Friday, 14 October 2016

** FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 697 10 October 16 GOD IN PALESTINE


‘Why is this happening in a church?’ a shrill Zionist woman demanded inside Lichfield Cathedral. During the ‘Holding Palestine in the Light’ conference there. She was ignorant of the hallowed Christian tradition of hosting debates and discussions in great churches, no matter how controversial. She wanted to keep God out of the Palestine conflict, but…can you?

Dogmatic secularists haunted by anti-theistic hang-ups try hard. ‘Religion has nothing to do with it…it is a conflict over land’ they claim. Even very liberal Rabbi David Goldberg (‘a self-hating Jew’, Zionists would term him) pooh-poohed the notion. Yet, that disputed, tiny land is reputed holy by the three major world faiths. They all invoke their sacred texts and histories in support. In 1948 the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel stated that ‘Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel, was the birthplace of the Jewish people….here they gave to the world the eternal Book of Books’. The Bible, geddit?

Islam too claims Palestine – notably Jerusalem, al-Quds. It appeals to passages in the Qur’an and hadiths, plus the plain fact that Palestine was under Islamic rule – Arab or Turkish - for centuries, from 630 AD to 1917. The short Crusader interlude they deem an alien intrusion. The Israelis will eventually go the way of the now remote soldiers of the Cross, Muslims hope.

Christianity places God at the heart of Palestine. Because that is where God became man. Hence God is forever, timelessly in Palestine. It is the scandal of the Incarnation. The Eternal, the Infinite, the Boundless Deity humbled himself and took flesh in the womb of a pure Virgin. He was Jesus of Nazareth, a Galilean Jew. Later crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem. Hence Christians must care an awful lot about the Holy Land…

A movement exists, a mischievous monster called ‘Christian Zionism’. Staunch supporters of Israel, they invoke God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis, verses in II Timothy and the Book of Revelation to justify their crazy opinions that the Lord wants all Jews to go and live in Israel. Christian Zionists of course know nothing of real theology. They are ignoramuses, mutts and brute beasts without understanding, such as might root for a Hillary Clinton. In their idiocy, however, unlike the annoying Zionist lady, at least they get one thing right: God does matter in Palestine. He cannot be kept out of it. Christian Zionists simply go at it the wrong, moronic way.

What causes people to wish God away from Palestine? Why do atheists fear what they – ostensibly - disbelieve in? Is it fear that ‘religion is behind all the wars’, as a rather dim bank teller told me last week? But the Church today wields no political power in the West. No Pope could call a crusade, even if he wished to. WWI and II were not fought in God’s name. And Western liberal-democratic, bellicose adventures since 2001 were for democracy, revenge, human rights and similar such impeccably human reasons. Why blame God? (9/11? That’s for another Rant.)

Palestine is about justice, not God, a well-meaning Vicar said in Lichfield. But neither Islam nor Judaism conceive justice in irreligious terms. Islamic justice includes purification, ritual cleansing, halal and haram. And Rabbi Goldberg was correct in pointing out to a shallow rationalist questioner that the divine prohibition to eat pork in Judaism had nothing to do with hygiene. It was about separation. Being different. Being holy. Not being like their neighbouring, swine-eating idolaters. The ancient people of God were to be different from their pagan neighbours. Justice has to do with that, too. Being different from the ungodly, those who live like beasts.

The Dean of Lichfield called Christian Zionism ‘a pestilent heresy’. That was accurate. Pity he spoiled it when he added that what is needed is a ‘rational religion’. The priest bridled at that. What is rational about the Incarnation? Or the Cross? ‘A stumbling block to the Jews and a folly to the Gentiles’, St Paul says in I Corinthians. Reducing God to what is, in the eyes of man, ‘rational’ would be a grotesque deformation of the Christian faith. Pleasing to man but highly offensive to the Lord.

A line by Israeli Professor Yossi Melkenberg lingers in my mind: ‘The Israel-Palestine conflict is an asymmetrical conflict because Palestinians suffer more’. That was a courageous and honourable thing to say for an Israeli. Bully for him!

At Lichfield I picked up a pamphlet by the Christian Kairos Group. Kairos is a Greek word meaning time. But it is not mere clock time, everyday, humdrum time. Kairos means a special time, a critical time of decision, of crucial, world-shaking importance. The Kairos people believe this is a time for action on behalf of oppressed Arabs of Palestine. Their document lists all the abuses and injustice against Arabs. It is a theologically intelligent, cogent and well-argued text. Maybe a bit too anxious to press all the right buttons – holocaust, denouncing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, recognising Israel’s right to exist, etcetera. But they come up with some concrete political proposals. What should conscientious Christians do? Answer: back the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions against everything produced in the illegally occupied territories and those associated with it. Hit the occupiers non-violenty but where it hurts them. God wills it!

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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