The latest edition of BMS World Mission’s engage magazine upset a number of folks who fervently support the nation of Israel.
In pursuing our occasional “guest editor” policy, specifically designed to enable voices from the world church to shape and inform our views, some protested Alex Awad’s article about Palestine.
Alex is an Arab Christian leader whose family members have been Christians in Palestine for centuries. You can read his article here. Interestingly, as the letters came in, I was in the West Bank visiting Alex and other BMS partners.
Those who wrote to us were mostly part of the Christian Zionist movement in the United States and the United Kingdom, rather than from our Baptist churches. But this is an important issue so let me make a few personal comments.
First, concerning theology. A Christian Zionist worldview sees the establishment of the state of Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and with it a particular end-times theology associated with the return of Christ.
I respect those who hold such a view as long as they express it politely, which most did, but I strongly disagree with them. The Bible does speak of a special place for the Jews, but Christian Zionism makes the mistake of equating this with the establishment of the state of Israel.
Second, concerning politics. Jews have been victims of persecution for centuries and so it was understandable that at the end of the 19th century a vision arose for a Jewish state. However, the old slogan concerning Palestine – “a land without a people for a people without a land” – was a fallacy.
At its crudest, this indicated an attempt to ignore the presence of the Arab Palestinian people, Christians and Muslims.
At its most generous interpretation, it is argued that “a land without a people” meant “a people in the sense of a self-conscious national group.” But the effect has been the same. The land that had been home to Arab Christians and Muslims for more than a thousand years today is a land where they live as second- or third-class citizens.
However, and this is messy but pragmatic, the status quo is irreversible. I support the right of the Jewish people to live in peace and security in today’s Israel, and abhor the daily threat under which they live from some surrounding states. I just ask that they grant the same dignity for Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
Third, bring theology and politics together. The gospel is always a justice issue, and justice is always a political issue. Theology, be it good or bad, will express itself politically, for good or ill.
The plight of the Jews over many centuries, the disgrace of anti-Semitism, the horror of the holocaust – the roots of these vilest of sins are to be traced back in large measure to bad theology. The same is true of the many expressions of modern-day terrorism. But whether it is state oppression or violent protest, they are both parasitical; they feed on each other.
What is needed is not ideologues but peacemakers.
The tragedy is that the state of Israel does not offer to the Palestinian people the very thing it long desired for itself. Even now, with the West Bank and Gaza effectively the maximum limits of any future state for the Palestinian people, Israel denies them even this by building settlements that defy the will of the international community and make life for the Palestinians insufferable behind a wall that is as offensive as it is ultimately futile.
Jews, condemned to live in ghettos for centuries, now have a state of their own and imprison the Palestinians in a ghetto instead. How ironic.
David Kerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission. This column first appeared on his blog, Thinking Mission, and is used by permission. BMS World Mission was founded in 1792 in Britain as the Baptist Missionary Society.