Must Read Book; Must Change Idea

Every Christian should read this book.  Not because it is the best written or most compelling, rather because it challenges a widely held opinion that is detrimental to global peace.  Arabs and Muslims are real people with real concerns, children, jobs, and rights.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not representative of all leaders in the Middle East; Osama bin Laden is not representative of all Muslims in the Middle East and the world.

King Abdullah II of Jordan has written a book called “Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril.”  It is not the most compelling or best written book, but it is an important one.  I am not naive enough to think it is not a propaganda piece, but it provides a necessary beginning to balance the propaganda that overwhelms our media in the US with regard to the Middle East.

Maybe the most complex issue facing our world today is peace in the Middle East, specifically the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  This is the underlying issue behind our current battle against terror.  This is a must read book for every Christian because every Christian needs to begin to look at the broader issues in play in the Middle East and our blind allegiance to one party and our tunnel vision regarding reality in that complex arena needs a straight challenge from a reasoned voice. King Abdullah provides that voice and perspective.  He humanizes the “other” side in the Middle East;  he speaks for the moderate, reasoned Muslim.  Read the book.  Read all of it.  Then begin to listen to the rhetoric without the blinders and start to fact check the “propaganda” – obviously both sides see and portray issues their way.

Here are some statements from King Abdullah’s book:

“Some people in the West and Israel like to portray [the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians] as the continuation of a centuries old struggle.  They are wrong.  It is a relatively recent conflict, rooted in Jewish immigration into Palestine in the early twentieth century.”

“The settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem stood at around 265,000 at the time the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.  The number had risen to about 365,000 in 2000, and to over 400,000 in 2003.  This growth was a reflection of the fact that Israel never stopped building in the new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a politically incendiary move…also a clear indication that Israel was not committed to a two-state solution.”

“Speaking in the name of God can all too easily serve as a justification to suppress debate.  Putting yourself on a moral and spiritual pedestal allows you to condemn any challenger as morally bankrupt.  And this absolutist view becomes dangerous when it is combined with politics.  Suddenly, your political opponents become not merely people with differing values and ideas about how to organize society, but enemies of God.”

“…resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is in the national interest of the United States, Europe, and the rest of the international community.  The Palestinian issue is of paramount importance to more than a billion and a half Muslims across the world;  as such, it truly is a global issue.  Many men of violence use the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, especially East Jerusalem, as a rallying cry…Terrorist organizations exploit the legitimate frustration of Muslims over the failure to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories…it is imperative that we resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to deprive these extremists of one of their most potent appeals.”

That’s the must read book, here is the must change idea:  “Christians are on the side of Israel by default.”  It is time to challenge this widespread but fallacious idea.

Many Evangelicals equate support of Israel with a mandate from God and that the land of “Israel” belongs to Israel by divine decree, for all time.  These convictions are theologically questionable and ignore 1900 years of history.

Promises made to Israel in the Old Testament are covenant promises.  They remain intact as long as the covenant remains intact.  The argument of Jesus and the New Testament is that the Old Testament Covenant with the nation of Israel has come to an end.  The new covenant that God makes with Israel is not political or geographical in nature, rather it is a covenant that is based on the work of Christ and includes not only believing Jews, but is extended to believers of all the nations.  It’s geographic focus is not on the land of Palestine, but on the globe.  It’s political focus is not on national Israel, in fact it has no political component.  Verses like:  the one who curses Israel will be cursed, the one who blesses Israel will be blessed refer to the ancient covenant made with Israel and have no connection, logical or theological, with the present nation of Israel.

That doesn’t mean that Israel doesn’t have claim to a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  It just means that we don’t view them as superior to Jordan, Syria, Egypt or the Palestinian people.  The Christian view is not to back Israel because God backs Israel, rather it is to back Israel as a nation of people who have needs for economic, political and religious existence in a state of their own.  The same goes for Palestinians.

As a result of this blind allegiance Christians have been exploited by politicians in the US and Israel. Our naivete has contributed to the continued inability of the parties in the Middle East to achieve a real and lasting peace.  We need to admit that it has and begin to use our voice to influence change here and abroad.  It is time to change our ideas about the present state of affairs in the Middle East.

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  • Steve Giacumakis

    Steve,

    Let me say before I type any further that I welcome future conversations with you on this subject. As you are well aware, it is so complex and intertwined with ones theology and yes politics that a short treatise on the matter will not suffice.

    Ironically, British rule of “Palestine” from 1917-48 included what is present day Jordan. King Abdullah is somewhat correct in this being a relatively recent conflict. The British Army drove out the Muslim Ottoman Turks who ruled for 400 years. There were not enough Jews in the area during this time to mount an uprising. The British began to allow Jewish immigration from 1917 on in sympathy to increasing anti-semitism in Europe between the two world wars. The mostly Muslim Arabs in the area never liked this and there were many skirmishes throughout this period. The 1947 UN Partition plan recommended two states with Jerusalem under UN control. The Arabs rejected it and when Israel declared itself a state under the auspices of that plan the neighboring Arab states fought back. Most recently the Palestinians had their best chance when Clinton got Arafat and Barak together but again a rejection.

    Enough history. The way I took your comment about blind allegiance and Christians being exploited by politicians is that you are implying that most Christians do not want a two state solution. I would challenge that. In addition if you were using King Abdullah’s book as a reference point when talking about Covenant Theology and that every Christian should read the book again I challenge that. The book should be read on its own merits from a political and not theological perspective.

    Again I welcome further conversations with you.

  • Global Peace?? Now I’m responsible for Global Peace? This will be an interesting topic sitting around on a cool patio somewhere soon…

  • stevebag

    Hey Steve,

    I happened to be mid-way through the book when I watched Netanyahu’s speech to both houses of Congress in May. I sensed that his speech was crafted in such a way as to take advantage of two things to gain political capital: our monolithic view of Arabs/Muslims/Palestinians as the enemy (or even more extreme as terrorists) and our allegiance to Israel.

    The real disturbing question is whether or not Israel itself has a two state solution in mind no matter what they say based on their behavior in the settlements. Since the Palestinians are in disarray by definition (no central authority or voice which leads to the vacuum which thugs fill) it is always easy to criticize them. All the while the Israeli’s unapologetically populate the occupied territories which causes a new and probably insurmountable problem. If they just continue stonewalling the process by this behavior, it will all be theirs. It is a good plan.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this statement: Why doesn’t Jordan take the Palestinians in? The implication is that there is no difference between Palestinians and Jordanians. So, yes I think there may be a sentiment on the part of some Evangelicals that Israel has a divine and ancient claim on not just the land they presently hold, but the whole thing as promised to them in the Abrahamic covenant and that the same Old Testament injunction applies: no outsiders allowed. For consistencies sake if this is the standard that will decide the modern conflict over the land, this would not only include Israel “proper”, but Lebanon and Syria and parts of Jordan. Certainly this is not only a “living room at Christmas” argument we have both witnessed and participated in, but John Walvoord wrote his book “Whose Land is Palestine?” as a Dispensational argument for just that idea. I would like to say that it wasn’t true that people misused theology/Bible in this way, but sadly it is.

    Christians are notoriously naive. Believing these things to be true they give money to causes in Israel like financing immigration of Soviet Jews, and even sending money to rebuilding the temple projects. The nation and smaller interest groups within the nation don’t agree with the Christians they appeal to, but use their beliefs to acquire money and political support in the US. This is what I am referring to as the dangerous consequences of “divinely required” support to the nation of Israel.

    My purpose is pushing the kings book is not to push a theological idea, although I have one. I just think it does a good job of humanizing the “other side” in the Middle East.

  • stevebag

    Hey Ellen,

    If you were responsible for global peace I have no doubt that we would have it.

    But seriously, yes you are responsible for global peace. I think that is what Jesus came for. The gospel brings peace, specifically between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2) and when that was written it was referring to Jews and Greeks/Middle Easterners (as Pop likes to call them “Arabians”)/Romans/Africans.

    Can we find a cool patio somewhere? mine reads 105 right now.

  • Steve Giacumakis

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the response. I think you stated it right…”All the while the Israeli’s unapologetically populate the occupied territories which causes a new and probably insurmountable problem”. The complexity of a huge population increase in Israel proper since 1967 coupled with Israel’s percieved need to create a geographical buffer is the beginning of the insurmountable problem. Obviously, the status of Jerusalem is a huge and possibly the largest issue. In addition the territories infrastructure (water, power, communications, etc.) over the past 40+ years have been tied into the Israeli grids. Not easily undone (and if it was, to create a completely separate nation) it would take quite awhile to do it. I do support the idea of a two state solution.
    However the “insurmountable problem” has become such that while some sort of autonomy for the Palestinians could concievably happen, at this point I have a hard time seeing a completely separate state being possible.

    I do lean toward your theological way of thinking and have felt that we had great conversations about it. I am obviously wrestling with my own beliefs, (open to tweeking as we get older) and welcome picking your brain further hopefully before Christmas.

  • Brad Schield

    A “moderate reasoned Muslim” is an oxymoron within the evangelical perspective because Islam is a false religious system in direct enmity with God. We do not let it into camp. Islam is morally bankrupt and we do not make peace with it even its moderate elements. King Abdullah II is a liar because he is Muslim and no truth is in him.

    If anything I strongly support Israel on the basis that land simply belongs to God and any “Islam” nation that attempts to lay any claim to it under allegiance to a false god and prophet isn’t entitled to it.

    I’m not a Christian Zionist but believe Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written from a perspective that God does hold a special place for the nation lest we forget that the gospels record Jesus weeping for her.

    I would agree that Christian Zionists are misguided on the perspective of the covenant with Abraham. It was a conditional covenant as recorded in the Genesis, however the land was promised by God as an “everlasting possession” in the terms of the covenant thus it is set apart by God by mandate in spite of what King Abdullah II thinks of the conflict.

    The terms of the covenant were… He would be their God and they would be His people. I believe Moses wrote the book of Genesis (some say compiled it) therefore this broad statement of the covenant comes with the assumption that the Israelites (his readers) knew exactly what it meant to be God’s people in obedience. Moses penned it to the Israelites as they found themselves wondering in the wilderness being kept from the land because of disobedience.
    Ultimately there was a breach of contract through Israel’s rejection of the Christ. Therefore God has cut off Israel from the vine.

    The apostle Paul wrote that Israel as a natural branch was cut off by God but can be re-grafted on the vine just as the Gentiles who originally were ignored by God became grafted onto the vine being an unnatural branch (paraphrased obviously).
    Our perspective should always be the hope of the natural branch being reattached to the vine in reconciliation to Christ.

    We can rejoice that there is a Hebrew remnant that has come to Christ therefore descendents of Abraham that are found in Christ are really the ones who actually lay claim to the land, but like Paul they count that earthly blessing insignificant to the greater blessing of eternal life in God’s Kingdom with the entire picture in view.
    This does in fact make the nation of Israel very different from the other Arab nations because it is the only nation in God’s economy that has ever been given the honor to be set apart. In fact, the Bible teaches that in Christ Jesus we (Gentiles) become adopted Sons of Abraham and receive the blessings as heirs. So Biblically the nation called “Israel” is still set apart as Holy by God with claim to the land.
    Obviously, I wouldn’t consider reading this book because King Abdullah II has the power and resources to deal with the people he describes.

    Don’t get sucked into the abyss of Islam moderation. Even its moderate perspectives are extreme to the scriptures.