Americans Mideast Christians Jerusalem Israel

January 18, 2018

Americans, Christians & Jerusalem

As this Religion News Service story explains, Palestinian Christian leaders have criticized USA recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. So too have other Mideast Christians. Some American church officials and activists critical of Israel for years have long cited views by Mideast Christians as needed corrective counsel for pro-Israel American Christians.

These same Americans who stress Mideast Christian critique of Israel, which syncs with their own politics, are typically or often silent about mistreatment of Mideast Christians in Muslim majority societies, which does not similarly sync.

Should American Christians temper their support for Israel in deference to Mideast Christian views?

The RNS story includes one quote explaining Mideast Christians, especially Palestinians, as very small and shrinking minority groups in often dangerous political cultures, can not afford to be any other than critical of Israel. Any widespread perception they are disloyal to the dominant political assumptions of their cultures would further imperil their already precarious futures in the Mideast. Who can blame them for protecting their own communities?

Mideast Christian communities, when they speak politically to the world, somewhat echo church groups of the old East Bloc that dutifully criticized the West during the Cold War. Often leftist Western church groups, in their own opposition to Western and especially USA political and military policies countering Soviet influence, would cite the “peace” advocacy of Soviet and East European church prelates and groups. East Bloc church delegations routinely visited the USA to urge support for Soviet-espoused disarmament initiatives.

Of course, the East Bloc church groups, struggling to survive under anti-Christian dictatorships, could do no other. Some prelates were directly controlled by their regimes, while others performed likewise so as to protect their already limited church autonomy. Some of these prelates may’ve actually believed their own political rhetoric, especially after decades of indoctrination, as it’s very human to adopt views best conducive to personal survival. After Communism fell, these prelates and church groups had to contend with the impact of their understandably self-protective but corrupting collaboration with the old regimes.

Mideast Christians in some ways have even greater challenges, as their struggle for survival as besieged minorities, often lacking legal equality with the Muslim majority, dates back over 1,000 years. And their vulnerability will continue indefinitely, although we pray and work for a time when Mideast Christians can live without restriction and fear.

Some Mideast Christians, as political and intellectual leaders, over a century ago embraced Arab nationalism as a progressive and liberating alternative to imperialism and theocracy. That narrative further compelled their outspoken opposition to Zionism and to the West. Sadly, most Arab nationalisms have resulted in dictatorship and repression, if also survival for Christian communities that were accorded some protection.

Some American Christian elites like to imagine that Christians of every culture can and should divorce themselves from national and local loyalties in favor of complete allegiance to an idealized universal church impartially touting world peace. But this expectation, at least how it’s presented, is itself very American, and is unrealistic, if not almost gnostic. All Christians belong to particular place and culture, to which they have God-ordained duties.

It’s not plausible nor right to expect Christians of different nations and historical experiences to politically harmonize on all issues that divide their cultures. Christians are often called to bridge building and mediation. But they won’t nor should they necessarily always try to escape their own earthly formations and allegiances.

American Christians have a unique history across centuries of special identification with and sympathy for the Hebrew experience, especially the Exodus, which Thomas Jefferson, himself quietly Unitarian, proposed the great seal of the United States portray, as did religiously similar Benjamin Franklin. The common negative caricatures of supposedly apocalyptic modern evangelical Zionism ignore this rich legacy that shaped not only American Christianity but also America. It’s folly to negate this history or to pretend American Christianity could or should shed its legacy of biblicism and philo-Semitism, which includes appreciation for the Jewish people, with their ancient ties to their homeland and its capital.

It’s also unreasonable to expect Mideast Christians to act completely outside their own historical experience and modern political necessities. We can search for commonalities while also respecting that different Christian communities, even as they belong to the One Body of Christ, still have unique and sometimes ostensibly conflicting vocations. American friendship for Israel is rooted deep in our spiritual and political DNA. We can acknowledge the different, long accumulated experiences of other cultures, with their respective political expectations, without in any way diminishing our own perspective and unique responsibilities.

12 Responses to Americans, Christians & Jerusalem

  1. Tamlyn Collins says:

    Thank you for writing about this important issue. We recently had a bulletin insert with 10 scriptural reasons that Christians should support Israel. Educating ourselves about the Christian history concerning Israel is crucial.

  2. Richard Bell says:

    This is appalling:
    “The RNS story includes one quote explaining Mideast Christians, especially Palestinians, as very small and shrinking minority groups in often dangerous political cultures, can not afford to be any other than critical of Israel. Any widespread perception they are disloyal to the dominant political assumptions of their cultures would further imperil their already precarious futures in the Mideast. Who can blame them for protecting their own communities?”
    On the basis of one quote, Mr Tooley accuses Palestinian Christians of hypocrisy without. Mr Tooley’s accusation is unjustified. The emigration of Palestinian Christians, which may lead to disappearance of any Christian presence in Palestine, accelerated after Israel’s occupation, but that is because Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims are in the same boat — a tramp freighter made miserable by the Israelis. Palestinians of all faiths can see the occupation and its effects clearly. (Mr Tooley, it seems, cannot.)

    • George Brown says:

      This one clearly knows little about the history or “facts on the ground” in this matter and has bought the false Arab propaganda hook, line and sinker! The propagandists rely on this ignorance, but thankfully, it is diminishing as more and more, especially Christians, learn the history and contemporary facts of the MIddle East. I suppose, however, there will always be those who “will not see.”

      • Richard Bell says:

        Is Mr Brown asserting that Arabs of all faiths have broadcast propaganda falsely asserting that Palestinian Christians are sincere in their opposition to Israeli occupation? I have heard of no such propaganda, so I personally cannot have “bought [it] hook, line and sinker”. Mr Brown cites no admission of past hypocrisy from any Christian who has made it safely out of occupied Palestinian. Mr Brown has not pointed to any of “the history and contemporary facts of the Middle East” that would support his agreement with Mr Tooley. Mr Brown’s assertions are as bald as Mr Tooley’s. The speculations of these men do no honor to Jesus, who is the truth.
        Now, in contrast, I have talked with many Christian émigrés from Palestine who have no motive to oppose the Israeli occupation just because their Palestinian neighbors oppose it. Every one of those émigrés is a fervent opponent of the occupation. (My interviewees may be too small in number for solid empirical confirmation, but my informal research has it all over the sheer speculations of Mr Tooley and Mr Brown.)

    • Giles Caver says:

      Israeli Christians and Muslims enjoy more peaceful and prosperous lives than do their fellow confessors anywhere else in the Middle East. Mr. Bell’s claims are ignorant, bigoted or both.

      • Richard Bell says:

        The question is motive for Palestinian Christians’ opposing Israel’s occupation. Mr Caver should attend to the subject of any conversation he joins. That might help him avoid looking foolish.

        • Giles Caver says:

          If any Arab Christians object to the State of Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, which it seized during the Arabs’ unprovoked War of 1967, then they should lobby their Fatah tyrants to negotiate a lasting peace just as all defeated peoples do. What is foolish — and dangerous — is to expect any wartime occupier to withdraw absent a peace agreement. Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza years ago, and we see how its Hamas tyrants have misbehaved since. Are Mr. Bell and any Arab Christians really so foolish as to expect Israel to do the same in the West Bank?

          • Richard Bell says:

            Arab Christians say that they oppose Israel’s occupation. The question is their motivation for saying that. Mr Tooley accuses Arab Christians of hypocrisy. I say Arab Christians are sincere.
            Mr Caver’s initial remarks were irrelevant to the question and I see that he has more than doubled his irrelevancies.

  3. Penny says:

    “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper.” Psalm 122:6

  4. David says:

    “It’s also unreasonable to expect Mideast Christians to act completely outside their own historical experience and modern political necessities”

    Can the Christians in the Levant do this without conceding to islamist and arabism? Can they adopt another identity that is not arabist?

    Many Christians there have seen the lies of Arabism because they’ve seen Arabism as no different from Islamism. I’ve known Christians who have adopted different identities such as Aramean, Phoenicnism, and Rum nationalism as a reaction against Arabism. This was evident during the Lebanese Civil war when Christians defined themselves as Phoenicians and worked with the Israeli to fight off the Radical Palestinians. I know Syria’s reign with Bashar al Assad, though baath and Arabist in name, has adopted a pan Syrianism ideology as a reaction against arabism because the Alawite community, which Assad is a part of, has been hampered and oppressed by Arab nationalists. This is one reason why the Christians in Syria have been better off before the civil war. in Syria.

  5. Kurt says:

    I would not say this is a distinction between American and Middle Eastern Christian. Better, it is a difference between Christians of various Apostolic churches (Eastern and Western) and American Evangelical Protestants.

  6. Earl H Foote says:

    As an Episcopalian, I was ashamed to hear, in an Episcopal parish, the leader of the Sabeel Institute, Naim Ateek, deny any right of Jews (except for the ones whose families came before 1917) to live in Israel, or what he calls Palestine. He gave a distorted view of the history of Zionism and even misquoted Nehemiah 2:20 to mean that the prophet told the Jews (he told the foreign tribes) that they did not belong in Jerusalem. I will note that Rev. Ateek and the Bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem live in Israel, where they are free to criticize the government. Perhaps Palestinian Christians are helpless against the tide of Islamic rule (I certainly hope not), but that is not a reason to agree with them, it is a reason the protect the existence of Israel, which is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian percentage of the population is increasing.

    Mark, I would have put a different emphasis on what was covered, but I think that you gave a good perspective of the situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *