Standing With Israel: how bad theology duped us into supporting terrorism and oppression
Not many days go by without seeing some sort of “Stand with Israel” image pop up into my Facebook news feed. And, each time it does, my heart grieves over the fact that so many of my fellow Christians have been taken in by this new and dangerous theology, and in so duped into supporting terrorism and oppression… all in the name of God.
I grew up believing that Israel was God’s favorite country (also commonly expressed as “the Jews are God’s chosen people”), and the center of all God’s activity in humanity. Not only were they considered God’s “chosen” people, but we were taught that failing to support the nation of Israel would result in being cursed by God, whether you were an individual or an entire nation. This has caused much of American Evangelicalism to develop a blind love affair with the modern nation of Israel, who they see as the center of God’s past and future activity in the world.
I believe that this theology of the “Church and Israel Distinction” is actually one of the most dangerous and destructive theologies in the world today. It is unlike many of the other “secondary” theologies that are privately held beliefs which do not impact others one way or another. Conversely, this theology is causing a great many Evangelical Christians to embrace violence, condone oppression, support torture, and is actually creating terrorism. Ironically, this theology leads one to support not Godly behavior, but instead embrace behavior that is anything but Jesus-like.
The purpose of this post is to explain why this “pro-Israel” theology is ridiculously unbiblical, and how “standing with Israel” ironically causes one to stand opposed to God. I will give a brief overview of the basic tenants of this theology, the history of how it became popular within American Evangelicalism, why this theology is blatantly opposed to scripture, and why it is a major cause of terrorism in the world today.
Overview & History of Pro-Israel Theology (the Church and Israel distinction)
This theology is premised upon the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12, when God said “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
From this verse, and other passages from the OT, this theology states that there are two covenants in the world today, one with the ethnic descendants of Abraham and one with everyone else. Essentially, it claims that God has two plans, one for Jews and one for Gentiles. As a result, this theology necessitates that all of the promises God made to Israel in the OT must only be fulfilled via the ethnic descendents of Abraham. This theology, at the core, differentiates God’s plan for humanity based upon race.
Beholders to this theology see the modern political state of Israel as the recipient of the promise God made to Abraham, and as a result, believe that we must unwaveringly support them lest we experience the wrath of God. Such attitudes have become deeply ingrained into Evangelical culture; I recall recently reading a Facebook post of a minister who said he was going to vote for the candidate that was the most “pro-Israel”, and “Stand with Israel” type rallies are quite common in Evangelical churches. Oftentimes in such culture, your level of support for Israel can be used as a litmus test as to how “Christian” you are.
For those who grow up in churches that preach the Church and Israel distinction, this theology seems as if it is a normal part of orthodox Christianity, and never gets questioned. However, the truth is that this theology is a new theology and is not part of orthodox Christianity.
This theology was popularized by denounced heretic John Nelson Darby in the 1800′s. Darby is considered the father of dispensationalism, which is a dwindling subset of American Fundamentalism. Dispensationalism is a collection of extra-biblical beliefs (such as the “rapture”) which is typically known by a preoccupation on the end of the world, and a pessimistic worldview. Among Darby’s heresies included this new idea that God had two, simultaneous covenants, one for Jews and one for Gentiles. Sadly, much of Darby’s teachings caught hold in the UK and eventually America, and turned much of American Evangelicalism from an optimistic, social justice focused movement into a pessimistic, end-times movement.
However, Darby’s theology on Israel didn’t really take radical root in American culture until after the political state of Israel was born in 1948. Even then, the theology wasn’t all that popular until end-times writers created an entire new genre of literature in the 60′s and beyond, such as Hal Lindsay and Tim Lahaye. Once their books became popular, this new theology spread with such fervor that many now simply assume it has always been a central part of orthodox Christianity.
But, it hasn’t.
It’s a new theology, and besides being an extremely racist theology, it is a very dangerous and destructive theology as well.
Why It’s Biblically and Theologically Flawed
Yes, it is true that in the Old Testament, Israel was the group of people God set apart and through whom he fulfilled his promise to bless the world. However:
- The “seed of Abraham” or the descendants of Abraham, have always included those outside ethnic Jews (i.e., converted Gentiles)
The pro-Israel theology is based upon the premise that the group referred to as “Israel” or the “seed of Abraham” was a racially pure group, but this was never true. Beholders of this theology read the OT through an extremely racist lens, even if they are unable to realize such a lens exists. Just a few examples of how Israel was a racially diverse group:
Ex. 12:38 says it included a “mixed multitude” and that Israel included those who were not ethnically of Abraham but who had converted.
The faithful spies in Numbers 32. Only two were faithful, and Caleb was an Edomite.
Othniel, the first judge, was not an ethnic Jew.
Moses was in an interracial marriage with a Cushite.
Rahab was a Canaanite
Ruth was a Moabite
Esther 8:17 describes the inclusion of many other nationalities
Zechariah chapter 2 prophesies that Israel will include even more nationalities in the future.
Simply put, the Old Testament never makes “Israel” an issue of race, as most Evangelicals do, but instead describes a group of people who have decided to follow God. Any person, of any race who decided to follow God, was included in Israel. It was never a race, but a religious community.
- The New Testament affirms and teaches that the people of Israel are not those Jewish by blood but those who have decided to follow Jesus.
Romans 9:6 “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel… In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”
Romans 2:29 tells us that the true Israelis are not so ethnically, but spiritually: “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”
However, the “stand with Israel” movement rejects what is plain in scripture, instead insisting that God has a very specific, chosen race of people for which he has a special plan. Instead of the God who is not a “respecter of persons”, this theology creates a god who is severely racist- receiving people not on the basis of their hearts, but on the genetic origins of their DNA.
- The New Testament teaches us that Jesus created a new humanity.
As Paul says in Gal 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This passage is perhaps as clear as it gets, that there is no longer a distinction or separation between Jews and Gentiles; the previous barrier has been removed.
Furthermore, Paul ever so clearly states in Ephesians:
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (emphasis mine)
In this we see, that it was God’s intention to completely remove any separation which once existed between the categories of “Jew” and “Gentile” and that as far as God is concerned, there is a new humanity where all are included together.
However, the Stand with Israel movement rejects these passages, instead insisting that a barrier still exists, where God has one distinct plan for ethnic Jews and a separate plan (covenant) for Gentiles. I can think of no other more racist position that stands opposed to the truth of scripture.
- Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament, including God’s promise to Abraham.
In fact, even Abraham himself knew this– in John, Jesus tells the religious leaders that Abraham “rejoiced to see my day”. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was a blessing to the world more than any other event in all of human history– and this was the fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the whole world through Abraham.
However, this theology argues that the promises to Abraham have not been fulfilled, and that they will only be fulfilled in the future, via his own bloodline. Such a position completely reduces the purpose and work of Christ, as if it wasn’t enough to fulfill the promises made to Abraham.
While there are many additional theological arguments against this position, it is important to understand that:
(a) This is a very new theology, and is not part of historic, orthodox Christianity.
(b) This is a theology based upon race, even though Israel in the OT was not a pure race.
(c) This is a theology which in many respects, argues that there are two paths to God- one path for the Jews, another for Gentiles.
(d) This is a theology which requires one to completely dismiss countless New Testament teachings which, very clearly state, there is no longer a separation between Jews and Gentiles.
If this were all there was to it, you wouldn’t hear a complaint from me because it would be a relatively harmless theology. However, this is actually a damaging theology that is making the world more dangerous, violent, and oppressive.
Why “Stand with Israel” theology is literally destructive
1.By saying that you “Stand with Israel” you are, by definition, saying that you “stand against” the Palestinian people. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, not to stand against them.
- By supporting Israel as she has continually taken land away from the Palestinian people, we have contributed to a massive crisis of refugees without a home. This has led us to stand with the oppressor, not the oppressed, as scripture commands us.
- By supporting settlement expansions in Israel, we are supporting the Israelis breaking the law. We cannot say that undocumented immigrants in our country need to “respect the law” while supporting Israel’s daily refusal to obey international laws. That is ridiculously hypocritical.
- This theology requires you to reject the role of “peacemaker” as Christ commanded. Almost every time the US has attempted to broker a peace deal in the middle east, I’ve seen the pro-Israel folks take to the internet to condemn western leaders for making any compromises or dividing any land. I’ve heard preachers say that to obey the Bible (citing Joel) means that we are forbidden from sharing the land with outsiders. In fact, many churches in America actually donate money to help fund these illegal and oppressive settlements. These attitudes do not reflect the love of Jesus, the role of peacemaker, and are not “Christian” attitudes.
- This theology requires us to oppress other Christians. There are more Christians living in Palestine than in Israel, and when we support violence and oppression against the Palestinians, we are supporting the oppression of our own brothers and sisters.
- This theology is making the job of missionaries throughout the middle east and Muslim world, more difficult. Because Christians consistently and blindly support Israel, regardless of how oppressive they are towards the Muslim community, we have damaged our witness within the Muslim community. As if missions to Muslims were not difficult enough already, our support of their oppression only adds to the level of mistrust and resentment– making the job of our missionary brothers and sisters all the more difficult.
- By supporting Israel, we are supporting a nation that is consistently guilty of torturing children and other human rights abuses. According to a recentUN report, over a period of 10 years, thousands of Palestinian children have been kidnapped, tortured, used as human shields, and killed by the Israelis. In addition, they have also been found to have forcibly sterilized Ethiopian immigrants which has reduced the Ethiopian community in Israel. If these sorts of human rights abuses were happening in any other country, the United States would be pursuing sanctions, or war. However, the fact that this theology has been forced into national discourse as a litmus test for many politicians, we continue to support this abusive nation.
- This theology is one of the root causes of the world’s terrorism problem. Why do “terrorists” hate us? Well, it’s not because of “freedom” as many politicians will tell you– it’s actually because of the US foreign policy towards Israel. Israel has become a bully in the middle east, killing and oppressing Muslims without even a hint of accountability from the west. The Muslim world has watched us support a bully, all in the name of our “God”, and it has grown to hate us as a result. This theology is actually creating and fueling terrorism- the same terrorism that caused 911. It has played such a significant role, that I hold preachers likeJohn Hagee as responsible for terrorism as the terrorist themselves.
Really, you ask? Yes. The very powerful evangelical voter block, which largely has been infiltrated by this bad theology, insists that the candidates they support be unwavering supporters of Israel. As a result, US foreign policy towards Israel has been built on bad theology instead of sound reasoning.
Want to curb terrorism? We have to stop blindly supporting Israel and start caring about the rest of the middle east. We have to get people like John Hagee off the air before he incites World War III over bad theology, and little more.
- Stand with Israel theology is causing church’s in America to funnel money to illegal terrorist activities (expanding Israeli settlements) instead of using that money to help the poor and oppressed. We have been duped into sinning by misusing our money and neglecting the needy among us. In the year 2010 alone, American Christians gave over $100 Million to charities in Israel- funding terrorism and oppression instead of tending to the poor and needy in our own communities.
In summary, maybe you or someone you know is caught up into this “pro-Israel” theology. If that’s the case, I would challenge you to consider that such a position is incredibly racist, and if true, makes God a racist too.
You must be willing to consider, that simply because you have been taught this theology your whole life, does not make it true.
God does not have two-plans, one for a specific race of people, and one for everyone else. He has one plan, and his name is Jesus.
While some “secondary” theologies are harmless, this one is not. This theology is a new, and dangerous theology which has created, and is directly responsible for, a great deal of terrorism in our world today.
Embracing this theology, means that one must embrace things that are not of God- violence, oppression, theft, torture…
and we must reject those things.
We must reject this theology.
Should we “stand with Israel”?
But ONLY if that also means we stand with Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians, and everyone else in the world.