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GLOBAL POSITIONS S haron G ram b y - S o b u k w e

Christians, Israel, and Palestine Almost two years ago, a group of 34 evangelical leaders took a position in support of a Palestinian state. They expressed their support for Palestine’s legitimate rights and the creation of a Palestinian state “that includes the vast majority of the West Bank,” and they said that being a friend to Jews and to Israel “does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted.” They added, “Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other.”Their position was surprising and perhaps even viewed with suspicion by some, because until then evangelicals had been largely quiet or loudly Christian Zionist. Since then, the violence, killing and suffering have continued to intensify. Scripture tells us that the remedy for such torment, heartbreak, and soul-sickness is Jesus.The way to him is a process of confession, reconciliation, and redemption for spiritual salvation and rebirth. Likewise, the journey to peace in the world requires walking the path of reconciliation and restoration in order to be delivered from war and death, darkness and sin. This is Christ’s message to the world, and it is the responsibility of his church to deliver it. Yet we remain quiet. Many of us are quiet because we have a sense that it’s scriptural to stand by Israel no matter what. To question—not to mention criticize—Israel’s actions, we’ve learned, is tantamount to cursing the people of God and resisting the coming of Christ.While our hearts break for the suffering and loss we are witnessing, we ignore our soul’s cry for justice because we are constrained by Christian Zionist theologies. Such theology relies upon con-

temporary politics to interpret Scripture, prefers military solutions to biblical mandates for peace, and ultimately aligns with power rather than justice. Contemporary Christian Zionism stresses the centrality of modern Israel in God’s end-time plan, as well as the view that Christians can hasten the coming of Christ to help bring about fulfillment of end-time prophecies. Yet this view is typically more Zionist than it is Christian. Zionism is an international, political, ideological, and secular movement for the development of a Jewish homeland in what is now the modern state of Israel. In contrast, biblical Scripture from the Old Testament to the New prioritizes relationships—between God and his people as well as among his people. Further, Scripture portrays God’s plan for an ever expanding fellowship of believers realized through Christ the Savior. Inasmuch as the OldTestament emphasizes God’s special favor towards the Jews, when coupled with the New Testament it becomes clear that God has an equal opportunity plan to favor, from every nation, whomever fears him and does what is right (see Acts 10:34-35 and Galatians 3:26-29, for example). Even God’s promise of the Holy Land for the Jews, interpreted in the broad context of the Old Testament, continues this plan. Scripture emphasizes that God is the rightful owner of the land (Psalm 24:1; Leviticus 25:23; Jeremiah 2:7, 16:18) and that his gifts, whether of land or a savior, are never unconditional but always require covenant responsibility (Isaiah 5:8, Micah 2:1-3, Amos 7:17,Hosea 9:2-3),respect (Leviticus 18:24-30; Deuteronomy 8:17-19), and justice (Ezekiel 47:21-23). Extreme Christian Zionism condemns peace between Israel and Palestine as an impediment to God’s eschatological program and supports Israel in its military defensive and offensive strikes.Yet,Scripture points to communities of justice and peace

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from the Old to the New Testament, as believers are called to justice, kindness, and humility (Micah 6:8), peace (Matthew 5:9), and reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Taken as a whole, Scripture outlines God’s plan for redeeming the world through people committed to and dependent upon him. This plan is firmly rooted in an intimate relationship with Christ that shapes us for serving and sacrifice. Ultimately, we as the body of Christ are called to reach the world with Christ’s love. Our silence, however, signals consent and alignment with those who would depend upon the politics of power rather than work for the salvation of the poor, consolation for the downtrodden, liberation of the oppressed, and freedom and transformation for all the captives (Isaiah 61: 1-8).Yet, history (from the Crusades and slavery to the Holocaust and apartheid, as well as numerous episodes of genocide) teaches that when the church has aligned itself with the strong and engaged in power politics, it has created space and opportunity for cruelty, greed, and savagery— especially against the weak. In contrast, in every triumphal moment of social justice in the contemporary era, from abolition to civil rights and restorative justice, from Hong Kong and Chile to Rwanda and Jamaica, the church has played a central role.An important lesson of history is that geopolitical maneuvers will not determine timing or who will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom. Instead, lives of salvation, characterized by faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:5-8), are requirements for effective and productive solutions to this world’s woes, solutions that honor God. n Dr. Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe is department chair of the School of Leadership and Development at Eastern University, where she teaches leadership (NGOLeader.org) and church politics.

Christians, Israel, and Palestine  

Global Positions May 2009