Among the Intellectualoids

Failure of the Therapeutic

What the religious left doesn't understand about evangelical support for Israel.

By 1.28.08

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The Evangelical Left is again trying to guilt U.S. Evangelicals out of their traditional pro-Israel stance. The latest blast came from the Rev. Rich Nathan of the 6,500 member charismatic Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio.

"Why should an Arab or Muslim embrace something that tells that person that their family, their history, their home, their life doesn't matter?" the Rev. Nathan wondered in a recent sermon that was highlighted by Jim Wallis' Religious Left Sojourners.

He continued, "I really grieve when I hear local Christian radio hosts and TV evangelists speak as if every Arab is a terrorist and The Bible has nothing but bad news for Palestinians. I think to myself: Have you spent even 30 seconds walking in the shoes of an Arab?"

Nathan seemed to subscribe to the stereotype of mindless American Evangelicals who support Israel because of mere few Bible verses. "I have struggled with the idea for years that the hopes, aspirations, homes, families, safety, and the very lives of millions of Arabs don't seem to matter to my fellow Christians," he reported. "I deeply empathize with Arabs whose homes and lives have been taken because the Israeli army backed by America is too strong for them."

Nathan is a Jewish convert to Christianity and professed to affirm Israel's existence. But his sermon exclusively targeted conservative Christian political support for Israel.

"When Christians cavalierly say that the Bible gives the land to the Jews, then what the Arab, and the broader Muslim community hears is: You Christians care nothing about me, or my family at all," Nathan insisted in his continued caricature of Evangelical attitudes. "I mean nothing to you as an Arab, whether I am a fellow Christian or a Muslim. And Muslims say, I suppose I mean nothing to your God. Your Bible is not worth reading."

Nathan cited the historic presence of Christians among the Palestinians and deplored Christians who supposedly "cavalierly say: 'Well, the Bible simply doesn't give you the land -- sorry!'"

HE WENT ON to wonder, "How would you feel if you got your house knocked down or your niece, nephew or son or daughter was shot in front of you?" And he was "saddened about the current post-9/11 American Christian culture that writes off a billion Arabs and Muslims, and views all Arabs and Muslims as terrorists or potential terrorists."

Disagreeing with most Evangelicals in the U.S., Nathan espoused a brand of Replacement Theology that insists that Old Testament promises made to the Jews now apply only to Christians. But he admitted that "biblical justice" gives the Jewish people "at least a portion of that land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea."

Meanwhile, this same biblical justice is violated when Palestinians "are pushed off of their land, and Palestinian children are murdered in bombing raids, when houses are knocked down, and men, women, and children are systematically humiliated and abused, biblical justice stands up for the victim and says this must not continue."

In typical fashion of the Evangelical Left, the Rev. Nathan admits to Jewish sufferings in the Holocaust but makes little mention of Israel's continued struggle for acceptances by its neighbors.

Nathan compared the strife between Israel and the Palestinians to a dysfunctional marriage that needs therapy. "The only way you will ever be brought together is if at some point you open yourself up to hear the hurt, the wounds, the pain that you caused to your spouse," the pastor advised as a geopolitical cure. He wants the Palestinians to recognize Jewish suffering by the Nazis and "subsequent terrorist attacks."

And Israelis must "acknowledge that the discrimination, and bombing, and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians deeply affects the way Palestinians relate to the State of Israel today."

The Rev. Nathan said that Christians bust negotiate this therapy session. But first they'll have to stop telling Palestinians that "they are all just terrorists, that Christ has nothing good to say to them, that the only blessing of God is a blessing upon the Jewish people -- if we Christians repent of our biases and our prejudices and offer ourselves as possible bridge people; this will take a mammoth degree of work in earning the trust of both Israelis and Palestinians."

WRITING ON JIM WALLIS's blog, Sojourners staffer Deanna Murshed lavished praise on Nathan for helping to "theologically unravel Christian Zionism." And she offered him some helpful additional tips. "Many Americans just don't realize where Arab anti-American sentiment stems from because they're unaware of how their own country has operated (and continues to operate) in foreign affairs," she complained, citing America's role in creating the "Zionist state."

She also insisted that American Christians have to appreciate that Arab Christians are not a "small fringe group who have been persecuted by Muslims."

Actually, dwindling Christian populations in most Arab countries often have become a "fringe group" thanks to tyrannical Arab governments and Islamic hostility. Most would be surprised to learn from Sojourners that they have not faced Muslim persecution.

According to much of the Evangelical Left, Arab Christians only suffer because of Israeli and American policies. "Christians blindly supporting U.S. foreign policy can take credit for shooting themselves in the virtual foot of Christ," Murshed concluded.

President Bush's recent trip to the Middle East included a call for a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state, angering many Palestinians, who still dream of Israel's collapse, if not militarily, then by demography. But the Evangelical Left will not lecture Arabs about their own attitudes, preferring instead the usual guilt and apologies for American and Israeli behavior.

Naive Clergy who suggest the conflict merely requires reconciliatory therapy contribute little to any form of justice, much less to the Bible's.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.