A Brief Excursion into the Middle East

We should pray for the personal safety of this courageous man.  He has dared to expose the true depth of evil that motivates the “anti-Zionism” of the Arab world, and, of those who fellow-travel or even outright support their “cause.”  If you wonder how the PCUSA elites fit into this statement, please read my posts starting with The PCUSA and Israel (Part 1) and ending with The PCUSA and Israel (Part 4).

The Arabs’ Real Grievance against the Jews (excerpt, read the whole thing).

As Arabs, we complain because Palestinians feel humiliated going through Israeli checkpoints. We complain because Israel is building in the West Bank without Palestinian permission, and we complain because Israel dares to defend itself against Palestinian terrorists. But how many of us have stopped to consider how this situation came to be? How many of us have the courage to admit that waging war after war against the Jews in order to deny them the right to exist, and refusing every reasonable solution to the conflict, has led to the current situation?

Our message to Jews, throughout history and particularly when they had the temerity to want to govern themselves, has been clear: we cannot tolerate your very existence.

Yet the Jews demand the right to exist and to exist as equals on the land where they have existed and belonged continuously for more than three thousand years.

In addition, denying a people the right to exist is a crime of unimaginable proportions. We Arabs pretend that our lack of respect for the right of Jews to exist is not the cause of the conflict between the Jews and us. We would rather claim that the conflict is about “occupation” and “settlements”. They see what radical Islamists are now doing to Christians and other minorities, who were also in the Middle East for thousands of years before the Muslim Prophet Mohammed was even born: Yazidis, Kurds, Christians, Copts, Assyrians, Arameans, and many others. Where are these indigenous people of Iraq, Syria and Egypt now? Are they living freely or are they being persecuted, run out of their own historical land, slaughtered by Islamists? Jews know that this is what would have happened to them if they did not have their own state.

The real Arab grievance against the Jews is that they exist. We want the Jews either to disappear or be subservient to our whims, but the Jews refuse to bend to our bigotry, and they refuse to be swayed by our threats and our slander.

Who in his right mind can blame them?

Fred Maroun, a left-leaning Arab based in Canada, has authored op-eds for New Canadian Media, among other outlets. From 1961-1984, he lived in Lebanon.

If you have any doubts about the intentions of Israel’s Arab and Persian neighbors, here is a summary of the situation.

Israel-under-siege3

Israel is Surrounded by Genocidal Enemies

Taking Stock at the 100th Post

100_in_the_skyThe research and thought required to generate the previous 99 posts has certainly changed me, and perhaps, some of my readers as well.  So, with this 100th post, I’ll pause to take stock.

The most significant change has been in how I understand the motives for what our PCUSA leadership has wrought.  Near the very beginning, in My Sojourn into a Foreign Land, I made the following statement.

Many of the individuals and organizations that I include in postmodern Christianity are seeking to be kind, generous, loving and honest. They truly believe that they are “doing good” in all that they propose and achieve. Thus, it is not their motives that I am primarily calling into question. Rather, I am pointing out that this group has bought into fundamental errors regarding the nature of truth; God’s character, purpose and Word; Christian theology; and human abilities and prospects as moral actors, among others. As has been often demonstrated in history, good motives applied to the promotion of flawed ideas leads to negative, and sometimes disastrous consequences.

However, as it has become clear how this group has abused the PCUSA’s rules to make life miserable for any majority that opposes their radical ends, and eventually, to drive them out of the church, my willingness to assume good will has waned considerably.  Here’s what the Presbytery of Santa Barbara had to say about one aspect of this abysmal situation at the 2014 General Assembly (emphasis added).

Official committees of the PC(USA), like the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), have failed to recognize the spirit and intent of prior General Assembly actions and have continued to promote the very kind of negative approach to peacemaking that prior General Assemblies have rejected. This is wrong and must end.

This situation is ending, not because of a change in heart by our leadership, but rather because so many orthodox-minded Presbyterians have been driven out of the PCUSA that there is no longer the realistic possibility for majority opposition to their schemes.  As I have noted on numerous occasions (most recently in The Disappearing PCUSA, 2014 Data (Part 6)):

There is an extraordinary, disconcerting compulsion that appears to drive this process. While in pursuit of their goals there appears to be no damage to the PCUSA – massive departure of existing members, collapsing influx of new members, stress to mission relationships, loss of theological, intellectual and institutional credibility, among others – that our leadership will not accept until their demands are fully met. No matter how many times the denomination rejected their demands, they continued in their quest.

This is not the work of a group steeped in Christian prudence, temperance and justice.  Rather, it is the action of a self-defined elite whose every opinion and goal is presumed to sit at the pinnacle of moral perfection.  There is no trading-off of one good against another, no self-awareness of their own limitations in motive or knowledge — there is only the naked determination to impose all that they have agreed to be “the good” on this denomination.  As Joan Didion wrote in “Slouching Toward Bethlehem.”

…when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.

For all the PCUSA elite’s presumption of having a “prophetic voice” by mimicking whatever is trending in radical secular Progressivism, with a thin veneer of faux Christian theologizing as their only contribution, I note that Didion’s statement is the real thing.  Fifty years ago, in 1965, she saw the seed of the bad tree that would come in its fullness to bear the bad fruit that I have been chronicling for the past 99 posts.

If 99 posts seems like a lot of ground to cover, then this excerpt from An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America by Joseph Bottum provides a concise summary.

Formed in the victory of civil rights activism, a new version of the social gospel movement became the default theology of church bureaucrats in the Mainline.  The churches “increasingly turned their attention to the drafting of social statements on a variety of contemporary problems,” as the religious historian Peter J. Thuesen has noted, and their statements “revealed a shared opinion among Mainline executives that the churches’ primary public role was social advocacy.”

Note well — not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but “social advocacy” of a particular secular stripe.  When the General Assembly Moderator, Heath Rada, addressed the April 18 Presbytery of Chicago Assembly meeting he had precious little to say about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, he had a lot to say about the effectiveness of the PCUSA’s social advocacy.  In fact, I’d say that the central theme of his “pep talk” was something to the effect of ‘Rejoice sisters and brothers!  The PCUSA is a highly regarded little cog in the Progressive political machine!’  This was the same meeting in which the Rev. Sara Dingman, Transitional Synod Executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails, did an end-zone dance about the PCUSA’s contribution to the evisceration of Indiana’s RFRA law.  I’m certainly not alone in this position.  For example, here’s an excerpt from  Edward R. Norman’a Christianity and the World Order.

Christianity today is, in this sense, bing reinterpreted as a scheme of social and political action, dependent, it is true, upon supernatural authority for its ultimate claims to attention, but rendered in categories that are derived from the political theories and practices of contemporary society. . .

I am also more convinced than ever that our PCUSA leadership is utterly dominated by post-modernism. They appear to believe that their primary purpose is to continually dissolve boundaries. That is, to a post-modern Christian, their identity appears to be entirely bound up by the destruction of theological, social, political, personal and any other kind of norm that can be imagined.

This idea is at the core of their identity because they appear to have concluded that most of what actually exists in our civilization is defective or worse. The only “good” that exists is in their false presumption of moral superiority. For example:

Thus, they live to impose their “superior” moral precepts on us poor, ignorant, unenlightened folk. They can never be proved wrong because, in their presumed enlightened state, they can always imagine reasons why the evil world of existence prevented the arrival their perfect but non-existent world.  Returning to An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America:

This is the final remnant of the Christianity of their ancestors, the last enduring bit of their inheritance: a social gospel, without the gospel.  For all of them, the sole proof of redemption is the holding of a proper sense of social ills.  The only available confidence about their salvation, as something superadded to existence, is the self-esteem that comes with feeling that they oppose the social evils of bigotry and power and the groupthink of the mob.

Their disdain for our civilization implies a disrespect for the toil of generations past, filled as it was with imperfect people.  We certainly see this in their disregard for the historic PCUSA Confessions.  They therefore seem unable to integrate the profound Christian insights from our history, such as those so powerfully conveyed by by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn into their world view.

It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political

parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. . . . That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” … I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, 615-617)

marriage_xlargeAnd finally, they are literally careless about the consequences of their actions on future generations.  Living as they do in a hermetically sealed bubble of moral presumption they can’t imagine that future generations, looking back at their enthusiastic support for abortion on demand, that they dissolved the foundational institution of the family into meaninglessness, that the State of Israel was weakened in its defense against the monsters at its doors, and, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was turned into nothing more than a helping hand to secular radicals (just to name a few), might judge them to have been both ignorant and dishonorable.PCUSA-Zionism

Even with humbling considerations such as these, leading to lives of Christian prudence and temperance, we are still susceptible to acts of misjudgment and ignorance.  However, the absence of such considerations leads to a far more dangerous situation, where we are actively courting catastrophe.  This is the appalling state of our current PCUSA elite.  May God have mercy upon us.

The PCUSA and Israel (Part 4)

I can reasonably suggest that the “On Supporting Middle East Peacemaking” vote was close for other reasons than a pro/anti Israel split in the GA because there were other votes on the divestment issue.  One of the most revealing was on the Overture titled “On Divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions—From the Presbytery of San Francisco.”  Clearly, as did the other Overture, the practical result was divestment.  However, the San Francisco Overture (“On Divestment) excluded any criticism of the BDS movement and placed virtually all criticism on the State of Israel.  It thus was a straight-up anti-Israel divestment Overture.  It also earned support from the PCUSA’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy  (ACSWP, pro-BDS), which had vehemently opposed the “On Supporting” Overture (see The PCUSA and Israel (Part 3)).

The results of these votes are revealing, and troubling.  Whereas the “On Supporting” vote was very close, the “On Divestment” vote was lopsided (see the following figure).

The number of Yes votes increased by 159 for the Overture that is more anti-Israel

The number of Yes votes increased by 159 for the Overture that is more anti-Israel

Note that while almost 51% of GA commissioners voted Yes to the “On Supporting” Overture, almost 83% voted Yes for the extreme anti-Israel “On Divestment” Overture.   Thus, the GA commissioners were far more supportive of the extreme anti-Israel Overture.  For this result to occur many of the No votes for “On Supporting” had to convert to Yes votes on “On Divestment.” Thus, it is clear that the “On Supporting” vote was close primarily because it wasn’t extreme enough in its anti-Israel position.

There is no way to sugar-coat this situation.  When more than 4 out of 5 GA commissioners observed that Israel is successfully defending itself against the murderous onslaught by its neighbors, their reaction was to attack the morale, economic vitality and defenses of Israel.  If this result isn’t a moral catastrophe, representing the victory of willful ignorance and inhumane ideology over the Christian virtues of prudence, temperance and justice then I don’t know what is.

The PCUSA and Israel (Part 3)

I’m sorry to have to say so, but it’s far worse than you thought.  When the PCUSA publicized the 310 to 303 vote to divest from three U.S. corporations that do business with Israel (“On Supporting Middle East Peacemaking”), a typical person likely thought that it represented a very slim victory for the radical anti-Israel crowd.  Unfortunately, the facts don’t bear out this hopeful interpretation.

It turns out that “On Supporting Middle East Peacemaking” did have powerful opposition, but not for the typically assumed reasons.  This Overture attempted to deliver on the divestment demanded by those in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement while simultaneously distancing the denomination from its positions.  The Overture concurrence rationale from the Presbytery of Santa Barbara summarizes the second half of this impossible position.

This overture calls on Presbyterians to act as peacemakers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, … The overture recognizes the necessity of foundation building for peace through grassroots collaboration, person-to-person contact, mutual respect, and cooperation. …

The overture also calls on the General Assembly to make clear that the PC(USA) is not a part of the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement. … Official committees of the PC(USA), like the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), have failed to recognize the spirit and intent of prior General Assembly actions and have continued to promote the very kind of negative approach to peacemaking that prior General Assemblies have rejected. This is wrong and must end.

We all want to see an end to the conflict and the occupation, but here a moment of truth is called for: the occupation will not and cannot end until the Palestinian people and their leaders choose a viable, democratic, Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel. This is the hope of all of us, but this point has not yet been reached.

And the ACSWP did indeed vehemently oppose this Overture, and, defend the BDS movement.  Here are excerpts of their official response, which is an integral part of the Overture information.

1.   This overture is essentially the opposite of prophetic challenge and would restrict the witness of the church and the hopes of the Palestinian people. Next to its innocence about power and sin, it is the voices of Palestinian Christians that are most lacking in this overture. The overture echoes Israeli government attacks on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. About 40 percent of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s annual speech this spring to AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, comprised attacks on BDS (http://mondoweiss.net/2014/03/netanyahu-denouncing-travelers.html).The large amounts of money and time spent by representatives and supporters of the Likud-led Israeli government attacking Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, strongly suggests that they understand that their own policies of occupation are the source of their “de-legitimation.” The effectiveness of nonviolent economic pressure was also confirmed by Secretary of State John Kerry, who pointed to the growing worldwide strength of BDS in one of his efforts to keep the “peace process” going.

Despite its rhetoric, this overture asks the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to choose a side: the side of occupation. In the struggle for South Africa, and in the Central American struggles, as in the civil rights struggle here at home, the church stepped up. We think it is that time again.

So, you ask, how can I suggest that the vote was close for other reasons than a pro/anti Israel split in the GA?  I will explain in my next post.

The PCUSA and Israel (Part 2)

When the 221st General Assembly (2014) passed the Overture “On Supporting Middle East Peacemaking” by 310 to 303, a shockwave hit the Jewish community.  The commissioners passed this Overture in full knowledge of the consequences.  For, prior to the vote:

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of Judaism in North America, spoke before the General Assembly Thursday, and warned that a divestment vote would be taken as a sign that the church has aligned itself with those in the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement who vilify Israel and even question its right to exist.

“It would be an attack on the Jewish community and religion,” especially in the wake of the publication of “Zionism Unsettled,” Jacobs said. “I don’t want the commissioners (assembly delegates) to think they can vote for divestment and be part of the global BDS movement and think that they can still stand with us.” (RNS)

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami also forewarned the GA against taking this action.

I would say to the Church’s leaders as they again consider joining forces with the BDS Movement, that the Movement’s rhetoric and tactics are not only a distraction, but a genuine threat to conflict resolution. Even the limited divestment approach under consideration by PCUSA falls under the rubric of larger BDS efforts to place blame entirely on one side of the conflict. Such an approach encourages not reconciliation, but polarization. Further, too many in and around the BDS movement refuse to acknowledge either the legitimacy of Israel or the right of the Jewish people as well as the Palestinian people to a state.

The reaction after the vote was immediate and harsh.

But Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious relations at the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement after the vote: “This is an affront to all who are committed to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The PCUSA decision is celebrated by those who believe they are one step closer to a Jew-free Middle East.” (RNS)

Other commentators have pointed the blatant prejudice and sickening hypocrisy of this action.

… the PCUSA’s deliberations ignored the attempts to destroy Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973. It ignores the language of the Hamas charter, and the fact that Hamas has now been welcomed into the Palestinian Authority’s government. Mostly it ignores the endless terror attacks, and the war crime of indiscriminate use of rockets against civilians, the language of genocide routinely employed by the mullahs in Tehran whose Hezbollah puppets occupy south Lebanon.

This result is a moral catastrophe for the PCUSA.  It represents the victory of willful ignorance and inhumane ideology over the Christian virtues of prudence, temperance and justice.  Just what is going on and why in the PCUSA?

The PCUSA and Israel (Part 1)

The State of Israel is a small outpost of Western Civilization in the Middle East.  Of its total 8 million population, just over 6 million are Jewish and almost 1.7 million are Arabs.  The Arab minority participates in the political, social and economic life of the nation.  The civil rights of gays and women are also strongly protected.  Israel’s economy is highly developed and technologically advanced.  As of 2013, Israel ranks 19th among 187 nations on the UN’s Human Development Index, which places it in the category of “Very Highly Developed.”

In spite of this, there is no nation on earth that is more hated than is Israel.  Based on U.N. resolutions, there is no nation that even approaches Israel’s piranha status.  For many in the West this animus flows primarily from the creation of Palestinian refugees as a consequence of the 1948 war associated with Israel’s creation.  For many Arabs and Persians, this hatred is of an existential nature.  Since its creation, Israel has fought at least 15 significant conflicts with its Arab neighbors, including 3 major wars of intended annihilation (War of Independence, Six Day War and Yom Kippur War).

Currently Israel is surrounded by genocidal-minded enemies, including Hezbollah, Hamas, the PLO and Iran.  These terrorist organizations and nations make no attempt to hide their genocidal intentions.  Their intentions are also made clear by their actions:

  • Hundreds of suicide bomb attacks launched from the PLO controlled West Bank
  • Eleven thousand rocket attacks launched from the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip
  • Rocket attacks and kidnappings by Hezbollah
  • Development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems by Iran
  • Direct support of Hezbollah’s military capability and operations by Iran

In all of these actions the perpetrators have one goal: to kill, maim and terrorize Jews; babies, women, elderly, men, soldiers, whoever.  They name city streets after successful suicide bombers, teach gross anti-Semitism in their children’s text books and celebrate in the streets when Jews are successfully murdered.  The following figure attempts to summarize Israel’s current precarious national security situation.

Israel is Surrounded by Genocidal Enemies

Israel is Surrounded by Genocidal Enemies

The tragic fact is that it is only Israel’s military and economic supremacy that prevents its neighbors from succeeding in their genocidal plans.  Were Israel to lose the next war, its six-million Jewish citizens would be under direct threat of extermination.  Were Iran to deliver a couple of nuclear bombs within is borders, the vast majority of Israeli citizens would be killed within seconds.

When Israel, after long periods of attack by its terrorist neighbors, finally uses its military might to defend itself, its attempts to minimize loss of civilian life are the greatest in world history.  If it can avoid use of military force, it does so, for example, by building a defensive wall to keep suicide bombers out.

You might think that, seeing the massive, sustained and active existential threat under which this nation tragically lives, Christian organizations would be motivated to provide support.  At the very least, they would not seek to increase the likelihood that Israel will succumb to the genocidal intentions of its enemies.  After all, the Bible says:

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? (Proverbs 24:11,12, ESV)

You thus might think that a Christian denomination would not do anything to undermine a nation under this threat.  For, to reduce the morale, economic vitality or defenses of such a nation is unavoidably to advance the goals of those who actively wish to exterminate it.