Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jerusalem Should be a City of Peace for People of All Faiths

On May 16, 2011, Glen Beck announced his next rally, which is to be held on August 24 in Jerusalem, calling it Restoring Courage. Beck’s announcement, which came two days after the sixty-third anniversary of Israel’s declaration of sovereignty on May 14, 1948, was in reaction to President Obama’s remarks concerning the need to create a two state solution based on the 1967 borders. Beck, like others, is angered by this decision, and sees this as a move away from U.S. support for Israel.

The creation of modern State of Israel as an independent state and a home for the Jewish people opened a flood gate of violence that continues to this day, and it created a human catastrophe as nearly a million Palestinians were forced from their homes and became refugees, a number that, according to the United Nations, has increased exponentially. While attempts at establishing lasting peace have been made on several occasions, none have been successful. What is an authentic Christian response to the Middle East question?

Psalm 122:6 commands us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and clearly peace is at the heart of Jesus’ message that the rule of God has come into the world. Yet, it seems that obstacles to peace for all inhabitants of the land called holy by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, have prevented such long term steps toward peace and harmony in the region. Nothing continues to threaten such hopes of peace like religious extremism.

There has been a longtime extremist movement in an American version of Christianity that has played a key role in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East, and particularly over the thorny issue of the historic Land of Palestine. While many conservative and fundamentalist Christians hold stringently to the belief that God has ordained the existence of the modern State of Israel, and that Israel should hold onto confiscated land at any cost without regard for the humanity of the Palestinians, none is more vocal than the Reverend John Hagee and his movement, Christians United for Israel. In fact, according to the website of the Christians United for Israel, anyone can sign up to participate in a conference call with Mr. Beck on June 16, 2011.

It does not take much reading or listening to Hagee to understand how he sees history. His view, which is thoroughly apocalyptic and eschatological, sees human history as moving toward a predestined end, and he argues that the modern State of Israel will play a key role in the apocalyptic end of the world. While he seeks to support his view from the Book of Revelation, and from various texts from the Hebrew Bible, he is very selective in his readings, and he reads only from his own apocalyptic position, placing his narrow theological ideas on the text as a systematic grid through which all of scripture should be read.

Hagee’s interpretations of scripture, however, are misguided, and his sermons, accompanied by the colorful, dramatic, and neatly organized charts that disguise his irrational position, are only fictitious expectations about the end times. More tragically, however, he sees apocalyptic war as the inevitable end, and seeks to push the region to that end as quickly as possible.

In spewing his religious extremist rhetoric, Hagee differs little from other religious extremists, who base their understanding of the Middle East conflict solely on religious terms, and who believe the only solution to be a great apocalyptic war in which the followers of God will be victorious over those who are evil. The problem with these positions is that each claims to speak for God and each despises the other as evildoers.

While many Christians, and others, have rightly voiced disgust at the hateful rhetoric of extremists from other faiths, rarely have we heard criticism about Hagee’s rhetoric. Even some conservative politicians have attended and have spoken at his rallies. Yet, Hagee fits the description of a false prophet whose intentions are not for peace in Israel, but for annihilation of an oppressed race, the Palestinians. He is about as far away from the teachings of Jesus as one could possibility get on this issue.

In fact, many folks, including Jews, have questioned Hagee’s support for Israel as simply a means to an end. In a 2009 segment of 60 minutes called “Zion’s Christians Soldiers”, Gershom Gorenberg said, "They don't love real Jewish people. They love us as characters in their story, in their play, and that's not who we are, and we never auditioned for that part, and the play is not one that ends up good for us. If you listen to the drama they're describing, essentially it's a five-act play in which the Jews disappear in the fourth act."

The fact of the matter is that since the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948, the Palestinians, who had peacefully resided there for generations, have been oppressed, ghettoized, and killed by state sponsored acts of terror. Certainly, extremist Palestinian terrorist groups who have acted in horrible violence against innocent Israeli civilians must be held accountable for their horrendous acts. We must not gloss over these atrocities. But Israel must also be held responsible for the illegal confiscation of land, the oppression of millions of Palestinians who have been forced from their homes, and the killing of many innocent Palestinians by Israeli armed forces.

I am afraid that our religious, political, and media driven culture has so clouded our understanding of the complex issues surrounding the Middle East conflict that we have gravitated to fanciful beliefs and explanations about the region that have no real grounding in scripture, and that completely ignore the teachings of Jesus that call us to be peacemakers. Christians who are concerned about the peace of Jerusalem would do much better by being more broadly informed about the complex issues from experts who have studied the history of the conflict, rather than getting their information from the likes John Hagee and Glenn Beck.

May the God of peace bring shalom, salaam, and peace to Jerusalem for people from all faiths.

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