A new film tries to erode evangelicals' staunch support for Israel.
Anti-Israel activists rightly see American evangelicals as key to U.S. support for Israel. That is why they are targeting evangelicals with messages of pro-Palestinian solidarity as supposedly central to Christian compassion. A new evangelical film, “With God on Our Side,” is coming out this month to rebut pro-Israel Christians and persuade them to champion the Palestinian cause.
“You’ll be told that as you travel to Israel that it’s just too dangerous to take you to some of these places,” a narrator warns ominously in the film trailer. “But that is rhetoric that is employed in order to keep you on the tourist trail. “
The film’s purpose, as its producer explains, is to take American Christians off the metaphorical tourist trail of their narrow pro-Israel stance and instead wade them into embittered Palestinian communities where supposedly they will learn the truth about the who is really to blame.
Liberal evangelist Tony Campolo hails the film as “informative,” “inspiring,” and “brilliant.” Emergent Church guru Brian McLaren gushes: “Finally! A look at what Christian Zionism teaches and more importantly, the real implications it has on the people of the Middle East.” World Vision (a major evangelical relief group) Vice President Steven Haas commends the film’s “sound theology” and calls it “one of the clearest assessments of the struggle between Palestinians and Jews, and a US Church largely unaware of their complicity in the current conflict.”
A Middle Eastern voice exclaims during the film’s trailer:
“Palestinian Christians lived here for centuries in this land. Suddenly they meet Christian groups of people who say you are obstacles to the second coming of Jesus. You need to move out to make room for the Jewish diaspora to come here.”
Here, of course, is the simplistic stereotype about pro-Israel evangelicals the film hopes to perpetuate. American evangelicals self-servingly only support Israel because a Jewish presence there is central to their bloody thirsty, apocalyptic dreams about the Second Coming. The film soothingly implores evangelicals to consider a nicer path.
“There is the path of deep compassion and mercy and justice and peace,” offers one voice in the film trailer. “Or there is the tradition of Berlin Walls being built and excluding people who are not of us.” So it’s really very simple. Support the apartheid-like, Jewish wall-builders, or stand with the persecuted Palestinians. Of course, their persecution is faulted not just on Israel, but also the United States, especially its evangelicals.
“We as evangelicals have endorsed an Israeli domestic policy that has placed over 3 million people under military occupation, creating the largest refugee population in the world,” the film trailer opines. “ Why is this defended by the Christian church? How is it we don’t see it as suffering of some people?” A Middle Eastern voice adds: “The way we hear Christian Zionism here is [that] to accept this theology is to commit suicide as a people group.”
Here is the film’s main message to evangelicals, especially to young people. The Old Religious Right crassly imposed a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy based on its end-times theology, creating untold suffering among largely innocent Palestinians. More thoughtful, more compassionate evangelicals will reject that heritage and instead stand with the Palestinians as the victim group most needing Christian compassion.
The new mythology that the Evangelical Left hopes to perpetuate about the Middle East is just as loaded as the politically charged theology that all pro-Israel evangelicals are alleged to have. In essence, the Evangelical Left is largely adopting the old Religious Left’s Liberation Theology view of the Middle East, in which the Palestinians are the impoverished Third World victims, while Israel and the U.S. are the imperialists. The thirst by Evangelical Left groups to leave the “tourist path” and visit with purportedly more authentic Palestinian communities is mostly a rehash of the old Religious Left’s infatuation with the Sandinista experiment in Nicaragua in the 1980’s. “Oh, you must you there and see for yourselves,” they insisted then as they insist today. “The reality is so very different from what our government and other vested interests in America will tell you.”
Supposedly, Palestinian hosts, like pro-Sandinista Nicaraguan hosts of 25 years ago, will perform like the Oracle of Delphi, clarifying reality, and blowing away the deceptive fog of Western colonialism. “I was brought up in a Christian home…and we were always taught to support Israel, and really Israel was synonymous with Israel in the Bible,” explains film producer Porter Speakman. But as he has since learned since his enlightenment, “As a Christian, a lot of our theology helps to perpetuate a lot of the human rights (abuses) and injustice that is happening.” Expecting resistance to his film, he warns: “It’s a perspective that many people don’t want others to hear.”
The film interviews Ben White, an anti-Israel British journalist, Stephen Sizer, a Church of England priest and anti-Israel author who infamously has taken his message to Iran, Gary Burge, a professor at evangelical Wheaton College outside Chicago who is a critic of pro-Israel evangelicals, and Salim Munayer, a professor at Bethlehem Bible College, which markets Palestinian Liberation Theology.
“When you begin to tell the Palestinian narrative you get accused of all kinds of things including anti-Semitism, which are not at all justified,” White warns. “It’s immensely humiliating to Palestinians, saying to them they are not valid voice, [in] a struggle over land that is about them as a people.”
Munayer pleads for more American evangelical concerns about self-image. “You need to understand how American Christians have been perceived by Middle Easterners,” he warns. “ We stand for wars, we want to be richer, we don’t care for the poor, we want only our interests, we stand for moral values that stand for our desires. We stand for power and not stand for peace.” Munayer reports that Muslims often ask him why American Christians “hate” Muslims. “Why do Christians want us to move out of our home and not stand for what is right and just,” they purportedly ask him. Does Munayer ever ask his Muslim interlocutors what compromises of self-interest they are willing to make for peace?
In a glowing review for Sojourners, former evangelical relief agency executive Tom Getman enthused about the film: “With God on Our Side signals a hope that Christian Zionists will change through the persuasive voices of progressive Christians and Jews,” while positing that “that support of Israel ‘right or wrong’ is an adopted formula of world Christian empire that actually threatens Israel’s survival.” Echoing the film, he asked: “Can the Bible be used to justify crimes against humanity? Can the kingdom of God possibly be realized by violent dispossession?”
“With God on Our Side” wants increased U.S. pressure on Israel to accommodate Palestinian demands, facilitated by reduced U.S. evangelical support for Israel. And the ultimate goal is what? A Palestinian state based on the unstable 1967 borders and ruled by Islamists like Hamas or kleptocratic secularists like Fatah? Or is it to dismantle Israel altogether in favor of a single nation, where an unrestricted “right of return” for Palestinians leads to a collapse of Jewish democracy? How are the dwindling numbers of Palestinian Christians faring under Palestinian rule now, and how would they fare under a victorious new, Islamic-dominated Palestinian state?
Mostly, the Evangelical Left would prefer not to answer these questions, instead preferring guilt trips about supposed evangelical and American imperialist sins, and fantasies about a newly liberated and Christian friendly “Palestine.” Fortunately, most evangelicals will remain un-persuaded, despite the saccharine appeal of a film like “With God on Our Side.”