Thursday, February 7, 2008

Jews, Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel

A longish article called Why Don’t Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them? has some interesting information to consider.

Evangelical Christians have a high opinion not just of the Jewish state but of Jews as people. That Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal doesn’t seem to bother evangelicals, despite their own conservative politics. Yet Jews don’t return the favor: in one Pew survey, 42 percent of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists.
The answer is clear:
The reason that conservative Christians—opposed to abortion and gay marriage and critical of political liberalism—can feel kindly toward Jewish liberals and support Israel so fervently is rooted in theology.
The obvious next question:
But why do so many Jewish groups and voters abhor their Christian evangelical allies? [...] That liberal politics trumps other considerations—including worries about anti-Semitism—for many American Jews becomes clearer in light of other data.
In other words, Evangelicals are guided by their theology and Jews are guided by their politics. Fair enough, to each his own. So what is the deal with other Protestants? One could argue that, like American Jews, it is liberal politics.
Mainstream Protestant groups, such as the National Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, have a very different attitude toward Israel. The NCC, for example, refused to support Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, and immediately afterward began to protest victorious Israel’s expansion of its territory. From that point on, the NCC’s positions ran closely with Arab opinion, urging American contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization, for instance, and denouncing the Camp David Accords because they supposedly ignored the Palestinians’ national ambitions. In 2004, the Presbyterian Church decided to study a proposal to divert its investments from firms doing business with Israel. Within a year, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and parts of the Methodist Church followed suit. As Paul Charles Merkley sums up in his book about Christian Zionism, mainline Protestant churches’ “respectable leadership had backed away from Israel; all of her constant friends were seated below the salt.”

Why do mainline Protestant leaders oppose Israel? That question becomes harder to answer when one recalls that Israel is a democratic nation with vigorously independent courts that has not only survived brutal attacks by its Arab neighbors but provided a prosperous home for the children of many Holocaust survivors. As with any other nation, Israel has pursued policies that one can challenge. Some may criticize its management of the West Bank, for example, or its attacks on Hamas leaders. But these concerns are trivial compared with Iran’s announced desire to wipe Israel off the map by using every weapon at its disposal, including (eventually) a nuclear one.

The answer, I think, is that many Christian liberals see Israel as blocking the aspirations of the oppressed—who, they have decided, include the Palestinians. Never mind that the Palestinians support suicide bombers and rocket attacks against Israel; never mind that the Palestinians cannot form a competent government; never mind that they wish to occupy Israel “from the sea to the river.” It is enough that they seem oppressed, even though much of the oppression is self-inflicted.

After the Marxist claims about the proletariat proved false and capitalism was vindicated as the best way to achieve economic affluence, leftists had to stop pretending that they could accomplish much with state-owned factories and national economic plans. As a result, the oppressed replaced the proletariat as the Left’s object of affection. The enemy became, not capitalists, but successful nations.
According to the article, evangelical supporters of Israel are generally theologically dispensationalists (which is conservative) and liberal Protestants take a "liberation theology" view of the world, one of the most liberal readings of the Bible there is. Without sounding overly simplistic, this assessment goes a long way in explaining why and how some American Christians can staunchly support Islamic jihadi terrorists who currently war violently against them and the very beliefs they themselves hold dear.

To generally sum up, evangelicals are both conservative politically and theologically while both American Jews and Protestants are liberal in those same areas. What the article doesn't discuss is that American Jewish support for Israel is not at all automatic or even assumed (some of Israel's worst and most vocal detractors are Jewish, such as the left's favorites Noam Chomsky and Norm Finkelstein, to name but two). For many liberal Jews, their feelings about Israel are guided by their left-leaning politics.

These are the tricky questions of where one's personal theology ends and personal politics begins. After reading an article like this I am left wondering what the major influence is in the lives of those (Christian or Jew) who read the Bible in any meaningful way. Does your theology influence your political leanings, or is it the other way around? I offer no answers here but think it is very worthwhile to personally consider the question.

No comments: