Is anyone else exasperated by the formula that the more someone claims to wants peace, the more hostile he or she should be to Israel?
One of the loudest Christian champions of ‘peace with anti-Zionism’ (my words not his) is Brian McLaren, whose concern for peace in the world has convinced him to lead the Everything Must Change team. You can read the website’s peace initiative here. Judging by his book Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren seems to have an earnest desire to promote peace and tolerance. Yet at the same time, the Jerusalem Post identifies McLaren as one of the three of the most prominent evangelical critics of Israel alongside Jimmy Carter and Stephen Sizer.
McLaren is a leading figure in the Emergent Church movement, which seeks to deconstruct traditional church culture and move away from politically 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.
Back in January, in a post about Gaza drawing attention to the writings of Hannah Mermelstein, McLaren wrote:
My friend Hannah Mermelstein works for justice and peace. She is a woman of Jewish descent who believes in doing justice and loving kindness for everyone, without distinctions based on religion or nationality.
Does she now?
Hannah Mermelstein runs Birthright Unplugged, designed as a counter to the Birthright Israel programme. Mermelstein is an outspoken champion of the BDS movement which seeks to exclude Israelis from cultural and academic life on the basis of where they were born. The fact that McLaren considers her as someone who ‘who believes in doing justice and loving kindness for everyone, without distinctions based on religion or nationality’ is pretty worrying, considering she advocates excluding people based upon their place of birth.
THERE are often two obstacles to the taking of an appropriate stance to wards 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 solid arity 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, someone who loudly professes the values of peace and 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 andantisemitic 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).
It is bizarre to see a Christian leader publicly admonishing other Christians for being intolerant and unthinking in one sentence, and in the next breath supporting the organised global boycott movement against Israel, which 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.
How does Brian McLaren not realise this?
McLaren’s endorsement of anti-Israel boycotters chimes strangely with his self-professed tolerance of all people from all nations. In Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren explains how his faith makes him variously a Catholic, a Protestant, an Anglican, a liberal, a conservative, a mystic, a green, an evangelical, and, er, a depressive. McLaren writes on page 250:
“Because I follow Jesus, then, I am bound to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, New Agers, everyone (even religious broadcasters, I was just reminded by a still small voice). Not only am I bound to them in love, but I am also actually called to, in some real sense (please don’t minimize this before you qualify it), become one of them and be with them in it.”
Great! So Brian, if you can find it in your generous heart to empathise with people from all nations, cultures and religions, why not extend your ‘Generous Orthodoxy‘ to Israelis too, lest people be suspicious of the consistency of your arguments!