Some will know something about my story of how I became a community activist, which I have shared in my book “Outside the Camp” and its sequel “Onward and Upward“, freely available from this website. There is nothing particularly special about being a community activist as I discussed when considering the Bible text: “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach“, Hebrews 13:13. What this verse tells us is that in the light of all of what God says and all what Christ has done, we should be following in the footsteps of Jesus as we become involved in our communities and act out, as we are supposed to do, the great commandment to: “love thy neighbour as thyself“.
Since starting my blog earlier this year, it has become evident that many who read it do not share my Christian convictions but do share my “community” concerns. Based on my looking to find common ground principle in order to do those things that bless my neighbour, I am happy to rise to the challenge, although not always succeeding. As for those who do purport to be followers of Jesus, i.e. Christians, many see things somewhat differently and most do not rate trying to come to a correct theological understanding as a priority. Now that I am past caring and being retired I can’t be sacked from my job etc., I can say it as it is and chose to get involved in those things where I can make most difference. One of my main avenues of community activism is around homelessness (a topic I often return to in this blog) but it should never trump the need to be good husband and father or neglect being a shepherd of the flock (followers of Jesus) or preacher of the gospel, something I have written about here. I also believe that an understanding of theology, specifically what God says in the Bible, is important, if for no other reason that good theology will inform our community activism.
I offer this preamble in the realisation that part of my community activism is to reflect on and respond to what is going on in the Middle East (a subject that concerns many of my activist friends), for example in Iraq / Syria but, in particular, Israel / Palestine. I have reflected on the “Palestinian” and related issues, including the wider Middle East situation, and Islamic (and Christian) fundamentalism, in earlier blogs as well as in my writings, including “Theological musings“. I repeat the point I often make, which is, in order not to go over old ground, read what I have written, in particular my “Letter to a Zionist friend“, which also points to three blog postings on “the Palestinian Question”. Earlier in the week, one of my Facebook friends, who knows my views and likely sees me as one that sits on the fence and over-intellectualizes on what is going on, invited me to sign a petition indicting Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for war crimes. This isn’t something that I would reject out of hand as there is much evidence of Israeli impropriety in the current conflict, but then the same applies to the Hamas leadership, and once again what is proposed lacks balance. Just before that, I responded, I felt positively, to a link to something the Christian theologian, pro-Palestinian, apologist, Stephen Sizer, had written, posted on another friend’s Facebook page, and I received short shrift, given my “middle of the road” position.
Having read Stephen Sizer’s book “Christian Zionism”, I decided to search the Internet to find out more. As is often the case, I also sought to read what those who disagreed with Sizer thought. In terms of availability of material, I was not disappointed. I found one critic of Sizer, Dr. Paul Wilkinson, is someone I happen to have once met. One of my interests is church history. Also, I have been a member of the Plymouth Brethren for most of my life. Some years ago, I attended a Brethren history conference and both me and Paul presented papers that related to one J.N.Darby (1800-1882), a leading light in the early days of that movement. I recall Paul’s moving description of a French village that were dominated by those who followed Darby’s teachings, who during the Second World War, when France was occupied by the Nazis, gave refuge to Jews escaping persecution. One key factor was that Darby was a Christian Zionist who saw a special place for the Jewish people in the heart and purposes of God, and it was this, linked to their Christian compassion, that emboldened these French Darbyites to act in the way they did, at great personal risk. My own paper, incidentally, comparing Darby and Pusey, is available here.
In reading some of what Paul Wilkinson wrote and listening to some of what he said, I found there was much that he raised that was of particular interest but this is not the place to explore all this in detail and, before I enter into deep debate with either Wilkinson or Sizer, I would need to study a lot more. One interesting term, I hadn’t come across before, is “Christian Palestinianism”, although most references were derogatory. Support for this is happening as the sympathies of church leaders shift toward Palestine and away from Israel. Without wanting to be too dogmatic, Sizer is a leading exponent of Christian Palestinianism and Wilkinson is a leading exponent of Christian Zionism. According to their critics, Christian Palestinianism relates to the old doctrine that once prevailed in the church of replacement theology – the Church has replaced Israel as beneficiaries of God’s promises and all unfulfilled Bible prophecy relating to Israel must now be applied to the church. Often, in the past, such a view also led to antisemitism, although, as I have pointed out previously, being anti-Zionist is not the same as being anti-Semitic. Christian Zionism, of which Darby was one of the leading early exponents, holds to the notion that there remains a special place for the Jewish people, including returning to the land God promised to Abraham, and in these “last days”, and that prophecies about Israel should not be applied to any other group.
While I do not accept Darby’s views on the pre-tribulation rapture and dispensationalism, or subscribe to the belief, held by many of today’s Christian Zionists, that Israel has the sole right, and that excludes Gentiles, right now to all the land promised by God, there are many elements of Darby’s teaching I find I agree with. Ironically, most of the millions today that follow Darby’s teaching do so in matters of eschatology but not ecclesiology, which I find I am even more drawn to, but that is a topic for another discussion. By definition, I am a Zionist, albeit moderate, and I am also a pre-millenialist, BUT I can not defend the indefensible, and by no means do I support all of what Israel does, and condemn a lot of what it is doing now. One of the significant changes in my own theological thinking is to attach more importance to matters of social justice and getting involved in the wider (non-Christian) community to effect social change, not one of Darby’s strong suits, as he looked to the Lord’s imminent return, and given this he didn’t feel getting involved in such worldly matters was a priority.
Having missed out a full and thorough consideration of the theology concerning these matters, I do wish to come to a point that bothers me in this whole debate, that is regrettably often overlooked. What is often witnessed is a taking up of polarised positions, with each side accusing the other of not “getting it”, adopting presuppositions arising out of questions like “who started it” (it being the conflict) and thereby dismissing alternative perspectives on such matters. Ironically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I find usually Christian Palestinianists will defend Palestine in the current conflict and Christian Zionists will usually defend Israel, and this come what may. Notwithstanding the spiritual (even demonic) aspects of what is happening, the truth is that injustice and iniquity has been perpetrated by both sides, yet it seems to me that both sides hide behind their theological champions to justify their position – a misapplication of theology if ever there was one! Anyone can twist theology for their own purposes, and let’s face it the Devil is a more accomplished theologian than any of us; good theology does not promote political systems or takes sides when it comes to human institutions but rather it champions the purposes of God. As to what needs to happen – read what I have already written.
As to what will happen in the next few years, I have an inkling, but I choose to keep my own counsel as I do not want to cast pearls before swine, or be accused of false prophesy, until I am fully sure in my own mind. One thing is sure that down the years better men than me have pontificated on such matters and have got it widely wrong. As for me, I am on neither the side of Palestine or Israel on this matter, but rather God’s. I will continue to watch and pray, looking forward to the Lord’s coming, who alone can resolve the issues. When I saw a banner with the words “we support Israel”(referring to the state), my heart sunk as it does when I see signs of a similar nature with the words “we support Palestine” at other churches. I am challenged to get closer to my heavenly Father and seek and do his will, and that includes preaching the gospel, which is our only hope, and do what I can as a community activist, such as bringing succour to the homeless and making a difference when and wherever I can, by whatever means I can, in the few years I have left.
Afterthought: I have just watched/listened to “Has the Church Replaced Israel? – Calvin Smith vs Stephen Sizer” and feel strangely encouraged. While not extreme in their views (if they had been the discussion would have soon faltered), there was a robust and respectful exchange of views between a Christian Zionist and Christian Palestinian respectively. Sadly, since entering the fray, there has been too little evidence of similar such exchanges between those holding these two quite different perspectives. While I am not optimistic this will change among non-Christian protagonists any time soon, if at all, I hope this will usher in a better way, encourage Christians to study their Bibles in one hand with their newspaper in the other and, most importantly, we can encourage Christian Palestinians and Messianic Jews to embrace one another in the love of Christ and tell their people the good news concerning Jesus, and we do that not because we agree about Israel but we love Jesus.