Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What in the World is BDS?

I am certain that for most of my readers, I am preaching to the choir, but BDS stand for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Over 170 Palestinian civic, governmental and NGO groups have come together to ask the rest of the world to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.  It is a very effective non-violent method of challenging Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinian families, culture and livelihood. It worked in South Africa and with the support of  people of conscience, Israel’s Zionist government, and the average Israeli, may be pressured into altering Israel’s suicidal path.   

As I understand it, Boycott is something we can do as individuals. Divestment has to be done by groups such as corporations, church investments committees or unions. Sanctions are the responsibility of governments.

As U.S. politicians proudly proclaim that there is “no daylight” between the US and Israel, two groups of people are reacting to the truth of that statement.  First is the vast majority of people all around the globe who identify the US government and its citizens with the atrocities committed by the Zionist government of Israel. And why not?  We finance Israel’s military and expansionist agenda. We ignore Israel’s crimes and veto UN sanctions calling for Israel to abide by international law. What little credibility the US has had in the past is melting away faster than the ice glaciers of the North Pole. Our claim to be an “honest broker” is a joke. Most of the world is not laughing.

But, there is another group of people watching our relationship with Israel. It is a smaller group. They are made up of Jews, Christians and Muslims, generally called “people of conscience,” who simply recognize that wrong is not right and silence is not acceptable.  Their only authority is a voice and their weapon of choice is BDS. 

Omar Barghouti explains:

The BDS movement has dragged Israel and its well-financed, bullying groups into a confrontation on a battlefield where the moral superiority of the Palestinian quest for self-determination, justice, freedom, and equality neutralizes and outweighs Israel’s military power and financial prowess. It is the classic right-over-might paradigm, with the right being recognized by an international public that is increasingly fed up with Israel’s criminality and impunity and is realizing that Israel’s slow, gradual genocide places a heavy moral burden on all people of conscience to act, to act fast, and to act with unquestionable effectiveness, political suaveness, and nuance, and above all else with consistent, untarnished moral clarity. [1]

But, why BDS?  The simple answer is because life in Palestine is a nightmare.

BDS attracted little attention until 2009. Two things happened that year.

Israel’s bloodbath in Gaza, called Operation Cast Lead,  in December ‘08 and January ‘09, killed 1400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. All evidence showed that Israel deliberately targeted public buildings and utilities, including schools, hospitals and sanitation plants.

Next, Israel’s inexcusable attack on the humanitarian flotilla brought to public attention the deplorable conditions forced on the people of Gaza, most of them living in refugee camps having been driven out at gun point by Israel in 1948 and then again in 1967.

We hear people say such things as  “Well, what’s new. Jews and Arabs have been fighting each other for thousands of years. Let them sort it out.”  Well, “what’s new” is the imbalance of power and our responsibility for it. 

“According to Israeli statistics, four days of Israeli violence have created many more victims on our side than forty years of Palestinian violence against Israeli targets. Yet, every casualty is one casualty too any”[2]

Israel talks peace and continues to destroy homes and uproot trees, build settlements, checkpoints, and an apartheid wall.  

And Israel gets away with it.  The US has proven that it is not going to pressure, criticize or even publically admit the crimes of Israel. We have had 62 years to take a moral stand and consistently we have chosen to either look the other way or support Israel’s brutal threat to the life and liberty of Palestinians.

Let me be clear, I support the call to BDS Israel, but not just a few companies or products.  People of conscience must BDS Israel, all of it, no exceptions.  Someone has said, “In a democracy, if a few are guilty, all are responsible.”  No dominant nation in history has ever given up power without being pressured to do so. Thus, I support BDS until Israel does three things:

One - Withdraw from all occupied territory: West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Many groups, including Jewish organization, call for a withdrawal, but this only addresses the injustice committed since 1967.

Two - Offer full rights under the law to its non Jewish citizens.  As it is, Palestinians live as second class citizens within Israel.

Three - Allow the return of refugees or pay compensation to those driven out in 1948 and 1967. Some are calling for the return of only those who were alive and displaced in 1948, a number which is rapidly decreasing due to age. 

BDS must be total and complete. 

When reading about Israel, many American say, “I don’t like it, but….” 
We need to change our stance to,  “I don’t like it, therefore…”

I will not buy Sodastream, Caterpillar shoes, Ahava Cosmetics or Hewlett-Packard ink for my computer.

I will write my church representatives who will be voting in our national assembly or conference urging them to vote for divestment.

I will write congress people urging them to vote for sanctions against Israel until Israel becomes a democratic nation for all its citizens.

And having done all that, I will send a little money to JVP and  Sabeel.[3]
                                                                                    Thomas Are
                                                                                    December 19, 2013

[1] Omar Barghouti,  BDS, The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. (Haymarket Books, Chicago. 2011) p.62.
[2] Testimony of Afif Safieh  before the British House of Commons April 21, 1991. Cited in Afif Safieh, The Peace Process, From Breakthrough to Breakdown, (Saqi Books, 2010) p.144.
[3] JVP, Jewish Voice for Peace, , 147 Prince Street, Suite 17, Brooklyn, NJ  11201.
Sabeel,, Friends of Sabeel – North America, PO Box 9186, Portland, Oregon, 97207  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Muffling Mandela

Nelson Mandela is reported to have said, “The temptation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine… yet we would be less than human if we did so.”

Let us be clear, Mandela never spoke “in muffled tones” when it came to human rights and suffering for oppressed people all over the world.

All over the media, politicians and newscasters are jumping on the band wagon to sing the praises of Nelson Mandela, and rightly so.  He was one of the outstanding leaders of the world during the past century. Yet, how many leaders, political and religious, tell us the whole of his greatness. To do so would be embarrassing.

Some of his most significant sayings that are being “muffled” are:

But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinian people.[1] 

People of conscience cringe with pain when the thought of what a difference it would make in the suffering of so many people if just one major TV news anchor would emphasize this aspect of Mandela’s struggle for peace.

I believe there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO. We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel, and a lot flows from that.[2]

When challenged by Ted Koppel on ABC, Mandela responded,

We identify with the PLO because, just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self determination.

He told an Australian news media:

We agree with the United Nations that international disputes should be settled by peaceful means. The belligerent attitude which is adopted by the Israeli government is to us unacceptable.

Mandela went on to say that the ANC does not consider the PLO a terrorist group:

If one has to refer to any of the parties as a terrorist state, one might refer to the Israeli government, because they are the people who are slaughtering defenseless and innocent Arabs in the occupied territories, and we don’t regard this as acceptable.[3]

Western leaders, who until 2008, called him a terrorist are now falling all over themselves to call him a great leader. Obama puts him in the class with Lincoln, Roosevelt, Gandhi and King. Joe Biden eulogies, “The most remarkable man I have ever known in my entire life.”  I agree. But my fear is that many of those world leaders gathered to bury Mandela are hoping to bury his principles of freedom from oppression along with him.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, human rights activist and well known professor, having taught at University of Tennessee, Duke and Yale, writes:

In this week’s compilation from occupied Palestine: Today, a 14 year old child shot by Israeli sniper in the back in Jalazour Refugee Camp. A Bethlehem young man was shot by the Israeli apartheid soldier using live ammunition yesterday. Another lost his life after being in a coma for 7 months from an Israeli bullet. The apartheid state of Israel exonerated itself from the murder of Mustafa Tamimi of Nebi Selah so today we join with the Nebi Saleh community to protest and also to commemorate Nelson Mandela. Our friend Ashraf from Bili’n was Mendela. We faced a barrage of rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades. Mustafa’ younger brother Udai Tamimi was shot in the face and is now in a Ramallah hospital.  Christian communities throughout Palestine will hold special services tomorrow… Sunday December 8 in honor of Mendela.[4]

A comment of William Slone Coffin comes to mind; “Peace will come when those who are not victims of injustice feel as keenly about it as those who are.” 

Mandela lived in an apartheid state in “homelands” with no power, no military, no real economy and no control over its land, labor or resources”.  No surprise that he would identify with the Palestinians who suffer every day under the oppression of Israel.  He knew what it felt like to be labeled a terrorist because he stood up for democracy and equality. His moral authority forces us to admit that democracy and racism can never be happily married.  Speaking loud and clear, Nelson Mandela said that the world can only work from a position of truth.    It is time for our political and religious leaders to stop  muffling the tone of his voice.

                                                                                                Thomas Are
                                                                                                December 12, 2013

[1] President Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. December 4, 1997, Pretoria.
[2] Article in JTA, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Global Jewish News Source,  South African and the U.S. Leaders Dismayed over Mandela’s Remarks.  March 2, 1990.
[3] JTA article,  Mandela Angers Australian Jews with Fresh Anti-Israel Rhetoric.  October 25, 1990.
[4] Mazin Qumsiyeh, Israeli Apartheid Gift to Mandela: Myrters and Injuries. Popular Resistance, December 7, 2013.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Betrayed By His Own State

I believe the doctor was sincere.  Last month, Nancy Snyderman interviewed one of the sixty doctors and nurses who traveled from Israel to the Philippines to help treat typhoon victims. As the sick and injured came in with dehydration, respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, and fever, she asked a doctor why he would do such a thing.

“It’s a sense of helping your brothers whoever and wherever they are. It doesn’t matter your age, your color….”

Snyderman, Chief Medical Editor on the Brian Williams news hour, said that she was in “Awe” of Israel’s medics. The doctor said, “You give what you can and then you go.” Williams added, “They did it in Haiti and now they are in the Philippines.”[1]

As he spoke, I thought to myself; that dedicated doctor did not have to travel half way around the world to help his injured and sick brothers.  Just ten miles away in Israeli occupied Palestine, thousands of men, women and children desperately need medical care. But, there are no TV programs showing Israeli doctors and nurses aiding them because the “typhoon” that has hit the West Bank and Gaza is of Israel’s making.  It amazes me that Israel gets a pat on the back for helping victims of nature and almost total silence on the pain and misery caused by Israel right next door.

While Israel soaked up the admiration and applause for its humanitarian work in the Philippines, a 14 year old girl died in an ambulance detained at an Israeli checkpoint while trying to get to a hospital in Bethlehem. She was a Palestinian, therefore not included in the “sense of helping your brothers whoever they are.”[2]

Again, I think the doctor was sincere.  He represents the best of his Jewish faith as  spelled out by the Hebrew prophets. I can only imagine what was going through his mind and heart, perhaps; “Hear the word of the Lord … wash yourselves; make yourself clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice; correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17). Or even a simple, “For the Lord is a God of justice.(Isaiah 30:18).

There are a few more texts that could easily have influenced the doctor and his team:

Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of  the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not  to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
… ? (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, And do no wrong to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3).

For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrong . (Isaiah 61:8). The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed… He does not forget the cry of the afflicted. (Psalm 9:9, 12).

For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72: 12-14)

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3-4).

I believe the medical team flying to the Philippines knew these texts well. At least they were putting them into practice.

On the other hand, the state claiming their loyalty shows little allegiance to their own Jewish scriptures. From the beginning, Israel has been addicted to violence:

On April 9, 1948, in the struggle to rid the land of Arabs, the Stern Gang, headed by Yitzhak Shamir, and the Irgun, headed by Menacham Begin, both future Prime Ministers of Israel, conducted the massacre of an Arab village called Deir Yassin. Arabs say 250 were killed. Israel claims it was only 100.  The commander of the Haganah, Zvi  Ankori, described what happened:

I saw cut-off genitalia and woman’s crushed stomachs…It was direct murder. Soldiers shot everyone they saw, including women and children. Parents begged commanders to stop the slaughter, to please stop shooting.[3]

These acts of violence were designed to frighten Arabs into fleeing for their lives. Begin himself boasted:

Out of our evil, came good. This Arab propaganda spread a legend of terror among Arabs who were seized with panic at the mention of Irgun soldiers… Panic overwhelmed the Arabs of Eretz Israel. Kolonia villege was evacuated overnight… Beth-Isla was also evacuated.[4]

Sixty-five years later, little has changed. In spite of anything the Bible has to say, Israel’s regime has been a history of bloodshed and violence, not a violence of necessity, but a violence of aggression.

An Israeli chief rabbi of the Shas Party proclaims, “It is forbidden to be merciful to Arabs.” Not to be out-Zioned, Eli Yishai, Israel’s internal minister proclaimed, “You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable”[5] Arnon Sofer, the so called Arab counter, spelled out the implications of the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, “When 2.5 million people live in closed off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe… The pressure at the border will be awful. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day … If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist.”[6]

It is amazing. Netanyahu, in a letter to the president of the Philippines, wrote “On behalf of the government and people of Israel, I extend heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives … I hope Israel’s assistance will help alleviate the suffering.”  This is the same Netanyahu who bombarded Gaza in December and January '08 and ’09, killing more than 1400 unarmed men, women and children and destroying thousands of public buildings and private homes. This same Netanyahu sent night raiders to storm a humanitarian ship bringing medicine and supplies to his victims of Gaza, killing nine unarmed volunteers in international waters.

Not only has Netanyahu betrayed these sixty doctors and nurses, he has betrayed Judaism and put Jews around the world in a dilemma.

I remember Marc Ellis saying something like:  “In the early fourth century, you Christians were faced with a choice.  You could uphold the morality and compassion of your faith or you could choose the power and privilege of the state.” He went on to say, “You made the wrong choice and you haven’t gotten over it yet.”  Then fighting tears, he went of to say, “We Jews are exactly in the same spot today. We can choose the morals and compassion of our faith, or we can choose the power and privilege offered by the state.  We are also making the wrong choice.” 

                                                                                    Thomas Are
                                                                                    December 8, 2013

[1] NBC News with Brian Williams,  November 15, 2013
[2] Jerusalem, Ma’an News, 11/29/2013.
[3] Cited in Lenni Brenner, The Iron Wall: Zionist Revelution From Jabotinsky to Shamir, (London, Zad Books, Ltd. 1984). P.97. Quoted by Ralph Schoenman, The Hidden History of Zionism, (Santa Barbara,California; Veritas Press, 1988). P. 33.
[4] David K. Shipler, Arab and Jew, (Penguin Books, New York. 1968). P.40.
[5] Max Blumenthal, Goliath, Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. (Nation Books, New York, 2013) p.18.
[6] Ibid.,  p. 91.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Zionist Liturgy

On December 27, 2008, a couple of hundred police cadets gathered for a graduation ceremony. They represented the hope of 1.5  million citizens of Gaza for stability after years of chaos and corruption.  Suddenly, there was an explosion!  An F-16, provided by the U.S., launched a laser-guided missile into the midst of them and forty young academy trained peacekeepers lay dead. This was the first of sixty Israeli jets sent to destroy police stations, schools, mosques, sanitation facilities and chicken coops all across the Gaza Strip. [1]

Of course, I knew nothing about this. I had been in church singing, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”  

Max Blumenthal writes:

At dawn on January 4,  Israeli troops burst into the home of Ateya al-Samouni with their faces blackened for night combat, and tossed a percussion grenade into the center of his salon. When Samouni approached the soldiers with his arms up, waving an Israeli drivers license and his ID, declaring that he was the owner and was unarmed, they shot him and left him to bleed to death while they opened fire on twenty members of his family, badly wounding a four-year old child…Inside the house, the trapped family listened with horror as an American-made Apache helicopter hovered overhead then launched a fusillade of missiles into the house, reducing it to rubble. Nineteen members of the Samouni clan died immediately, and several others lay bleeding heavily.[2]

Again, I knew nothing about the plight of the Samouni family, even though such atrocities are common in the history of Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians.  I was in church listening to a singer belt out, “Go down Moses, tell ol’ Pharaoh, Let my people go.” By the end of the solo, everybody in church felt sorry for the poor Hebrew slaves and celebrated their exodus..   

Exodus is the theme song of liberation theologians. God is on the side of the oppressed.  But even here, we seldom hear about the other end of it, the end where Joshua invades the Canaanites and wipes them out.

And we captured all his cities at that time  and utterly destroyed every city, men, women, and children; we left none remaining.  (Deuteronomy 2:34)

For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come out against Israel in battle, in order that they should be utterly destroyed, and receive no mercy but be exterminated. (Joshua 11:20)

This may be Israel’s God but it is not the God I worship. To those who say, “But you have to realize that these text were written within a completely different context than the one in which we live today.” I say, OK, but I am reading them in today’s context, which is a time when Israel is known for its dehumanizing actions against the people of Palestine.  It’s also a time when the majority of people in America have  for 62 years heard far more each week about Israel as a state than Israel as an ancient God fearing people.

In my church, our new Hymnal has an entire section entitled “God’s Covenant with Israel.”  I would be more pleased if it had a section on God’s Covenant with the Poor, or even Our Covenant with the Oppressed…but Israel!???

Some Israeli soldiers wear T shirts expressing their attitude toward Palestinians.  One T shirt reads “Better use Durex,” (a popular brand of condoms in Israel.) Beneath it is a picture of a Palestinian mother weeping over the body of her dead child still holding his teddy bear.  The message is clear.  We don’t want you to have children and if you do, this is how they will be treated.  Another worn by a sharpshooter from the Givati Brigade “shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s eye superimposed on her belly with the slogan, ‘1 shot, 2 kills.”[3]  These are not worn by hoodlums on the street.  These are soldiers of Israel, on duty and under orders. And all the time, I am confronted with  hymns proclaiming our covenant with Israel.

I understand that Christianity grew out of Judaism and we owe a debt to biblical Israel for monotheism. I am also aware that Jesus stood on the shoulders of the Hebrew prophets when he called for social justice.  At the same time I hear William Sloan Coffin when he says,  “When someone says, ‘You gotta believe it cause it’s in the Bible,’ You can bet your bottom dollar that the person saying that is not referring to the Sermon on the Mount.”   

Gaza is surrounded by sniper towers, walls, check points and tanks. Yousef Aljamal watched his little sister die while being denied a permit to get to the hospital for surgery.   For this reason, I get sensitive in church when the Call to Worship begins with “Bless the Lord God of Israel,” (Luke 1:68) or we read Psalm 121, “Behold, He that keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”  I want to say, Bless the God of Aljamal’s little sister, the God who sides with the poor and oppressed.

Maybe I am too sensitive, but the Zionist language in our church liturgy bothers me. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel,” sounds like the playbook for the “poor me, victim image,” so promoted by Israel, many American Jews and most of our media.  I know, intelligent people can figure out that this hymn refers to ancient Israel and not the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, but I wonder how many people sitting in our pews actually reason this out.  At least emotionally, “poor Israel is what we are left feeling. 

In the church in which I worship, we have a progressive minister who preaches the gospel of liberation theology.  He fearlessly addresses such subjects as gun violence, climate change, immigration, economic inequality and many other justice issues.  For this I am grateful. However, in a day, when Israel transfers water, builds an apartheid wall that denies Palestinians access to hospitals and schools, I wonder why we are in church singing  praises to the God of Abraham rather than raising hell about Israel’s oppression and power policies that hold millions of people in the world’s largest open air prison. Our worship liturgy has us singing “Torah ora…”  We confess, “You are the hope of Israel.”  We receive assurance that “We are the children of Zion.” I appreciate the eagerness to not offend our Jewish neighbors, but is there not an unintended subliminal message of condoning the conduct of Israel’s Zionist government in our silence? When so much of what we hear every day through the news media is pro-Zionist, and our politicians offering total support of Israel and the church being voiceless about the Christian Zionist right wing heresy, I would hope that the church, called to be in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, would bend over backward to not appear to lend support to that political position.

Maybe Samouni would understand that our liturgy refers only to ancient Israel.  Maybe he could understand why we do not want to say anything that might get us labeled anti-Semitic.  Maybe someday, he will reason that what Gaza is experiencing is just a passing phase and that when the dust settles he will think that the church really did care that his home and dignity were stolen from him. Maybe he will understand that our worship is nothing but inherited liturgy. He might even be comfortable with the price of silence as something we are expected to pay to maintain a congenial relationship with our Jewish friends. Maybe he will understand all that. But I don’t. I want to separate myself from anything that could be read as supporting the brutal policies of Zionism.

Years ago, some of the brightest minds in the church became sensitive to “Sexist language.” being sung, prayed and preached week after week. Surely they could understand that everybody knows God is not a male and when we refer to the Almighty as “Father” or “He,” women are also included. However, the feminist theologians kept pointing out that most people cannot separate their theological acumen from the emotional impression being driven into their psyche by repeated references to God in masculine terms  So, today, we have a more sensitive liturgy, and sing from a more gender inclusive hymnbook. We pray to God as Father and Mother, even if sometimes the language is awkward and un-rhythmical.  The feminist theologians were right.

Today, with so many American Jews committed to the state of Israel, even people of conscience hesitate to speak out critically of Israel,  In spite of its atrocities, Israel  gets an apartheid pass. Why? Because most Westerners still see the Palestinian through the eyes of what Edward Said calls Orientalism. 

A white middle-class Westerner believes it is his human prerogative not only to manage the nonwhite world but also to own it, just because by definition “it” is not quite as human as “we” are.[4]

Israel has betrayed the Jewish community. But that is not my responsibility. I fear that the church is betraying the Christian and Muslim community of Palestine and that is my responsibility.

                                                                                                Thomas Are
                                                                                                November 26, 2013

[1] See,  Mex Blumenthal, Goliath,   (Nation Books, New York,  2013) p. 3-4. for this and other sources referred to in this post.  I urge you to read this book.
[2] Blumenthal, Goliath,  p. 7
[3] Omar Barghouti, BDS, The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, Haymaker Books, Chicago, 2011) p.44.
[4] Edward Said, Orientalism, (Vintage Books, New York, 1978.) p. 108

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rapture Theology, Our Greatest Heresy

Through the years, the church, of which I am a part, has faced many heresies, not the least of which was its support of racism.  The old Southern Presbyterian Church, called the Confederate Church, was born on December 6, 1861 in Augusta, Georgia.  The biggest issue facing the nation at that time was slavery. What should be the role of the church?  James H. Thornwell, one of the forefathers of my denomination, sidestepped the whole problem when he addressed the first meeting of the General Assembly by declaring slavery beyond the authority of the church:

In the first place, we would have it distinctly understood that, in our ecclesiastical capacity, we are neither the friends nor the foes of slavery; that is to say, we have no commission either to propagate or abolish it. The policy of its existence is a question which exclusively belongs to the state. We have no right, as a church to enjoin it as a duty, or condemn it as a sin…The social, civil, political problems connected with this subject transcend our sphere, as God has not entrusted to his Church the organization of society, nor the allotment of individuals to their various stations.[1]

Refusal to address that heresy is an embarrassment which continues until this day.

Also, I think of the heresy of nationalism.  I have never been comfortable with putting the American flag in the sanctuary because it seems almost inevitable for the average member of my congregations to identify the mission of the church with the success of America.  They quote, ”My country, right or wrong.” However, they seldom quote the rest of it,  “My country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right, when wrong, to be made right”  The failure of the church to address the unchristian actions of the United States has allowed such ungodly policies as condoning torture, tolerating poverty and polluting the atmosphere.  Not only will the church’s silence on these matters lead to the downfall of America, it will eventually corrode the soul of the church.

Heresies abound, and the church has survived them. However, it is painful to see the church so anemic when facing the heresy of Zionism. I am not thinking of the five million Jewish Zionists.  That is a Jewish heresy, but that is a problem to be addressed by the Jewish community.   I have in mind the fifty million so called Christian Zionists, the CZs, who are far more Z then C.,  those who support the state of Israel, right or wrong. More specifically, they promote the idea that God gave  Palestine to the Jews, therefore anything Israel does to claim that divine donation is of God, including the theft of land and water, robbing Palestinians of their livelihood and dignity, and the indiscriminate bombing of unarmed civilian men, women and children.  I fear that after the Palestinians have been wiped out, all the church will have left is a guilty conscience and our children asking us, “How could you have let it happen?” It will not do to simply say, “We did not know.”

Stephen Sizar, author of several books on Christian Zionism says:

It is my conclusion after more than 10 years of postgraduate research that Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.[2]

And it is all based on the heresy of Rapture Theology. So:


I start by confessing that I am neither a Biblical scholar nor a church historian. But, one does not have to be an expert to recognize the danger of the Rapture Theology promoted by the Christian Zionists.

Most Christians had never heard of Rapture Theology until very recently. Suddenly, it seems that the mega-television churches have become afflicted with a terminal case of “end of the world” madness.  

According to the CZs,  (Christian Zionists)  seven weeks before the second coming and final judgment, true Christians will be “raptured up to heaven.”  From there, they will watch those left behind suffer “tribulation” and war as the tribulation army will fight against the anti-Christ, usually defined as Obama, Khrushchev, the  United Nations or more recently, Islam.   After seven years, Jesus will return to Jerusalem to fight the great battle of Armageddon. Of course,  Jesus wins and rules for a thousand years from his throne in Jerusalem, at which time, every person gets judged. Most of “them” will go to hell.


In 1882, a man named John Nelson Darby, after finding little success in Britain, came to America during the time of the “Great Awakening.” He preached that God has two people, Jews and Christians, but only one, the Jews, has an everlasting covenant with God.  That in itself would have been harmless enough, but Darby goes on to proclaim that Jesus will return twice, first to rapture his true believers to safety and then to war with the anti-Christ. After his victory, Jesus will rule from Jerusalem for a thousand years before the final judgment.   I hasten to point out that no where do our Christian creeds or the  Bible describe Jesus as returning twice. So, where did Darby get his information?

He claims that it came from I Thessalonians 4:16-17.

 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

The believers of Thessalonica were concerned about their loved ones who were already dead and what will happen to them when Jesus returns?  Paul says, Not to worry. Then like declaring a doxology, he explains, They will rise first, to meet Jesus in the air, then it will be our turn.

What the CZs fail to point out is that there is no suggestion in this, or any other Biblical text, that Jesus gathers a crowd unto himself and reverses direction. It was the custom in those days to go out and meet a king, a dignitary, or bridegroom (Mt. 25:6, Acts 28)  and escort him into the city. But, they never changed directions and go off with their king.  

Most significantly, Darby’s goal is for Christians to escape the world and its problems, not to redeem it.  To him, the role of Jesus is to judge sinners, not forgive them.  For 1800  years, no Christian theologian ever saw this “coming in two stages.”

In 1909, Cyrus Scofield came out with his Bible, complete with footnotes supporting  Rapture Theology. Scofield saw the Bible as composed of seven water tight eras which he called dispensations.  We are now living in the sixth department. In fact, the church, according to Scofield’s footnotes, is but a parenthesis, no longer relevant when the rapture occurs.

Then, in 1970, Hal Lindsey shocked the Christian world with his book, The  Late Great Planet Earth. Lindsey was absolutely certain that the rapture was just around the corner and that Israel was its focus. How did he know?  He took three verses out of Matthew.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branches becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (24: 32-35).

Wow!, said Lindsey. The fig tree must mean Israel, and by tender branches, Matthew must be referring to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Thus, Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical prophesy. If a generation can be thought of as 40 years, that means that the rapture, with Jesus coming to Jerusalem, will take place in 1988.  He sold millions of copies.   When 1988 passed without the rapture, he simply revised his timetable and sold more books identifying Russia as the anti-Christ.  Today, he says the anti-Christ is an Arab and that the rapture is "coming soon".

More recently, in the 1990s, the Left Behind, series by Tim LaHaye, hit the market
selling 64 million copies.  You can still go into any book store and ask for Left Behind
The sales person will say, “Of course, we have them. The fiction department is right over
there.”  Not only is LaHaye’s book fiction, his theology is also fiction.  The word rapture
is found no where in the Old or New Testaments.  Look to the signs, he says; wars,
tsunami, Katrina, militarism and Israel’s expansionism. It’s all God’s will. It all leads to
the Rapture. 

John Hagee, is quoted as saying, “God’s plan is to destroy the earth and there is nothing we can do to stop it”
Hal Lindsey, “I grieve over the lost world. Our hope is in the Rapture”“
Jack Van Impe, “Armageddon cannot be avoided.”

Rapture Theology does not make the world better. It seeks to save a chosen few out of the world.  Look at all of the above and you will find little concern for the poor. Some even oppose welfare ministries as being contrary to God’s plan. 

Matthew tells of two men working in the field, suddenly one is taken and the other is left behind.  But what the CZs fail to acknowledge is that the one taken was taken in judgment. (14:39-42)  Being “left behind” is actually the desired fate. Being “taken” would mean being carried off by dark forces like a death squad.

There is no Biblical teaching that the church will be raptured off the earth before Jesus comes to Israel.  Tim LaHaye,  points out that the last time the church is mentioned in the Book of Revelation is in chapter 4, verse 1.  Therefore he concludes that the church must have been raptured.  However, “saints” are very much present throughout the entire book.

In fact, the basic message of the Book of Revelation is that God hears the cry of the “saints,” and will come to them. 

The entire Bible is about justice, not about stealing land and water from Palestinians.  The Book of Revelation pulls back the curtain on Roman power and attacks Roman oppression. It was written for the little people and it warns us of the consequences of failing to feed the hungry and defend the oppressed. The prophets condemned injustice and greed. They advocated for the poor and widows. They did not proclaim a play by play of the future judgments of God.

Many point out that the Book of Revelation is about a Lamb who conquered by shedding his own blood, not shedding the blood of others, it’s about terror defeated, not terror inflicted.

While dispensationalists make the claim that raptured saints are part of the “army of heaven” that returns to earth with Jesus to fight in Revelation 19:14 in what they call the “Glorious Appearing,” this claim is not substantiated in Revelation… and amazingly, no actual attack or war is ever pictured.[3] 

Daniel 9:25-27 says that when the anointed one comes, “sacrifices shall cease.”  Again, the CZs reason that for sacrifices to cease, they must, in fact, be taking place. They declare that everyone knows that the only proper place for a Jew to make a sacrifice is in the temple in Jerusalem.  But, the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE.  Thus, for Jesus to come again, the temple must be rebuilt and it must be rebuilt on the temple mount on the exact spot where Muslims now worship in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  So, we hear conversations about destroying the Dome of the Rock and building another temple so Jesus will have a landing place in Jerusalem. Some CZ churches actually send money to a group called the “Temple Mount Faithful,” who are committed to doing exactly that, to blowing up the Islamic Mosque in Jerusalem, even at the risk of a Third World War.  We also hear our politicians declaring that Jerusalem must never be divided and let’s move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.  It’s OK to keep three million Palestinians under brutal occupation, create the largest refugee population on earth, steal land and water, kill and drive out native Palestinians, it’s all a matter of prophesy. (or campaign contributions).       

Christian Zionists make numerous tours to the “Holy land” every year and never talk to a Palestinian, not even to a fellow Christian. 


Why? Because this heresy is driving our U.S. foreign policy

Yet, Fifty million CZs claim to be speaking for real Christianity as they promote Rapture Theology.  The question is, can the church survive 50 million heretics?  Probably, but the Palestinians certainly will not. And what will we be worth, if we do and they don’t?

                                                                                                Thomas L. Are
                                                                                                October 24, 2013

[1] Maurice W. Armstrong, Lefferts A. Loetcher, and Charles A. Anderson, ed., The Presbyterian Enterprise: Source of American Presbyterian History, (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1961) p. 215
[2] Stephen Sizar, Christan Zionism: The New Heresy that Undermines Middle East peace.  (See
[3] See Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed. (Basic Books, 2004) p.  p. 121.