PASADENA, Calif. (ABP) – Evangelical supporters of Israel fired back at a September open letter by two Baptist ethicists questioning theological and moral grounds of “Christian Zionism.”
David Gushee, a Mercer University professor and columnist for Associated Baptist Press, and Glenn Stassen of Fuller Theological Seminary penned “An Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionist” Sept. 19 denouncing the influence on U.S. foreign policy of the belief the Bible plots out boundaries that by divine right belong to Israel.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, we wish to claim here that the prevailing version of American Christian Zionism — that is, your belief system — underwrites theft of Palestinian land and oppression of Palestinian people, helps create the conditions for an explosion of violence, and pushes U.S. policy in a destructive direction that violates our nation’s commitment to universal human rights,” the professors said. “In all of these, American Christian Zionism as it currently stands is sinful and produces sin.”
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem replied with a letter charging Gushee and Stassen with “theological inconsistency and historical ignorance that are deeply troubling in professors of your standing.”
Leaders of the group founded in 1980 to advocate “scriptural responsibilities towards the Jewish people, to remind Israel of the wonderful promises made to her in the Bible and to be a source of practical assistance to all the people of the land of Israel” said their support does not mean they think Israel is perfect or that they support all its policies, and they also share concern, particularly for Palestinian Christians.
“But if we want to help bring justice to the Palestinian people then we need to be honest and admit that their problem is not Israel but their own corrupt and cowardly leaders and we need to call for those leaders to lay down their goal of eradicating Israel, recognize her right to exist as a Jewish state and broker an agreement for the sake of the Palestinian people,” the letter said.
A group of evangelical scholars and leaders including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land issued a separate letter criticizing Gushee and Stassen for “a one-sided and simplistic portrayal of a very complex situation.”
“The authors of the ‘Open Letter’ are right to be concerned for the justice of the Palestinian people, but they are clearly wrong to blame fellow evangelicals instead of the Arab leaders who are more committed to the eradication of Israel than to bettering the lives of their own people,” the scholars said. “Justice will only come to the Palestinians when their leaders lay aside their ideology of hate and negotiate peace with Israel.”
Gushee and Stassen responded Nov. 11 with a second letter saying the point of their original missive was to “challenge biblically the claim of Christian Zionists that God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis says all the land should belong to Israel.”
“We were hoping for dialogue on the clear meaning of the biblical covenant with Abraham,” they said. “Our claim is that misconstruing the biblical teaching is misleading many Christian Zionists to support settlements on Palestinian land that are unjust, that violate God’s will as well as international law, and that cause dangerous hostility against Israel. We ask responses to focus on the biblical teaching.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.