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Mainline churches at odds with Israel

Methodists call creation of Israel the 'original sin' and bring back divestment talks

Tensions are re-emerging between Jewish organizations and some mainline Protestant churches in the wake of a renewed drive for churches to divest from companies doing business with Israel.

The United Methodist Church opened discussions last Friday on a resolution calling for divestment from Caterpillar, the tractor manufacturer, because the company supplies Israel with bulldozers used in building the separation barrier and in demolishing Palestinian homes. The divestment resolution comes only months after the publication of a church-sponsored report referring to the creation of the State of Israel as the "original sin."

Relations with the Presbyterian Church (USA) are also strained, following remarks by church officials criticizing Israel because of the Gaza closure. A recent study by an affiliate of the Presbyterian Church called on American Jews to "get a life" instead of focusing on defending Israeli policies.

"This reflects a very disturbing trend in these churches," said Ethan Felson, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. "These developments are a result of work of several very wicked forces that play in the church."

This report is from The Forward. I don't know what these "wicked forces" are, but if Christians are going to use insincere metaphors like comparing Zionism to the Fall of Man, I guess Jews are afforded similarly inflammatory language. Though I'm not sure what good dissolving this disagreement into a diatribe would do.

Most Jews have assumed the drive by mainline denominations to divest from Israel was over. But from what I understand, it's just picking up again and a divestment resolution will be discussed at the United Methodist Church's general conference next month. Such a move might encourage the PCUSA to reconsider the resolution it passed two years ago but then set aside.

For years, the chasm between mainline Protestants and their evangelical and Pentecostal counterparts has been growing in terms of their relationship to Israel. Not every evangelical is the gentile Maccabi John Hagee, who coincidentally gives much of the Jewish community the creeps, but during the past year I've encountered a number of Christian groups that have a more profound love for, and unconditional defense of, the Holy Land than many American Jews.

Last summer, the same week that Walt and Mearsheimer's "The Israel Lobby" was published, Christianity Today explained why Christians should love not only God's promised land but his chosen people too.

The key complaint offered against dispensationalists is that they talk as though God had separate plans for saving Israel and the church. And contemporary Reformed Christians are accused of having a "replacement theology" in which the church takes the place of Israel, inheriting all of God's promises with no remainder for the Jewish people. The one view tends to find no fault with Israeli government decisions as long as they do not compromise dispensational theology. The other view tends to consider the continued existence of the Jewish people a historical anomaly with little theological significance.

But we cannot read the New Testament without seeing that the Jews continue to have a place in God's economy. Gentile Christians do not replace the Jews, but are joint heirs and wild branches grafted onto the Jewish olive tree. God's ultimate purpose in saving Gentile Christians is to save the Jews (Rom. 11).The evangelical mainstream needs to do some rigorous theological work on its relationship to Judaism, to the Jewish people, and to the state of Israel. The concerns we must address include:

The need to learn how Judaism and the Jewish people understand themselves. ...

The fundamentally Jewish character of God's revelation in Jesus. ...

What justice means for a Jewish state and its neighbors. ...

What kind of theological and ethical significance evangelicals can give the state of Israel before the return of Messiah Jesus. ...

Optimism for a negotiated solution to Israeli-Palestinian tensions fluctuates with the news. But Christians must hope in God's covenant faithfulness. Meanwhile, we should keep reminding those involved in direct negotiations that we long for a solution that provides a secure Jewish homeland and self-determination and prosperity for Palestinians. In God's eyes, the peace of Jerusalem is to bless all peoples.

This article was cross-posted atThe God Blog.

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