Brian McLaren, Christian social justice and the boycott of Israel

This week the Jerusalem Post identifies three of the most prominent evangelical critics of Israel as Jimmy Carter, Stephen Sizer and Brian McLaren. Whilst Carter is world famous, and I have discussed Sizer at length on this blog, Brian McLaren is less well-known.

Brian McLaren is a leading figure in the Emergent Church movement, which seeks to deconstruct traditional church culture and move away from the conservative American evangelicalism. McLaren is portrayed on his website as someone who takes peace and social justice seriously. Thus, it is important for Christians who listen to McLaren to closely scrutinise his approach to social justice and the accuracy of his statements.

McLaren signed the Joint declaration by Christian Leaders on Israel’s 60th Anniversary, which was organised by Ben White and Philip Rizk. McLaren’s interest in global social justice focuses in particular upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war back in January, McLaren urged his readers to take these words of Ben White seriously:

THERE are often two obstacles to the taking of an appropriate stance to­wards a just peace in Palestine/Israel by Churches and Christian groups in the West. First, it can be difficult to formulate a meaningful critique of Israeli policies without attracting cries of “excusing terrorism” or “anti-Semitism”. The latter accusation is especially levelled against Christians who join the global movement to put pressure on Israel by using boycotts and disinvestment.
More than ever, Christian leaders and Churches need to stand up and be counted. This could mean many things: pilgrimages that show solid­arity with Palestinians; targeted boycotts of Israeli products; writing to MPs; inviting Palestinian speakers; twinning; film screenings; selling Palestinian-made goods.

So here we have Brian McLaren, a leading proponent of Christian social justice, drawing attention to Ben White’s call for boycotts against Israel (I am sure McLaren is ignorant of Ben White’s bigoted attitudes towards Israel and Jews, his approach to antisemitism and antisemitic violence, his flirtation with Holocaust denial, as well as his view that boycotting Israel itself is ‘non-violent resistance’ that is designed to go hand-in-hand with violence resistance).

So should Christians really take Ben White’s call for an anti-Israel boycott seriously, even when endorsed by so widely-read a figure as Brian McLaren? And should Christians sympathetic to the Palestinian national cause join in anti-Israel boycott campaigns?

The Engage group of academics, itself a progressive, left-wing movement concerned with social justice and sympathetic to Palestinians, has already dealt with Ben White’s arguments for a boycott of Israeli academics as part of the boycott movement against Israel (for more visit the BDS website).

Back in 2007, Mira Vogal wrote (referring to the proposed UCU boycott of Israeli academics):

“…Engage came into existence to oppose the growing phenomenon of left antisemitism which, most notably in the case of the boycott campaigns, often takes the form of anti-Zionism. The boycott calls have aims that are utterly unrealistic. The 2007 academic boycott call lacked proper aims or endpoints and in their absence the campaign was obliged to rely heavily on depicting Israel only as an atrocity. And if Israel is beyond redemption then people who oppose its frenzied condemnation must be reprehensible people. And if most Jews are in the ranks of those reprehensible people, then watch out Jews. Engage, which is left-wing, against the occupation and skeptical about nationalism, exists primarily to make and illustrate these points.”

And here’s the crux of the matter: the organised global boycott movement against Israel includes a call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israelis from other countries. And surely excluding individuals based upon the country they are from is racist. It doesn’t matter what you say, what matters is where you were born. It is socially unjust. Christian leaders interested in social justice should be able to find productive methods of encouraging peace in conflict zones. Israel-Palestine should be no different (although it appears to be for Stephen Sizer).

Using socially unjust, racist boycotts in an attempt to create social justice is morally and intellectually flawed. Whilst it is of great concern that Brian McLaren does not appear to recognise this in his blog post from January, it is still hopeful that McLaren will publicly distance himself from the organised global anti-Zionist boycott movement.

As Conor Foley puts it:

We need more critical engagment, open debate and dialogue. Bans and boycotts achieve precisely the opposite effect.

Of course, when it comes to racism, Brian wouldn’t want to be seen as adding more fuel to the stereotypical fire that Christians are judgmental, insensitive, reactive, more ideological than theological, and so on. If this is true of anti-Hispanic racism then what of antisemitic racism?



Filed under boycotts, morally responsible investment

9 responses to “Brian McLaren, Christian social justice and the boycott of Israel

  1. Richard

    “move away from the politicised, conservative world of American evangelicalism…”

    … and move toward the politicised Augustinian Supercessionism of British evangelicalism! There is nothing Generous towards Israel in his Orthodoxy. In his book Generous Orthodoxy he is willing to accept everything that most Calvinist Protestants and many conservative evangelials would find hard to take, however the one unifying theme for all of them is their deep theological antipathy towards “the Jews” which becomes easily transformed towards antipathy toward the Jewish state of Israel.

    If they want to boycott all things from Israel then the Bible should be on their list as well! Jesus didn’t boycott anyone, his attitude to the Romans was not that which we see reflected in the boycott-Israel-alone fever of Ben White and his ilk.

    To say that calling for boycotts of Israel, and no other countires or parties embroiled in the Middle East Conflict, and wish for the end of the Jewish state, is in no sense anti-Semitic, is either naive or antisemitism in denial.

  2. CZ

    Yep, MacLaren’s stance doesn’t surprise me.
    He epitomises the thoughtlessness of the overgrown teenagers who grew up in conservative homes in America and Britain, who have some legitimate criticisms of their subculture, and who throw the baby out with the bathwater because basically they don’t study enough history and are politically naive at best. It’s tied to the problem of evangelicals being desperately insecure these days about their image and self-esteem, wanting to appear cool in a western culture that reviles Christianity for all kinds of things that are never going to be cool. It’s such an adolescent posture, and it’s why I ultimately stopped associating with emergent church types.

  3. Pingback: Brian McLaren’s generous Orthodoxy doesn’t extend to Israelis « Seismic Shock

  4. Ehud


    David Letterman’s hate is as old as some ancient Hebrew prophets.
    Speaking of anti-Semitism, it’s Jerry Falwell and other fundy leaders who’ve gleefully predicted that in the future EVERY nation will be against Israel (an international first?) and that TWO-THIRDS of all Jews will be killed, right?
    Wrong! It’s the ancient Hebrew prophet Zechariah who predicted all this in the 13th and 14th chapters of his book! The last prophet, Malachi, explains the reason for this future Holocaust that’ll outdo even Hitler’s by stating that “Judah hath dealt treacherously” and “the Lord will cut off the man that doeth this” and asks “Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?”
    Haven’t evangelicals generally been the best friends of Israel and persons perceived to be Jewish? Then please explain the recent filthy, hate-filled, back-stabbing tirades by David Letterman (and Sandra Bernhard and Kathy Griffin) against a leading evangelical named Sarah Palin, and explain why most Jewish leaders have seemingly condoned Palin’s continuing “crucifixion”!
    While David, Sandra, and Kathy are tragically turning comedy into tragedy, they are also helping to speed up and fulfill the Final Holocaust a la Zechariah and Malachi, thus helping to make the Bible even more believable!
    (For even more stunning information, visit MSN and type in “Separation of Raunch and State” and “Bible Verses Obama Avoids.”)

  5. Pingback: Social justice? « Seismic Shock

  6. Pingback: UCCF blogger gives Carte Blanche to ‘Israeli Apartheid Guide’ « Seismic Shock

  7. Pingback: A message for Brian McLaren « Seismic Shock

  8. Pingback: Anglican Mainstream on Brian McLaren « Seismic Shock

  9. Pingback: McLaren’s Refreshing Winds at CMU – Part 2 « Menno-lite

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s