(Pope Francis: Reuters)
Pope Francis will be welcomed to the Holy Land by Israel on May 25, 2014. His visit will, no doubt, be touted by the press as a renewed call for peace and reconciliation among the diverse and divided population who call this land home. His visit brings to mind the long and turbulent history of Christianity’s connection to Israel. The Pope is supposedly bringing with him a message of unity and peace however it is not for everyone. Reports state that he is planning to meet with the Mufti of Jerusalem on Israel''s holiest site, the Temple Mount. What a slap in the face to Israel. Clearly the Pope seems to be aligning himself with the Palestinians. Anti-Israel attitudes are becoming more and more prevalent in some of America’s mainline denominations who are divided (and even diminishing) as they embrace ever greater anti-Israel positions.
Consider the call from the United Methodist Church in March 2014 to boycott the Israeli company, SodaStream, because “the company maintains production facilities in the illegally occupied West Bank.” Illegally occupied West Bank? What is their rationale? Scripture. The scriptures they chose to quote in their call to boycott: “Doom to those who acquire house after house, who annex field to field until there is no more space left and only you live alone in the land” (Isaiah 5:8). In Matthew, Jesus preaches on the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:40). Their goal? Keep the pressure on until “all facilities from occupied Palestinian territory are removed and all activities that contribute to the perpetuation of the occupation end.” Those who embrace this misguided philosophy have bought in hook, line and sinker to the lies of the extremely efficient and deceptively manipulative Palestinian propaganda machine.
Perhaps they would be wise to talk to the many Palestinians who work for SodaStream at much higher wages than they can make otherwise. Also, the company provides them with transportation, breakfast and lunch. Palestinian unemployment (23 percent) is more than triple the Israeli rate (7 percent). For this reason a boycott would be devastating to these people. Isn’t working together side by side a better way to bring about peace? Does anyone benefit from Palestinian rockets being fired into the land of Israel? Who benefits from the lack of economic endeavors by the Palestinians and exactly what contributions are they making to improve this world besides teaching their youth how to make bombs and blow up innocent Israelis?
In the recently published “Zionism Unsettled” report for the United States Presbyterian Church (USPC) prepared by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, the Presbyterian Church tipped its hand in support of the Palestinians and in doing so, once again positioned themselves in undermining the significance and sovereignty of the Jewish State.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States with 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Concerned about the deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and the commitment for a “just” peace, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, the third and previous presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and other U.S. Christian leaders have urged Congress to conduct investigations into possible human rights and weapon violations by the government of Israel. They stated that it is “our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel – offered without conditions or accountability will only serve to sustain the status quo and Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
Why isn’t the ELCA demanding the same accountability from the Palestinian leadership? Why are the Methodists calling for the boycott of Israeli companies? Why are the Presbyterians providing their congregants with anti-Israel propaganda? Will this denominational domino effect have a negative fallout among American Evangelicals? Do these people have any idea of the many significant contributions Israelis have made to this world which have improved the standard of living for us all?
With a growing trend of anti-Israel positioning from among some of the American Evangelical Leadership, this, thank God, is not the whole story. Some are pushing back.
Reverend Chris Leighton is the Executive Director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies and an ordained Presbyterian minister. He wrote an ‘Open letter to the Presbyterian Church’ in response to the Zionism Unsettled Study Guide. In this letter he says, “This study may be intended to pave a way for justice and peace. Instead, it betrays the Church, the truth and the spirit of reconciliation to which we are called.” Dr. Leighton goes on to clarify that, “The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and their allies have once again mounted initiatives that advance an extremist posture with respect to the Palestinian-Israel impasse. Their agenda threatens to polarize our community, betray relationships with our Jewish colleagues and ultimately undermine our credibility as “peacemakers.” This study subverts the ideals and the practices that our church has striven to uphold. It turns us from peacemakers to polemicists and from honest dialogue partners to partisan ideologues.”
The Episcopalian Executive Council Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility has long held the position, “that this Church does not support boycott, divestment and economic sanctions against the state of Israel nor any application of the Church’s corporate engagement policies toward such ends.”
In a time of much needed peace and reconciliation, it would be wise for these denominational leaders to study thoroughly what is actually happening in the Middle East. Don’t lead your people astray and “deceive even the elect.” Study the miraculous history of the Jewish people and Israel as told in the Bible. Read also in Genesis 12:3 where the Lord says, “I will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel.” Remember the words of the prophet Zechariah who boldly proclaimed, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls, because of the multitude of men and livestock in it. For I, says the Lord, ‘will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst, for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye.” Zechariah 2:4-5, 8. Stand with the Lord and not the wolf in sheep’s clothing.