Methodists & Israel
Mainstream Protestant churches today, such as the Methodists, are generally anti Israel, even though they may make a pretense of neutrality. This article investigates some of the misconceptions and conceits as to why this might be so.
In the beginning
The idea that Christians should actively support a Jewish return to the Land of Israel, along with the parallel idea that the Jews ought to be encouraged to become Christian, as a means fulfilling a Biblical prophecy has been common in Protestant circles since the Reformation. This doesn’t imply a great love for the Jews. John Wesley, later to be founder of Methodism, was quoted as referring to the Jews as:
Outcasts from thee, and scattered wide Blaspheming who they crucified Unsaved, unpitied, unforgiven Branded like Cain, they bear their load Abhorred of men, and cursed of God
All these faults could be washed away with baptism water.
Hostility to the Jews and Judaism didn’t mean that the early Methodist leaders rejected the connection of Jews with Israel. Charles Wesley, John’s brother and prolific hymn writer wrote Calling the Hebrews home and other hymns and published them with his brother’s agreement.
Calling the Hebrews home
O that the chosen band might now their brethren bring
And gathered out of every land present to Sion’s King.
Of all the ancient race not one be left behind
But each impelled by secret grace his way to Canaan find!
We know it must be done for God hath spoke the word
All Israel shall their Saviour own to their first state restored.
Rebuilt by His command Jerusalem shall rise
Her temple on Moriah stand again, and touch the skies.
Send then Thy servants forth to call the Hebrews home
From west and east, and south, and north let all the wanderers come.
Where’er in lands unknown Thy fugitives remain
Bid every creature help them on Thy holy mount to gain.
Why not give Palestine back to them (the Jews) again? According to God’s distribution of nations it is their home, an inalienable possession from which they were expelled by force. Why shall not the powers which under the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Servia to the Servians now give Palestine back to the Jews?…These provinces, as well as Romania, Montenegro, and Greece, were wrested from the Turks and given to their natural owners. Does not Palestine as rightfully belong to the Jews?
Would Theodore Herzl have said it any clearer?
God’s People … are not the Jews
God’s People (written by Re. Dick Jones) is a Bible Study series prepared by the Methodist Church and distributed on their website. I thought this would be a good place to start to investigate Methodist attitudes, although the survey which I hope you have all answered makes it fairly clear that they feel Israel needs to be pressured/punished and the only question is whether BDS is the most effective way to do so.
We hope a Methodist reader of this article might be willing to tell us to what extent God’s People is the official/popular view of the Methodist Church. Perhaps someone from the Methodist Friends of Israel?
Jones utilises a technique well-known to prosecuting attorneys. He sets up situations that favour his case and then asks questions that he knows in advance will reinforce it. As every good courtroom lawyer knows one never asks questions if not sure, in advance, what the answers will be. It all has the tone of sweet, even Socratic Method, reason but it is not. It is not designed to reach the truth by presenting all sides but to present a highly partisan position. His, This series is designed to promote discussion and not to promote any one position is frankly disingenuous.
Executive theology summary
Let’s sum up the theology points – perhaps not specifically stated but nevertheless very strongly implied. The Jews have no right to Israel because:
- Christianity trumps Judaism. The law is superseded and it follows so are all promises.
- The Bible (presumably Old Testament because he doesn’t give a similar critical analysis to the New) is not to be taken as a record but as a device to give an impression.
- No individual text should be given precedence – and if you think it does, it is probably just that you have chosen a different translation.
- God does not instigate war or violence. You must take this uncritically because no accounts of Christian war-making, whether in ancient or modern times is allowed to intrude to sully the implication that Christians are lovely people who wouldn’t hurt a fly by contrast to the
- Jesus didn’t consider Jewishness as important. The Jews might miss out.
- The idea of a chosen people is morally objectionable. The Jews were not chosen. If they were chosen they didn’t fulfil their task and have lost the title. Everyone who accepts the divinity of Jesus is chosen instead.
- God’s promises about the land are revocable. It was because God is unbounded in righteousness, justice , mercy and holiness that the Jews were expelled from the land.
- The land that God once promised the Jews (see point 2) is too imprecisely defined to be taken into account.
- All is not lost for the Jews. They can still convert.
- Repeat point 1. Christianity trumps Judaism.
In keeping with Jones’s position and then question format: Did the German Protestants use exactly the same arguments and scriptural references when they decided not to protest Hitler’s treatment of the Jews? I suspect, yes, and with the same tone of satisfied moral rectitude.
Something tells me it will be long time, if ever, before the Methodists follow Pope Benedict’s lead and address the Jews as fathers in the faith or even Pope John Paul’s elder brothers.
For a document pretending to analysis there are some major misconceptions and omissions particularly when sliding from the replacement theology view and concentrating on Israel/Palestine. ‘The Holy Land’ (the single quotes are his) has become one of the most frightening places on earth! What absolute nonsense. Even though this was written before the horrors of Syria and Egypt (Israel is situated in a rough neighbourhood) how can Israel/Palestine compare with Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, Chechnya or even Iraq, Afghanistan or Bosnia. By any reasonable comparison Israel/Palestine is a low-intensity conflict that periodically flares to short, intense wars with, compared to other conflicts, low casualties and low relative noncombatant deaths relative to combatants.
BTW Why does he use the term ‘Palestine’? Somehow has the Oslo Accords escaped his attention? For more than two decades, 95% plus of non Jews living outside the Green Line have come under the Palestine Authority’s governance. Some might say, with good reason, under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas Authority in Gaza.
400,000 Jews live in settlements on land taken in war, mainly the West Bank and East Jerusalem, This land claimed by the Palestinians. Apart from understating the numbers of Jews living beyond the 1948 Armistice Lines by about 150,000, this statement is false regarding Palestinian claims. They regard ALL OF ISRAEL as occupied, taken in war. All 6.5 million live on land that Palestine claims and from time to time makes clear that they will be expelled when the time is right. It would be called threatening ‘ethnic cleansing’ if anyone but Jones’ favourite victims had said it.
The claim that Arabs have been in this region for time immemorial, accepted uncritically by Jones, is highly disputed and contradicted by both the Arab/Muslim invasions of the 7th century and immigration during the last half century of Ottoman rule and the twenty-six years of the British Mandate. A more accurate and honest statement would be that an unknown percentage of the Arab Palestinian population are probably descendants of non-Arab Jewish and Christian (themselves descendants of Jews) citizens of the Byzantine Roman empire gradually Arabised following the Arab/Muslim invasion and occupation.
Jones is partly correct that Christianity once comprised 20% of the Holy Land and now is 1.6%. What he misses that they until the 7th century they comprised much more. In the spirit of his format here is some questions to ponder. (Suggested answers at bottom. Don’t cheat):
- What happened to Christians in the 7th century that caused a steep drop in total and relative number to the population?
- Why are they dropping now? (Recommend re-reading Cognitiva dissonantiam pro Christianis for an account of the deep love held for Christians in Iraq and Egypt).
- How do the relative and total population growth reduction figures for Christians in Israel/Palestine Authority compare with other countries in the Middle East and North Africa?
- As Christians represent a small and dropping percentage of the population, what are the theological grounds for insisting that non Christians (almost all Muslims) have a right to the territory, now that the Jews have been morally dispossessed?
Missing in action
The first ‘missing’ group are Christians who support a Jewish Israel. God’s People purports to concentrate on looking at some key passages through Christian eyes. The technique of minimising Christians who, from Christian principle, hold a diametrically different view is just one-eyed.
The would-discuss-other-groups-of-Christian-teaching that disagree if only there was more time is again disingenuous. This is a digital file – time and space shouldn’t be relevant. Fair treatment of both sides should be.
Christian Zionists do get painted as extremists, rich and powerful (since when do Protestants disapprove of money? Have they rejected the Calvinist work ethic as not applying to Methodists?) and American (Why be anti American? The Methodist Church is very strong in America and there are historical ties going back to the Wesley brothers), whose views are rejected by uncredited scholars as a dangerous aberration. Attacking the messenger, indeed.
In addition, the statement that Israel fulfils God’s promises to Abraham only entered Christian belief in 1967, is as we have seen, simply erroneous by several hundred years.
My experience is that calling your opponents extreme is only another way of labeling yourself moderate. Not surprising really. His source is Stephen Sizer, hardly a non-controversial analyst who has been accused of blatant antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Actually every one of the sources for the stories he uses to end each study session can be described as hostile to Israel.
On a more personal note I met a Christian Palestinian (resident of Bethlehem) last week who was a speaker at a conference on the form of a future Palestinian state, of which he expected to be a citizen. He asked me not to disclose his name nor his organisation, which were also missing from the programme at his request, for fear of violent retribution from Palestinian opponents of normalisation. While I have no way of checking this, he told me and a few others, during lunch, that the situation in Bethlehem has become so difficult for Christians that they would welcome a return of Israeli control but are too scared to say it publicly.
The second group of M.I.A.s, the elephant in the room, are the Muslims.
Not paying attention to the Muslim Palestinians shows just how far from reality on the ground is God’s People. They receive barely passing and misleading mention.
Christianity may have, it is strongly implied, have replaced the Jews but the spoils will go to the Muslims. At less than 2% of the Holy Land and decreasing Palestine, whatever its borders, will be Arab but Muslim.
In keeping with the ask questions format, here are some:
- What is the Christian view of Islam?
- How does Christianity deal with the mistreatment of minorities, especially Christians, by Muslims?
- If the Jews have been disqualified, what is the theological justification for turning the Holy Land over, not to Christians, but to Muslims?
- How does the Church view the Islamic precept (all schools and sects) that any land once under Sharia law is held in trust, for all eternity, for the Muslim Nation‡?
- How does the Church view the Islamic precept that Abrahamic people (initially Christians and Jews) must pay a special jizyah tax for permission to live in Muslim lands as Dhimmi?
- How does the common Arabic expression First comes Saturday, then comes Sunday * mean to Methodists?
- Given that Christian sovereignty over the Holy Land is not likely at any time soon, is it better that the control be Jewish or Muslim?
A point of explanation. Even the hint that perhaps the Jews are not the only ones fighting (not simply suffering) is downgraded to yet another attack on Israel. Illustrating corruption on the unlabeled young solely is a quote from the controversial Breaking the Silence movement. That is as close as this claims-not-to-promote-one-position document comes to actually admitting some Arabs are conducting a campaign of violence – without actually even naming them.
A second point of explanation. Genesis IS NOT a foundation document for Muslims, no matter how Jones may delude himself. Although Mohammed appropriated many leading figures from the new and old testaments into the Quran, the Muslim version of many stories is considerably different to the Jewish/Christian versions. These discrepancies are not explained as differences in translation, interpretation or changes in language through time. For Muslims any differences can only be explained by the Jewish/Christian versions being deliberately altered to hide the truth of Islam.
Similarly ‘Isa (Jesus) is appropriated as a Muslim prophet, not as Lord and Saviour, predicting Mohammed and owing him allegiance.
Not specifically aimed at Methodists but it does make a strong point about the hypocrisy of singling out Israel.
According to Melanie Phillips, the Archbishop of Wales is among Churchmen worried that opposition to Israel is motivated by anti-Semitism rooted deep in Christian theology. Judging by God’s People, he has reason to be worried.
- The Duplicity of the British Methodist Church, Barry Shaw, The View from Israel. 16 October 2013
- British Methodists: Palestine First, Germany Next? Malcolm Lowe, Gatestone Institute, 13 June 2011
- Methodists Vote Against Ending Investments Tied to Israel, Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, 2 May 2012
- Methodists set to clash with Jewish community in UK, Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post, 18 June 2010
- Methodist Friends of Israel
- The Future of Christians in the Middle East, Habib Malik, Defining Ideas (a Hoover institute Journal), 7 Jan 2011
- Christians who hate Jews, Giulio Meotti, Ynet, 19 February 2012
- Christians who hate the Jews, Melanie Phillips, The Spectator archive, 16 February 2002
Answers to Not-so-holy-land questions
- Invaders from the Arabian Peninsula invaded, occupied and conquered North Africa and the Middle East. Christians (and Jews) were killed, expelled and converted to Islam, sometimes by force, sometimes by intimidation and sometimes, over time, by the pressure of being a second-class minority.
- Low birth rates compared with Muslims, extensive emigration, ethnic and religious persecution. In addition, political turmoil has been and continues to be a major contributor.
- The Christian population of all countries of the Middle East and North Africa is dropping rapidly to the point where some commentators believe there may be no Christians left in the lands where Christianity originated, in the next half century. Ironically the one place where the number of Christians is rising is Israel.
- I guess a Christian will have to answer that one.
† Photographer Abdulrazzaq Badran (Photo Journalist to Egyptian Dar El Hilal magazine) Public Domain.
‡ This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement. Article Eleven: Strategies of the Islamic Resistance Movement: Palestine Is Islamic waqf
* A well-known sentence in the Middle East meaning: “First we take care of the Jews (who pray on Saturday) then we will take care of Christians, the ‘Sunday people’.