A Jewish perspective on Jesus and the Middle East
Here’s another response in the e-mail exchange that started last week. I’ve posted this with permission:
Sorry to be so long in responding. I’ve been absorbed with blogging on my recent experience at the Presbyterian General Assembly. My reflections on the GA ( parts 1 and 2) start with Ephesians 2:14 and end with MLK’s letter from the Birmingham jail. Would love to get your reactions. By the way, I’ve been to your site and watched you talk to me about the victim, the religious guy, and the Samaritan. Loved it. Brian’s idea of a blogroll is very good and I encourage everyone to take Michael Ly up on his offer to compile the list.
For most of you on Carl’s list, I’m the Jewish friend he refers to. I’ve got a few things to say in response, Carl, and I’ll try to keep it brief.
1. I am very supportive of your work and that of Rick, Jeff, Samir, Miroslav and others in reaching out to the Muslim community. As a preface to my comments to follow, I think the issue that Christians now face in how to relate to the Jewish community is different. The Christian world undertook a huge bridge-building effort to the Jews after WWII, and it was a faithful and courageous thing to do. But now there is a whole new context for Christian-Jewish relations — that’s the Israel-Palestine conflict, of course. As a result we are looking at the need for a radical reframing in how we look at Christian-Jewish relations. It’s the topic of my book, Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land.
2. You are calling to the church. So am I — and the similarities in what we are each up to are interesting: different pictures in the same frame. As a Christian you are calling on Christians to reconnect with the core of their faith in order to be open to the whole of humanity. As a Jew I am calling on Christians to reconnect with the core of their faith in order to be open to the call for justice in the Holy Land today — calling on my people to tear down the walls of fear we build, walls that putting us at severe risk mentally and spiritually (as well as physically, for that matter). I am saying to Christians that if you really want to love the Jewish people, then you must call us to account for what our national homeland project has brought us to. It’s very a contextually-based, call actually — but the powerful thing about this is that the current context sends us right back to the context of first century Palestine. We need Jesus more than ever today. He speaks directly to me in his ministry to the Palestinians of his time (the Jews) in calling for nonviolent resistance to the evil of empire — and our collusion with it.
3. You are calling out how theology is being driven by politics and I agree. It is certainly true that Christian Zionism — not the John Hagee variety but the Zionism hiding in plain sight in the Christian mainstream — is driven by politics: interfaith politics. Protestants, beginning with the penitential, self-purification impulse of the German confessing church during and in the aftermath of WWII and with the RCC in the reforming work of Vatican II — have made atoning for anti-Semitism the value that now trumps action for justice in Palestine. As such Christians missed the boat — the wake-up call of the Nazi Holocaust should have driven a deep self-exploration about what had happened to Christianity. Instead a “cheap penitence” took over in the form of a guilt offering to the Jewish people – the “gift” of the land. And what has that meant? (1) de-spiritualizing (and de-universalizing) the land — what a non-Christian thing to do! The earth is the Lord’s, not the Christians’ to give! and (2) a slippery slope to a theological legitimization of political Zionism — a political ideology that has hijacked Judaism and put the Jewish people, well really all of humanity, in peril. Christianity is in peril as well, for colluding with us in this idolatry. What you’ve got in both forms of Christian Zionism is a form of Judeo-Christian triumphalism. The Palestinians don’t count in this. And not Muslims — heck anybody who is not Jewish or Christian.
So yeah, we gotta get this right.
You talk about our spiritual battle and the way of the cross. For Christians to love the Jewish people well and truly (read the Palestine Kairos document) is not easy, it means picking up the cross. 65 years of building interfaith bridges threaten to blow up your faces, because of the fear-based bullying tactics of the American Jewish organizations that scream anti-Semitism at responsible criticism of Israel’s policies. These organizations and leaders claim to, but don’t speak for all Jews — but that doesn’t make it easy for Christian clergy, institutions, or laity. But that’s the reality now — for Christians to remain faithful, they must take up that cross and suffer the pain of losing Jewish friends and being called anti-Semitic (And from some of the responses to your email, seems like losing Christian friends is is a big issue for those of you working on Christian-Muslim relations.) We are living in prophetic times, so there are costs. It hurts, of course. But look at what the Presbyterians are doing — it’s inspiring. And puts us right into the interfaith politics http://markbraverman.org/2010/07/report-from-the-presbyterian-general-assembly-part-2-the-jewish-response/.
This is bigger than Palestine, of course. But when we get Palestine right we get the whole thing right.
You write: “Politicians aren’t thinking that way, because the church is not thinking that way!” Your are dead on here. I am pushing on the Jewish-Christian interfaith issue because the church has the power to drive the politics on Israel-Palestine, and the current Christian-Jewish “interfaith” frame is a barrier to church faithfulness and effectiveness here. It’s not an interfaith issue, it’s a church issue, an issue of faithfulness. Actually, it’s a faith issue, period, and so the fact of being Christian, Muslim or Jewish is not important. It’s whether you are for ripping off the poor or for ending poverty, for destroying the planet or preserving it. The world is called to understand love (see again Kairos Palestine, a manifesto of “resistance framed in the logic of love”). Palestinians have been involved in nonviolence for almost going on a century now, and it’s growing stronger and has at last become a global movement. We’ve looking at a stunning opportunity to change the political wind, and the church is the place for this to happen. And again — it’s not just Palestine. It is, as you put it , a spiritual battle, the Kingdom message. Humanity will destroy itself in pursuing the myth of redemptive violence and in greedily ripping off the planet, or it will be redeemed through nonviolent resistance in its many forms.
I talk about Jesus and people wonder if I’m a Christian, and really, I don’t care what you call me – we need Jesus now, he speaks directly to our situation. If we can get beyond “interfaith dialogue,” if we can get that it’s not about the faiths “getting along,” but about realizing our brotherhood and sisterhood and the urgency of our common calling and to a communion of humanity, then we achieve incredible momentum. Jesus stood before the Temple and said — this is coming down. And the writer of John (2:21) explains — just in case anyone is not clear on the theology — “he was speaking of the Temple of his body.” Body of Christ — all of humanity united in spiritual communion, to undertake and continue the work of transforming this world into the Kingdom of God.
You ask, can Muslims follow Jesus and stay Muslim. I know Muslims (actually most of the Muslims that I know) who are clear that following Jesus is being true to Islam. The same for me as a Jew — it’s no stretch at all. Jesus was a Jew, fully in the line of the prophets, and he was taking Judaism where it was supposed to go, and, in that historical context, where it urgently needed to go to be true to itself. History got in the way and we ended up with a separate religion. So much for religions — they divide rather than join. That’s our challenge today — to come together to bring the Kingdom, and for that not to be a “Christian” thing but a universal message. Heck, that was the Christian idea from the beginning, to take what was tribal and sectarian and make it universal.
I haven’t done a good job making this brief, so I’ll cut if off here. Thanks for getting this going, brother.