Several years ago, the Christian leadership in Israel and Palestine sent out a plea known as Kairos Palestine which said, “We cry out from within the suffering in our country under the Israeli occupation... We have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people.”(1) They simply asked the Christians of America to acknowledge what is happening to them and to notice that they are being strangled to death by the ”acts on the ground” of Israel's occupation.
Last winter, a dozen people of conscience published a response to that plea called Kairos USA which said, we repent of our silence and abuse of theology which continues to allow your persecution unchallenged. They wrote:
Today, the churches of the Holy Land are calling us to stand with them in theirnonviolent struggle. How can we do otherwise? … You cannot silence the cry of the
oppressed nor suppress the human hunger for justice for all of God’s children.(2)
I studied these documents in Atlanta. That was last month. This month, I attended the Mountain Top Lecture Series at Amicalola Falls State Park in North Georgia which featured Brian McLaren. I was exited because I had read several of McLaren's books and knew his passion for better understanding among people of different cultures and religions. And he has a heart for peace for the Palestinians. In his latest book, he wrote:
A distorted doctrine of chosen-ness tells many sincere but misguided Christian Zionists that the Jews have been chosen by God to own certain land without concern for the well-being of their non-Jewish neighbors. As a result, these Christians fervently support Israel in a Domination Narrative, justifying the continued military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. They may even support the Purification Narrative that inspires some Israeli settlers and political parties to drive Palestinian Muslim and Christians from their homes, whether through sudden expulsion or gradual colonization and appropriation.(3)
However, and this is my concern, during his lecture when he came to the subject of chosen-ness, he mentioned the conflict between Israel and Palestine only among several other conflicts. But, he used as his primary illustration the Hutu/Tutsi massacres in Rwanda. He even mentioned the horrible record of Christopher Columbus, both matters safely tucked away in history. However, he did not mention Israel's abuse of the Palestinians. I sat there in amazement, thinking, this Zionist theology of chosen-ness is driving our foreign policy, pulling us into a possible war with Iran and destroying our relations with the Arab world. How can he not put this on the table?
To be fair, I think Brian McLaren is a genuine prophet of peace and reconciliation. I marvelled at what he had to say and his passion for understanding and acceptance of others. But, I hurt because of what he did NOT say.
He referred in his book to the way of Jesus as “Peace, justice and reconciliation.” However, I agree with Naim Ateek who says that the formula must be justice, peace and reconciliation, and in that order. I don't mean to single out McLaren, To be fair, as part of the Mountain Top Lectures, Bart Ehrman did not talk about the plight of the Palestinians, even when asked a question about Rapture Theology, nor did Robin Meyers. A.J. Levine, if anything, was defensive of the State of Israel and criticised Palestinian Christian leaders for their resistance.
While we spent two days talking about being a better church, Israeli rockets killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including three children and injured 30 to 40 more. While we were in church listening to an emotional sermon about peace, Israeli bulldozers were destroying another home in West Bank.
When will justice become the concern of the Christian leaders in America?
I support what has become popularly known as the emerging church. However, I wonder. Have we become just one more retail outlet for selling a popular religion? When I asked about our having someone like Mark Braverman, Norman Finklestein, Naim Ateek or a Miko Peled to be our lecturer at the Mountain Top Series, I was quickly told by a friend that we wouldn't get twenty people interested enough to come and hear about justice for the Palestinians. He is probably right. But then, I ask, are we only interested in that which is popular?
Self disclosure – I ask myself if I am disappointed because I am genuinely concerned for the Palestinians or did I just want my ego affirmed by a celebrity? Most everyone there knew that my passion is justice for the Palestinians. I will probably never know. But either way – while we talk, Israel bulldozes more houses and drives more Palestinians into homelessness, uproots more olive groves, steals more water, erects more road blocks and check points, and imprisons more kids. Should that in itself not be enough to merit serious attention when discussing “chosen-ness”?
Thomas AreNovember 15, 2012
1 – Kairos Palestine, A Moment of Truth, (Published by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., 2010) p.13.
2 – Kairos USA, U.S. Response to the Kairos Palestine Document. (Published by Kairos USA, www.kairosusa.org. 2012) p.13.
3 – Brian D. McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Coss the Road? (Jerocho Books, New York, 2012.) p. 119