All right. Let’s stop fooling around with the tame stuff and talk about ethnically sensitive issues.
Pat Robertson recently put his foot in it by saying that God was judging Ariel Sharon (via that stroke) because Sharon dared to divide the land of Israel (by relinquishing Gaza). The general outcry was indignant and self-righteous, and missed the central point. Now I am not carrying any water for Robertson’s position on this at all, and I think his theology on this issue is screwy. I just want to point out that everybody piled on Robertson for saying out loud what the modern founding of the state of Israel presupposed.
If Robertson’s theology is correct, this means that the Jews have a right to that real estate, and they have that right on the basis of God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis. Conservative Jews hold to this, and evangelical dispensationalists hold to it also (folks like Robertson). But the secular state of Israel does not hold to it. As time passes, the claim to the land will become a de facto claim because the pattern of conquest and occupation all over the world cannot be “undone” by everyone going back to the place where their ancestors once lived. In fact, it has already become a de facto claim. But we have to acknowledge that it was religious convictions (like Robertson’s) that got us into this in the first place.
The modern state of Israel came into existence (in part) because of the Balfour Declaration. Lord Balfour was an evangelical dispensationalist, who believed that the return of Israel to the land was part of the necessary fulfillment of end-times prophecies. Now if this is true, it is the ultimate foreign policy trump card. The Jews go here because God wants them here. But if false, it can lead to tremendous blunders and tangled situations. I believe it to be a false claim, but I need to anticipate something by a few moments. There is a difference between being non-Zionist and anti-Semitic. A non-Zionist does not believe that Jews have any special title to that land from God. He is not opposed to them being there, or anywhere else for that matter; he simply disagrees that they have something registered with the ultimate title company in heaven. The anti-Semite has a problem with Jews being there, and has a problem with them being anywhere else.
But there are wheels within wheels. This means we must distinguish covenantal Zionism from racist Zionism. Covenantal Zionism holds that the Jews are the recipients of special promises from God that give them title to that land. This may be mistaken, as I believe it is, but there is nothing inherently virulent about it. It may still cause a lot of problems, but we are inclined to treat it as an honest mistake. But suppose we have a Jewish movement, tenaciously holding on to that territory, that insists upon secularism. Because of the secularism, no reference can be made to God, Genesis, Abraham, or any of that in order to secure a claim on the land. This means that there can only be two basic reasons for holding onto the land. One would be a de facto acknowledgement that this is where we are now because of bad decisions made by other people a generation or two ago, and the other would be the racist option. The racist option holds that this land must be held by Jews simply because they are Jews. End of discussion. Now if you are not comfortable with that kind of thing being the end of the discussion (and you should not be comfortable with it), the pressure is on to justify what is occuring through appeal to Scripture (as Robertson attempted). No one really appears to be comfortable with acknowledging the mistake, but saying that we must now deal with that mistake conscientiously.
I say all this as one who supports the right of Israel to exist there now. I believe Israel has the right to defend herself, and I believe her friends (including the U.S.) should help her defend herself. But I do not say this as one who thought it was a good idea to plant a first-world nation in the middle of third-world chaos. Israel is there now, de facto, and all the decisions that got us here are water under the bridge. So here we are; we have a grizzly bear by the ears, and letting go voluntarily is not a real option.
But it gets worse. Hamas, a terrorist organization, now appears to be the duly-elected government of the Palestinian territories. Three cheers for democracy in the Middle East! Hip, hip . . . oh, never mind. Iran appears to be dead set on acquiring nukes, and it does not appear that there is much we can do to stop it. The gentleman in charge of that particular Islamo-fascist operation has let fly a few observations about how Israel should be destroyed, or moved back to Europe. The prospect of a full-out war in the Middle East is not far-fetched, and as we contemplate it, we have to recognize our role in creating such an unstable mix in the first place. And we did so because of a number of factors — Holocaust guilt was one, and evangelical dispensationalism was another. In other words, Robertson was not voicing a sentiment that only a crazed televangelist could voice. He was a vestigial spokesman for one of the foundational principles that the West was responding to when they created Israel. Anybody who think Israel could have been created without the religious impetus articulated by Robertson is fooling himself. I don’t agree with Robertson, I think he should drop his dispensationalism, and I think the people in a high dudgeon over this should cut him some slack — if for no other reason than the beam in their own eye.
One other thing. Because of what I have said here, and because how sentiments on a volatile topic like this tend to run, it is necessary to finish by distinguishing non-Zionism from anti-Semitism again. The anti-Semite has a problem with Jews no matter what they do, and no matter where they go. Doesn’t like them in Israel, doesn’t like them in Brooklyn, doesn’t like them in banking, doesn’t like them not in banking. Doesn’t like them in anything. Anti-Semites don’t even like Jews in Christ. A Jew could come into the Christian church, and yet there are anti-Semites who despise the waters of their baptism, believing the heresy that blood is thicker than baptismal water. A good example of this would be the contempt shown for Christian baptism by the kinists at Little Geneva. Marvin Olasky is the editor of World magazine, a Jew who came to faith in Christ, an elder in a Presbyterian church, and a man with whom I have had significant differences. But he is a brother in Christ, and a very good man. But how is he referred to at Little Geneva? As that “Jew Olasky.” The contempt for Jews there is of course appalling. But the contempt for Christian baptism and the Christian church is far worse.
There is no way to function effectively in the chaotic modern world without dealing with racial and ethnic issues openly and honestly. But we have to do this in the name of Christ. We also have to deal with theological issues openly and honestly, also in the name of Christ. American dispensational theology has helped to create a horrible dilemma in the Middle East. And honest men have to be able to address all of this, straight up the middle. But one of the complications is that there are those out there who absolutize factions (race, tribe, or parties) and others who absolutize a false, secular unity (the one-worlders). This means that honest treatment of racial or ethnic issues will be dismissed by the multi-cultural slogan-mongers as insensitive at best, and racist at worst. The tribalists will attack it for not catering to their provincial hatreds. But we should not care what the modernists think, those who want a false unity apart from Christ. And we should not care what the postmodern tribalists think either. The only possible unity is in Christ, and when that occurs, it will be a Trinitarian unity. We will not be fragmented into a million little tribes. Neither will we be thrown into a globalization blender. We will together worship Jesus Christ, the only possible hope for peace in the Middle East. But for that to happen, both Muslims and Jews must hear and believe the gospel preached. And Christians must give up their vain eschatological speculations and preach that gospel.