The Church of Scotland and its Fatal Obsession

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In May 2013, the Church of Scotland issued a document titled The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘promised land’.[1]

This text, which was a follow up to another paper on the same subject, Theology of Land and Covenant,  published in 2003, generated a lot of complaints, most of them directed at its criticism of the belief that the Jewish people have a legitimate claim to the land of Israel by virtue of the promises made to the Jews in Hebrew Scriptures. The document was also roundly condemned for promoting the Kairos Palestine Document, issued in 2009. This text, prepared by Palestinian Christians with a history of assailing the legitimacy of the Jewish state, described Palestinian terrorism as legal resistance and invoked the Holy Land to subject Israel to intense scrutiny while giving its adversaries a pass.

The controversy proved to be so intense that the Church of Scotland retracted The Inheritance of Abraham? for a few days and then issued revised version in which the authors emphasized the legitimacy of Israel as a modern nation state. They also apologized for creating anxiety on the part of Jews in Great Britain.

The revisions and apology notwithstanding, the document (which can be accurately and fairly described as “Judeo-centric”), is a good example of how Christian churches in the West have subjected Jews, the religious and political ideas they embrace – and their state – to intense scrutiny while largely ignoring the impact which Muslims, Islam and Islamism have had on life in the Middle East.

Ostensibly, the text addresses the manner which Christians should view the Holy Land and how, if at all, they should affirm the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. Ultimately, however, the text is a treatise about the transformation that Israeli Jews need to make in order to live in peace with their Arab and Muslim neighbors in the Middle East.

According to this and similar statements issued by liberal Protestant churches in Europe and North America, the Arab-Israeli conflict is rooted in Jewish self-understanding and self-expression and almost nothing else. According to their logic, the way to peace between Israel and its adversaries is through a conversion experience on the part of the Jewish people.

The authors of The Inheritance of Abraham? were not so ham-handed as to expect Jews to convert to Christianity, but they do expect the Jewish people, especially those living in Israel, to repent of their exclusivist ways, get over the Holocaust and make peace with the Palestinians.

In order to promote this conversion, the document depicts the land promise as a threat to Jewish wellbeing because of the rules that come with it and the inability of Jews to live up to these rules. Since Jews cannot live up to the rules that come with the land, they risk expulsion and the loss of sovereignty that follows, the authors state. At one point, the authors ask, “Would the Jewish people have a fairer claim to the land if they dealt justly with the Palestinians?”

In sum, the text subjects Israeli Jews to intense theological scrutiny, finds them wanting in their pursuit of peace and implicitly justifies violence against them. At no point in The Promise of Abraham? do we see any attempt to understand or challenge the ideology used to justify violence against Israel and Jews in the Middle East.

Groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that seek Israel’s destruction become ciphers, non-descript tools whose violent acts against the Jewish state are of a potentially divine mechanism that punishes Israel for falling short of the moral demands imposed upon them by their scriptures.

We have seen this behavior before. In Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and its Legacy (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), Richard L. Rubinstein and John K. Roth report that in 1942 the towering Protestant theologian “reproved a stricken Jewish community for failing to understand the Holocaust as divine punishment for its willful refusal to believe in the lordship of Christ. ‘There is no doubt,’ [Barth] wrote, ‘That Israel hears; now less than ever, can it shelter behind the pretext of ignorance of ignorance and inability to understand. But Israel hears—and does not believe.'”

Rubenstein and Roth also report that in 1949, Barth “continued to suggest that the evil that came to the Jewish people was a ‘result of their unfaithfulness,’ that the Jew ‘pays for the fact that he is the elect of God,’ and the Jewish people are ‘no more than the shadow of a nation, the reluctant witnesses of the Son of God and the Son of Man.'” In other words, Jewish suffering caused by the Holocaust was the result of Jewish faithlessness and consequently this suffering testified to the credibility of the Christian faith.

A similar schema is evident in The Inheritance of Abraham? With Barth we have a Christian theologian invoking the Holocaust as a consequence of Jewish obduracy.

With the Church of Scotland document we have Christian commentators promoting a view of the Arab-Israeli conflict that blames Israel for the violence directed at its citizens. Hamas and Hezbollah attack Israel not because they embrace an antisemitic ideology but because Israeli Jews refuse to “deal justly” with the Palestinians.

The document does offer Israel and its Jewish inhabitants and supporters a way to escape this divine scrutiny and judgment (and the violence that accompanies it) through the abandonment of an exclusivist mindset and resentment over the Holocaust in favor of a universalist worldview or ideology.

To encourage Israeli Jews to make this conversion, the authors invoke the writings of Mark Braverman, an American Jew who in his 2010 book Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land (Synergy), condemns his fellow Jews for the blindness and insensitivity in their dealings with the Palestinians. His description of Hamas, however, fails to acknowledge the group’s totalitarian agenda and its stated goal of destroying Israel. This helps explain why Braverman, who is very popular among liberal Protestants, has no Jewish following to speak of. Like St. Paul before him, Braverman preaches to the gentiles.

The polemics deployed in The Inheritance of Abraham? have obvious analogues in the anti-Judaic passages in the New Testament and in the writings of the early church fathers that depicted all but a few Jews as unable to accept interpret their own scriptures and accept Christ’s universalistic message of God’s love for all humanity. On this score, the Church of Scotland is not unique. Liberal supporters of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in both North America and Europe have deployed similar arguments for years.

The persistent use of and tolerance for such polemics by would-be peacemakers in the progressive Christian churches and para-church organizations in the West raises serious doubts about the ability of these institutions to deal rationally with issues related to the Jews.

It is well known that significant numbers of Christians are fleeing countries in the Middle East in an effort to avoid oppression and murder at the hand of Islamists in that region. But instead of addressing the theological and ideological arguments used to incite violence against Christians and to expand the reach of Islam throughout the world, the Church of Scotland deems it necessary to interrogate Israel and its claim to the land.

In light of the church’s silence about anti-Christian violence, and its obsession with Jewish sovereignty, it seems reasonable to conclude that the denomination is more troubled by Jewish sovereignty and survival than it is by Christian destruction.

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. This piece was written for SPME.

[1]This report is no longer posted on the web.  It had been posted under the following URL:   

The Church of Scotland and its Fatal Obsession

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