But it isn’t. They state “We are fervent in our hope that Israel would continue to be a homeland for the Jewish people.” Oh, please, please notice this is not the same as saying “We are fervent in our hope that Israel would continue to be a Jewish nation.” They do not care for the continued existence of a Jewish State.

And notice the authors of this letter will stand against anti-Semitism, but what about the new anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism. That is not at all a part of the letter.

And then they go on to suggest that in the conflicts that are happening “the number of casualties may give evidence to the imbalance in the conflict; however each person is created in the image of God.” Yes, and if each person is created in the image of God then the intents of the heart are very important. If the weaker between two peoples is intent on destroying the stronger their evil is far worse than the stronger.

Now I am not saying that the Palestinians are intent on destroying Israel. But I am saying that Hamas armed by Iran is. Two peoples are the victims here, the Israelis and the Palestinians. But this letter does not say so.

And what about the letter to American Jews? Once again they support Israel’s existence as a home for the Jewish people. (See above) Once again anti-Semitism is addressed but not anti-Zionism. And then the authors point out that they are able to work for justice in Israel using local networks rather than Jewish national organizations. And they refer to those groups that agree with their positions such as the new J-Street, B’Tselem and Jewish voices for Peace.

And then once again they refer to Israel as the most powerful party in the conflict. “Our analysis, both through careful research and through our experience of being in the Middle East, is that Israel is the most powerful party to the conflict. Therefore, Israel has both the responsibility and the ability to reverse the course of the current precipitous decline throughout the region.”

This is my thought. It turned out that in World War II the United States was the most powerful party in the conflict and that was a good thing. It’s true that sometimes the most powerful party is the evil party, but thankfully that wasn’t true. Although we are all bad guys, sinners, the most powerful in a conflict is not necessarily the worst or always the one picking the fight. Such a complex situation is not so easily solved.

I will skip a lot in order to say a good word about the letter to the Palestinians. I am glad that they stated that they were alarmed by the “increased targeted violence against Palestinian Christian institutions, be they from traditional or evangelical communities.” That has needed to be said for a long time.

I am waiting, we are all waiting to hear ……