Synod 2019 will be asked to deliberate Overture #6 from the Council of East Hill Community CRC, Vernon, British Columbia entitled “Follow Christ in the Way of Peace, Doing Justice, and Bringing Reconciliation to the Peoples of Israel and Palestine.” (see the Agenda for Synod 2019).
The council of East Hill Community CRC overtures Synod 2019 of the Christian Reformed Church to act on the following:
- To increase the awareness of our members that in the ongoing conflict the system of official policies and practices of the Israeli government with respect to the treatment of Palestinians violates biblical principles of justice and righteousness.
- To, along with other Christians, continue to call on our respective governments and ultimately the government of Israel to hear God’s call to practice justice with regard to the Palestinian peoples.
- To encourage the Palestinian peoples and Israel to continue to choose the way of a nonviolent path to peace in the face of this deteriorating 52-year occupation.
- To instruct the Council of Delegates to instruct the Office of Social Justice to continue to lead our churches into taking appropriate action by providing educational resources, consultation, and coordination of our congregations’ efforts in addressing these injustices.
To assist delegates in their deliberations with this Overture, I would like them to ask them to contemplate the following ten questions.
- Given that the word ‘Palestine’ is derived from Roman occupation of Jewish territory of what they called “Philistine” (after the Bar Kokhba revolt of 134 AD) is it possible that the very term carries other meanings than its present day connotations as applied to an ethnicity, for example?
- Given that the region was Jewish originally, and that invaders of Arabic and Muslim origin then occupied it, a valid question might be “whose land is it anyways?” A further question that is addressed below is “is this all about land, anyways?”
- Given that the region now called Israel/Palestine was under Islamic control, how does this play into the equation? Islam has a doctrine called ‘waqf’ which essentially declares that any land that has been in Islamic hands must remain so until perpetuity, and if it reverts to non-Muslim hands, then war is declared in perpetuity. Has the overture sufficiently considered the consequences of the doctrine of waqf?
- Given that enmity between Muslims and Jews was declared at the time of the founding of Islam, and that Islamic texts, including its eschatology portray a strong anti-Semitism, should this dynamic enter the equation?
- Given that a reaction to Christian Zionism [largely driven by dispensational theology] is now Christian Palestinianism [largely driven by liberation theology] how should delegates navigate theologically through these two opposing and yet very vocal options?
- Given that there is ample evidence of exploitation of victimization on the part of some Palestinians with the resultant effect to demonize all things Jewish [see unedited scripts from Palestinian TV here [MEMRI | Middle East Media Research Institute] where does the call for justice apply to this dynamic? Where does responsibility for Palestinian actions come into play?
- Given that there is evidence of exploitation of Palestinians by Palestinian leaders [*witness the fortunes that leaders such as the late Yasser Arafat, Mousa Abu Marzook and Khaled Meshaal have amassed] how will this injustice be addressed?
- Given that Christians of Arabic background in this region are doubly marginalized, either by a Jewish or Muslim majority, depending where they live, how will their plight be prioritized? Also, given that Christians throughout the world suffer injustices and that this must rank high on a list of Christian priorities, why does it seem that injustices towards Palestinians [Christian or otherwise] seem to have a higher “value” than say, Pakistani Christians trapped for years in refugee camps, than the almost unreported kidnappings of Christians in the Minya region of Egypt and the present systemic persecution of Christians in China?
- Given that many resources on the region for Christian reading tend either toward Christian Zionism [i.e., blessing all things Jewish] or Christian Palestinianism [i.e., blessing all things Palestinian] how will balanced resources be made available, in light of the overture’s leaning toward the second?
- As much as biblical justice is part of the mandate of the church and its members, where does the CRCNA draw lines around what its "core business" might be, and what might be the ministry of a certain group of interested members, without it needing the official funding, energy, and sanction of the CRCNA? In short, can the CRCNA ever say no to official advocacy for an injustice somewhere on this planet?
Thanks for this John. Your question #10 is indeed the summary conclusion. I am increasingly befuddled by the idea that some CRC assemblies have, Synod included, that they can meaningfully "address" infinitely complex political issues (which are almost always the media hot topics of the day) they know little to nothing about in detail by delegating "all those details" to a CRC agency.
We are becoming stooges of the political/media spin machinery that is becoming increasingly pervasive in the US, all the while thinking we are "champions of social justice" because we are able to point to a supposed injustice we in fact know little about and tell something else to "do something about that."
Thanks for your thoughtful questions to address this overture. I can only hope that whoever is considering it will take your questions to heart. This overture was twice rejected by Classis British Columbia South East because of the one-sided nature of the argument. Its author is passionate for the Palestinian cause, but that passion has closed his mind to any serious dialogue or consideration of the complexities of the situation in the Middle East. We've had extended dialogue with him on the matter, but he persists with a very one-sided agenda.
The situation in Israel/Palestine is incredibly riven and complex. We need to be cautious about wading into this conversation with broad-based and church-wide declarations without real and full understanding of the issues on the ground there. I can only hope and pray that saner heads will prevail at synod to see through the narrowness of this deeply flawed overture.
Rather than highlighting only justice issues, the CRC would be much better served by a broader focus on "reconciliation" in this context. A reconciliatory approach which has justice as a component avoids the tendency to demonize the "other" side, and promotes listening and dialogue instead.
Thank you for this John.
I have great concern over the growing emphasis, both in the crcna and in the church generally, on social justice, and this is a great example of why.
One of the great flaws in the social justice framework is the way that it seeks to bring "justice" to groups rather than to seek a just outcome in specific, individual situations. This approach almost always leads to injustice rather than to justice. Biblically speaking, justice (each one receiving what he/she is due, based upon the law of God) can only have an individual application, for we are individually responsible before him, and all that we are responsible for is what we ourselves do or don't do.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Over and over again, God warns his people not to consider what group people are from in seeking to do justice, but to simply look at the facts. And, in order to make sure that only the facts were used, they needed to be established by 2 or 3 witnesses. In other words, before any conclusion could be determined to be "just" those entrusted with bringing justice had to follow a process that was just. The social justice movement, in seeking to bring justice to groups overly simplifies each situation and leads to many guilty people being protected and many innocent people being found guilty.
If we want to work to establish true justice between the Jewish and Palestinian people (outside of bringing them to faith in Jesus Christ) we should work to make sure that in each and every territory the law applies to everyone, and each individual situation is assessed through a just process. If we made this our goal, and worked for it, we would soon find out which of the individuals in these groups really wants justice and which of them are just interested in stirring up mobs of people to help them achieve their unjust aims.
A reply to John Span and all:
John, read the overture again and notice that it is not about who owns the land but about the
treatment of one people who have all the power over another people who have little power.
The one has been impoverished by countless discriminatory laws by the
other occupying power for a long, long time.
The prophets always warned ancient Israel “to act justly...do not oppress the alien,
the orphan or the widow….to not shed innocent blood.” Jeremiah 7:5 -7
Remember the story of the prophet Elijah when he spoke to King Ahab “Have you killed and
taken possession?” Ahab had killed Naboth and had taken what was not his. 1 Kings 21:19
There is no blessing for ancient Israel nor the modern state of Israel.
The forced illegal dispossession of homes and land takes place to this day.
Our Lord and Redeemer was not here to form an earthly kingdom but to call all people to Himself.
Jesus changed everything! The apostle Paul proclaimed that there is now no difference between
Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, we are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
Alongside ancient Israel, the modern state of Israel, we are all grafted into the “New Israel”
for which our Lord died and rose triumphant.
I was in Israel/Palestine, particularly in the Bethlehem and Hebron areas, in October 2015 to
specifically be a witness to what happens there. I went with the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
There were eight of us. (Canadian, American, Australian).
We talked with families who were dispossessed of their homes.
We interviewed parents whose children were dragged off to jail.
I saw how the Palestinian people in Hebron had to live with so many military checkpoints
and the midnight raids they have to endure.
We also spoke with Israeli Jews who are affected by the conflict or work for justice and reconciliation,
so many Jewish people are also deeply hurting from the trauma of what is there.
It was so disturbing that I resolved to speak up and be an advocate on all their behalf.
It is about justice and descent human rights here and now.
The majority of visiting people go to places in Israel where there is relative calm and they naturally
want to avoid the places where conflict is very real. Yes, there is corruption on both sides,
you mention Hamas but Bibi Netanyahu will face the courts one day and not just in Israel.
Yes, the overture may seem to you to be one sided or lop-sided.
I agree with you because the whole situation there is lop-sided.
You can find statistics about this on the website “ifamericansknew.org”.
The injustices done to Palestinians is plain to see and well documented by the United Nations and
Israeli human rights organizations like B’Tselem. I also agree with Gary Roosma that the conflict
has become complex but because Israel and a couple of western powers, mostly with the US support of
$3 billion or more per year of US tax payer’s money. They are letting Israel be content with treating
this as a frozen conflict. So, this keeps the Israelis in Tel Aviv wealthy but insecure;
and this keeps the Palestinians poor and doing most of the suffering.
Brothers in the Lord, I am glad we are having a conversation about this most pressing subject and there
is much more to be said.
As part of the Kingdom Church, the CRC can encourage praying for God's heart for Israel, and for the nations. His Word encourages us to pray for the peace of Israel and Jerusalem... I understand there are many complexities to the understanding of "Israel", but praying for "Israel" and the salvation of "Israel" is a scriptural principle, even if our understanding of "Israel" varies. God's heart for Israel includes that "Israel" will be a light for the nations (Is 60) and to welcome the strangers and aliens within their gates. That God calls Himself "the Holy One of Israel" is significant. God's heart is for "Israel" to fulfill it's God given calling, and at this point, however one understands "Israel", "Israel" (Jewish people/children of Abraham (natural branches), Gentile believers - Abraham's adopted children (wild branches) the physical promised land of Israel, the modern nation of Israel, and/or the Church), it is falling short and from my experience and perspective, our prayers on behalf of "Israel" have fallen short.
One of the beautiful collaborations of unity happening in Israel, is Messianic Jews, Christians and Palestinian believers coming together to worship Yeshua! here is the first album representing these collaborative efforts and how the Holy Spirit is giving new songs to these worshippers in Jerusalem! pray for an increase of this unity and worship... https://dorhaba.com/en/voice-of-one-calling/
another ministry that is bringing unity is Seeds of Hope, uniting Jewish and Arabic/Palestinian children in schools so they become friends growing up, instead of enemies!
https://seedsofhope.org; I have had the privilege of meeting Tass and hearing his testimony, several times.
Thanks Bev. Beautiful music.
I pray that the collaboration that Seeds of Hope is promoting will serve as an antidote to the absolute abuse of Palestinian children as shown by Palestinian Media Watch which monitors original language releases by Fatah and Hamas. See this page among many. http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=844
If there are in injustices in this whole mix, then why is this not being addressed in the overture?
Thank you Bev. If there is one thing that is lacking in the overture #6 (not a perfect document) it is probably the emphasis on prayer for Israel particularly and all it's people between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
You sent me one of these videos before and these collaborative efforts are wonderful and should be bathed with prayer, when I tried to open it this time it was blocked somehow.
In deed it is great when efforts of reconciliation work and should be encouraged, it is probably more possible in places like Nazareth and Haifa where the military occupation is more relaxed.
Talking about Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews:
From my experience in Israel/Palestine, the Christian Palestinians are treated about the same as Moslem Christians.
For example we had a meeting in Jerusalem at the office of "Sabeel" meaning "The Way" a Palestinian Christian organization that attempts with other churches to keep the Church alive and relevant while living under a military occupation. So these are like the "Living Stones" or in many cases from the original church for centuries since the time of the apostles, anyway, one of the pastors was a 90 minutes late because he had to go through one or two military checkpoints.
Messianic Jews are accepted in Israel but according to Lisa Loden , a spokeswoman, they are at times harassed and looked down upon.
Plus recently were reportedly rejected from the right of return or "aliya" for Jews around the world or like grand children of Jews but this could likely be challenged in court.
So John, your comments about the "Palestine Media Watch", this has to be a deliberate misinformation outfit, when the name "Monitor" or "Watch" is used then it is likely a site encouraged by the Ministry of Interior in Israel.
There are credible Israeli Human Rights organizations as I mentioned before.
I mean who would put out a photo of a four year old with a toy machine gun?
We do need to be responsible and careful about our sources.
Preferably we should use sources that care for all people of the land and have a track record for justice and human rights or check with "KAIROS" endorsed by the CRC or even our sister church , the RCA have people with a much longer track record then our CRC.
The "Jerusalem Post" is very nationalistic and often calls Palestinians terrorists or Arabs (because they are trying to erase that name).
The "Haaretz" ( readership of about 4%), apparently the oldest newspaper in the country is in my mind more concerned about the sanctity of all human life and justice for all.
The "Israel Hayom" or "Today" (readership of about 39%) was started by Sheldon Adelson, the well known business magnate and casino owner from Las Vegas that is sold at no charge, also a very nationalistic paper.
These statistics say a lot.
On this Canadian Victoria day long weekend I should be camping or tending to my raspberry bushes and chickens but here I am doing this!
Bless your heart Martin... I believe the answer and actions on behalf of displaced Palestinians (recognizing there are complex historical questions regarding "palestine") will come through believers' prayers for Israel and collaborative, united worship and praise... however God works through our prayers and praise!
praying for the descendants of brothers Isaac and Ishmael to dwell in unity!
and not sure why you can't access the music! but here is the article with a link to the worship album... maybe try it again?
I write in support of Overture #6. Having read John Span’s questions and following comments, I’ll make three points.
First, in past great discussions about the church’s role related to social injustices some Christians also suggested that the issue is complex, that there is good and bad on both sides, that the church is not competent to pronounce on political issues and should stick to its spiritual mandate. We find such arguments during the abolition debates of the 19th century, Apartheid, Nazism, world war II, the civil rights movement and Vietnam. And, again today. History teaches that those voices proved to be wrong.
Second, that Overture #6 was twice rejected at the classical level and kept alive by a single passionate individual speaks neither for nor against its truth. Is it a vice to be passionate, or to be a single voice? Synod 2018 adopted Bev Sterk’s overture on abuse of power in spite of its rejection at every prior step. Again, history teaches that single, committed outliers can be beacons of righteousness. Thomas Moore comes to mind.
Third, that Israel treats its Palestinian neighbours unlawfully and with great injustice is well-documented and beyond dispute. That Jesus calls his followers to resist evil and support righteousness is also beyond dispute. Overture #6 is prudent, it stays within the ecclesiastical task and calling by restricting itself to the church’s prophetic task. It does not call for or endorse any particular, concrete political position. It calls for justice, for righteousness in the Middle-east conflict and for the denomination to educate its members. If we may not do that, what are we church for?
There is a time to speak out in matters, but we need to know what we are talking about. Yes, there is injustice on the part of the Israeli government in this situation. The problem with the overture is that it only looks at the injustice from one side. There is injustice, exploitation, and abuse on both sides, and to call one side to account while ignoring the abuses of the other side is not the right approach. People and churches tend to be all pro-Israel, or all pro-Palestinian. This overture errs in the latter direction. If we as a church are going to begin to speak into this complex situation, we need to do a lot more research and study of the situation on the ground there.
Putting justice as our primary focus is a mistake. Reconciliation is the better focus and starting point. A good example is the organization Musalah, let by the Palestinian Israeli, Dr. Salim Munayer. This overture, by contrast, is neither balanced nor fair in its assessment.
Speaking to point 2 about Bev Sterk's overture it should be noted that the council and classis did not reject the overture. They were in the process of working out details on it with the hope of bringing it to synod in the near future. That is why the synodical committee asked that any further action be done in connection with Bev's classis, council, and any others who were currently working in that area. This is just a point of clarification, not a rejection of your point.
Craig, Thank you!
The overture, I suspect is motivated by a couple impulses. The first is a desire by some in our denomination to embrace a mainline social gospel where the church works as a political activist organization, often for perspectives from a certain place on the political spectrum.
The second, is a desire to push back against the obsessive "pro Israel" theology of the dispensationalists. Their zeal for pro-Israel activism often takes on an unbiblical, racist attitude toward the Palestinian Arabs.
In both cases, I think it would be better to challenge our seminary and Faith Alive to provide better discipleship materials. Regarding the first issues, we ought to learn about the Reformed 2 Kingdoms view of Calvin as well as Kuyper's concept of Sphere Sovereignty. On the second, why not promote better discipleship materials on eschatology? I see that we do have a video series "God Wins" on the Book of Revelation and that seems like a good start.
Put another way: the antidote to bad public theology is good public theology.
Jason, thank you for your thoughts "...push back against the obsessive "pro Israel" theology of the dispensationalists....often takes on an unbiblical, racist attitutes towards Palestinian Arabs". If you are looking for good reformed theology on this subject then look no further then "Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for a Just Peace" It is a study guide by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network published by the Presbyterian Church USA www.theIPMN.org
I also agree with Jason and Bev that there is not near enough sound reformed preaching on this subject!
In Michigan you are blessed with excellent reformed teachers/theologians such as Joshua Vis from the RCA with huge knowledge and experience from the Middle East and Gary Burge who is now in Grand Rapids, I love his writings on the prophets as the basis on how Israel should be behaving. And these guys will take you to talk to ALL the people between the Jordan and the Mediterranian! Too bad I am from far away, distant British Columbia!
“Both sides” - What does one think when one hears that?
We probably think of two parties that might be fairly equal.
Such is not the case with Israelis and Palestinians.
“One Sided”- addressing one party only. Why is that?
In the Background section of the overture # 6 says: “We hear continued pleas from Palestinian Christians (KAIROS, Palestinian churches document, Moment of Truth, 2009) that Western Christians take notice of the suffering of all Palestinians under Israel’s 52 yearlong occupation. Although we recognize the greater level of injustice practiced against the Palestinians, we acknowledge and lament the sufferings of both Palestinian and Israelis in this ongoing and worsening conflict.
“One Sidedness” explained:
Only one side has prisons and thousands of political prisoners are housed there over all these decades. Every Palestinian family is affected by this. Forty prisoners are currently on a hunger strike.
Only one side is allowed to self-determination, the other side is hemmed in by huge concrete walls. These walls are not only on the “Green” line but there are also many walls creating “Bantustans”, areas created for Palestinians in the Westbank, like in South Africa, where the people are impoverished and socially isolated. Gaza is under complete siege by Israeli military by land, water and air.
One side lives in total freedom, although feeling insecure. They have protection through the law courts, freedom of movement and live as if in a democratic state. The other side live under military law by an occupying power. This other side has no effective protection through the law courts and conviction rates are probably similar to China.
The occupying power also transgresses many international laws like the treatment of child prisoners.
One side lives in relative wealth while in many areas the other side live in fear of having their homes demolished. They are even charged to pay to have it demolished or forced to demolish it themselves.
With many internationals and Jewish Israelis, I was part of a demonstration in the Jarrah neighbourhood near East Jerusalem against home demolitions. I was “egged” by some young Israelis driving by .( I was 69 years old and I never thought this would happen to me).
Again one side lives in privileged circumstances and the other in most areas is discriminated against through unequal rationing of water, electricity, taxes, mobility, housing etc., etc.
I have read there are about 60 discriminatory laws against the Palestinians, but I don’t have the list yet.( I will pursue this list)
Well, I have described enough human suffering for now and this continues to this day , it is not sustainable. We have not even mentioned much about Gaza.
I have read the Declaration of Independence of 1948 which sounded wonderful but it has also been transgressed over and over again. In history what the government says and what it does is very different.
The Background section of the overture states the comparison of the apartheid policies of the South African government to the Palestinian situation. The Church spoke up at that time and it needs to speak up now as well. I don’t know why the Classis BC SE advisory committees could not see that.
Part of the problem is that many pastors have gone on pilgrimage trips to Israel, good in themselves, to get an understanding of where Jesus and the prophets walked , but without gaining an understanding of how the present day population fares. As far as I could tell there were not enough or any on the advisory committee that had a real knowledge of how the Christians and Muslims endure life in Israel/Palestine today. I believe the negative view from the committee was due to this lack of knowledge and I was a lone voice, as we were without a pastor at that time.
Our support team had qualified professionals from the CRC plus advice from a Sociology professor who spent a lot of time in Israel/Palestine. He was involved in a similar resolution in his Mennonite church. However, we are not perfect and we made a mistake in the Grounds section on a rewrite of the overture by one of our team, for which I took responsibility.
It takes an incredible amount of time and fact checking to start an overture and bring it to completion.
I totally agree that reconciliation should be a top priority but we do need to know the facts.
In 1948 the Palestinians for the most part had a thriving society, it was not their fault that they happened to live there and they had nothing to do with what happened in Europe.
I do recommend watching the recent film “!948 Creation and Catastrophe”. It is a fair
rendition of a collection of original voices and footage from 1948.
It is opposite from the romantic movie “Exodus” with its wonderful music that stirred every one’s hearts in the 1950’s. The Jewish people no doubt needed support and empathy.
“As [Jesus] came near and saw the city; he wept over it saying if you, even you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19: 41—42.
We do need to pray as our Lord did for Israel and for our countries for insight and wisdom for justice, reconciliation and peace to come.
Sorry that this one is so long.
Praying for Shalom and Salaam for all,
Thank you for your collective responses. If I may, I think they can be grouped into a few categories:
a. An awareness that not all is well in that part of the world. Martin Vegt would have his readers believe that most or all of this is due to abuse of Israeli power. Others are less sure of that. I would tend to agree with the latter. The Palestinian Media Watch [https://www.palwatch.org/]group wrote a book examining the statements made for Western consumption by Palestinians and those made mostly in Arabic for local consumption. The book, Deception: Betraying the Peace Process copiously documents the posture of Palestinians as innocent victims when targeting Western audiences, and stating its jihadist agenda of driving every Jewish person into the sea in its Arabic media presentations. Thus a highly effective propaganda machine is at work. I believe it would behoove Synodical delegates to be aware of this dynamic.
b. Concerns that the CRCNA might be swayed to jump on to a "hot-button" topic with or without adequate background information. A few authors spoke to this. What makes these considerations complicated is the fact that Christians are called to seek justice, yet the open question remains---and which the delegates will likely deliberate upon--- is whether it is necessarily the CRCNA's task to have official involvement here.
c. Comparisons to apartheid, and Nazism were made as a justification for CRCNA involvement. One must wonder, however, if it is possible that delegates could be emotionally manipulated either by appeals to Western guilt, racism and the like, and cause them to forget that multiple theologies are at play in this situation. On the other hand, an appeal to being known, individually or collectively as social justice warriors, taking the moral high ground, in shining armor, has a certain magnetism to it.
d. An assumption (rightly or wrongly) is made that Palestinians are necessarily a certain ethnicity. In an interview given by PLO executive committee member, Zahir Muhsein in March 31, 1977 with the Dutch newspaper Trouw he stated:
The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.
James Dorsey, “Wij zijn alleen Palestijn om politieke redden,” Trouw, March 31, 1977. https://brabosh.com/2016/02/18/pqpct-bbo/
May God give great wisdom to the delegates.
Excellent summary John. My hope and prayer is that Synod will know of the existent of CO Article 28, understand the wisdom of it, and not accede to the overture for the reason that the actions it calls for are largely "out of order" (contradictory to the constraints of CO Article 28, which apply to Synod as much as the other assemblies), not to mention divisive and requiring of non-ecclesiastical expertise that a week-long session of Synod is simply unable to achieve.
Thanks for your summary comments John. I certainly wouldn't want to let the Israeli government off the hook in any way for the injustices coming from their side, and Martin makes a good point of that. However, there are 2 narratives at work here, and we need to carefully listen to and understand them both if we are going to have any legitimate voice in this conversation. This overture really only listens to one of those narratives, and Classis BCSE wisely (I believe) saw through the short-sightedness of that approach. So thanks for sharing another voice from that other narrative.
Re comparisons made with other situations: I have frequently argued that the comparison between this Israel/Palestine situation and apartheid is mistaken and unfair - the situations are simply not the same, and making such comparisons is dangerous. I was saddened to hear mention of a comparison to Nazism (and almost inevitably, by implication, to the holocaust). Martin is careful to not make that comparison, and rightly so. Any hint of such a comparison is, quite frankly, repulsive - especially to any from the Jewish community. We need to be really careful in that regard; to make such a comparison would essentially jeopardize any possibility of credible witness to the Jewish and Israeli communities.
On the other hand, we also need to be really careful of mentioning the possible denial of Palestinian peoplehood. I think that's hardly for us to decide, and could well be interpreted very negatively by our Palestinian brothers and sisters who do need our support and prayers. Probably better to leave that out of the conversation. So many potential mine fields here!
Thanks again. Indeed our prayers will be with the delegates as they discuss and debate this complex and potentially contentious issue.
John regarding your summary: that there is propaganda on one side is true, but sadly it is equally true on the other side.
To clarify, I stated that the arguments made today for why the denomination should not speak out are exactly the same as those made in earlier instances of grave injustices, such as, among others, Apartheid, Nazism and World War II. I did not say that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is on the same scale and order as Apartheid and the Holocaust.
Also this, speculating about people's motives (guilt, seeking the glory of a social warrior) is not helpful.
Nick, you obviously have strong opinions about this topic. What is it that you would hope to accomplish by getting the denomination directly involved? Are you not free to petition your own member of Congress or Parliament?
In the examples you give, I would disagree that it is the role of the denomination to intervene directly. We could denounce persecution of religious and ethnic minorities or point out the sinfulness of government segregation but I don't think that the CRCNA had any particular expertise to advise the governments of the U.S. or Canada how to approach those issues. Apartheid was a unique case in that churches in South Africa had adopted an unbiblical justification for it- to that extent it made sense to respond in the theological area since that is ostensibly the church's sphere of competency. Similarly, I have no problem with the CRCNA denouncing the excesses of Dispensational theology.
I appreciate the passion many members bring to various issues, but I am concerned unless we return to a higher view of Sphere Sovereignty our Synods are going to more and more become political forums. Where do we draw the line?
I think, as Doug points out regularly, we have already drawn the line in CO Article 28. Would that our words of covenant would mean something to us. Now, to be sure, there will be differences of opinion on what all constitutes an "ecclesiastical" matter, and I think that won't always be 100% clear. But a good starting point would be recognize and honor both the spirit and the letter of this article of church order. If opining on the vagaries of the climate, middle-east political strife, the intricacies of immigration policy, and the like are said to be ecclesiastical matters, then essentially the word carries no real meaning. If everything is ecclesiastical, then in essence nothing is ecclesiastical, for the category becomes all-inclusive and worthless. We ought better to say what we mean and mean what we say, lest we reveal ourselves to be double minded, of which the Scriptures do not speak highly.
Thank you Jason. You ask what I hope will be accomplished. I hope the Synod will support Overture #6 and following that the denomination will equip its members to serve and honor God in our office as citizens.
It is my experience that the politics of CRC members is shaped more by partisan positions than Bible principles. Our members have a great aversion to exploring God’s will for public policies within the context of church. When was the last time you heard a CRC sermon expound God’s will for anything political? During the last national elections in the USA and in Canada, The Banner, unlike Christianity Today, carried no discussion on how Christians should vote. The message: God is not interested in how you vote! It is a limitation on the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus is Lord of life. Politics is part of life. The church must speak to every part of life. But its message is always a church message, calling parents, teachers, business persons, politicians and citizens to their God-given responsibilities. The church does not start doing the work for them.
Telling members what party or candidate to vote for exceeds the church’s authority, not telling the members what values should inform their vote abdicates the church’s responsibility. Church Order 28 does not prohibit the denomination to speak about politics and social issues. It reminds us that the church is not a political party. Drafting legislation is not the task of the church.
You are correct, there must also be individual initiative. Denominational work has to complement that of the members. Each of us is a citizen. Citizenship is a calling, an office. Citizenship is easy prey for idol worship, false gods. In our citizenship we are to love neighbour as self and God above all. No room for nationalism. The church exists to equip its members for service, also in citizenship. Overture #6 aims to do that.
There is a legitimate separation between church and state, but to separate religion from politics is impossible. Exploring God’s claim on life is a spiritual quest, entirely appropriate for the denomination to address. Unless the denomination equips its laity for citizenship that honours God, our members will be fed by Fox News or the New York Times. The one is no more informed by Bible principles than the other. We need to make the Bible great again.
Nick, the intent and effect of CO Article 28 goes well beyond the idea of keeping the church from "drafting legislation".
"It is my experience that the politics of CRC members is shaped more by partisan positions than Bible principles." Well, it is my experience that the politics of denominational leaders and certain CRC agencies of significant influence are shaped more by partisan positions than Bible principles. And one could perhaps make the same accusation about you. So where does that leave us?
"Unless the denomination equips its laity for citizenship that honours God, our members will be fed by Fox News or the New York Times." Poppycock! The "denomination" need serve no such role. That is the role of the local church. Neither synod nor the denominational apparatus are formed in order to take over the role of the local church. The local church shepherds and equips the flock, and frankly synod and the denominational apparatus are not particularly gifted or effective at doing what you say they need to be doing. The "denomination" has no special line of wisdom with which to guide the rubes in the pews on "how Christians should vote". The Bible certainly is central to all of how we as Christians must live out our lives, but if you think that the "denomination" through its hired personnel or synodical assemblies have some inside track on *the* right way in which to apply the Bible in all the complexities of modern political, economic, and social life, then you have deceived yourself.
Nick, I would hope if we are being effective in discipleship that our members would be discerning when engaging Fox News, the New York Times or any other source. I find that most people, if you get past a few key issues that they are passionate about tend to have more nuanced views than the party line often pushed by various cable news commentators.
My concern, however, is that if we take Total Depravity seriously, there is no individual or group of individuals we can count on to be completely objective, this includes within the church. There are few people who would argue that Sojourners, for example, does not generally promote a liberal Democrat agenda or a group like the Family Research Council does not promote a conservative Republican agenda. The vast majority of Christians including clergy, college faculty and others generally "engage public policy" along the lines of one of these camps.
Again, though, I am curious where the line should be drawn in terms of issues that the church should address? What is adiaphora in terms of public policy? I know of divisive issues like gun control or taxes where people in my own church of reputable character and biblical knowledge vehemently disagree.
As I said in my prior post, better teaching of Reformed views of eschatology would help with regard to Israel and Palestine. My concern is that increasingly our denomination is more comfortable asserting itself on political than theological issues.
Jason: Thank you for interacting, truly appreciated.
Of course it is difficult for Christians to discuss political issues, particularly, today. But it is not impossible. For example, the Winter 2019 edition of Calvin Seminary's Forum is all about immigration. The leading article is by Amenda Benkhuysen. I think it is excellent. She does not mention politics, policies or political parties but examines Bible teachings related to immigrants. She speaks confessionally about an intensely politically charged issue. But one would have to be spiritually frozen to not see the implications for how we as citizens talk about and promote our views on the immigration question. She does not draw out those implications. That is our responsibility as Christian citizens. Christians should aim to speak confessionally first and then from that draw conclusions about public policies and laws. If we don't, we will swallow Fox News and the New York Times. If we think confessionally we would, it seems to me reject both Fox News and the New York times because both are grounded in classical liberalism which places the individual as supreme.
To place Sojourners or Focus on the Family into political categories is unhelpful, because then we no longer see them as Christians, fellow Christ confessors and we don't need to listen to them, they can be dismissed by their political categories. It behooves all of us to talk confesionally long before we talk actual policies. The Forum article does that. It is a fine example how the church (Christians) can and should address political issues. It also answers those who think Church Order 28 prohibits talk about political concerns.
Nick, my intention was not to impugn ill motives, but to highlight the fact that motives are a powerful driver of decisions. A friend suggested that I look into the area of "virtue-signaling" as he thought this might be at play here. [Below are three links for some background.] Long story short, individuals or groups of persons signal to other individuals or groups that somehow they are more virtuous by the positions they adopt. For example, if my church adopts Sabeel's "HP Free Church" stance, then it will likely see itself as more virtuous than those who don't.
Theologically, one must ask, why the need to get affirmation from others, Christian or not, as indicating a level of virtue? Could the photo of Mamoud Abbas with a CRC delegation be a virtue-signaling exercise? That is to say, it could be stating "look at us, and with whom we have our photo taken." A subtext might also read---as Doug pointed out below, in response to Martin---if you don't agree with this photo and all that it stands for, then you are less than virtuous.
Could it be that with this issue the CRCNA might be on a virtue-signaling quest? How would we know? What would it look like? Might it be a rather un-Reformed manifestation of works righteousness? Is the Network the best venue to ask these kind of delicate questions?
Thank you, John. I agree, improper motives can taint any discussion, position and behavior. Such motives might be held consciously or unconsciously. All humans are wonderfully endowed but also deeply fallen. I cannot even truly know the hidden motives of my own heart, let alone my neighbours'.
In any discussion, attributing motives to opponents is mostly a losing strategy. You might be mistaken, it drives people apart because the other side will recent it, both sides can play that game and will and what about the purity of your own motives? Hence, attributing motives is mostly unhelpful. It also takes the focus away from the essence of the argument. The argument shifts and then deteriorates to who has greater faith, God is on my side, not your side, I submit to scripture, you don't and finally, I have brains, you don't.
I have some experience as an elected representative both at the local and provincial level (I'm in Canada) In politics there is plenty questioning people's motives. If you can't win the argument on its merits attributing motives is the smart thing to do. And yet, sadly, from my experience there is as much of that going on among Christians as there is in politics. For example, during a discussion at a congregational meeting someone will rise and start with, "I've been in much prayer about this, for weeks now, but this week it became clear to me, God showed me we should do ..." What an effective trick, who can top that and how pious? The implication is that opponents are not motivated to do God's will as you are. The accusation is no less lethal for being implied, whereas in politics it is more likely to be baldly asserted.
We may have our doubts about people's motives but we must suppress such doubts and assume, genuinely, that our opponents are well-intentioned, authentically sincere and love God as much as we do ourselves. It is a very tall order, particularly for Christians. Paul says consider others more worthy than yourself. It is a test I myself fail, often.
Nick, because of the theological concept of Christian Freedom, there are going to be areas where we disagree. The Bible is clear about salvation and Christian life - but not about politics. Essentially what you are calling for here is for the church to elevate a certain political position not found in the Bible to confessional status. How could we possibly come to any unity on such positions?
I am very very thankful for this discussion... it's been a long time coming in the CRC! Mr. Ed Fredericks personally brought an overture to Synod back in 2011ish regarding (the theology of) Israel and IMO, the response of Synod was pretty lame... I hope and pray Synod does better this time... I had the privilege of connecting with and meeting Ed when I was in MI a number of years ago and hear his heart behind his overture...
and I will warn you in advance this is a long response, so read and ponder and process as you have time and space...
I am thankful that Martin did pursue submitting this, even without the support of classis, and even though I personally am not in agreement with the CRC's strong support of Palestine often at the expense of Israel (not saying I agree with what Israel is doing in a number of ways, recognizing their is injustice on both sides)... I recognize there are many complex dynamics and only God knows the plans He has for "Israel" and the descendants of Ishmael...
I understand the overture journey a bit, and I had a number of leaders (strongly) advise me not to take an overture regarding abuse of power, on my own to Synod last year. I prayed about it and, to me, it became clear to take it forward and this was confirmed over and over... I know a little bit of Martin's journey that he shared with me, and I believe God will use this opportunity for the good of His Kingdom... the discussion here is already a wonderful response to this very complex issue, and again, I personally am very thankful it's on the table for Synod... for me, it is an answer to prayer that I've been asking God about for a number of years... and am now praying for Synod to encourage prayer on behalf of Israel and the middle east, whatever our eschatology might be (which there are so many variations, and God only knows for sure)! I believe practical action will flow out of our prayers... whatever that might look like! (Romans 15:27 is one practical way that scripture says is our duty as believing Gentiles)
Personally, my biggest hope for Synod is that they will intentionally encourage prayer in the CRC on behalf of God's heart for Israel based on scripture, again, regardless of CRC eschatology... it's always a good idea to pray scripture, it honors God and His heart for His people! He knows what He intended through these Scriptures, whatever He has in His mind regarding "Israel", as the calling and role of "Israel" is beyond our knowledge and understanding for the most part - what's literal, what's figurative, what's spiritual, what's end times, what's eternal, how does the descendants of Ishmael fit in, and Israel's relationships with all the other nations that are part of Jesus' inheritance (Ps 2), etc...
My practical position is: I trust God and His Word, I'm open to whatever He wants to do with "Israel", I will be obedient and pray on their behalf and be discerning of the times and what is going on with Israel, and what I'm aware of is pretty amazing, but it's not in the news, it's primarily by word of mouth of people who have been ministering there and come to share locally, and send some support to help Messianic Jews in Israel through a friend who has connections there... at this point, ironically, I'm mostly in agreement with John MacArthur's position/understanding on Israel and end times... that's a discussion on it's own...
as believers, God wants (commands?) us to pray on Israel's behalf (again, restating from an earlier post, whatever God's heart is for "Israel" as wild (Gentiles) and natural (Jews) branches as the Church, as His chosen people, as the land, and as a modern state... FYI some logistics: there are an estimated 15M Jews in the world: 7M in Israel, 7M in NY, and the rest scattered... )
I believe scripture gives the Kingdom Church a universal call to pray for Israel and their salvation, because we have salvation because of their hardness of heart, their transgressions... Romans 11:11-29... and that gives us a responsibility to pray for their salvation (Romans 10:1), however God works through our prayers, which is mostly mystery, but it is a Biblical command to pray (I Thess 5:17; pray w/out ceasing). Whatever we ask for in Jesus' Name will be given for the Father's glory... not saying I understand, but when Jesus repeats this numerous times before His death on the cross, we know it's important (John 14:13-14; 15:7-8,16; 16:23-24,26)!
Here are some biblical prayers we can hopefully all start praying in one accord today! we don't have to wait for synod or anyone to vote and adopt it... I love Tass Saada's (former PLO under Arafat) testimony, of how the day after he rec'd Jesus Christ as Savior, the Spirit put a burning compelling unction on his heart to pray for the Jews... it had to be the Spirit, because Tass hated the Jews, he had been one of Arafat's PLO snipers that had been killing the Jews... https://www.amazon.com/Once-Arafat-Man-Story-Sniper/dp/1414334443
So please consider joining me in praying for:
Blessings for Israel (Genesis 12:3; https://biblehub.com/genesis/12-3.htm) and I believe this will also bring blessing to the "strangers and aliens within their gates", including Palestinan believers and non-believers... and bring...
Collaboration (Isaiah 19:23-25) which is starting to happen from testimonies of those who I've connections with who minister in Egypt, Syria and Israel...
Salvation (Romans 10:1; Isaiah 62) I'm aware of a number of Jews who are secret believers, that are waiting for God's timing to make it public... please pray for them, and others to follow... the song I think of is "o come o come Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel... rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel shall come to thee O Israel"... this song was part of the prelude at our Good Friday service (which was in alignment with Passover this year), and when I heard it I started praying for these secret believers, and sensed the power of the Holy Spirit as I prayed... I shared it with several others, they also felt the power of the Holy Spirit... God is doing something powerful with the salvation of Jews... but I believe He is asking us to partner with Him in prayer regarding this (1 Cor 3:9)...
Fulfill their God given calling (Isaiah 58:6-12; 60; Zech 8; and many many more), bringing the gospel, bringing justice, of doing what's right, which at some point, will be in collaboration with, as part of, the Kingdom Church)
To do justice (Micah 6:8)! this will include how they treat other refugees, including Palestinian/Arab refugees...
To welcome the strangers and aliens within their gates (various scriptures)...
Peace of Israel and Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6; https://biblehub.com/psalms/122-6.htm; Psalm 125:5; Psalm 128:6)
Reconciliation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Genesis 25:9; https://biblehub.com/genesis/25-9.htm; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
Unity (Psalm 133:1)
these are just a few of the scriptural aspects we can pray for Israel, along with anything else the Spirit might put on our hearts! The prayer center I serve with as a board member has a weekly prayer time for Israel... I encourage everyone to consider committing to something like this... whether it's your personal prayer time, and/or with others that have a strong passion for God's Kingdom to come and His will to be done as He intends for Israel and the middle east, whatever that might look like!
For His Kingdom, for His glory!
Overture #6 is there to promote truth, righteousness, justice and reconciliation for us as induviduals, local churches, national and bi national levels. The Office for Social Justice has an important practical role to play in coordination with liaisons in the Middle East as it is has been doing for a while. The CRC has sent out a number of delegations to Israel/Palestine which that has all been very beneficial.
But The Banner could do more in letting all our people know the truth in love what is really true rather then some news outlets with tons of editorial bent.
For example when a Michael Lynke , Reporter of the Human Rights branch of the United Nations comes out with a special report on how thing are in Israel/Palestine then that could be studied and reported on through our social justice people and the Banner as well , again in coordination with people of the CRC and RCA in the region that can verify it. We need to go forward with truth somewhere.
There is an excellent report from the CRC Office of Social Justice, I believe by Rev. Shannon Jammal-Hollemans, called
"CRC Engagement in Israel and the Palestinian Territories". It is a MUST read for us all and especially for the Advisory committee of the overture #6. It has a brief history, great suggestions and good statistics up to that date.
The report mentions for example working with groups like Musalaha (Gary's choice), Holy Land Trust and Sabeel ( which I have been involved with).
So, Martin, if OSJ was staffed with people that happened to seriously disagree with the the Shannon Jammal-Hollemans analysis (or saw that analysis as simply incomplete), or disagree with the perspective the present OSJ staff, or the perspective that you have, would they no longer be promoting "truth, righteousness [and] justice" (among other things)?
Is only one of us righteous, given that I seriously disagree with ou on this? And should the CRC, as an institution, pick who of us is righteous and who is not? And if the CRC should pick, how much of a staff, and with what qualifications, does it need to have to (constantly) analyze the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? (It involves a very, very, very long and complicated history). Should the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict maybe be part of the Calvin Sem curriculum so we can know from it what decisions to make about it, whose side to be on?
Or should the CRC take their research and summary conclusions from others outside the CRC who do study this in depth, but then if so, from whom?
And who is the editor (presumably the decider) of the Banner to decide which of the "news outlets" are saying that which is "really true?"
And what is the role of Synodical delegates who ultimately must decide these questions? Must they all educate themselves on the many decades long history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before coming to a Synod (like 2019) where theirs are the votes that make these decisions?
Well, Doug, as I mentioned earlier the publication "Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for a Just Peace" an excellent study guide by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network from a reformed perspective from the Presbyterian Church USA still available at $10.
Other churches like the Presbyterian church, Mennonite, Reformed Church of America, Episcopalian have their own version and I don't know how many CRC churches but we did have a study group in our East Hill Community Church in Vernon, BC.
So that is one way and there may be others.
The "CRC Engagement in Palestine and the Palestinian Territories" report mostly compiled our church's history to date on the subject, some suggestions going forward and population statistics.
It is too bad that there should be disagreement about that report, one could learn from talking about it.
My point was just that we should be able to trust our own people going to Israel and those that meet them in the "field" so to say.
My experience is that no matter what persuasion of the Christian faith you are whether free evangelical or reformed or whatever coming back from Hebron or Gaza they have pretty much the same story of abuse of human rights and international law.
I am also not saying any party is blameless.
I do recommend going and spending time in Hebron or Gaza, people will not be the same again (not that everybody can just do that).
It is really hard coming back from a place like those (just Hebron for me) and driving home the oppressive conditions people endure for generations now!
So the reason I mentioned Michael Lynke as the Special Reporter for the UN Human Rights organization is because it is not part of any faith group or party and internationally recognized, not because any one mentioned before is more or less righteous.
Martin: You have much, much more confidence than I that some people who go to a place like Israel and spend a bit of time "on the ground" can thereby gather a sufficient amount of information and wisdom about a many decades old conflict (that in some ways relates back centuries and even millennia) to justify a group of 180 CRCers in a mere week long CRC Synod to intelligently declare in behalf of CRCers what CRC members should think about that conflict, as if such declarations are within our rules for the kinds of matters the CRC takes up (and they aren't, see CO Art 28).
I'm quite sure there are dozens, even hundreds or thousands of places in the world, where some CRCers could go for a relatively limited time and then come back to the US or Canada and ask a CRC Synod to declare some things about those countries and the conflicts they are in (e.g., Russia and Chechnya, China and Tibet, India and lots of internal areas that enforce the caste system, a variety of Muslim dominant countries that enforce Sharia law, and lots of third world countries that lack a meaningful criminal justice system or other basic government functions such that they operate as a large gang, etc etc etc). And yet in the middle of that dismal global picture, the CRC keeps coming back to picking only at the faults and failures of the nation of Israel. Might this have anything to do with with a generalized political perspective and the desire of some CRCers to use their denomination to megaphone those political perspectives? Of course I think that is exactly what this represents, and nothing that is particularly useful to anyone, anywhere, even if the politics of it add to the denominational division and strife.
Doug (and Martin), I personally will find (and already have found) this discussion insightful and useful in various ways... not sure how many others besides those who were involved in writing and submitting it that might find it so, but I would think there are more along with Martin and Nick... the Israel/Palestine relationship is an issue that gets interesting reactions and responses in the CRC... quite enlightening... especially with the historical reformed eschatology of quasi replacement theology...
and again, prayer is always a wise response that falls within the Church's spiritual scope and responsibility... we, in the CRC, need to figure out how to work through conflict when we disagree on non-essential matters... and by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit, we can in a beautiful, healthy and honoring way... praying for wisdom for Synod to honor and respect all involved...
I think you've hit on something very important when you say that "we, in the CRC, need to figure out how to work through conflict when we disagree on non-essential matters". First, I wholeheartedly agree that we need to be able to disagree, even forcefully, while simultaneously loving and serving each other. Those two ideas are not antithetical. Second, I would say that on a great many issues this is already occurring within the CRC and the broader reformed tradition. There are many things that we don't see the same, yet we commune together, worship together, pray together, etc., as God would have us in unity. Third, what you see here in the comment section is actually "working through conflict", so we can be thankful for that. Fourth, the whole point of this discussion thread is to point out that we don't "work through conflict when we disagree on non-essential matters" by seeking to bind the conscience of our brothers and sisters in Christ on matters which are not dictated in God's Word. To seek to have certain political, social, environmental and economic positions (not dictated by Scripture) enshrined by Synod is a form of lording it over brothers and sisters in Christ. The beauty and wisdom of CO Article 28 is partly that it should be (if we honored it) keeping us from having synodical wrangling over pronouncements regarding the foreign and domestic policy of a U.S. ally seeking to deal with a contentious neighboring region wherein reside a host of people who consistently call for its annihilation. There is simply no reason why members of the CRC cannot and should not (in fact, we have and do!) live together in harmony with differing views on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Nothing at all is served by seeking to synodically baptize one particular viewpoint on a matter so complicated that is not Biblically mandated in any way.
Bev: Eric expresses what I would say pretty well. I'd have no problem with the institutional CRC studying, e.g., "replacement theology," or any number of theology postures that involve ancient and/or modern day Israel in some way. But this overture doesn't ask for that. It asks for the the Synod to bless a particular political view of Israel and the Palestinians as a modern day political conflict. CRCers certainly do well to be concerned about those issues (as well as the conflict between China and Tibetans, etc etc etc etc), but it is quite outside the responsibility (even the right) of the CRC as institution to pick which political postures are the correct ones and which not, or to delegate that ongoing picking authority to an agency (in this case, OSJ).
Overture #6 speaks to a political topic but not in the language of politics, rather its language is the language of the church. It uses confessional language. It attempts to discern God’s will as it applies to a particular instance of oppression and suffering. The Overture’s ‘thus says the Lord’ is directed primarily at Israel because Israel has the most power, it is the occupying force and its laws are applied arbitrarily, unequally. Palestine is enjoined to not resort to violence.
Is that not what the prophets did? They inserted themselves into concrete situations, pointed their finger at a person or persons and said, You have done evil in the sight of God! No weasel words. Jesus placed himself in the tradition of the prophets. Should we not do so as well?
Some claim that the church should stay out of politics. Is a political topic out of bounds even when the church speaks confessionally? For example, immigration is intensely political, must the church not say anything about immigration because it is a political topic? Thirty–six times the OT commands love and justice for foreigners, because, once you were a foreigner, but NT Christians should not seek to discern God’s will for refugees knocking at our gates? How can that be?
To others, Overture #6 misunderstands God’s will, or it is one-sided, or its promoters might be motivated wrongly, or it smells of Liberation Theology. All of those and more might be true, if so, the appropriate response is to offer improvements, but none are offered. What is urged is rejection. But the suffering, the oppression does not stop.
Overture 6's language may be "church language" but it calls for political action. Your last paragraph gets to the bottom line, Nick. You want the institutional CRCNA to get on board to 'stop the oppression,' and if that means tolerating bad motivation and bad theology, so be it. The oppression must be stopped.
Respectfully, I have had -- and have -- clients who have been both politically and legally oppressed (just as some would say Palestinians are oppressed by the government of Israel). Should the CRCNA get on board to help my clients? Because it could use the "language of the church" to do so?
Whatever the "language" used, this overture calls for political action, or as OSJ likes to phrase it, "advocacy," including on-going advocacy by OSJ. I know what that is because I've spent my life doing legal and political advocacy (the two kinds are often mixed in the real world, and are in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). This is what I have been trained to do, have experience doing, and have dedicated my occupational life to doing. The institutional CRC has its own distinct defined training, experience and dedication (the latter by CO Article 28, i.e., "ecclesiastical"). CRC synodical delegates are not chosen because of their political or legal training, experience, acumen, or even interest. Nor are Calvin seminary professors appointed for those reasons. Sure, what I do often touches the ecclesiastical (I represented churches, and people against churches) and what the institutional CRC church (properly) does touches on the political (when a church says humans are people knitted by God in their mother's womb, that can't not have political ramifications), but not every person (or institution) can do everything.
Christians, on the other hand, may certainly get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or not (humans are finite). And if they do (individually or together with others and/or via other institutions designed for that effort) but in ways I disagree with, their doing so is still their prerogative, my disagreement notwithstanding. But it simply does not follow that the institutional CRC must, or should, or may (again, referencing its own rules, e.g., CO Art 28). The institutional CRC has covenanted about what it does, and does not do, even if CRC members are not themselves so constrained. Eliminate or ignore those constraints and there is no longer a DEFINED institutional church. All institutions are, by definition demanded by real-world reality, limited in their task. Eliminate (or ignore) CO Art 28 and the CRC's very definition (and therefore unity) is compromised and diminished -- and then Synod becomes (among other things) a political battle field upon which members will (must?) fight.
John, I will attempt to answer your 10 questions now from my own experience in the West Bank and a lot of reading: Question #1 and #2 : I don't think it matters what the land was called except that it was called Palestine in recent history and to this day, well a part is supposed to be the state of Palestine and the other Israel, but as we all know, one was allowed self-determination through a couple of powerful allies and the other not.
And even if Israel is the overall occupying power as is the case: Leviticus 19 : 33 says "When an alien resides with in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God".
It looks like the writers of our modern International Law must have some background from Leviticus when it comes to behaviour of occupying powers! I so wish that modern state of Israel were that light on a hill and I could really revell with the wonderful stirring music of the movie "Exodus"!!
The owning of the land was in the old testament always contingient on Israel's faithfulness; sinfulness resulted in loss of inheritance and so land and righteous are linked.
So, "Is this all about land anyway?" As we already mentioned before in our discussions; No not really, we are to act righteously and love whoever lives in the land. Our Lord was also not interested in establishing a kingdom, his message was simply "to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself".
The taking of land illegally, forcefully and without regard of the welfare of citizens that were deeded owners of the land for many, many generations is in deed an aweful and terrible thing to witness. It is what my fellow Christian Peacemaker Team members and I protested against in the Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, it was a great feeling that many Jewish people stood along side of us, even those orthodox guys with black hats who were actually Judaists (spelling?) protesting the Zionist ideology. I still receive weekly reports of this and other human rights abuses from the CPT. Sometimes I don't want to open those messages because it is so depressing and I can't always handle it.
Even though this advocating is difficult work, I meet so many wonderful human beings. In our chapter of "Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East" or CJPME we work together sometimes with "Sabeel" which is Christian or the local chapter of "Amnesty International". We hosted a meeting of CJPME recently and we had an Egyptian, a Palestinian (no right of return), a Jewish man, a woman who is an Occupational Therapist who worked with people in Gaza from the World Health Organization, whom we met from across our house! There was also a young moslim woman of Lebanese Palestinian back ground who became quite emotional and said "I did not know that any Canadians cared about us." I just about cried along with her. So there is reconciliation and Christian love shown right in our neighborhood and I thank God for moments such as these!
You have encouraged your readers to do some background reading. I have been doing some.
First of all I went to the Sabeel website. I was quite amazed at how open they are about promoting liberation theology, even to the point of offering a course on it. I worked in Central America in the mid 80's when liberation theology and its curious blend of sociology, Marxism, calls for biblical justice and calls for the preferential option for the poor were promoted. The Sabeel and other Palestinian liberation theologians are using the same playbook, but now instead of Che Gueveraz and company as the models to emulate you have the so-called Palestinian martyrs and Jesus as the model Palestinian. Hate to say it, but this theology has hijacked the Biblical Jesus.
Here is a short quote on liberation theology in a recent article that has nothing to do with Palestine, but everything to do with the Gospel:
first encountered Liberation Theology as an undergraduate student at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit institution in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Though I was a new believer and lacked a sufficient theological vocabulary and framework to engage it, even then I sensed it was a departure from the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
The more I studied, the more concerned I grew. When I transitioned to seminary I became more fully aware of Liberation Theology’s many problems. Those concerns remain with me to this present day. Liberation Theology is distinct from social justice. The latter is amorphous, multifaceted, difficult to define, and rapidly evolving. Liberation Theology is concrete, well-defined, and comes with its own theological method and message of redemption.
To summarize, Liberation Theology arose in the 1950s and 1960s in Latin America. Liberation Theology speaks to various groups and ethnicities with a strong appeal to those who find themselves oppressed. In America, Liberation Theology gained broader appeal in the 1970s due to the writings of James Cone.
In short, Liberation Theology argues that Jesus’ ministry focus was liberating the oppressed, empowering the weak, and raising up the socially marginalized. Indeed, the message of Christ, they argue, was one of freedom from political oppression and disenfranchisement, not one of repentance, faith, and forgiveness from sin.
In particular, Cone denied essential Christian doctrines like substitutionary atonement. More broadly, he radically reimagined Jesus’ mission from redemption from sin to social empowerment. It’s an entirely different theological framework, with entirely different presuppositions, and with entirely different ends to achieve.
Cone reconceptualized the person, work, and ministry of Christ. He presented a messiah who came not to redeem the spiritually lost, but to empower the politically dispossessed.
He argued the death of Christ was unnecessary, and even unhelpful in that it depicts passive obedience to suffering and shame. It’s an interpretation of Jesus’ work on the cross that contradicts Jesus’ own explanation of this death—that “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His Life a ransom for many(Matt. 20:28). Cone propagated a new theological system, alien to the New Testament, and well outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.
For Cone, the defining reality of one’s life is one’s human experience, through which we are to interpret Christ’s message and mission. But for Christians, this is inverted. Christians are to start with Scripture, submit to its authority, embrace the gospel of Christ and develop a Christian worldview, and then interpret our human experience by it.
Liberation Theology, as espoused by James Cone, is not slightly off. Liberation Theology isn’t a different flavor of the gospel. It’s a different gospel. It is no gospel at all.
Martin: This is only the tip of the iceberg. Today I skimmed through a book I had read previously entitled, Al-Yahud: Eternal Islamic Enmity and the Jews by Sam Solomon and Elias al-Maqdisi. If you want to answer question #4 with any depth, it is a must read. Curious that I do not see it on any of the pro-Palestinian biographies.
This is a direct quote from the Muslim cleric al-Qaradawi [obviously not for Western consumption] who wields a great deal of influence in the region:
Jews are the greatest enemies of the Ummah (the worldwide Muslim community)! And their enmity to Islam and Muslims has been, still is and will continue as long as Muslims and Jews remain on this earth. This issue has been settled without question or argument as Allaah says (you will find the stanchest enemies of those that have believed are the Jews...) Sura 5:82. So the ever ongoing Jewish enmity towards the Muslims is permanent through the testimony of the Noble Qur'an and fully embedded in the mind and conscience of every Muslim who believes in the Qur'an. His faith in this sense cannot be shaken in this world. This should explain the wave of mockery and (disapproval) of the frivolous peace efforts that are undertake and are being held under the pretext of peace with the Jews...which will Never ever be!! (p. 16 above)
Martin we fully agree that the Gospel is bigger and more powerful than the above quote. Witness the book, Son of Hamas... Yet, if we disregard these theological realities due to the very real presence of real suffering and real injustice in this area, it is to our detriment.
Comments on Questions 3, 4 and 5:
# 3, Interpretations regarding “Waqf”: Mostly what I found on the internet was that it means an “endowment” which could be on a small personal scale or on important mosques, or other significant buildings. Some are very significant and others not so much, I did not find anything about declaring war, etc. You would have to let me know where to find other explanations?
Probably Islamic laws might vary greatly from let say Pakistan, Indonesia or Palestine; just like there are many laws for orthodox Jews I would think as they are all about laws.
Again overture #6 is not about land and buildings as much but rather the great commandment to love God and your neighbor.
# 4 and # 5, Who has the corner on enmity or antisemitism? It is just as likely Europeans or North Americans, just think of the years of the nineteen thirties and forties or even today.
Actually there were times in Palestine and also Spain where the Jewish, Moslem and Christian societies prospered together.
It is in the forties, fifties and to this day when the Zionist ideology took over that started major discrimination against the local people whether they be Bedouin, Christian, Moslem.
There are Israeli Jews who are not Zionist and just wanted Palestine as before but alas this group is quite small. They are living a bit more like the prophets called for and they were the ones that stood alongside us in protesting house demolitions of Palestinian homes.
Are there no prophets in the land? if anything was missed in the writing of the overture it is like the following:
I should mention prominent groups like “Peace Now” or “Shalom Achshav” in Israel
or in the USA “America Peace Now” This group of mostly Jewish people has organized huge rallies for peace and for a state for Palestinians. Peace Now has extensive maps of illegal settlements and great resources. Prof. Gary Burge: ”When I have been feeling overwhelmed and depressed by the tremendous weight of the injustices in this land, it has been Jewish activists who have given me new inspiration. I believe that the reason of such extensive Jewish effort is because of the prophetic tradition itself. Deep in the heart of Jewish faith is what is ethical and just. This Israeli national harm to their Palestinian neighbors is profoundly offensive to what it means to be Jewish. Orthodox Jews and liberal Reform Jews alike can be seen marching in a city like Jerusalem calling out with the voice of Jeremiah and Amos as witnesses to the crimes they see. Are there prophetic voices in the land? Is Elijah’s still heard? Indeed!”
The Dispensationalist Christian Zionists, I find, are all about the end times and seem to care little of what is going on in Israel/Palestine and is what we of reformed faith should reject.
Preachers like John Hagee seem to have an undying heart for Israel, without any regard of the documented sufferings of Palestinians.
Prof. Marvin Wilson, a specialist on Judaism from Gordon College an evangelical institution says it well: ”The number one obstacle to peace is nationalism, because so often it insists on the denial of the other guy. A biblical view can’t be anti -Arab and pro -Israel, or anti -Israel and pro-Arab. God’s heart is where justice is”.
Christian Palestinianism? A new label, but not mine as I care for all peoples of the land.
“World Vision” the biggest evangelical charitable organization in the world with “the mission to follow our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.”
Unlike other Christian charitable organizations they are not involved in politics but network with the local Palestinian churches like Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran and Aglican.
But secondly their Jerusalem office has become an outspoken, high profile advocate for human rights in Israel because they are in the midst of what is going on.
In much the same way does “Sabeel” works with the local churches to improve the lot of both Christian and Moslem peoples. Rev Naim Ateek is himself a pastor with the Anglican church, their focus is very much encouraging congregations, to minister with women, youth, etc.
But also have an international arm like World Vision.
This discussion forum should remember that the Hebrew prophets, including Jesus and Paul, primarily critiqued the ungodly culture and empty religiosity of their own people in their own context.
Sadly, I detect a self- righteous tone in this overture. Martin, you and i have connected a few times through writing and meeting. You are very good at stubbornly defending your position and less so at listening!
I personally know Israeli Jews and Palestinians who live in the Land. They speak and act prophetically in their own context, often at great discomfort, risk and painful personal cost. These locals understand their history and its complexities, and they are eminently more qualified than us here in North America who, for the most part, are well out of our depth!
These true prophets and those who really do seek peaceful co- existence over there in the Middle East, carry on their good work without co- opting naive and misguided people from far away lands to jump on a one- sided bandwagon.
Both Christian Zionism and Christian Palestinianism tend to be one- sided and dangerously inflammatory rather than reconciliatory and peace- making. Both groups use the Israelite prophets out of context...CZ to prove Jews should have all the land, and CP to condemn the modern state Israel.
I believe our primary Christian calling is one of promoting reconciliation....the gospel message! In a riven land, an initiative like overture 6 only contributes more to division. These peoples will be neighbours however the final peace plans come about, so why not support groups that are working hard to encourage respectful building of bonds and who work for the flourishing of each other and their common land. Check out Miroslav Volf’s theology in Exclusion and Embrace, and in A Public Faith.
We had Salim Munayer of Musalaha (musalaha.org) ( Palestinian Christian), and Lisa Loden, (Messianic Jew), both from Israel, as plenary speakers at Missionsfest Vancouver, 2019. Here is one of their talks:
Unfortunately Sabeel is not in the category of these many other good initiatives....I have been in the company of Sabeel’s founder and Vancouver followers, and came away very troubled by the vibe of anger and their focus, which definitely had some of the characteristics of Natan Sharansky’s 3 D’s of Anti - Semitism: Delegitimization of, Demonization of and a Double standard toward the State of Israel.
You can read my article here; i would speak much more strongly today!!
Let’s stop pontificating from our cosy homes in peaceful countries. Perhaps the CRC should get more involved in local Canadian and American injustices in our own backyards! There are plenty!! I just read today that in the Diocese of New Westminster, B.C., the Anglican church will be giving a portion of their land sales back to the Indigenous community for development.
From my perspective, overture 6 is an inappropriate waste of CRC time, energy and money. It was already voted down twice at Classis BCSE. This discussion forum and delegates to Synod would be prudent to actively seek and hear the reasons why Classis BCSE wisely voted against this overture.
In the meantime, the Israeli and Palestinian people, their leadership, (which will soon be changing in both Israel/ Palestine) and the local church in the Land, desperately need our prayers....for the peace of Jerusalem!
As former Stated Clerk for Classis BC South East I have been following this overture / conversation thread since it's inception. Dialogue entails listening, and is disheartening to hear this is still not occurring. As several commentators have indicated this overture has been before Classis BCSE twice, and in both instances the overture was defeated on the grounds it failed to do justice to the concerns raised by not listening to all parties, including the delegates at classis. The author of the overture thereby undermines the very reason he is bringing the matter forward, i.e. the "promot(ion of) truth, righteousness, justice and reconciliation." As such the overture is more political in nature than ecclesiastical, and as some commentators have observed contravenes Church Order, Article 28.
Start at “6 minutes” into live recording, if you wish to listen to Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden.
“I cannot contribute to this topic. It did occur to me….. How would the church react if the US congress or the Canadian parliament were to have a discussion on, say, how local churches should separate from denominations when they disagree on issues?
The church polity that enables this type of overture to get to the highest level of the church hierarchy is interesting. Does the church not have checks and balances? Is there a reputational risk?
Has someone tried to determine how this topic when discussed in the public arena (synod) will be judged?”
I have a few questions for those in favor of Overture 6 if you wouldn't mind:
1. In your mind is there any limit to what the church can speak to? What distinguishes the church as institution from any social/political activist group down the street?
2. Do you realize how much hurt and division you are causing by bringing your political viewpoints into the church, especially to those who disagree with you? Normally in a church setting, I can take communion with people of all kinds of political persuasions. What binds us together is the gospel in it's true form. When the church as institution instead of individuals speaks on these issues it elevates these petty political divisions to the level of confession and breaks unity.
3. Why don't you overture to remove Article 28 from the Church Order before making these pronouncements, or at least ask a study committee to report to synod the question of what is included in the term "ecclesiastical"?
4. What does this overture have to do with the great commission and evangelism, i.e. spreading the good news of the gospel that Jesus has made dead sinners, the spiritually poor, alive and granted them eternal life? Doesn't speaking on every topic under the sun make it so that you ignore the good news?
Josh, I do not think there is any limit to what the church (local council, classis, synod) can speak to, because Jesus is Lord of all of life. The church differs from other social structures and organizations in that it speaks confessionally. It must interpret God's will for life, its pronouncements should be grounded in Bible teachings. The church is not limited by topic but by its message. Would those who object to Overture #6 on the basis that the church should not speak to political topics not want the church to say anything about abortion, same-sex relationships or medically assisted suicide? Are those not political?
During my time in politics and government I quickly learned that some churches in my district expected me to speak in favour of pro-life, against same-sex relationships, casinos etc. while others wanted me to speak against uranium mining, nuclear arms, industrial pollution etc. It was striking to me that the first group did not want to hear about the second group's concerns and the second group was equally opposed the first's concerns. Yet, both read the same bible. It raises the troubling question whether we, and I include myself, allow our religion to determine our politics or do we allow our politics to shape our religion?
You ask what Overture #6 has to do with the Great Commission. Everything! Jesus says, 'Teach them to observe all I commanded.' What did Jesus command? Jesus commanded love by serving the best interests of our neigbour, looking after the needs of the orphan, the widow, all who are marginalized, oppressed and taken advantage of. It is a dauntingly long list.
Whether Christians embrace a cultural mandate or not depends on two very different understandings of the mission of Jesus. For the first 1100 years the church held a 'Christ as Victor' view of the atonement. (as does the Eastern church to this day) Then with St. Anslem the 'Jesus died for me' view became more prominent and the Reformers bought into it. The first sees the cross and the resurrection in cosmic terms. In Jesus God is reclaiming the creation and we get to help in that. The second sees Jesus' work in personal terms, because of Jesus I get to go to heaven. For example, in your question #4 you express the gospel's message strictly in personal terms.
So, which is the correct view? The Bible gives evidence for both views. Hence, to be faithful to the Bible we should not choose between, but honour both positions. Sadly, North American evangelicalism is largely about getting people into heaven and one-sidedly so. If that is all the church is concerned about then political matters don't rate. When Jesus in Luke 4 states his manifesto quoting Isaiah 61 he speaks about liberating the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned, the blind. The Lord's Prayer is all about doing God's will on earth. How can politics, statecraft and social policies be excluded, except if you belief that Jesus is exclusively about getting souls into heaven.
Jesus is the Lord of All Life, but the sinners who comprise the church are not. The Reformed tradition going back to Calvin has always affirmed the 2 Kingdoms (Right hand and Left hand) even if not always agreeing on where the lines should be drawn.
As far as the abortion issue, the church has always opposed elective abortion from the earliest times. This does not mean that I am comfortable with the church endorsing or lobbying for specific legislation, rather we need only disciple our members on why the destruction of innocent human life is wrong. Similarly we ought to reflect on Augustinian Just War principles, this does not mean that the institutional church ought to take positions on nuanced foreign policy decisions of the U.S. or Canada.
To John Span:
Naim Stifan Ateek, one of the founders of "Sabeel" or The Way", is a warm, gentle, great Christian man. I met him in Kelowna, British Columbia, as I was part of a committee inviting him to speak to a broad spectrum of the community in the Okanagan Valley in a Mennonite church. We prayed and dined together with pastors of the area.
He is one of the Living Stones of the Land where he went to the Nazareth Baptist school, got his masters and doctoral training in the USA. He does legendary work in encouraging the Christians that are left in Israel/Palestine as well inviting Christians world wide to Bethlehem. I was at his office in Jerusalem where we were supposed to meet one of the local pastors but this pastor arrived very late as he detained at Israeli checkpoints.
It is in my mind not helpful to taint him with the same brush as some rogue example from South America
It is not the idea of this overture to have a detailed discussion about Liberation Theology which does have its place in the context of the suffering church in my opinion.
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