By now the 2004 national Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly statements about Israeli-Palestinian relations are well known around the world, to Jews and Israelis especially. They raise questions about possible antisemitism among Presbyterians, emboldening other mainline churches such as Episcopalians and Anglicans to entertain a similar approach about a situation the leaders of these churches appear to know all too little about.
There are several basic pronouncements made by the PCUSA national directors this year that are especially irksome. Israeli soldiers stationed in the Palestinian-controlled territories were referred to as "occupiers" who can be chastised and induced to leave, as white leaders in apartheid South Africa responded to international pressure through the economic pressure of divestiture. In a "clarifying statement," the clerk of the 2004 General Assembly said Zionism was never compared to apartheid, but the implication is there.
In fact, the Israeli government has tried every possible approach to reach a peaceful accord with Palestinian leaders (none of whom has been elected, kept his promises to stop terrorism or showed good faith or even respect for the right of Israel to exist). Israel tried turning territories over to the control of the Palestinian Authority in the past, but it turned out to be too dangerous to Israeli citizens. Israeli soldiers have had to re-enter the disputed territories, with reluctance, for their own protection, just as police in America would attempt to protect us from mass-murderers.
How would we in the U.S. feel if we had to face world pressure to negotiate with Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks instead of using the only approach that would eliminate the danger, namely overthrowing the Afghan government under his control and destroying his followers who, like Yasser Arafat's terrorists, have dedicated their lives to blind hate, destruction and evil?
The Israeli governments, over the course of the existence of the modern State of Israel, have alternated between being doves and hawks, negotiators and hard-liners, but in the end Israeli citizens appear to be safer when firm and unequivocal actions are taken. Palestinian leadership, never elected, never democratic, forever fostering hatred of Jews among the young, glorifying suicide bombers as martyrs, have never wavered from their goal of taking over the entire State of Israel for Islamic extremism under the control of Yasser Arafat or whoever replaces him.
It is quite a statement about the life of somebody like Arafat that millions will be relieved that he is dead, qualified only by the fear that somebody more reprehensible might replace him. Countless attacks on innocent civilians originated from his domination of the Palestinian territories and could not have taken place without his approval, so strong was the fear he commanded over Palestinians.
The Presbyterian Church USA is not among the largest of churches, but its influence is far reaching - presidents, congressmen, bank presidents, leaders of corporations (as well as the disabled, manual workers and the indigent) have peopled this church.
Presbyterians, unlike Jews, have never in modern history had to experience continuous danger from completely unreasoning and deceptive enemies. Presbyterians pride themselves in diversity of opinion within their church, just as American Jews and Israelis enjoy exercising their freedom through lively debate on a variety of topics.
In the past Presbyterians have attempted to speak out on human rights, but never before have they been more confused about who the underdog is and disagreed so strongly with Israelis about the true source of conflict in the Holy Land.
Presbyterians, Methodists and other mainline churches wonder why they lose so many members to evangelical, theologically conservative churches, a trend that has been going on for decades. Could it be that they are getting too far from the teachings of the Bible, both in the letter and spirit of the law, and replacing it with Leftist politically correct thinking, which too often leads them to inaccurate analyses and false conclusions?
Israelis have learned that, more and more, they can rely on theologically conservative churches to support them in humanitarian and substantive ways.
The PCUSA General Assembly stated that Christian Zionism is based on ‘idiosyncratic' interpretations of the Bible incompatible with Christian reform theology. And yet some of the strongest support for Israel is coming from Dutch Reform churches. The Presbyterian Church of Canada, in a short statement, has completely distanced itself from the PCUSA position on Israel, stating among their reasons that the PCUSA refuses to make the distinction of the democratic nature of Israel and the fact that no other true democracy exists in the Middle East. (The possibility for increased democracy may exist in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the help of U.S. guidance and support.)
There are too many places in the Hebrew Bible prophesying the return or ingathering of the Jews to Israel to list them all here. These scriptures are scattered throughout the major and minor Prophets. Although the oral prophets in the historical part of the Bible warned corrupt kings of ancient Israel again and again that their failure to adhere to the law might result in the fall of their nation, they were also reminded repeatedly that the Jews are a special people, chosen by God not because of their size or power, but for their potential to be a light to the gentiles through their humane values.
When the Jews failed to be God's light to the gentiles in their own kingdom, the Jewish religion became more mystical and scholarly. Faithful Jews such as Daniel, Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah rose to positions of favor in foreign kingdoms and were able to help their people through their influence. Jews returned to Israel during pre-Roman times, constituted a conspicuous presence there before the fall of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., then were crushed after a final revolt against the Romans and forcibly dispersed throughout the Roman empire.
In the post-Biblical era of the last 2,000 years, the survival of the Jewish people in the face of the most adverse conditions is a challenge to unbelievers. If there is no God, how can the Jews still be here? They have survived persecution in Russia beyond the Pale, pogroms in Poland, killings by the Crusaders and during the Inquisition. Finally, they survived the Holocaust in Germany, which could not have occurred had not centuries of antisemitic teaching by Christians created a climate that made the Holocaust possible.
The survival of the Jews, if one believes in the God of the Bible (which Presbyterians repeatedly affirm they do) constitutes nothing less than the miraculous action of God in human history. The Jews of today number around 13 million, or 1/3 of one percent of the global population. Whether one takes a believing or ‘idiosyncratic' view of the Bible, if God is behind their survival, and spectacular achievements in so many fields of endeavor - in science, in the arts, in philosophy, as a friend of mine once said, it is better to have God for a friend than an enemy.
It is best for nations and organizations not to do anything that would have the effect of undermining the already strained economy of Israel or their ability to defend themselves against vicious and unrelenting enemies. As the Bible says, in Genesis 12:3 to Abraham about him and his descendants, "I [God] will bless those who bless you [the Jewish people] and curse those who curse you."
The PCUSA General Assembly objected to the Security Fence Israelis have built to protect themselves from terrorist attacks on civilians. What is so objectionable about a fence? A fence is a neutral thing, and can be the most peaceful and rational solution at hand. Already there appears to be a diminution of terrorist incidents thanks to the building of the Fence.
Now, after centuries of acts of terror of their own against Jews, Christians should be attempting to help Jews, in Israel especially, where they are surrounded by hostile antisemitic leaders. Instead, modern Presbyterians have chosen to blame the victim and inadvertently make things easier for Palestinian and other terrorists who have repeatedly tried to destroy Israel, through four wars and innumerable acts of terror.
If Presbyterians do not like Christian Zionism, what would they prefer instead? Not antisemitism, I hope! Christian neutrality cannot be maintained while democracies are being honorably defended against the hostile efforts of undemocratic, tyrannical terrorist states.
It has been said that Jesus called us to be peacemakers, but there is a certain kind of misguided sense of peacemaking that, in actuality, compounds violence and invites aggression. The best example is that of Neville Chamberlain who, after negotiating with Hitler (and many antisemitic Muslim terrorists admire Hitler) proclaimed "peace in our time."
Chamberlain's oft-quoted statement came shortly before the outbreak of World War II, which claimed 50 million lives.