Just in time for the impending United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood, two prominent Evangelical Left thinkers and activists released their public salvo against Christian Zionism this week, called: “An Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists.” They denounced American Christian Zionism as “sinful” and evidently want these sinners to repent at the altar by touting Palestinian statehood. They also warn of possible divine, even nuclear, judgment upon Israel if it doesn’t accommodate the Palestinians.
The two letter writers were David Gushee and Glen Stassen of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Gushee teaches at Mercer University and authored the “Evangelical Climate Initiative” in 2006 and the “Evangelical Declaration against Torture” in 2007, both key exertions to shift evangelicals politically leftward. Gushee also heads Evangelicals for Human Rights, whose nearly exclusive “human rights” concern is U.S. “torture.”
Stassen is a prominent pseudo-pacifist at Fuller Seminary in California, who famously claimed during the 2004 presidential election that abortions had increased under George W. Bush. “Economic policy and abortion are not separate issues,” he then intoned, repeating a Democratic Party talking point that Big Government was the right remedy for abortion. This claim of higher abortion under Bush was later shown to rely on incomplete data. Stassen serves on the board of Jim Wallis’ Sojourners.
Disengaging evangelicals from their conservative political habits is a chief goal for the Evangelical Left. But revealingly, Gushee and Stassen also implicitly criticized the U.S. under President Obama for opposing the Palestinian statehood demand. They complained of “nonexistent” progress towards peace, which they blame on “Israeli settlements (actually, planned cities and towns on occupied Palestinian land) [that] are eating away at the territory that would belong to any viable Palestinian state.” Having themselves recently led 50 seminary students to the West Bank, they acerbically noted: “A visitor to the increasingly encircled and truncated Palestinian territories can see these facts on the ground with his own eyes if he is willing to look.”
In their public letter to “Christian Brothers and Sisters,” Gushee and Stassen accused Israel of “renouncing” its commitment to an eventual Palestinian state due to sinister “ideological rather than pragmatic factors” centered on the “belief that Israel deserves the entirety of the land and that Palestinians have no legitimate claim on any part of it.” They identify this problematic assertion as something called “Zionism,” which is especially “powerful” when “religiously motivated” because God is then presumed to have granted Israel “’title’ to every square inch of the land.” Ominously, they fretted that Israel’s “religious” Jewish Zionists are growing in numbers. But Gushee and Stassen targeted their letter not at Jews but at “American evangelical-fundamentalist Christian Zionism,” whose intransigence helps explain “why the United States stands almost alone in the world community in supporting Israeli policies which our international friends generally find intolerable if not immoral and illegal.” Clearly, Gushee and Stassen prefer America behave more like Europe.
Gushee and Stassen issued their “j’accuse” against Christian Zionists for countenancing the “theft of Palestinian land and oppression of Palestinian people,” fueling “violence” and violating America’s “commitment to universal human rights.” They implored Christian Zionists to recant for the “sake of God, humanity, the United States, and, yes, Israel itself, the Land and People we both love.” Partly they disputed the belief of some Christians that God promised Israel to the Jews by affirming Abraham as the father also of Christians and Muslims. And they pointed out that the ancient Hebrews always shared Israel with other peoples. They asserted that God’s promise of Israel to the Hebrews had “conditionality” based on “moral performance.” Hence, “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.” Citing Rome’s destruction of ancient Jerusalem, Gushee and Stassen implored: “Do you not fear that it could happen again?”
Modern Israel is violating the “most basic biblical moral principles,” Gushee and Stassen warned. While insisting they are not prophets, they disclaimed: “It is immoral to steal anything, including people’s land, homes, and vineyards. It is immoral to dehumanize people, as occurs daily at Israeli checkpoints. It is immoral to choke people’s freedom and deprive them of their dignity. And it is foolish, a violation of every lesson of history, to think that through sheer intimidation and superior military power a people can be subjugated indefinitely without rising up in resistance or attracting more powerful allies who will do so on their behalf.” Citing an Old Testament warning about desolation, Gushee and Stassen wondered if a nuclearized Iran could be a divine judgment on Israel’s lack of hospitality to Palestinians.
Meanwhile, practicing their own diplomacy, and sounding far less grim than they do towards Israel’s Jews, Gushee and Stassen optimistically chirped:
While in the Middle East we heard from Palestinian leaders a current commitment to pursue their cause nonviolently. We applaud that commitment. We see it as an extraordinary one under the circumstances. We fear that it cannot last forever, for no people will allow itself to be ground into the dust indefinitely. What are you doing to end their suffering and bring justice to them?
Then turning severe again, Gushee and Stassen sternly charged American Christian Zionists with “abetting obvious sin” by facilitating “repressive and unjust Israeli policies” that may precipitate divine judgment against Israel through war. “By offering uncritical support of current Israeli policies you are actively inflaming the Middle East toward war—in the name of God,” they proclaimed. “This is appalling; it is intolerable; it must stop!” Gushee and Stassen concluded by urging Christian Zionists to “love” Israel by dissuading it from actions that “violate God’s clearly revealed moral will.”
Evidently, Gushee and Stassen are not worried about possible divine punishment on the Palestinians who, as victims, are evidently without sin. And while very distressed over Jewish and Christian Zionism as they defined it, they never cited Islamic beliefs that insist once Islamized lands, like Palestine, may never be relinquished to non-believers. Are Palestinians really prepared to live alongside a Jewish Israel? Palestinian maps and official logos typically claim as “Palestine” all of Israel. Apparently such Palestinian attitudes don’t much concern Gushee and Stassen.
If Christian Zionist Pat Robertson threatened divine judgment on Palestinians, perhaps even a nuclear attack, if they didn’t behave better, there would be howls of outrage. But Gushee and Stassen’s smug warning of divine, possibly nuclear wrath against Israel, has excited almost no controversy. Hopefully it’s because few take them very seriously. Most pro-Israel American Christians, contrary to the contrived stereotypes, see Israel as a democratic ally and not as merely a cog in the final Apocalypse. As such, most Christian Zionists are more perceptive and sophisticated than hyperventilating critics such as Professors Gushee and Stassen.
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