By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
An absolute must read for every Jew and pro-Israel Christian
Mainline Protestant denominations, one by one, are lining up to condemn Israel and call for economic divestment from the Jewish state.
Most Jews do not realize that a large part of the Christian world is heading back to the dark ages of reading the Jews out of the Bible.
Most Protestants don’t realize that their leadership is torpedoing decades of Jewish-Protestant good will.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, many Protestant groups asked themselves whether any of their teaching could have contributed to the demonizing of Jews that made the Shoah possible. One candidate was supersession, or the belief that that the old Jews of the Bible had been replaced, or superseded, by the New Jews — believing Christians. This view maintained that all promises to Jews by G-d — an eternal covenant; the Land of Israel — had been shifted to Rome, and away from Jerusalem.
Gradually, they expunged much of their supersessionist vocabulary, and a period of dialogue with the Jewish community began. Jews came to understand that there were two kinds of Protestants — the kind-hearted, tolerant, liberal kind, and the conservative, narrow, evangelical kind. Many Jews still believe that they would fare better with the former than with the latter.
They were wrong on both counts. By now, most Jews know that there is no stronger source of support for Israel and Jews in American than in large parts of the evangelical community.
They were wrong about the liberal denominations as well. For decades, the leadership of these denominations have been among the most hostile to Israel. But while they were taking dead aim at Israel, they were also (and there is no reason to believe not sincerely) preaching love to Jews.
More recent trends, however, put make such protestations of love impossible to sustain. The mainline denominations have slipped backed into what Jews will recognize as supersession — in deed, if not in word.
What has changed? Liberal Protestants are struggling to distance themselves from their evangelical cousins, many of whom call themselves Christian Zionists. When those Christians cite Scripture to militate for Israel, the most convenient defense of the mainliners is to argue that those verses no longer apply to the Jews of today.
Consider the words of Naim Ateek, former Canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem and president of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, in his Easter sermon of 2001, and still posted on Sabeel’s website.
It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge Golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.
Most of the mainline denominations have some sort of official relationship with Sabeel. Ateek (who elsewhere declares that he cannot accept Israel’s “right” to exist, although he accepts the fact) is joined by others, such as Mitri Raheb of the Christmas Lutheran Church of Bethlehem. They are warmly received speakers at general conventions, local churches and seminaries. They forcefully argue against linking any Biblical promises to the Jews, except ones that warn of their expulsion from the Land for their sins.
They have made major inroads. Denominational tours of Israel take visitors to Palestinians and Israeli ultra-liberals, not to families of terror victims and to ordinary Israelis. President Thomas of the UCC proudly mentions in his online diary that one of his meetings even included members of Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that killed a few hundred US Marines. Friends working within these denominations tell me that the talk among leaders has shifted to of a one-state solution in the Middle East. That of course means an Arab majority in Israel canceling its identity as a Jewish state, awarding the land of Israel to Arabs in place of Jews, and denying a homeland to only the Jews among all the world’s peoples.
Formally use the word or not, it is the ultimate supersessionist scenario — replacing Jews with Palestinians. This poses a direct threat not only to the existence of the State of Israel, but to the essential worth that all Jews have in the eyes of Protestants.
The problem is with the leadership of these denominations, often out of touch with the wishes of the people in the pews. Many liberal Protestants — even those whose sympathies extend to the suffering of Palestinians — would not approve of policies that de facto make second-class human citizens out of Jews. Each of the denominations contains pockets of overt friends of Israel,. Jews should — must — reach out to their neighbors in local churches, many of them who have never heard the Jewish case for Israel, except through sanitized presentations from ultra-leftists like Michael Lerner.
Last week, the Anglican Church voted in favor of a program of divestment from Israel. The Presbyterian Church (USA) had its turn last August. Both the Methodists and Episcopalians are champing at the bit, waiting for their opportunity. This weekend, the United Church of Christ , meeting in Atlanta, considers three resolutions for divestment, and against Israel’s security fence. In all its years, it has never called for divestment from China, for its brutal suppression of Tibet, or from Arab governments that systematically persecute Christians.
The one-sidedness of the Protestant fixation on Israel suggests that, unless laity can be otherwise educated, the slide back to supersession is well under way.