Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gary Burge: Palestine and Israel

At the moment there is a confusing array of thoughts, issues and opinions about Israel and Palestine among evangelicals and they, the members of the evangelical community,  are topsy-turvy in their approach. And let’s be clear much of the reason for the topsy-turvy approach is because of the complexity of the issues. But there are some evangelical leaders both in the United States and Great Britain who are so pro Palestine that they fail to see all of the issues. One person, Stephen Sizer, in the UK, I have already written about, but there is a professor in the United States, Gary Burge of Wheaton College, who is getting extra press lately by people who don’t quite understand or are ignoring some issues.

For example, just recently Christianity Today in their five books recommendation series allowed Burge to recommend five books on the Israelis and Palestinians. His “My Top 5 Books on Israel & Palestine,” included I Am a Palestinian Christian by Mitri Raheb. Raheb, who is both a liberation theologian and a universalist, at the 2010 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, gave a speech in which he insisted that the Jews from Europe were not related to the ancient Israelites. In other words he is an anti-Semite taking the Jewish identity away from its rightful owners.

Burge might be excused on the grounds that he did not know this. However, both Burge and Raheb spoke at the same checkpoint conference—and surely they both read the painful account that the Simon Wiesenthal Center gave of the event. A Further problem with the list is that although it is suppose to be about both Israel and Palestine all of the book recommendations are pro Palestinian.

Another site where Burge has gotten some attention is a recent hard copy of The PresbyterianLayman, in which a review of Burge’s book, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals is offered. Professor Kenneth E Bailey, a respected and excellent scholar on the Scriptures, the  Middle East and its culture writes the review. While some are concerned with finding this in the Layman, I am not. My reasons are two: among the good books offered by the Layman is A Passion for Christ: The Vision that Ignites Ministry by Thomas F. Torrance, James B. Torrance and David W. Torrance. One of the chapters, written by D. Torrance is “The Mission of Christians and Jews.”

D. Torrance’s chapter is aimed at the Christian community’s responsibility to the Jews. And he insists that God continues to confront the nations through the Jews even writing, “The continuing presence of the Jewish people today-particularly their presence back in the promised land – reminds us that we and the nations have to reckon with a living, personal God. He is a God who acts in space and time, a God of judgment as well as mercy.” D. Torrance also reminds the reader that despite Hitler’s attempt to obliterate the Jewish people—they instead, once again, gained their homeland proving that God is also the God of history.

My second reason for not being bothered by the good review Bailey gives of Burge’s book is that now and then a scholar who is mistaken sociologically or politically in such areas as anti-Semitism or is at least on the verge of being so, nonetheless produces good scholarly work. And we should not ignore the work. Perhaps the best, but saddest, example is Gerhard Kittel.  Most New Testament scholars make use of his Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and yet Kittel became a National Socialist aligned with the Nazis. He even went to prison for a short time after WW II. He is condemned for his anti-Semitism not his scholarship.

Perhaps the driving force behind some evangelicals who slip into the grey world that upholds the needs and desires of Palestinians, but does not uphold the security needs of the Israelis, is a bit of arrogance connected to the idea of good works. Sometimes activism overreaches the meaning of peace or righteousness. We too often live sloppy lives in the midst of complexity. Burge has done this although he might not recognize his own failure.

Joe and Gev, bloggers affiliated with the Messianic Jews of Israel, placed a posting about Stephen Sizer and Burge on their site, The Rosh Pina Project. They also placed a video of a supposed confrontation with the Israel Defense forces.  In part of the video, at 9:24, Burge leans in close to a young soldier attempting to prove to him that he is breaking his soul. As the author of the post puts it:

"At 9:24 Gary Burge, professor at Wheaton College gets into the face of an Israeli soldier and tells him that he is destroying himself and it will break his soul… your heart is being crushed by this! The soldier is even willing to discuss with Burge who has been so patronising and pompous with him. Burge then boasts about his conversation with the soldier on film with Sizer the cameraman, unethically revealing the soldier’s name and where he lives having told him he needs to save his heart, but does not tell him how! The implication of Burge telling the solider that just following orders, was an echo of other times, was yet another attempt to make Israelis look like Nazis."

Who is the real maker of peace in this video? One might suspect it is the young man with a very large gun in his hand, who is passive in the midst of harassment.  This is a topsy-turvy world, a complex time for the reformed, evangelical and orthodox Christian. Paul writes of God’s love that it is kind, “does not brag and is not arrogant. Does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own; is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 134-7)

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