A scary melange of religion and public policy reared its fearsome head Sept. 20 when Rick Perry, governor of Texas and a potential Republican candidate for president, took advantage of the “should the U.N. recognize Palestine as a state?” brouhaha to advance his political ambitions (see Bob Allen’s report here).
Surrounded by a group of Jewish leaders, including some of the ultra-Orthodox who court the friendship of Christian Zionists, Perry drew a direct connection between his Christian faith and his belief that America should always support Israel.
“As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel,” Perry said. His view, a song that has been sung by televangelists from Jerry Falwell to Jimmy Swaggart to Benny Hinn and John Hagee, is based on the belief that God’s promise to Abraham in Gen. 12:3 should guide American-Israeli relations.
In the text, God’s call to Abraham included the pledge “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (12:3a, NRSV). Many American Christians, especially among the more conservative, equate Abraham and his progeny with the modern State of Israel, assuming that God has promised to bless modern nations that support the State of Israel. Thus, someone like Perry can say, as he did, “So from my perspective, it’s pretty easy. Both as an American, and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.”
It’s an easy mistake to make, but no less a mistake. To begin with, there’s no biblical command for Christians to support a political entity called Israel, as if it is a direct heir to Abraham. In fact, the New Testament is called “the New Testament” because it’s based on the idea that God’s covenant with Israel was eclipsed by a new covenant with all people through the agency of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, the modern State of Israel is far from equivalent to the Old Testament people of Israel. The secular State of Israel was established by the United Nations in 1948, for good or ill, as a safe haven for Jews who had been badly persecuted in the years before and during World War II. It was a move made out of well-meaning compassion for the world’s Jews — but with unfortunate callousness toward the Palestinians who lived in the land for hundreds of years.
Most of the Jews living in Israel today are secular, non-observant Jews. The Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox, a small percentage of the Jewish population (but with disproporionate influence), are exceptions.
It’s presumptuous to assume that God’s promise to Abraham in Gen. 12:3a is a promise to the modern State of Israel, and it’s an even larger mistake (especially in a land that holds to a separation of church and state) to let the nation’s foreign policy be guided by an erroneous interpretation of a biblical text.
And yet Governor Perry has the hutzpah to describe President Obama’s Middle East policies as “naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.”
It is true that one of those two has some naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous ideas about Israel — but it’s not the president.