At the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, David Gushee of Mercer University and Glen Stassen of Fuller Evangelical Seminary have penned an “Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists,” pleading with them to “find a better way” to “love” Israel.
Gushee and Stassen have recently visited the Occupied Territories. Note that they use this terminology, in a sharp departure from the framing deployed by the targets of their letter. Christian Zionists more frequently use “Judea and Samaria” to refer to the West Bank, which is the terminology used by Rep. Joe Walsh, the Tea Party favorite and child support evader who has introduced a congressional resolution urging Israel to annex the West Bank should the Palestinians continue to pursue a statehood bid at the U.N.
[W]e were shown repeatedly how Israeli settlements (actually, planned cities and towns on occupied Palestinian land) are eating away at the territory that would belong to any viable Palestinian state. The Palestinians are convinced that the Netanyahu government in Israel is pursuing a strategy of delaying negotiations while creating facts on the ground that will make a Palestinian state impossible. A visitor to the increasingly encircled and truncated Palestinian territories can see these facts on the ground with his own eyes if he is willing to look.
Contrast that to Walsh’s appearance on the 700 Club with Pat Robertson, in which he maintained “the Arabs living in that land right now under Israeli control have a better quality of life, they’re freer and more prosperous than in any other Arab country.”
Gushee and Stassen, though, continue with a sharp rebuke of Christian Zionism and its role in the oppression of the Palestinians:
This Christian version of Zionism matters deeply, not just because theology intrinsically matters, but because it is overwhelmingly clear that American evangelical-fundamentalist Christian Zionism affects US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians in distressing ways. It is one reason why the United States stands almost alone in the world community in supporting Israeli policies which our international friends generally find intolerable if not immoral and illegal.
But it’s not just the international community that finds the occupation immoral and illegal; Gushee and Stassen accuse their evangelical brethren of the sin of underwriting human rights abuses and ensuing violence:
Not to put too fine a point on it, we wish to claim here that the prevailing version of American Christian Zionism—that is, your belief system—underwrites theft of Palestinian land and oppression of Palestinian people, helps create the conditions for an explosion of violence, and pushes US policy in a destructive direction that violates our nation’s commitment to universal human rights. In all of these, American Christian Zionism as it currently stands is sinful and produces sin. We write as evangelical Christians committed lifelong to Israel’s security, and we are seriously worried about your support for policies that violate biblical warnings about injustice and may lead to the outcome you most fear—serious harm to or even destruction of Israel.
We write as evangelicals to you, our fellow evangelicals. On the shared basis of biblical authority, we ask you to reconsider your interpretation of Scripture, for the sake of God, humanity, the United States, and, yes, Israel itself, the Land and People we both love.
Rick Perry is not a Gushee-Stassen evangelical. In his speech this morning in New York, he portrayed the Palestinians as the sole aggressors, and the Obama administration as appeasors. “Simply put, we would not be here today at the precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama Policy in the Middle East wasn’t naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous,” he said. “It must be said, first, that Israel is our oldest and strongest democratic ally in the Middle East and has been for more than 60 years. The Obama Policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a dangerous insult.”
As I was writing this, an email from Christians United for Israel (representing a big chunk of Gushee and Stassen’s target audience) arrived in my inbox, urging followers to “stand with” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who will be “entering a lion’s den” at the United Nations. “We want him to stand proudly knowing that millions of Christians stand with him. We want him to feel our hands holding up his arms. We want him to remember that, ultimately, the truth will prevail.”
But Gushee and Stassen offer an extensive exegesis of the Biblical texts the Christian Zionists use for their uncompromising stance, and then conclude:
[W]e have seen enough to claim that the occupation practices of the modern state of Israel are a direct violation of the most basic biblical moral principles. It is immoral to steal anything, including people’s land, homes, and vineyards. It is immoral to dehumanize people, as occurs daily at Israeli checkpoints. It is immoral to choke people’s freedom and deprive them of their dignity. And it is foolish, a violation of every lesson of history, to think that through sheer intimidation and superior military power a people can be subjugated indefinitely without rising up in resistance or attracting more powerful allies who will do so on their behalf. God gave humanity a recognition of justice and a nearly endless capacity to resist injustice. It is wired into our nature, and the Palestinian people and the neighboring countries have it just like everyone else does.
Gushee and Stassen don’t mince words in their final plea with the Christian Zionists: “Christians are called to be peacemakers (Mt 5:9), but by offering uncritical support of current Israeli policies you are actively inflaming the Middle East toward war—in the name of God. This is appalling; it is intolerable; it must stop!”