Monday, June 28, 2010

Presbyterians study Biblical Theological Reflection to find a way to policy on peace for Israel
by Peter Menkin

“I believe that the Bible gives us a general view of God’s will: those qualities of righteousness, justice, freedom, and peace to which God calls us and which we are to pursue. But the Bible does not usually lay out detailed policy prescriptions for how we are to pursue those goals in modern societies. In an imperfect world where our knowledge is limited and everyone’s motives are mixed, we have to make political judgments about how best to achieve the measure of justice, freedom, and peace that is possible under the circumstances.” Comment made to this writer via email and telephone-- Alan F.H. Wisdom, Vice President for Research and Programs, Institute on Religion & Democracy

On the basis of Biblical Theological Reflection and its study paper on that subject, the Presbyterian Church USA committee on Presbyterian-Israel policy is formed as a Christian and social-justice issue, as it recommends this policy to the Church’s General Assembly 2010 for passage. Yes, other areas of reason and argument for the policy making recommendations come into play. In this report and commentary, in this the second of three parts on the Presbyterian-Israel policy recommendations to its General Assembly, Biblical Theological Reflection is mostly and even primarily addressed.

In this article, the writer cites some interviews on the Church’s social policy vis a vis Israel in an effort to continue representing the various viewpoints of Presbyterians towards the issue most important to the committee: That is peace in the Middle East. For a fuller and more complete look at the issues involved in the first of the three part series, please go here on the web.

The third part of the series will comment and report on the Kairos Document, also called Kairos report, that recommends various more strict actions towards Israel as social policy towards that nation-- if so adopted by Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly it will be policy. This article is written prior to July, 2010 when their General Assembly meets.

In a quick look at the third in the series, here is the kind of thing explored and recommended by the committee, based on their Christian view of religious social policy for Presbyterians. To this writer’s mind, the subject of their views expressed in their paper on Biblical Theological Reflection (found here on the web), influences Christians in the United States and elsewhere, and is of interest beyond its own Church. Jewish Americans have expressed their firm and resolute distaste and opposition to the committee’s report, saying that if adopted, Presbyterians will be advocating an end to the State of Israel as it exists today and from its foundation in 1948.

Here is where the committee of Presbyterians have taken their Biblical Theological Reflection, and I am speaking of their purpose being to create peace, which is their intent. This writer considers this a key social-justice issue for Presbyterians and other Churches, and significantly represents an attitude that came to bring about the path to the Presbyterian committee adoption and recommendation of the Kairos Document.

More on that document in the third part of the series. First a comment on the Presbyterian Committee by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles based Wiesenthal Center, who “Newsweek” describes as an important and leading Rabbi in the United States. This comment by Rabbi Cooper from a speech given in Israel in 2010 reflects a wide swath of American Jewish opinion in its mainstream in America. Kairos is not a popular or good way to work for peace, is the prime position of Jewish Americans. The Rabbi’s statement in excerpt:

Within days Kairos won accolades from different Protestant and Catholic groups. They most serious impact so far, however, comes from a church whose leadership took pride of first place in the campaign against Israel. The Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) in 2004 was the first mainline American Protestant group to call for divestment from Israel.

The move proved enormously unpopular with the rank and file of the church, and the move was rescinded in 2006. In 2008, its General Assembly considered – and accepted – what everyone thought were mutually exclusive overtures, one pro-Palestinian, and one more balanced. One of them called for greater balance in church policies and material, and a thorough reexamination of PCUSA policy on the Middle East.

Nonetheless, the “Special Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Study Focused on Israel/Palestine” that was subsequently assembled included only one pro-Israel member who soon quit in disgust. The committee of nine had at least seven members and three staffers[4] who had strongly indicated pro-Palestinian views before their appointment. Several were direct imports from PCUSA’s Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), whose blog has hosted anti-Semitic videos[5] and material from Muslim terrorist groups.

The reader easily sees that Wiesenthal Center, a major American based Human Rights organization, doesn’t like the Kairos Document. Further, its criticism of the Presbyterian Church and its committee work and recommendations, Theologically Biblical or not, is found “anti-semitic” and as is the Church wanting to end Israel as a State. Critics of Wiesenthal Center and mainline Jewish opinion are said to always say, if you don’t agree with us, you are “anti-Semitic” many mainline significant and popular Jewish groups say: The Presbyterian Committee’s and its Church want to destroy Israel.

One proponent of the peace policy presented by the committee to General Assembly, a delegate from Presbyterian Church USA who lives in San Francisco’s Bay Area, wrote this writer:

It also concerns me that, if the people at the Wiesenthal Center (whose job it is to root out anti-Semitism) start calling almost any criticism of Israel anti-Semitism, then people will dismiss the charge as politically motivated and irrelevant. If that happens, when truly anti-semitic activities take place and are noted by the Wiesenthal Center, no one will pay attention because the Wiesenthal Center will have lost its credibility.

No doubt the Kairos Document is controversial and disliked by Israelis and American Jews, including Rabbi Yitzoch Adlerstein and Rabbi Abraham Cooper of Wiesenthal Center, because it says Israel is an Apartheid State. Not so, they argue well.

The delegate to General Assembly referred to above, likes the Kairos Document and its statements that action be taken against Israel as an Apartheid State. In that same letter by email written prior to his leaving for General Assembly 2010, the Delegate writes:

One last point on the Rabbi's (Adlerstein) quote that the apartheid charge against Israel was beneath contempt and an affront to South African blacks. Below are quotes from Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, two South African Nobel Peace Prize winners who are probably better subject matter experts than a Rabbi from the Wiesenthal Center:
Desmond Tutu in a letter to Berkeley Students:

(CAPE TOWN, April 2010) - Dear Student Leaders at the University of California – Berkeley

It was with great joy that I learned of your recent 16-4 vote in support of divesting your university’s money from companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights.

Principled stands like this, supported by a fast growing number of US civil society organizations and people of conscience, including prominent Jewish groups, are essential for a better world in the making, and it is always an inspiration when young people lead the way and speak truth to power.

I am writing to tell you that, despite what detractors may allege, you are doing the right thing. You are doing the moral thing. You are doing that which is incumbent on you as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and that all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings.

I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government

The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43 year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.

The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43 year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.

Nelson Mandela said:

“Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.” 2001 Memo on Palestine to Thomas Friedman

The Middle East Study Committee’s work becomes more controversial, and the actions of General Assembly on their decision regarding that report and its adoption becomes more controversial in these current times. The criticism is hot. In their Letter to Jewish friends, the committee itself says:

Letter to American Jewish Friends:

We are aware that our report will likely draw such critiques as being “unfair” or “imbalanced.” We believe that our report, however, is quite fair. Our analysis, both through careful research and through our experience of being in the Middle East, is that Israel is the most powerful party to the conflict. Therefore, Israel has both the responsibility and the ability to reverse the course of the current precipitous decline throughout the region.

May we continue to pray, and work, for the peace of Jerusalem, the Middle East, and our world.

This writer believes the Presbyterian Church USA intent is the same as the committee states in its recommendations to General Assembly: May we continue to pray, and work, for the peace of Jerusalem, the Middle East, and our world.

From here, let’s turn towards where the article itself in its earlier part mentions another aspect of the path the Biblical Reflection takes the recommendations for, and where the Presbyterian Church USA is in their policy today, too. This is a long, important statement so it is quoted at length:

3. Continue to urge all corporations doing business in the region to seek proactive ways to promote respect for human rights, peace building, and equal employment opportunity…

b. Whereas the Spirit of Christ “gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace” (A Brief Statement of Faith—Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), lines 66-71), we seek to fulfill this calling by continued engagement with Caterpillar in accordance with the following policy statement of the 219th General Assembly:

Caterpillar, Inc. has produced, sold and profited from equipment that has been and continues to be used—with or without modifications made by their exclusive dealers and by others—for clearly non-peaceful purposes. Caterpillar thus profits from continued actions by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and other government agencies (at times by private companies under contract with government entities or on construction projects approved by Israeli government bodies) that have been condemned by the international community and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). These uses include (but are not limited to) the demolition of the homes of Palestinian civilians, the building of Israeli settlements and the separation barrier on Palestinian territory that is occupied illegally by Israel, and the provision of (and possible conscription in the future) of civilian employees of Caterpillar’s exclusive dealer to the Israeli military for the purpose of maintaining Caterpillar equipment for military purposes.

The inaction of Caterpillar in addressing the injustice and pain caused by its failure to monitor and take actions to prevent such uses by its Israeli dealer is inconsistent with our stated position calling on all corporations doing business in Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank “to confine their business activity solely to peaceful pursuits and refrain from allowing their products or services to support or facilitate violent acts by Israelis or 10

Palestinians against innocent civilians, construction and maintenance of settlements or Israel-only roads in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory and construction of the Separation Barrier as it extends beyond the 1967 „Green Line? into Palestinian territories.”

On the basis of Christian principles and as a matter of social witness, the 219th General Assembly strongly denounces Caterpillar’s continued profit-making from non-peaceful uses of a number of its products. We call upon Caterpillar to carefully review its involvement in obstacles to a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine, and to take affirmative steps to end its complicity in the violation of human rights. We hope that, by God’s grace, Caterpillar will come to exercise its considerable power and influence in the service of a just and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine.

With all this detail from the Presbyterian Church USA committee report, the reader can see that a lot of territory is covered. Some think that the issue is not what this second in the series of three reports and comments intends to make, that the Presbyterian Church is guided by the Bible and Theological Reflection. This writer thinks so.

Alan F.H. Wisdom, a good writer and think tank member of Institute on Religion & Democracywrites in an email to this writer about the paper and its intent. His is a different, and still legitimate, mainstream view:

One important aspect of the contemporary change in relations among Christians and their attitude towards the Middle East, exemplified well by the Presbyterians, is their interest in Christians outside the United States and all over the world. Is this a solidarity movement? I think not, but it has enough hallmarks of that and the influence now of Middle Eastern Christians, to safely assume it as an influential factor. Christians speak to one another all over the world, as can be expected. Here is the message the Presbyterian committee makes in their report:

Ecumenical statement:
This “Biblical Theological Reflection” is carefully argued and well documented, unlike some other sections of the paper. It draws a number of valid insights from Scripture about the place of the land in God’s covenant with Israel: that the land ultimately belongs to God and not to the occupants, that the gift of the land comes with a responsibility to live as a people according to God’s commandments, that among those commandments is the requirement to treat non-Israelites justly, that the government of Israel is subject to criticism like any other government when its policies are unjust, and that the shifting boundaries of ancient Israel provide little guidance for the proper boundaries of modern Israel.

This section lays out universal moral standards of justice against which any government could be measured (and found wanting). But there is not a clear connection between those standards and the later recommendations that get into policy specifics such as the Israeli separation barrier, the Gaza blockade, and the nature of a Palestinian state. These recommendations, unlike the theological section, apply a double standard to Israel and its enemies. Israel, for example, is criticized repeatedly when it denies freedom and self-determination to the Palestinians. But the same criticism is not leveled against the Palestinian Hamas or Fatah movements, or other governments in the region, which are even more repressive of their peoples.

A serious flaw in the “Biblical Theological Reflection” is the attempt to equate Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—as if the three religions taught the same thing. There is a repeated pattern of quotes from rabbinic sources, from the Christian New Testament, and from the Qur’an all purporting to establish the same notions of justice. While there are indeed common ethical principles that can be found, it distorts the picture to ignore the huge differences between Jewish, Christian, and Islamic notions of God’s law. The Torah, the Sermon on the Mount, and shari’a offer very different bases for life together in community.

As aspect of this attempt to equate the three religions is the assumption that their claims upon the land of Palestine are equivalent. The “Biblical Theological Reflection” insists that “Jerusalem, like ‘the land’ as a whole, does not belong to any one people alone, but is rather to be shared by two peoples (Israelis and Palestinians) and three religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).”

It quotes approvingly another PCUSA document contending that “God’s gift of land, and the potential and responsibility that goes with that gift, pertains both to Jews and to the Palestinian people who live alongside them in what was the ancient, biblical land of promise.” At no point does the paper acknowledge that the claims on the land are in fact far from identical. For devout Jews, Jerusalem is the one holy city that they remember every year at Passover, and Israel is the one place on the entire Earth that God promised to them.

Christians, by contrast, are a people drawn from every nation and spread out over the Earth. They regard themselves as “strangers and foreigners on the earth,” lacking an earthly homeland but instead “desir[ing] a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13, 16)
Muslims aspire to see the realm of Islam spread over the whole world rather than restricted to a single nation. The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem are holy to them, but less so than the cities of Mecca and Medina in Arabia. The authors of the PCUSA report might wish that the land claims of the three religions were the same. It might be easier to make peace if this were the case; however, fidelity to truth requires that we distinguish the disparate claims and treat each with its own integrity.

In addition to what we in the United States have to say, there are the voices of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East. In our regional travels, we have been encouraged by their steadfastness, distressed by their challenges, and moved by their diversity, but also their unity. As their ecumenical voices have spoken, from the Amman Call to the Kairos Palestine document, the Middle Eastern Church has spoken clearly and directly to us. We ignore their voice at our own peril. Let us do all we can to show our oneness with them in Christ.

No doubt reformed Churches are on the move in the area of Ecumenical activity. A press release from the World Council of Churches announces the merger of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands Christians in an organization of Ecumenical dimension and form, made just recently in the world. The World Council of Churches statement, in part:

"The formation of the World Communion of Reformed Churches is a source of inspiration for all of us who see the call to unity, to mission and to promote justice as one, undivided call", said World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in Grand Rapids, United States, on Saturday, 19 June.

Tveit was greeting 380 delegates representing 227 Reformed churches from all over the world at the uniting meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC).

The merger of the two organizations took place the previous day amidst prayer and praise and words of joy in the Van Noord Arena of the Calvin College's campus. Many years in the making, the new World Communion has 227 member churches representing 80 million Christians in 108 countries.

"I'm thrilled to say that the vote by both of the organizations was unanimous," said Peter Borgdorff, president of the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC), at a press conference following the agreement to merge. "We are intended to be more like a family than a structure."

"What you see here today is the commitment of Reformed churches to be together globally," said Clifton Kirkpatrick, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) at the press conference. "The whole process has come together so well today."
This writer would be remiss to not include a big chunk of key statement from the 17 page report on Biblical Theological Reflection. The Christian commitment to, and the act of working towards, in Christian responsibility world reconciliation is heralded in the report.

Christ is also the ground and empowering force for reconciliation among humans—between one person and another, between the individual and the group, between one group and another—in fulfillment of the eschatological vision of peace, of shalom, found in both Micah and Isaiah: ?[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks? (Mic. 4:3b, Isa. 2:4b).

So this writer believes, too; it is Christian doctrine for the Christian and the world at large that this part speaks to the work of peace making, key to the Presbyterian-Israel purpose of policy:


The Newer Testament proclaims that humankind‘s alienation from God existed from the primordial time of Eden to the historical time of Jesus. But through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God accomplished reconciliation with all of humankind—indeed, with the whole of creation. We note these passages, for example:

?Jesus answered them,

?The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself‘? (Jn. 12:23, 32).

?For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? (Rom. 5:10).

?For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross? (Col. 1:19–20).

Furthermore, the Newer Testament proclaims that this reconciliation between God and humankind accomplished through Christ is also the ground and empowering force for reconciliation among humans

—between one person and another, between the individual and the group, between one group and another

—in fulfillment of the eschatological vision of peace, of shalom, found in both Micah and Isaiah:

?[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks? (Mic. 4:3b, Isa. 2:4b). Ephesians says,

?For [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us? (2:14). In its first century context, Ephesians was speaking of Christ‘s death having broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles within the Christian community. But in the twenty-first century, we are led by the Spirit to find in this verse, especially when viewed through the lens of Col. 1:19–20, a wider application

—Christ‘s death having broken down the dividing wall of hostility between any two peoples or groups within God‘s creation.

And Second Corinthians says,

?For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all …. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation … ! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation … . For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the justice of God? (2 Cor. 5:14a, 17a, 18, 21). Interpreting this last passage, J. Paul Sampley writes:

?Reconciliation is at the heart of life‘s business. If the most important single factor about any of our lives is God‘s having reconciled us to God‘s very self, then the proper celebration of our reconciliation is to share it with others by fostering reconciliation … wherever and whenever we can.? It is in light of all this that we can hear afresh Jesus‘ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

?So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift? (Mt. 5:23–24). By so reconciling, we do become, as Paul says,

?the [justice] of God? (2 Cor. 5:21).

There is so much to this report on Biblical Theological Reflection. The Old Testament is taken into account as part of the statement, too. But before entering into that area it is important to see these intentions, made in writing by the committee in their report. Probably a key area of contention and concern, in a not so long statement, but bigger than what fits in a nutshell, Presbyterians lay it on the line (the bottom line) on what they intend for Israel and what they see as conditional and necessary for Peace.

This writer thinks of this shorter section as the pithier word of the committee on their attitude towards Israel. If not the most controversial part of their report, it is certainly as important a part and telling too of their recommendations for General Assembly.

Thus, if American Presbyterians are to speak ?like prophets, we must stand ready to speak not only to our own government but to others as well—including the government of the State of Israel and the governments of the Palestinian people.

1) To the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and legitimate borders,55 borders that are not contended for on the basis of some literal reading of

a. ?biblical geography and that are arrived at through peaceful negotiation with the Palestinians. And accompanying this commitment have been two calls: first, one to Palestinians and other Arabs to recognize Israel‘s existence within secure borders; and second, one to Israeli Jews to fulfill their

b. ?land responsibilities, responsibilities that include the covenant obligation to extend to

c. ?others? in their midst

d. —that is, to Israeli Christians and Muslims

e. —a full equality of civil rights and a full measure of justice.

2) To the right of Palestinians to self-determination and to have their own separate, contiguous, economically viable, sovereign nation-state within the wider borders of

a. ?the land.?57 Arising from this second commitment has been our denomination‘s steady call for the government of Israel to put an end to its military, political, and economic occupation of Palestinian land after 1967 and its practice of establishing and expanding settlements there.

3) To a nonviolent resolution to the conflict.58 The PC(USA) has continuously called upon all parties in the Middle East to settle their differences peacefully and also upon both Palestinians and Israelis to end all acts of violence against each other.

4) To the concept that Jerusalem, like

a. ?the land? as a whole, does not belong to any one people alone, but is rather to be shared by two peoples (Israelis and Palestinians) and three religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

The Study Committee for Middle East Peace has as its Committee Chairman a man who is Pastor of a Church, and has a clear sense of common work in moving toward the various problems and solutions of being a committee. In a talk by telephone, Reverend Doctor Ron Shive outlined for this writer how the committee worked together. It worked well together, and hard, is a summary of that conversation. As well, as a Presbyterian, Ron Shive is a believer. In a Press Statement issued by the Presbyterian Church USA, he said, “Scripture and Reformed theology are the foundations on which we build,” Reverend Ron Shive (Salem Presbytery) is chairman of the committee. “The good work our committee has done on this section makes it clear that our words and actions need to stem directly from our faith commitments.” No doubt his vision for the committee was one of faith and scripture.

The Press Statement offers, “After nearly two years of study, travel, and vigorous discussion, the committee submitted its final report on March 5. The report, ‘Breaking Down the Walls,’ is being released in three parts because of the time needed to copy edit and format the approximately 150-page document for the assembly.” The report in its final form was released in March, 2010.

“The topics of covenant, land, Zion, and reconciliation are addressed in the second part of the report. Shive points out that it is the thread of justice that runs throughout the piece.

“’All of these themes are central to our conversation,’ said Shive. ‘Reconciliation is the hope for which we pray and work, and we know that reconciliation is achieved most faithfully when it partners with justice for the sake of all of God’s people.’”

The Presbyterian-Israel policy report by committee addresses a situation regarding Middle East peace that is a subject of world concern --that among various Churches, including Presbyterian ones. Churches seek out or host organizations like Friends of Sabeel North America—a Voice of Palestinian Christians. Admittedly by some, Sabeel is not a mainline organization. In this writer’s research, I talked with a member of Sabeel for about an hour on the phone prior to the posting of this second in the series of three articles on the Middle East Committee Presbyterian report for General Assembly, and just after publication on the web of the first part in the series. I learned that Sabeel considers itself a peace group. In fact, the woman I spoke with said in a forum on the web that she is a pacifist. Peace seekers make up Sabeel, and the organization thinks of Israel as an apartheid country and calls for implementation of the Kairos Documents plans, methods, and projected outcomes.

Herman Waetjen, an Emeritus Professor of New Testament at San Francisco Theological Seminary (Presbyterian) who is retired from the Northern California Presbyterian Seminary, spoke by telephone with this writer. He and other Presbyterians were introduced to this writer by the Press Office of San Francisco Theological Seminary. Professor Waetjen likes Sabeel, favors the Kairos Document and is described as a man of “passion” when it comes to Middle East peace. As a Presbyterian clergyman, he belongs to the Redwoods Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church.

Dave Jones is part of a Presbyterian Church social policy committee, and the lay Presbyterian Dave Jones, attended and supported a Sabeel sponsored event in a San Francisco Bay Area church, an event similar to many held in Christian Churches around the United States, including a talk about a book upholding a Jewish American’s view that tells neatly many of the politics and religious statements similar to if not the same as Sabeel’s. Mark Braverman, Ph.D. was at the Church in San Francisco's Bay Area Dave Jones attends and gave a sermon, one like many Dr. Braverman gives in American Churches.

In a telephone conversation with Dr. Braverman, he said to this writer:

I believe that we need to revisit the concept of the chosen people in the light of what the project to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine has caused. As a Jew I must consider hard the distinction between loving a land and claiming it as my birthright. When you claim a superior right to a territory shared by others, whether that claim is made on religious or political grounds, you head straight for disaster, which is what the Jewish people are confronting in the actions of the State of Israel – politically and spiritually. We Jews need to take a long hard look at our willingness theologically to invoke the land clause of the covenant. And as for our sense of vulnerability and our history of suffering, I have come to realize that the meaning of the Nazi Holocaust is not that we have to retreat behind walls of protection. To the contrary – the experience must lead us to a recognition of the universality of human suffering and our obligation to relieve it.

As a Jew, confronting the situation of the State of Israel today, I feel that it is crucial that Jews examine our willingness to see ourselves as special -- to commit, as Christians have put it in their own self-critique, the scandal of particularity. Yes, we have suffered grievously over the millennia. But it is time to see that until we are able to fully comprehend the suffering we ourselves have caused and are continuing to cause, and are willing to see that the suffering of another people counts just as much as ours, we will never live in peace in the Middle East.

I wrote the book as a result of my visit to Israel and the West Bank in 2006. Seeing the occupation and seeing its effect on both the Palestinians and on Israeli society, I realized that there would never be peace until the human rights injustices suffered by the Palestinian people were addressed.
In an effort to be fair to those supporting Sabeel and Dr. Braverman’s position, which is said by the mainline Human Rights organization Wiesenthal Center to be anti-Semitic, Dr. Braverman made this statement in defense of Sabeel:

On the charge that Sabeel is anti-Semitic:

Sabeel’s statements about the people of Palestine being like Jesus on the cross is fully in line with Liberation Theology. Naim Ateek is firmly within the Liberation Theology tradition and idiom in using the imagery of the Crucifixion in reference to the suffering of the Palestinian people. The fact that the Jewish people, through the actions of the State of Israel is now in the position of oppressing the Palestinian people, like the Romans were oppressing the Jews of Palestine during the time of Rome, is a tragic and ironic fact. But it doesn’t change it.

It's understandable that, for some Jews, the use of this imagery may evoke the memory of the despicable deicide charge used against the Jews by Christians throughout the ages, but it's really important to make the distinction and make it very clear that this is not what Ateek means and not what he intends. Ateek is speaking out against the actions of the State of Israel, and not against the Jewish people, In fact he goes out of his way to make a distinction between the best of Jewish tradition, which can be found in the Old Testament (Jonah, Isaiah, Amos) and the actions of the State of Israel. This charge is being used cynically to discredit him, and more generally to play the Zionism=Judaism card in smearing criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism.
When Dr. Braverman gave the sermon mentioned previously, he spoke to the New Testament, not the old. Though an American Jew, as he says he is and thinks as do others, a significant fact, since it shows not all Jews agree on matters of peace and Israel, his New Testament reading of the day was Luke 10: 37-40.Dr. Braverman says of this passage, quoted here from Dr. Braverman’s sermon:

Luke 19.37-40:

As Jesus was approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!" Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would shout out."

I find how Jesus expresses himself at that moment so powerful – whether praise or protest, you cannot suppress the cry of strong feeling. And what was the praise about, after all? It was the spontaneous response of an oppressed, occupied people – a cry of love, adoration, and sheer joy for the miracle of Jesus’ ministry – his power to heal, to inspire, to lead. It’s a wonderful moment, and so captures Jesus in his idiom, his unstoppable response to the stifling, spirit-killing, life-denying voice of established authority. “You can’t stop this!” he is saying. “Nature itself, even these seeming inert stones, resonate with the joy and life force emanating from these people.”

This is said in favor of and support of other parts of the sermon “God’s Bounty” given in February, 2010, by Dr. Braverman on that day:

Christians today talk about the need to honor the deep Jewish attachment to the Land of Israel. But as a Jew I must consider hard the distinction between loving a land and claiming it as my identity and as my birthright. When you claim a superior right to a territory shared by others, whether that claim is made on religious or political grounds, you head straight for disaster, which is exactly what the Jewish people are confronting in the State of Israel today – not only political, but cultural, psychological, and spiritual. We need to take a long hard look at our willingness to invoke the land clause of the covenant. The theology of the land, like that of election, like any other aspect of scripture, must be open to conversation with history.
And what does any of this have to do with Lent? As we enter the season of lent, we are reminded that we are, daily, and with every season, being tested. Can we be stewards of the earth? Can we treat all humankind with compassion? Can we see that we are all one?

This is the challenge facing us today on a global basis. And in particular it is being worked out in this narrow strip of land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, the Holy Land. It’s a journey that I, as a Jew, have had to take and am still on.

The Presbyterian committee makes a statement on the Old Testament in their report section “Biblical Theological Reflection.”This makes sense, as Christians accept both Old and New Testaments.

To this writer, it seems unusual, even odd that a Jewish man would want to quote the New Testament, since Jews do not believe in Christ as Messiah. Dr. Braverman told this writer that he sometimes attends Temple, and in doing so shows he is a somewhat observant and practicing Jew who is aware of Jewish Holy Days. He is an educated man with a Doctorate in Psychology, too.

Now let us turn again to the subject specific, words presented by the Middle East Study Committee in their report to General Assembly.

In its paper that is a Witness to Scripture: Biblical Theological Reflection, Presbyterians say that the Old Testament as they note it in their witness, demands that the land of Israel treat the stranger well, maintain justice, and that it shall be a place where people of many faiths may come to worship God. Here is a section about the “Older Testament:”

The Older Testament also speaks of Zion as a place to which not only Jews but also other peoples and nations will come both to worship God and to receive God‘s teaching. Toward the end of the sixth century B.C.E., the prophet we call Third Isaiah proclaimed to those who had returned from exile in Babylon to the holy mountain that is Zion,

?Maintain justice, and do what is right? (Isa. 56:1a). And he proceeded to tell his fellow Jews that what is just and right includes joining God in welcoming to the holy mountain and its sacred precincts those from other lands who love God and strive to keep the commandments, for God‘s temple

?shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples? (Isa. 56:6–8). And according to Psalm 87, ?Zion is the mother city of all who know the Lord, wherever they are born?

—be that Canaan, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia, or any other place.35 Other passages as well share that vision:

?Let this be recorded for a generation to come, … so that the name of the Lord may be declared in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.? Ps. 102:18a, 21–22


?In days to come the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: ?Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.‘ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,

Thus, most Presbyterians hold that the

?land-grant? to Abraham‘s offspring described in Genesis is not so much a matter of ?rights? as it is a matter of



?the land? is a place whose residents God holds responsible for what is being done in and with it, including dealing justly with

?the stranger? and the poor.42

The Wiesenthal Center has in an effort to refute a torrent of statements and “peace” arguments and policies regarding Jews in America and specifically Israel, offered a pamphlet that they believe clarifies many misconceptions about the Israel situation and its history. In a Press Statement, Wiesenthal Center says, “Vicious lies and distortions … casting Israel as a pariah state by world leaders, academics, church groups, and some in the media … the U.N. Goldstone Report … a 100% increase in violent anti-Semitic acts over the last year … demonizing Israel as an Apartheid State … comparing Israelis to Nazis … deteriorating U.S./Israeli relations … intimidating and threatening her supporters …” and as a result, “…we have responded. We have just launched our new 2010 Top Ten Anti-Israel Lies Campaign.

In an effort to get opinion on Biblical Theological Reflection, this writer went to many sources like University of California at Los Angeles, San Francisco Theological Seminary, Graduate Theological Union, many experts were either not available, perhaps even willing, to comment or at the time of the writing of this report were not available.

Looking for a definition of Theological Reflection in “The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church”, Edited in Second Edition by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone (Revised), and this writer did find this definition of the Theological Virtues. The text from the book reads in part: “A title given to the three virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which are grouped together by St. Paul…as the bases of the Christian life…” Let us leave the subject and this second in a series of three articles on the Presbyterian Church USA Middle East Study Committee report at this place.

This article appeared in The Church of England Newspaper, London.

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