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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Another Look At Israel And Palestine

Here's the problem, you have a people who have been oppressed for centuries. And many of them believe that it is their religious duty to guard the land. Finally, a glimmer of hope appears on the horizon, the possibility of nationalism arises, but there is an obstacle. What should they do?

Though the degree of suffering is different, the above description fits both the Jews and Palestinian Arabs. These two peoples are remarkably similar. And that is one of the major problems. The two groups have more in common than they care to admit.

Their similarities should cause dissonance in the hearts and minds of those who brutalize those from the other side. It should. But it doesn't. Bitterness and opportunism have anesthetized the consciences of many who either support or take part in the carnage.

 How should the Church respond? Unfortunately, eschatological issues and nationalism have complicated this question. Those who adhere to Dispensationalism make the God of the Universe into a tribal god. They have made Him into the god of America and Israel. Here, history tells us that this is the same old, same old. That this has been done from the beginning of time. History also tells us that making God into a tribal god should raise red flags; it should, but it doesn't. It doesn't because we fall prey to the temptation of thinking that God is on our side as we fight "His" battles for Him. This is a salve to the conscience.

We have already answered some of the religious concerns of the Dispensationalists in previous posts (Conversing With CUFI, Brickner vs Piper on Israel) and more answers can be found in the article An Open Letter To Evangelicals. We should note that Dispensationalists describe helping Israel as if it was a magical chant. And people who follow their call will feel a real and deep sense of significance because they think they are siding with God. But in the end, besides compromising the Gospel, they would have only submitted to the tribalism previously discussed.

We should also note that those who support Israel are not the only ones who can promote tribalism or a gang mentality. So can those who want to free Palestine from the Jordan to the sea if they call for dominance by the Palestinians. When I talked to CUFI conference attendees, I had to tell them that I did not support dominance by either group. Rather, I said that they should have equal access to the land.

But tribalism has a strong historical appeal to American Dispensationalists. After all, it was tribalism that oversaw European invaders as they ethnically cleansed this land from its indigenous population. This "cleansing"consisted of one atrocity after another but it was never fully dealt with, and perhaps never fully will by those European-Americans who believe in the gospel of self-exaltation. Believing that one's own group has a virtually inerrant monopoly on God's truth can make one loud and proud but also defensive toward all who question.

It is this tribalism, or gang mentality, that, in an age of inevitable proliferation of WMDs, threatens all. And this is the point that the Church must speak up. It must speak out against the gang mentality that says right and wrong depends on who does what to whom. It must speak out against the religiously based tribalism that externalizes all evil so that one's own actions are assumed to be above reproach. And for us American Christians to do that, we must come to grips with the many atrocities committed by those who preceded us.

It is only when we first disown our own tribalism and prefer principle to patriotism that we can then challenge both Israelis and Palestinians to do the same. And this is what the Church must pursue not just for morality's sake, but for our survival. We must help people  see the gross injustice that tribalism, or gang mentality, not only allows but demands. It is only then that we can be seen as representatives of God regarding Israel and Palestine. Otherwise, we will participate in just another instance of history where one group claims, by its own merits, the right to take from and destroy another group.


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