By Paul Louis Metzger
This issue of Cultural Encounters resulted from the autumn 2010 conference “Two Wailing Walls and the Peoples of Promise” hosted by The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins of Multnomah Biblical Seminary at Multnomah University. This issue, like the conference itself, has not been easy to coordinate. There are many complexities bound up with the long-standing conflict in the Middle East involving the State of Israel and the Palestinian community. Coupled with these complexities are the religious and political realities here in the United States. What is required is nuance rather than rigid black and white thinking. Hopefully, the conference proceedings and this issue of the journal will make people more aware of this situation’s complexities. Given that the Evangelical tradition in which our institution is situated has often favored the State of Israel over the Palestinians and has not generally attended to the Palestinian people’s concerns—Christian and Muslim Palestinians alike—we have given special consideration to the plight of the Palestinians. Nonetheless, all sides in the conflict are responsible for the current state of affairs in one way or another (including you and me in some form). Therefore, everyone has something to bring to the table of reconciliation and peace. In order to have reconciliation and peace, it is important that all pertinent voices are represented. To that end, we have tried to engage as many representatives as possible in the space available.
In what follows, we have included some of the presentations from the 2010 conference along with articles and reflections that we believe complement and expand upon the discussion. We begin with an article I wrote that is intended to show the relevance of the topic to all parties concerned, including you and me. Cultural Encounters is not simply about understanding issues, but also about engaging them in such a manner that we are transformed in the process—theologically and personally—in view of Scripture and the triune God’s actions in the world.
We then move from the theological and personal to the political realities on the ground. David Austin served as the Executive Director of the State Department’s Interfaith Cooperative Initiative in the Holy Land on a multi-year outreach to the religious leaders there in support of the peace process. Those leaders from various religions involved in the exchanges understood that the political crisis included religious dimensions and that the religious factors must be accounted for in pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. While seeking to move beyond partisan politics, Austin reveals to us how narrow and one-sided the perspective of many has been and just how bad things are on the ground.
Moving from the political realities on the ground, we turn our attention to Arab Evangelical Christian Tony Maalouf ’s article, in which he provides many of us with new lenses on how to view the issue from the vantage point of Scripture. Hopefully, we are all willing—regardless of our perspective—to take up Maalouf ’s challenge to shape our theology and our approach to the issues before us in light of Scripture. In my experience, this is often easier said than done. Maalouf, Austin, and the rest of this issue’s participants should go a long way toward making us uneasy, moving us beyond status quo thinking, and toward status confessionis in terms of missional living as we learn how to love our neighbors as ourselves. Ultimately, our gospel witness is at stake in how we approach this subject. This issue of Cultural Encounters is intended to give genuine consideration to the need for orthopraxy, not simply orthodoxy.
Given the context, the discussion of the situation would be incomplete without consideration of the topic by self-professed Jewish and Dispensationalist Christians. Judith and Paul Rood have tackled the issue of Christian Zionism and claim that the crisis of contemporary Christian Zionism is based on bad praxis rather than bad theology. Regardless of one’s theological orientation, those concerned over the claims of many Christian Zionists regarding the conflict will welcome the Roods’ challenge to contemporary Christian Zionists to rethink their practice in view of Scripture and alternative approaches.
Moving beyond current events, Mae Cannon and Brad Harper provide us with valuable historical perspectives on the subject: Cannon on the Mainline Protestant approach to the conflict and Harper on the Dispensational-Premillennialist approach to the subject. Too often, we allow our immersion in our contemporary context to dismiss history as if it has nothing to teach us. What Cannon and Harper reveal to us is that history constantly informs our present discussions and can bring valuable perspective to the issues at hand.
Hindsight is often if not always 20/20. Thus, it is important that we account for biblical, theological, personal, political, and historical factors. Rabbi Daniel Isaak brings all these together in his enlightening interview. His remarks, along with those provided by the diverse and discerning contributors to the “Diverse Perspectives” section, assist us in our efforts to approach the conflict with greater insight and a balanced perspective.
I will return to the conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians at the close. Before doing so, it is important to draw attention to the “Cultural Reflections” section. There we have discussed matters pertaining to Islam. While the pieces in this section do not have direct bearing on the “Two Wailing Walls” conference theme, they are not unrelated. Given that so many people in the West have a deficient understanding of Islam and Muslims—often viewing them as terrorists—and given that such distorted thinking often influences our approach to the Middle East conflict, we thought it appropriate to provide alternative perspectives and approaches to engaging Muslims. Muslim leaders Richard Reno and Harris Zafar discuss the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s noble efforts to combat terrorism. It is the neighborly thing to hear from Muslims rather than to try to speak for them. Thus, we support their courageous efforts to foster neighborliness in a culture often gripped by fear and suspicion. Further to this mission of neighborliness, Christian U.S. Army chaplains Gordon Groseclose and Steven Hokana share their exemplary approach to engaging Muslim soldiers, one that is truly hospitable. In a searching reflection, Islamic scholar Daniel W. Brown analyzes the concept of Islamophobia and calls us to move beyond the rhetoric of fear to embrace a common language of virtue that celebrates hospitality. Among other things, hospitality involves loving our neighbors as ourselves, moving us beyond sound bite rhetoric, shouting matches, and condemnation—thus moving toward open, sustained conversations, and building connections where walls come down, healing occurs, and trust is built.
Cornelia Seigneur’s engaging feature story on Leonard Rodgers introduces us to a model neighbor. Rodgers has dedicated his life to advocating for the Palestinians and seeking a just peace that benefits all people involved in the conflict: Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. What has amazed me about Leonard is his tenacity to love, even though it costs him dearly. His kind of advocacy work is not popular among many mainstream conservative Evangelicals. But I have observed that Rodgers is driven by Scripture and the model of the Good Samaritan, rather than opinion polls. It is no wonder then, that Rodgers is balanced in his remarks and broad in his engagement. He models the depth of proverbial wisdom and compassionate witness that are required today. Given these qualities, we dedicate this issue to him.
Pithy proverbs rather than sound bites flow from the mouth of the ultimate good neighbor, Jesus, who pours out his life for “the other.” Sound bites about this or any conflict are often simplistic and generally lead to crude responses that isolate and dehumanize those not like us and those whom we don’t like. Proverbial statements, on the other hand, cause us to long for greater wisdom and take to heart what God requires of each of us, so that we look the other in the eye, and he or she becomes one with us, and we become equals. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9); and “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Mt 5:38–39). A statement attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, who is known to have been inspired by Jesus’ sermon, also bears mentioning here: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
Bearing these proverbial statements in mind, the State of Israel and the Palestinians should both care deeply about the peace process—hatred blinds everyone. In view of these and other claims, the rest of us should care as well, for the Israel/Palestinian conflict has a bearing on all of us here and abroad. Whether we are concerned for religion and eschatology pertaining to what many call the Holy Land, or politics and foreign policy in the Middle East, these issues concern us. Not only does the conflict impact the United States in terms of its policy initiatives and its leadership role in that region, but also it reveals how difficult it is for us personally to pursue peace with our enemies who live next door in our neighborhoods, or down the hall in our places of work. Put any of us living in the East or West (or in my case the seemingly tolerant Pacific Northwest) in a similar situation to what is transpiring in the Middle East and we would likely react in a similar manner. As difficult as it is to pursue reconciliation, we can all learn how to be better neighbors based on what transpires there. Blindness and ignorance resulting from hatred or mere tolerance (indifference) is never bliss, whereas enlightenment resulting from a just love promotes peace.
—Paul Louis Metzger, Editor
Why Should We Care?
By Paul Louis Metzger
Using a recent Time magazine article titled, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care about Peace,” as a springboard, Metzger discusses why Israel, God, and the American Evangelical should care about peace between Israel and Palestine. He first discusses what is keeping both Israel and the American Evangelical from concern for peace, including the assumption for the Evangelical that God himself does not care about peace. Metzger shows that God has promised to bless not only Israel but also the Arab nations through Ishmael. The Arab peoples are not enemies of God. More so, he argues that as followers of Jesus we are called to love our enemies and the “other,” working for justice for all peoples. Instead of isolating ourselves from the conflict between Israel and Palestine, we are called to love our neighbors and enemies and seek reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, Christians and Muslims, ourselves and the “other.”
The State of Affairs: Conflict in the Holy Land
By David Austin
David Austin was the Executive Director for a quiet diplomatic initiative of the US State Department, led by Ambassador Tony Hall and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from 2007 – 2009 to the Middle East. For the first time, they brought together the politically recognized religious leaders of the Holy Land to acknowledge and publicly support the peace process. Including the Chief Rabbis of Israel, the Christian Patriarchs of Jerusalem, and the Chief Justice of the Shari’a Courts of Palestine, this interfaith initiative produced a framework to settle the status of Jerusalem and other sensitive issues which have evaded the political negotiators. During Mr. Austin’s 13 trips to the Holy Land from 2007 – 2009, he met routinely with the established political leaders engaged in the conflict; the various religious leaders involved in ministering to and protecting their communities; and hundreds of people working for peace at the grass roots level on all sides of the many issues involved in this difficult struggle. From these relationships and experiences, he acquired a deeper understanding that peace is possible in the Holy Land, and that most people living there know what it will take to achieve it.
The Inclusivity of God’s Promises: A Biblical Perspective
By Tony Maalouf
By examining the accounts of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 16 and the Magi’s visit of the Christ child in the book of Matthew, Maalouf seeks to dissolve the popular assumption among Evangelicals, including his own formerly held view, that Ishmael, and Muslims by heritage, are cursed by God and the enemy of Israel. By approaching the text of Genesis 16 with objectivity, he asserts that Ishmael is included in God’s blessing on Abraham. God promises Hagar freedom and a great nation for Ishmael. When Christ returns, the Arab nations will be blessed alongside Israel. Added to this, he argues that the Magi were Arab descendants of Ishmael who participated in the celebration of the Messiah’s birth. This blessing for Ishmael and his descendants and an Arab presence in redemptive history bears upon our treatment of Arabs and Muslims. Maalouf calls Christians, particularly Dispensationalist Evangelicals, to seek to bring all people including Arabs into the blessing of Christ.
Is Christian Zionism Based on Bad Theology?
By Paul W. Rood and Judith Mendelsohn Rood
Looking at the development of the Dispensationalist movement, the modern State of Israel, and Christian Zionism, the authors show that the current form of Christian Zionism is not true to its roots. Christian Zionism seeks to support Israel both because it sees the existence of state of Israel as essential to their view of the end times and as a means of fighting anti-Semitism. This favor for Israel becomes problematic when justice for Palestinians is ignored and Israel’s favor from God is interpreted to mean the state can do no wrong. Looking back to the foundations of Christian Zionism, it becomes evident that its current state is flawed not in theology but in praxis. A return to balance where justice is sought for both the Israeli and Palestinian is needed in order for the movement to continue to provide healing and a check on the peace process.
Mischief Making in Palestine: American Protestant Christian Attitudes Toward the Holy Land, 1917 – 1949
By Mae Elise Cannon
From the late 19th century, different groups of American Christians shifted their theo-political perspective toward Jews and Arabs in Palestine based on emerging theological ideologies, political actions, and other considerations. However, contemporary scholarship has vastly oversimplified the historic attitude of American Christians toward the Jewish Zionist movement and the land of Palestine. Religious historians have considered the question of American Protestant Christian attitudes toward the Holy Land and its people from a dualistic perspective. When considering the relationship between American Christians and Israel, scholars have incorrectly bifurcated the engagement of American Protestants and Catholics into two categories – pro-Zionists and anti-Zionist. This paper shows how American Christian attitudes of Protestant conservatives, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and liberals are much more complex than previously studied. Cannon argues that American Christian beliefs and actions toward Israel/Palestine are influenced and determined by racial ideology, theological assumptions, an imperialistic framework, and different Christian understandings about
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Evangelical Responses to the Middle East Crisis
By Brad Harper
The influences shaping American Evangelical’s relationship with Israel over the years are varied and complex. Brad Harper offers a helpful introduction to the history of this relationship by way of a number of key figures, events, and movements. The emergence and growing popularity of Dispensationalism in America during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries meant, for many, cause for reexamination of the present-day Israel’s place in redemptive history. Many saw contemporary events, particularly the reestablishment of the state of Israel in 1948, as literal fulfillment of biblical prophecies, pointing toward the imminent great tribulation and the second coming of Christ. Harper then examines recent statements made by some of today’s Evangelical leaders who have adopted a dispensational premillenial view of biblical eschatology in order to illustrate how myopic support of Israel’s claims to the Holy Land can be problematic, if not completely contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Harper urges for a more comprehensive biblicism, one that recognizes God’s love, will, and plan for all peoples, and applies the implications of such a recognition to all involved in the conflict in the Middle East: Arab and Israeli, Christian and Muslim.
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Seeking Peace at Home and Abroad: An Interview with Rabbi Daniel Isaak
By Paul Louis Metzger
As the senior rabbi at Congregation Neveh Shalom, in Portland, Oregon, and a past president of the Oregon Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Daniel Isaak offers his perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he dialogs with Paul Louis Metzger about the current conditions in the Middle East and possibilities for future peace. Rabbi Isaak briefly explains the broad span of positions among the Jewish community and considers the significance of the conflict for supporters of Israel in America. Rabbi Isaak and Metzger then discuss what individuals and communities here can do to support peace, cultivate empathy toward both Palestinians and Israelis, and communicate solidarity with those directly involved in the conflict.
“Diverse Perspectives”: Brief Reflections on the Middle East
By Paul Louis Metzger
This section is an attempt to gather brief remarks from people of diverse perspectives on the topic of the Israel/Palestine conflict. The reader is introduced to the perspectives of two Palestinian Christians (Ms. Seda Mansour and Pastor/Professor Alex Awad), two Jews (Professor Dale Frank and Professor Sam Fleischacker), and two Muslims (Imam Mubasher Ahmad and Dr. Mehnaz M. Afridi), as well as a comment from Dr. Albert H. Baylis of Multnomah Biblical Seminary. It is hoped that their brief commentaries will serve as catalysts for further reflection and discussion.
Dates, Gatorade, and Ramadan
By Gordon G. Groseclose
In “Dates, Gatorade and Ramadan”, U.S. Army chaplains Gordon Groseclose and Steven Hokana, both Evangelicals, discuss the religious accommodations they and their colleagues have made for Muslim soldiers. The article explains the unique Army chaplain doctrine of perform or provide, and how they joined it with their Evangelical faith in order to reach out to fellow soldiers of different faiths. The authors also contrast duty to perform or provide with a description of the apprehension some chaplains may have with offering religious support to Muslims. In response, the authors make the case that providing support to non-Christian soldiers is an honest expression of Christian hospitality, among the highest virtues listed in Scripture. “Dates, Gatorade and Ramadan” is not intended as an exhaustive discussion on ecumenism or encouraging synchronistic beliefs; rather, the article is meant to spur discussion among theology students and to be an entry point for laypeople to further our understanding of what it means to be Christian in a pluralistic society.
Chaplain Groseclose referred to giving Gatorade and dates to Muslim students during Ramadan within his panel remarks at the Association of Theological Schools’ consultation on Christian Hospitality & Pastoral Practices in a MultiFaith Society in September 2010.
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