Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Who Are the Peacemakers?
Christian World Tuesday May 27, 2014 The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri. (The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.) On the evening of April 27, 2014, Ed Stetzer tweeted the news to his followers that Fuller Seminary’s Glen Stassen had passed away. “May we all love peace as much as he did,” Stetzer added. Stassen, the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller, had a long career, having taught at Duke and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well. He was also the co-author of the notorious “An Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists,” in September 2011. Along with his friend, Dr. David Gushee, Stassen accused Christian supporters of Israel of egregious moral and theological errors, going so far as declare that Christian supporters of Israel are “sinning” by doing so. Further, Stassen and Gushee accused Israel of creating the conditions for war, since some Israeli communities exist on land that has been proposed as a Palestinian state. It is important to note that while anti-Israel activists like Stassen and Gushee insist that the government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu has “unofficially” decided to “renounce this path,” referring to the establishment of a Palestinian state, the pair offers no proof. In fact, Netanyahu gave a speech in June 2009, in which he endorsed in principle the concept of a future Palestinian state. Such facts are sanitized from diatribes by the Christian Palestinianists*. Sadly, Stassen’s brand of mendacious, accusatory allegations is apparently of no consequence to major evangelical leaders like Stetzer. As president of LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources (the official publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention), Stetzer is widely influential, and actively networks with any and all American denominations. For Stetzer, Stassen was a man of peace. Alarmingly, this is not an isolated case, where Israel and her supporters are concerned. The new president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Dr. Russell Moore, appears to be nearer to Stassen’s view of Christian Zionists and Israel than his predecessor, Dr. Richard Land. Moore, an advocate of Covenant Theology, declares that such scholars “have maintained that the church, not any current geo-political entity, is the ‘new Israel,’ the inheritor of all Israel’s covenant promises.”1 This statement should trouble pro Israel Christians who battle the scourge of Replacement Theology. Moore is a “player,” and his influence will only grow. The new thing Palestinian apologists are doing, strategically in the propaganda wars, is targeting not only Millennials, but the most conservative denominations. Not only have tears appeared in the fabric of Christian-Israel relations in the SBC…it’s happening within Pentecostal circles, as well. Although the Assemblies of God has revoked the credentials of Dr. Paul Alexander (professor at Palmer Theological Seminary, Eastern University), the charismatic former president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies is a known Palestinian advocate and often peppers speeches with Liberation Theology themes. Many believe that pro Palestinian activists in these circles are simply waiting for the establishment leadership to retire before welcoming Alexander back to the fold. Controversial author Brian McLaren, a key leader in the Emergent community, also builds bridges to Southern Baptists and Pentecostals, where his unorthodox views (and anti-Israel animus) fly under the radar. Robert Nicholson, a researcher in Christian-Jewish relations, based in New York, recognizes the depth of the problem: “Contrary to popular opinion, strong Christian support for Israel is not inevitable. Although most evangelicals still stand strongly with Israel, many in the younger generation have been influenced by progressive elites and become disillusioned with the Jewish state. Some have embraced an aggressive social justice agenda that tends to be antagonistic to Israel; others are apathetic or disinterested in the prospect of waging another divisive culture war. “In addition to this generational drift, there is also a theological shift taking place. Old attitudes of replacement theology that were once confined mainly to Catholic and mainline Protestant churches have recently begun to infiltrate evangelical circles under the guise of various theologies.” Influential leadership groups within evangelicalism are working overtime to bring Millennials into the Palestinian fold. At the “Catalyst Dallas” conference in Dallas in May, former director Brad Lomenick told a capacity crowd that “We have a big vision, but a small target”—28-30-year-olds. Lomenick has been instrumental for more than a decade in bringing progressive thinkers like McLaren, Jim Wallis, Cornel West, and Lynne Hybels to Catalyst. Each embrace the Palestinian view that Israel and her supporters are a threat to peace. Brad Lomenick, (Brad Lomenick, "Catalyst Dallas.") In addition, well-known groups like World Vision have quietly promoted a pro Palestinian viewpoint for years. Within the last year, World Vision has co-sponsored “Hope for the Holy Land” seminars, featuring Hybels, Holy Land Trust director Sami Awad, and World Vision’s Mae Cannon to present slanted perspectives of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The group even presented at North Coast Calvary Chapel (Carlsbad, California) in 2013, thus further illustrating the strategy of co-opting even the strongest pro Israel communities. No longer is the Palestinian narrative the worldview of mainline and Catholic churches. Now the agenda is to drive straight into the heart of evangelicalism. Certain key evangelical leaders in the U.S. are taking the evangelical community to the left, theologically and ideologically. A reversal of support for Israel is but one of their agenda items. Young, progressive pastors like Jonathan Martin (Renovatus Church, Charlotte, North Carolina) also mainstream the Palestinian narrative, which focuses heavily on blaming the “Israeli occupation” as the chief obstacle to peace. Little-to-no mention is made of Palestinian terrorism, incitement, or denial of Jewish history. Martin has hosted a screening of “With God on Our Side,” with director Porter Speakman, Jr. and Stephen Sizer. Lomenick’s revelation of the demographic targeted by the progressives is validated further by the appearance of Religion News Service writer Jonathan Merritt at a fall, 2013 meeting in Washington D.C., where pro Palestinian advocates like Todd Deatherage met to strategize ways to bring the Palestinian narrative deeper into the American church. Merritt’s gift for storytelling was considered to be an asset by the host organization, Telos Group.2 In the March/April issue of Relevant magazine, publisher Cameron Strang wrote what many consider to be a highly biased account of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In his cover story, Strang followed a path similar to that of his friend, the author Donald Miller, who accused Israel of war crimes in a November 19, 2012 blog post.3 Strang’s article, however, was immediately critiqued by a host of analysts. CAMERA’s Tricia Aven wrote a lengthy analysis, outlining numerous problems with Strang’s conclusions. Among them, Aven pointed out that Strang’s foundational premises were flawed and biased: “In his article, Strang writes, ‘Israelis must find a way to acknowledge Palestinian demands for sovereignty in a portion of the historic land of Israel.’ He makes no mention of all the times the Palestinians have been offered sovereignty and have refused it.”4 Strang declined several requests to comment on the CAMERA piece, even calling further dialogue “pointless.”5 At a time when Israel finds itself increasingly isolated internationally, long-time activists for Israel are deeply disturbed by these efforts to influence young evangelicals. The methods, goals, and outcomes among the Christian Palestinianists are deep, wide, and pervasive in the American church. Only now are key Christian and Jewish groups and leaders waking up to this new reality. Something must be done about it! The question can be asked: who are the real peacemakers among activists for Israel and the Palestinians? (*A term, contrasting the position of Christian Zionists, assigned by British scholar Paul Wilkinson to primarily American Christian supporters of the Palestinian narrative.)