New developments in the Middle East rekindle debate among Christians over support for Israel.
The news breaking almost daily from the Middle East has observers wondering if peace is around the corner, or if the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is trying to pull a fast one. And as Israel and the West Bank move back into the international spotlight, American evangelicals appear as divided as ever over how to respond to Israel and the Palestinians.
Two particular events have provoked the most attention. For the first time, PLO chairman Yasir Arafat publicly recognized Israel’s right to exist. In response to Arafat’s announcement—along with his renunciation of terrorism—the United States agreed to begin “diplomatic dialogue” with the Palestinians.
Neither action satisfied the Israelis, whose recently formed coalition government indicated no willingness to depart from a longstanding policy of refusal to negotiate with the PLO. Evangelicals, however, are pulled between two theological issues with political overtones: the belief that God has a special plan for the current State of Israel, and the belief that Christians owe their support to other Christians, regardless of nationality.
Americans And Israel
Ed McAteer, founder and president of the Memphis-based Religious Roundtable, favors strong support for Israel, a view that appears to be predominant among evangelicals. He told CHRISTIANITY TODAY his “unconditional love” for Israel has been “confirmed by recent events” in the Middle East. “Obviously, I have sympathy for the innocent people who are being caught in that turmoil … but it doesn’t deter me from doing what is right in supporting Israel,” he said.
Since 1981, the Roundtable has sponsored the National Prayer Breakfast in Honor of Israel during the National Religious Broadcasters’ (NRB) annual convention in Washington, D.C. Though not sponsored by the NRB, the breakfast has enjoyed high visibility at the convention and is attended by prominent NRB members, Israeli officials, and Washington dignitaries (CT, March 4, 1988, p. 33). A “Proclamation of Blessing” issued at last year’s event read: “As Bible-believing Christians, we believe there exists an iron-clad bond between the State of Israel and the United States.”
McAteer acknowledges that his “absolute, firm, immovable stand” in support of the State of Israel is a sore point for many Arab Christians, including those he considers personal friends. “My support for Israel is not greater than my love for my Christian brother, but because it’s a biblically and historically right position, I can’t back off,” he said.
Meanwhile, other evangelicals are calling for a re-evaluation of Christian thinking about the Middle East. A broad-based coalition of ministry and mission groups has formed a new ad hoc initiative called Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU). According to an EMEU proposal, “… there continues to be a vast darkness, even confusion, regarding the ‘Holy Land’ for that large segment of U.S. Christians who designate themselves as evangelicals.”
EMEU advocates more cooperation between American evangelicals and Arab Christians—including those from Middle Eastern Orthodox traditions. “We need to take seriously the sense of hunger Middle Eastern Christians have to be affirmed and recognized as authentic Christians,” said Don Wagner, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Campaign and a member of the EMEU steering committee. Wagner added that during his visits to the Middle East he has sensed a common “perception that American Christians are in bed with the Jews.”
Politics And The Gospel
For the past 13 months, Arabs living in the West Bank have conducted an uprising (intifadah) to attract international attention to their plight. The latest developments have led some Christians to call for a political settlement that would give Palestinians autonomy. Jeremy Levin, a journalist and the first American taken hostage in Lebanon, said Christians have a definite role to play in the crisis. “All people of faith and good will should take the teachings of Christ seriously … and rise above their communities to speak out for the human rights of the Palestinians,” he said.
But Jews for Jesus executive director Moishe Rosen says Christians should proclaim the gospel rather than seek political solutions. He said too many American Christians try to apply a “filter of Christian understanding” to the situation. “They want to get the Jews and the Muslims to behave like Christians, but those people aren’t Christians,” he said.
By Kim A. Lawton.
NORTH AMERICAN SCENE
Coats Tails Quayle Again
U.S. Rep. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) has been named to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Vice President-elect Dan Quayle later this month. Coats, a graduate of Wheaton College (Ill.), has served four terms in the House of Representatives since he replaced Quayle there in 1980 when Quayle moved up to the Senate. “I believe in providence, rather than fate,” Coats told reporters asking about the coincidence of twice succeeding Quayle. “I hope that I earned that seat in 1980 and in the subsequent eight years demonstrated my ability to do the job,” he said.
Coats, the ranking Republican on the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, enjoys strong popularity among evangelicals. In 1987 he was given the National Association of Evangelicals’ Layman of the Year award. Most of the legislation he has sponsored has been designed to benefit families.
Campus Crusade May Move
Bill Bright likes to tell how in 1962 God miraculously allowed Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) to purchase and build its headquarters at Arrowhead Springs in San Bernardino, California. Now the board of directors and administrators of the student ministry are considering uprooting.
“God will have to provide in a miraculous way, like he did the first time around,” said Don Beehler, director of communication for CCC. At present, the ministry does not have the funds to relocate.
Administrators have been exploring future alternatives since early this year, according to Beehler. The current high cost of living in Southern California, a desire for a more centralized location, and a concern for new expansion and consolidation of CCC’s headquarters are three main reasons prompting the search, he said.
Four cities currently meet most of CCC’s criteria: Atlanta; Dallas/Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Denver. A decision is expected concerning a move early in the spring of 1989, said Beehler.
“We are in the process of evaluating our needs for the future,” he said. “It could be we’ll stay here.”
Eternity Turns Final Page
The January issue of Eternity magazine will be its last. The evangelical monthly was simply unable to overcome the financial effects of declining circulation and minimal advertising income.
Eternity was started in 1950 by the late Donald Grey Barnhouse, renowned Bible expositor and longtime pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Until last year it was owned and published by Evangelical Ministries, Inc. (EMI). Last spring Eternity was acquired by Norman Vincent Peale’s Foundation for Christian Living, though EMI’s editorial staff continued to produce the magazine.
Campaigns to increase subscriptions to Eternity were moderately successful but below the foundation’s expectations. When Peale’s group encountered some unexpected financial problems of its own, it decided it could no longer foot the bill for Eternity.
World magazine, based in Asheville, North Carolina, has taken over Eternity’s subscription list of almost 20,000.
Sex Roles and the Bible
For the past two years, a small group of evangelical leaders has been meeting to discuss what they perceived as confusion over sex roles among Christians. At a meeting in December 1987, they formally stated their concerns in Danvers, Massachusetts, resulting in a new group rallying around “The Danvers Statement.”
Late last year the new group, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), sponsored its first press conference. According to the group’s president, Wayne House, professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, CBMW was formed to counter feminist trends among evangelicals. “There is a tendency to think biblical feminism is the only biblical view,” House said. “We believe the church could lose a great witness to culture by falling into feminist theology.”
House said CBMW plans to publish a book soon that will address some of their concerns, which include the belief that “childcare is the primary responsibility of the wife.”
PEOPLE AND EVENTS
Rehired: Mike Umlandt at Moody Monthly magazine, 11 weeks after he was dismissed by the same publication following a controversy over the way he handled a report on Chuck Swindoll’s purchase of a new house. Umlandt, who had been managing editor at Moody but was taken back as senior editor, said there was a “mutual reconciliation” between him and his superiors.
Elected: As the first executive director of the Southern Baptist Alliance, Stan Hastey. The SBA is a coalition of some 40,000 Southern Baptists who generally oppose current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. Prior to the move, Hastey served as chief of the Baptist Press Washington bureau.
Ended: By controversial author and speaker Constance Cumbey, a seven-year effort to expose the New Age movement. Cumbey accused a variety of leaders, some of them well-known Christians, of being part of a plot to introduce the Antichrist of Revelation. According to Religious News Service, Cumbey will return to practicing law.
November 15, 1988. At a parliamentary meeting in Algiers, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) declares an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and implicitly recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
November 26, 1988. U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz rejects a visa request from PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat because of Arafat’s “terrorist connections.”
December 13, 1988. Arafat addresses a United Nations General Assembly meeting in Geneva, offering a three-point peace plan.
December 14, 1988. Arafat, in a clarification statement, explicitly recognizes the State of Israel and renounces terrorism. In response, Shultz reverses a longstanding administration policy and calls for talks between the U.S. and the PLO.
December 16, 1988. U.S. Ambassador Robert Pelletreau meets with PLO officials in Tunisia in the first face-to-face U.S./PLO talks ever.
Churches Fighting Famine
Famine and civil war have indirectly led to greater freedom of religion in Mozambique, according to observers from World Relief. Local churches—particularly those affiliated with the Assemblies of God, Free Methodist, and Church of the Nazarene—are delivering seeds and tools to 4,000 families who have lost all their belongings in fighting between Mozambique’s Frelimo government and Renamo rebels.
Half the population of Mozambique, more than 7 million people, have lost homes and harvests in the ongoing civil war. With rampant famine contributing to the nation’s problems, government officials have eased restrictions on churches as they reach out to help starving residents.
World Relief reports the contributions have a spiritual dimension. “My Bible tells me that God is love,” one widow told a World Relief worker. “You have come here to help us. That proves he loves me.”
Baptists Seek Legal Status
For more than 100 years, the handful of Baptists operating in Austria have been doing so “outside the law.” Now they have decided to fight for legal status.
At issue is a law that has been on the books since 1874. It stipulates that pastors of churches must be Austrians, a condition that would rule out the missionary support the Baptists receive, primarily from the United States. Since the Baptists are operating illegally, they live with a number of inconvenient restrictions, including an unfavorable tax status, inability to open new churches, and prohibitions against ministering in prisons and hospitals.
Fritz Lippert, an Austrian criminal court judge, will lead the Austrian Baptist Union’s new legal drive to achieve recognition. With 780 members and a total constituency of some 3,000 people, Austrian Baptists are among the smallest religious populations in that country.
The final 10 of the 38 people imprisoned last July for a public protest against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government were released last month. Among them was Roger Guevara, secretary of the Democratic Coordinator, the country’s largest anti-Sandinista political coalition, who presented some of his views on the Nicaraguan conflict to CHRISTIANITY TODAY in an article that appeared early last year (CT, Jan. 15, 1988).
The release of the remaining prisoners was widely attributed to political pressure applied by other countries, West Germany in particular. The Nicaraguan government has said there will be restrictions imposed on those released, but has not specified the nature of the restrictions.
Carlos Huembes, president of the Democratic Coordinator and one of those released last month, said the political opposition is planning another rally for this month. “Political imprisonment can either defeat you or make you tougher,” Huembes told the New York Times. “Jail definitely strengthened me.”
Radio Station Firebombed
One of the victims of Haiti’s turbulent political fighting was Christian radio network Radio Lumière. Late last year, arsonists firebombed the network’s transmitters serving Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince. Initial damage estimates came to $80,000.
While no group took credit for the attack, it is widely believed that it was carried out by members of the National Volunteer Service (the so-called Tonton Macoutes) opposing free elections. Though Radio Lumiere had not supported or opposed any political candidate, it was strongly pro-election.
The Radio Lumière network is owned and operated by the Baptist Evangelical Mission of South Haiti (MEBSH), an association of 280 congregations.
WOMEN IN MINISTRY
Female Bishops Renounced
Robert Runcie, the archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church of England, recently announced he would not recognize women bishops in England. The statement came in his opening address to the General Synod of the Church of England, partly in response to the Episcopal Church’s election of Barbara Harris as suffragan bishop of Massachusetts.
“As I see the position, it seems clear that the Church of England does not canonically accept the ministry of either women priests or bishops of other churches.…”
When asked if his views might harm relations with the Episcopal Church, Runcie told the Church Times, “It certainly places restrictions on our communion, but surely does not render us out of communion.”
In a related move, eight Episcopal bishops have issued a pastoral letter indicating they plan to take action against trends in their denomination, including the election of Harris.
PEOPLE AND EVENTS
Released: One of a dozen Christians arrested in Malaysia in October 1987, Yeshua Jamaluddin, 28, was released from the Kamunting Detention Center. Jamaluddin had been arrested for witnessing to other Malays.
Reorganized: The Amity Printing Press in Nanjing, Peoples Republic of China, has become the Amity Printing Company, Ltd., in a move that provides for United Bible Society representation on the company’s board.
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