Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion & Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church, published in 2008, and Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century.
Author Lela Gilbert just delivered a talk about her fascinating new book Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel Through the Eyes of A Christian Sojourners. She spoke at the Hudson Institute, where she is an adjunct fellow, and which is next to the IRD office. It’s also where IRD board member and religious liberty scholar Paul Marshall is based. Paul was there, as were several IRD staff.
Lela, a Californian, has lived in Israel for the last 6 years, and the book is a memoir of her experiences as a Christian living in a mostly Jewish nation that is constantly under siege. She’s lived with the air raid sirens and periodic rocket attacks from Hamas or Hezbollah. Yet she has always found most Israelis to be resilient and forward thinking, despite their travails.
Israel is one of the few places in the Middle East where Jews, Christians, Muslims mix together freely, Lela observed. Critics of Israel always focus on Palestinians displaced by Israel. But almost nobody, including most Israelis, commonly discuss the 850,000 Jews driven from majority Muslim countries after Israel was founded. Nobody lobbies for their “right of return” or at least a restoration of lost property, much less an apology. Lela notes they are the “forgotten refugees.”
Critics of Israel also liken Israeli policies towards Palestinians on the West Bank to Apartheid. Lela recalls meeting a white South African pastor who escaped to Israel during Apartheid in his native land, where he had pastored a mixed race church. Rev. Malcolm Hedding was targeted by the old South African security service after he began to preach widely against race-based discrimination. In 1986 he was warned to leave the country else risk arrest. When Jimmy Carter much later published his book accusing Israel of Apartheid, Rev. Hedding agreed to be interviewed by Lela, rebutting the Apartheid allegation as “nonsense.” Much of the charge is based on the security barrier Israel built after the second Palestinian Intifada, when terrorists were routinely murdering on the highways. Rev. Hedding also criticized Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s anti-Israel rhetoric for, among other problems, ignoring radical Islamic desires to dismantle Israel.
Lela similarly spoke of a Ugandan Muslim convert to Christianity, Umar Mulinda, who become a preacher and had acid thrown in his face by an Islamist shouting “Alahu Akbar” during a 2011 Christmas service in Kampala. The pastor came to Israel for medical treatment. He’s still recovering in Israel, and his face is permanently disfigured. He has a powerful Christian witness and speaks warmly of Israeli friendship, having hated Israel before his Christian conversion. Lela cites him as a living example of what Jews and Christians together face against radical Islam. She also speaks of other Christian exiles in Israel who escaped majority Muslim countries, most recently Iraq. Exiles of Jews presaged eventual exiles of Christians whose Arab communities, like the Jews, dated back to ancient times. The Christian exodus from Middle East lands continues, and Egypt’s large Christian community is now under siege. But unlike exiled Jews, beleaguered Christians have no natural homeland for relocation. Where will millions of Egyptian Copts go if Muslim Brotherhood rule worsens? There is no Israel for Christians, Lela wistfully observed.
Check out Lela’s book. And also stay tuned for a book coming out in a few months co-authored by Lela, Paul Marshall, and Paul’s colleague at Hudson, Nina Shea. It’s called Persecuted: the Global Assault on Christians. Too many churches are silent about global persecution, while many oddly obsess over Israeli transgressions. On Sunday, I attended a rural United Methodist church outside Winchester, Virginia. A lay woman delivered a special Christmas poem/prayer from the pulpit that lamented how too many Christians withhold friendship from Israel and the Jews when under attack. It was an unexpected, encouraging remainder that outside elitist circles, many Christians remain discerning and aware.
Follow Mark Tooley, IRD President, on Twitter. You can find him at @MarkDTooley.Google+