Friday, September 30, 2011

Is God in the Land-granting Business?

Conservative Christians are avid supporters of Israel, and in the vanguard of lobbying efforts for the U.S. rejection of Palestine’s bid to become an internationally recognized country.
The formal request for Palestinian statehood was submitted to the U.N. Security Council on September 23 by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. That request was considered this week—and then sent to a special committee for further study.
The U.S., perhaps largely because of the Jewish lobby and the outspoken voices of the Religious Right, has said that it will veto Palestine’s request if it comes to a vote in the Security Council. And that, I think, is a shame.
When I attended the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in June, I expected to hear the strong support of the anti-abortion and anti-gay statements made there by the Republican politicians who spoke. But I was not prepared for the even stronger support given to the pro-Israel/anti-Palestine issue.
Jay Sekulow is the Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). (The ACLJ was founded by Pat Robertson in 1990; Sekulow earned his Ph.D. degree at Regents University, also founded by Pat Robertson.) At the Faith & Freedom meeting, I heard Sekulow say in two different sessions, “God is in the land-granting business”—meaning that the current nation of Israel is occupying land granted that nation by God.
The same strong position was taken by Southern Baptist Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. At the same conference I heard him declare supports for Israel because he “believes the Bible,” specifically Genesis 12 and 17.
Land also said that President Truman approved the creation of the nation of Israel in 1948 because he had grown up studying the Bible in a Baptist Sunday School. (Truman made the decision to recognize the establishment of the State of Israel over the objections of Secretary of State George Marshall.)
Further, Land referred to President Obama as “the worst President of the United States that Israel has ever had,” and he said to Israel, “Help is on the way!” At the time I thought he meant that a Republican president was going to be elected in 2012, but, as we now see, perhaps he just meant that so much pressure was going to be put on the President that he would support Israel against Palestine in 2011!
But this position, called “Christian Zionism” by some, is wrong-headed, in my opinion. And I was happy that on September 19 my friends Dr. Glen Stassen and Dr. David Gushee issued “An Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists,” a strong statement opposing the idea that God is in the land-granting business and therefore Christians should support Israel and oppose Palestine’s bid for statehood. (The link to that statement is here.)
The current issue of The Economist also got it right: Israel has the right to exist. But the Palestinians also “deserve a state of their own.” And, “These two beliefs are entirely compatible.” Thus, “In blocking any Palestinian aspirations at the UN, America is helping extremists on both sides.”


  1. Here is a relevant quote from Stassen & Gushee noted: "At a theological level, we are claiming that even if one accepts a) a divine promise of land to the Jewish people as recorded in scripture, b) a belief that this promise extends even to this day, and c) the modern state of Israel as, in part, God’s gracious fulfillment of this promise, one must also say d) the Bible, in the prophetic writings, also teaches that persistent injustice on the part of Israel has evoked, and still can bring, God’s judgment, which can extend even to war and exile. Israel’s remaining in the land depends on Israel’s now doing justice to Palestinians and making peace with its Arab neighbors that surround Israel." And I would cite Jimmy Carter's support for Palestinian statehood:

  2. I much appreciate the comments posted above by Phil, a new Thinking Friend (and a new friend). In particular, I not only appreciate his citing the helpful statements by Stassen & Gushee but also for referring to President Carter as well. I wanted to make reference to Carter's 2006 book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," but I try to limit my articles to about 500 words and I ran out of room.

  3. A Thinking Friend in Wisconsin wrote (in part):

    "I am . . . against everything Obama and the US is doing to support the government of Israel." The Jews there are "tearing apart the lives of their own people and Palestinian people."

  4. From my esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky:

    "Obama is under great pressure to cave in to the conservative view. I hope those of us who have a concern for a two-state solution will encourage him."

  5. From another esteemed Thinking Friend, who was long a political science professor:

    "Of course you are entirely right. Personally, I don't believe that Obama (or any other US President) would forfeit Jewish support by pursuing a more even handed policy toward the Israeli-Palastinian issue. There are many moderate Jews in the US, though perhaps they are not as vocal as Jewish lobbies. But politicians are sorely tempted to pursue the policy seen as most likely to produce the most vocal support, not the even handed one."

  6. Well does Leroy say, "I ran out of room." So many issues are connected, from 19th century American "Indian Reservations," to Henry Ford's 1930s support for Hitler, to the extent to which America was the model for both the Nazis and South Africa. We all remember the grief Jimmy Carter took for pointing out that Israeli strategy for dealing with the Palestinians was consciously modeled on apartheid. Then there are all the theological loose ends. If we were really ambitious, we could connect global warming, the population bomb, scientific literacy, and civil rights.

    Americans and Europeans are quite stuck in their efforts to get out the aftermath of the Great Recession. Should we expect Israelis to be any more agile in extracting themselves from their ongoing mess? Well, this I would say: America is still, painfully, extracting itself from the world it created over a century ago with Indian Reservations, Hitler and the Nazis are gone, apartheid is overturned, and being treated like the proverbial fatted calf by a Christian right that hopes to hasten the apocalypse is not my idea of a recipe for confidence. Yet, America is the main support of Israel, and as such, we have a special responsibility..

    In the 19th century the failure of the other powers to reasonably accommodate the rising power of Germany helped set the stage for a whole series of disastrous wars. A similar situation surrounds the Muslim world today. From Kashmir to Chechnya to Bosnia to Nigeria to Sudan to Palestine, the non-Muslim world is failing to find just and workable solutions for moral and political crises. During the Arab Spring, America has even had a hard time deciding whether we are on the side of "our" dictators or "their" people.

    Elijah had a famous run-in with the government of Israel over the issue of taking someone's land. As I recall, it did not end so well for Ahab and Jezebel. Perhaps we could start a discussion there, preferably with everyone dressed in sackcloth and ashes. It is not a matter of who is innocent or guilty, it is about how we can find peace.

  7. The true value of Israeli-Palestinian peace is having two people share a land the same size as the state of New Jersey. It should not be a case of grabbing land, but one of having demarcated boundaries for nation-states. In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. We must go back to that original plan, and it can be done. Israel did a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and in the West Bank, Israel will have to decide whether to move all the settlers back to the pre-1967 borders, or stay and become citizens of Palestine. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, compared it to the reconciliation between Germany and his country. But you must take into consideration that both France and Germany have two of the largest economies in Europe. Right now the Palestinian economy is so dependent on international aid, and Gaza has virtually no economy whatsoever. So efforts need to be made to build up the Palestinian economy to even begin to have an edge to the Israeli economy. Already the Palestinians do U.S. $3 billion dollars worth of business with Israel. Israel is the Palestinians largest trading partner. Peace can be achieved through economic viability, which will led to political stability. But this is an issue which needs a lot of international support, not just from France, but especially from the United States. President Obama had a meeting in Washington, D.C. between Netanyahu and Abbas, but it is going to have to be more than just one meeting. There must be timelines with specific issues, just like Jimmy Carter's 1979 peace accord between Israel and Egypt. It is just like what is says in Proverbs 21:21, when it says "He who pursues righteousness and love find life, prosperity and honor."