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 ……


Pastor Bob said...

A couple of questions:

1. Is anything addressed to Hezbollah? They certainly seek to destroy Israel and are armed by Iran.

2. When the word "region" is used does the committee refer only to Israel/Palestine or to the whole region, say Egypt to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia or Libya to Iran?

Viola Larson said...

The words extremists and terrorist are mentioned-but not as far as I can remember-I will have to look again- is Hezbollah and Hamas- as for the wider region the Middle East Christians are addressed and in the letter to Americans there is this statement:

“We have seen in Israel/Palestine, and neighboring nations, how governments who receive extravagant benefits of our foreign aid consistently violate the most basic of human rights. This is a fact that should give every American pause and should move us to hold our elected officials accountable.”