This Kind of Language is Unhelpful

This is cross-posted from Calvin Smith’s blog. Calvin Smith is the Principal of King’s Evangelical Divinity School

An Anglican priest who recently attended a Palestine conference organised by the Federation of Islamic Student Societies today blogs of his participation in the conference. Revd Stephen Sizer also refers to the Jerusalem Declaration, a document he helped draft and which he says “repudiates Christian Zionism as a deviant heresy”.

This is strong language indeed. Of course, it is no secret Revd Sizer has widely publicised his intense dislike of Christian Zionism, which he has every right to do. But surely labelling millions of fellow Evangelical Christians deviant heretics goes too far. There is a time to speak out against genuine, grave heresy, and those destructive false teachers repudiated in the New Testament usually have a major trait in common. Whether the Galatian heresy which denies the power of Christ’s salvific work through the cross, the Colossian heresy, incipient Gnostic dualism in the Johannine writings, or the heretics Jude warns against who “deny our master the Lord Jesus Christ”, the heresies roundly condemned in the New Testament tend to deny the person and work of Jesus Christ. In short, they Christologically defective. Thus, it is quite one thing to challenge particular doctrines and teachings one may disagree with (including Christian Zionism or for that matter supercessionism), but quite another to label millions of fellow Christians who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal saviour are deviant heretics, a label generally reserved for those whose teachings and beliefs in some way deny the person of Christ.

It is also language which is unnecessarily polemical and polarising in nature, rather than the biblical language of gentle reproof and reconciliation as a first port of call for resolving disputes, theological or otherwise, within the Church. Drawing on this kind of language is also ironic, given how reconciliation is a central feature of the Jerusalem Declaration. Jesus tells His disciples they will discern what is good and bad by the fruit it produces. Unfortunately, the fruit of polarised language and the very public and pejorative denunciation of fellow Christians over their response to Israel has brought not only ecclesial division, but also little hope of much-needed reconciliation between Christians over the thorny issue of how to respond to the Middle East crisis.

Repudiating Christian Zionism somehow as a monolithic movement also lacks nuance. Which version of Christian Zionism is referred to here? The British variety, which tends to be more covenantal than geographical in nature, or perhaps the US variety, which includes (but is not limited to) a more apocalyptic and political expression? Meanwhile, some Christian Zionists espouse an Eretz Yisrael Ha-Shlema (Greater Israel) much like Israel’s Likud party, but others simply believe the Jews should be allowed to return to the land of their forefathers, less concerned with the exact borders or the political structures in place. Between these positions are various theological shades of Evangelical Christianity over responses to the Jewish people and modern Israel, highlighting how current Christian responses to the issue are quite complex. Yet the language of polarisation both masks these complexities and the at times weak arguments of those who would rather seek to promulgate a black and white, dualist narrative that demands an equally polarised response: “You are either with us or against us”.

It isn’t helpful when this desire to repudiate Christian Zionism leads to expressing those views in ways or situations which some Christians might argue are unsuitable. I find it deeply ironic that the Jerusalem Statement opens with the Scripture, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, yet Revd Sizer has chosen to share a platform with a speaker who has condoned suicide bombings and another who openly salutes the terrorist organisation Hamas.

Finally, the Jerusalem Statement arguably lacks a strong hermeneutical and theological basis, engaging in the very mining of the Bible for supporting prooftexts which its authors condemn Christian Zionism for doing. After all, using the Bible this way allows you to make it say whatever you want. The Statement does precisely this, engaging in a typically liberationist decontextualisation of 2 Corinthians 5:19, recontextualising it in the context of the Palestinian milieu. Thus, hundred of years of Protestant hermeneutics emphasising authorial intent are discarded in favour of a postmodernist reader-driven interpretation which is subjective and relativist. Actually, in 2 Corinthians 5 the apostle Paul is not promoting the dissemination of a message of reconciliation between men and peoples, but rather a message of reconciliation between God and Man. In other words, Paul’s message and ministry of reconciliation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

An extensive, genuine, fair, theologically and biblically-sound, and, importantly, united Christian approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict will never be achieved without respectful dialogue, eschewing the language of polarisation, or refraining from denouncing fellow Christians as heretics or sharing platforms with people who damage our credibility and even condone violence towards innocents. Admittedly, these and other approaches may secure plenty of back-slapping from among those we agree with. But shouldn’t the Christian way of doing theology move beyond preaching to the choir in a bid to win over our fellow Evangelical Christians in gentleness and truth?

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “This Kind of Language is Unhelpful

  1. modernityblog

    A thoughtful post.

  2. donas

    Sounds like another attempt at defining their version of Christian theology to me. The recent Kairos Declaration was trying the same thing. Talk about nothing new under the sun.

    We will next be invited to “Read scripture in the service of the Gospel in the Palestinian context” , a topic of Sizer’s next conference – Christ at the Checkpoint (Belthlehem Bible College) in March and therein is the problem. The Bible has it’s own context, trying to make it read to a particular political or theological angle never works, you can do it, but then it stops being the Bible and becomes a political ploy employing Scripture in customized context.

    I very much doubt you will ever convince people who do so to do otherwise. When Scripture is just a tool, it does not live and truth is never paramount. Makes you wonder if God is truly feared.

  3. zkharya

    In a sense, Sizer is right, and his belief accords with Christian belief for most of Christian history.

    Of all Muslims and Christians in the world, Palestinians were among those who most believed Jews had been dispossessed of temple, Jerusalem and the land as a punishment for their rejection of Jesus and the prophets.

    And that includes Azzam Tamimi:

    Known as the “land of Canaan”,
    Palestine is believed to have been first
    inhabited 4,500 years ago by the
    Canaanites who had come from the
    Arabian Peninsula.

    Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) migrated to Palestine
    and made Al-Khalil (Hebron) his home.

    The Israelites (the Children of Israel or Jacob), where
    sent a succession of prophets that descended from
    Abraham (Ibrahim) . They included Isaac (Ishaq),
    Jacob (Ya’qub or Israel), Joseph (Yusuf), Mosses
    (Musa), David (Dawud), Solomon (Sulayman) and
    finally Jesus (‘Isa) peace be upon them all.
    A person cannot be Muslim without believing in
    these prophets and accepting them as messengers of
    God.

    The Israelites ruled over parts of Palestine
    and not all of it for about four centuries (from
    1,000 BC to 586 BC). Their rule faded away
    and they were forced out of Palestine by the
    Romans, who destroyed the second temple in
    the year 70 AD.

    The History of Palestine
    By 135 AD the entire Israelite population of
    Palestine had been transformed into a Jewish
    Diaspora.

    When the Muslims conquered
    Palestine and took Jerusalem from the
    Romans in 638 AD there was not a
    single Jew in Palestine.

    Having been severely persecuted and
    enslaved by the Romans, the Arab
    Christian population of Palestine saw
    the Muslims as liberators rather than
    conquerors.

    Since then most Jews adhered to the
    Talmudic passage in Tractate Keubot in
    which God is said to have imposed three
    oaths on the Jews:
    1. They should not rebel against non-Jews;
    2. As a group, they should not massively
    emigrate to Palestine before the coming of
    the Messiah; and
    3. They should not pray too strongly for the
    coming of the Messiah, so as not to bring
    him before his appointed time.

    http://quis.qub.ac.uk/issni/workshop/Roots_of_conflict.pdf

    Also this

    http://richardmillett.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/galloway-and-tamimi-team-up-at-qmul/#comment-59

  4. zkharya

    “repudiates Christian Zionism as a deviant heresy”

    That is vicious. It accords Jewish nationalism no justice or legitimacy, while according Palestinian Christian and Muslim every justice or legitimacy pertinent to this conflict.

    It is manifestly an injustice so to do. Exactly what he claimed not to do i.e. to side with one party or the other, in that video interview.

    And morally a joke, given his sharing platforms with such as Tamimi (and George Galloway?).

  5. zkharya

    “Read scripture in the service of the Gospel in the Palestinian context”

    Hilarious.

    Sizer’s Christ repudiated the suicide bombers and Tamimis of his day. He didn’t share platforms with them. He repudiated the Al Aqsa mosque, and prophesied its destruction, and the scattering of the Palestinian Muslims and Christians of his day by the forces of western imperialism.

    Then the new Christian population formed, largely from the colonists who came in the wake of that scattering, which, they said, Christ had said was ‘Palestinians’ just fate for rejecting him.

    Sizer’s Christ rejected the Islam of his day, and said ritual Islam was no longer necessary for his followers.

    Sizer’s Christ was brought by the imams and Mufti of his day to the representative of western hegemony as a rebel, and executed by them.

    Sizer’s Christ was jeered and mocked by the Muslims of his day, as he was dying.

    Farcical.

  6. Glasspole

    Strangely, no condemnation of the outspoken heretic The Rev Canon Dr Naim Ateek. His Marcionism is a matter of public record. Yet he is loved by anti-Zionists like Dr Sizer and Rev Hewitt.
    Doubling their standards -again

  7. A well measured response. Sizer has become his own worst enemy – the opponents of his egregious argument couldn’t do him greater damage than these statements plainly read.

  8. Pingback: Other Blogs. « ModernityBlog

  9. Pingback: Christian News New Zealand » Blog Archive » This Kind of Language is Unhelpful… Sizer on Christian Zionism, and a Response!

  10. rey

    Is it Christian duty to go and kill the Palestinians to make that land over there safe for the Jews? No. Christians are not to fight in carnal warfare. And IF God really wants them to still have that land, let him clear it of their enemies by a miracle. Oh, wait, he didn’t even do that in the Old Testament! They had to murder all the Canaanites, Perizites, Hittites, Hivisites, Jubusites, and everyone else and take possession of the land through bloodshed. And the whole debocle was contrary to the chief moral commandments of the Torah: “thou shalt not covet” but they coveted others’ land, “thou shalt not steal” but they stole their land, “thou shalt not murder” but they murdered them to take the land. The history of the conquest shows that God didn’t give them the land, for had he done so, all the blood shed would have been unnecessary. It would have been miraculous and God would have just moved the other people elsewhere by divine teleportation. Instead the Jews had to launch a massive campaign of genocide precisely because the notion that God gave them the land is something made up in human minds to justify the covetousness of an ancient people.

    Christians should ignore the land of Israel: benign neglect. Whoever takes it over by genocide can have it, whether it be the Jews or the Palestinians. God hasn’t given it to either side and neither has some Divine right to it. Its just like any other piece of land and any other war: whoever wins the war gets it. But Christians have no business being involved in war, so stay out of it.

    You will say “this is Marcionism and its antisemitic.” Marcion who rejected the Old Testament never said to kill the Jews but Martin Luther who accepted the Old Testament did say that. The Old Testament is the source of violence and turmoil, not the solution to it. The Old Testament’s patter of genocidal violence fuels the conflict in the middle East. This conflict cannot be resolved by saying “the Jews were given this land by God.” The very notion that God gives people land is the FUEL that keeps the conflict going, because each side in its covetousness has convinced itself that God wants them to exterminate the other side.

    Marcion’s rejection of the OT made his movement non-violent, to the extent that they were eventually wiped out by the Catholics who accepted the OT and thus were violent. Also Luther was violent against both Jews and Anabaptists, and Calvin too (who murdered Servetus a Jewish non-Trinitarian Christian) was violent precisely because of his acceptance of the OT. The OT must be rejected as the source of religious violence. Even Islam’s religious violence is an inheritance from the OT, which the Koran imitates.

  11. Hey Rey,

    Cut out “the Jews” type language, it makes you sound like a bigot.

  12. rey

    If I was a Jew then I would say “the Christians.” You will notice that I also said “the Palestinians.” How else am I supposed to say it? Its just the way people talk. And my point is clear (which is a rational point with no bigotry): we have no right to go around claiming that God gave anyone any land. If any group could just say “God gave me this land” and then some UN bureaucracy or NATO said “Well, that’s it; God gave them this land so everyone else get off now or we’ll kill you” then what kind of sick world would this be (beyond how bad it already is)? The whole concept is just silly.

  13. rey

    Besides that, oh mighty genius calling himself “modernity” didn’t you read where I said “Calvin too (who murdered Servetus a Jewish non-Trinitarian Christian) “???? Yep, some real bigot I am. The fact is your great theological heroes were the bigots, and the Christian Zionists are the bigots too. This is like the classic “I’m going to prove I don’t hate blacks by giving some money to the NAACP” type of thing. Those who hate “the Jews” (how else can I specify “The Jews” without saying “the Jews”?) Those who hate the Jews go all Zionist to make you think they love them, but they are the ones who really can’t stand them. I have no problem with the Jews. I just don’t believe God gives people land or gives them the right to kill off other people to steal their land. I think that any Jew or Christian Zionist who still thinks in those ancient barbaric terms as if God gives people land and the right to murder to steal it from others, then they need to grow up and join the modern world that Jesus initiated by dying on the cross rather than waging a genocidal campaign to take Rome’s land.

  14. rey

    And anyone calling themselves “modernity” ought to understand that in the modern world we don’t take person X’s land away from them and give it to person Y just because person Y says “God told me I could have it.” That is abominable ancient superstition whether it comes from a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Budhist, a Christian, a Voodoo worshiper or whoever else (even a space alien).

  15. rey

    Oh, and by the way, “modernity”, God just told me I can have your house, so please send me the deed post haste! Don’t make me call the cops and have ’em force you.

  16. er, No rey,

    If you wouldn’t talk about “THE blacks”, “THE Muslims” etc then don’t use a collective article when it comes to Jews.

    It is offensive and only makes you look bigoted.

  17. rey

    But I use a collective article for everyone. The posters, the blogger, the complainers, the Mexicans, the Europeans, the French, the Iranians, the North Koreans, the Americans, the Australians, the blacks, the whites, the Jews, the Muslims, the Palestinians, the Hindus, the Budhists. Maybe its a dialect thing. Are you one of the British by any chance?

    Anyone can see by what I’m saying that its the opposite of bigotry.

  18. rey

    And how about giving me that deed to your house? You aren’t going to disobey the voice of God, are you modernity?

  19. Rey,

    So you do use the collective? and you can’t see why that is wrong?

    I think bigotry is the least of your problems.

  20. rey

    Teach me oh great kemosobi how to refer to groups of people without the use of the definite article since apparently you are God himself. By the way, you told me to tell you to give me the deed to your house. You aren’t going to disobey yourself, now are you, G-man?

  21. Rey,

    Go look up some anti-racist texts, something simple (“how not to be a bigot, or sound like one”) and if you have the time one of those courses on ‘racism and sensitivity’

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