Tuesday, July 20, 2010


The Presbyterian Church (USA) finished its biennial General Assembly earlier this month.  One of the hot topics was Israel.  A report from the Middle East Study Committee came to before the Assembly along with calls (overtures) for condemnation of Israel as an apartheid regime and calls for disinvestment in Caterpillar, Inc.  Caterpillar is a well known producer of building equipment and equipment that can be used to tear buildings and other things down.

The report was amended to be more even handed when talking about Israel and Palestine.  Still Caterpillar was distinguished for specific condemnation. 

For those who have not followed the disinvestment debate the Presbyterian Church (USA) has debated this for years, starting back in 2004.  On a regular basis people produce pictures of Caterpillar equipment being used to destroy a home, uproot an olive tree or build a wall.  And it does happen.  Israel is a country.  It certainly isn’t a perfect country.  It also isn’t the worst example of bad government even in the Middle East.  Some examples:

In Egypt radical Muslims beat up, kidnap and kill Christians and destroy any attempts by those Christians to make sufficient space (or any buildings) for their worship services.  The government does not respond to Christian pleas for justice.  And if a Muslim dares to convert to Christianity that person may well be killed.

In Saudi Arabia if anyone who is not a Muslim (and I think this would also include Muslims who do not follow the Wahabi teaching that is the government sanctioned form of Islam) dares to have a worship service they will be arrested.  During the first Gulf war Christians who sought to worship went by helicopter to an aircraft carrier so that Christian (and one presumes also Jewish) worship would not pollute the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia.  This was the rule while troops from a wide variety of countries kept Iraq at bay so that Saudi Arabia would not fall as Kuwait had. 

In Pakistan Christians are regularly threatened with accusations of blasphemy against Islam when a Muslim wants what a Christian has.  And while the Churches in Pakistan protest little is done.  Christians get thrown into jail for blasphemy or killed and if by some chance they are acquitted of the charge they have to move because their Muslim neighbors will kill them.  Others receive notes on their doors telling them that they have to convert or they will be killed.  This is not a joke.  Some were killed very recently. 

These are our allies.

In Iraq, and curiously it’s worse now than before Saddam Hussein was overthrown, Christians are subject to threats, bombings and kidnappings.  Those who make the threats mean business.  People have been kidnapped.  Others have been killed while at worship.  Many have fled to Jordan and Syria for protection. 

Iranian police break up Christian worship and threaten anyone who converts to Christianity with death.  For that matter if you are an Iranian and don’t like the fast and loose way the former leader became the current leader through a corrupted counting of votes you may well end up in prison and be tortured.

Christians providing loving families for orphans in Morocco were all kicked out the country earlier this year on the possibility that the children they care for might become Christians.  I suppose this was a real possibility even though the families didn’t try to convert them.  After all those Christian families had been the only people who had loved them!  Now those children are in orphanages.

In Turkey a couple of years ago three Christians were killed, two because they were Muslims who had become Christians and one because he operated a Christian printing press.  And if you dare to bring up the fact that the former regime in Turkey killed hundreds of thousands of Christian Armenians by murder, rape or failing to provide food to those in concentration camps Turks will be offended and say that you are denigrating their country with lies.

I freely admit there are things that various Israeli governments have done that I disapprove of or at least regret as a necessity.  Having seen the security barrier/wall (mostly a barrier with barbed wire and guards) I hate it.  And yet suicide bombings dropped off to nothing after the barrier/wall was built.  I call for the barrier to be on the Green Line, not through the farms of Palestinians.  Not only is it unjust but some of these folks are my Christian brothers and sisters!  I strongly object to talk by a few Israelis that the Palestinian problem should be dealt with by kicking all Palestinians out of any territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.  And my list could go on.  Curiously I find my Jewish friends willing to criticize actions by the Israeli government that they think are wrong.  They can go to Israel and shout it at the top of their lungs!  What would happen to a Muslim standing in Saudi Arabia who dared to criticize the oppressive government of Saudi Arabia?

But I have to ask, why Israel?  When Christians are persecuted in Egypt why does the Presbyterian Church (USA) not say a word?  When Christians and others are arrested in Saudi Arabia for daring to sing hymns quietly in their homes why does the Presbyterian Church (USA) not condemn?  When Christians are killed (and to be fair Muslims as well) in Nigeria why does the Presbyterian Church (USA) keep silence?  When the Greek Orthodox Church urges the government of Greece to pass laws outlawing the establishment of other Christian groups what does the Presbyterian Church (USA) say?  Nothing.  Is Israel the government with the worst record of abusing its citizens and others in the Middle East?  It is not. 

All I can conclude is that there are probably at least two reasons:
  1. Israel as the people of the Covenant, the people that God called, must be held to higher standards than others and particularly Muslim states.  Is our message that we expect Muslims to be evil and therefore we don’t even bother to criticize them?  Or is the message that Jews are different?  It is somehow acceptable to criticize Jews and not Muslims?
  2. While there are a variety of Muslim states in the Middle East (and no one complains about that) a Jewish state is not allowed.

None of this justifies sin and oppression.  But it does make me wonder: why Israel?

BTW I found an interesting picture on a website called “electric intifada, a Palestinian site.  It is a picture of a back hoe presumably destroying the house of a Palestinian family.  And the machine was built by Caterpillar, er. no Volvo?  Why don’t we hear about Volvo at General Assembly?  Here is the link and the picture:

So in two years when we talk about divestment in Caterpillar again shouldn’t we also talk about Volvo?  And about Christian Church buildings that are destroyed in Egypt?  Blown up in Iraq?  Christians being killed and threatened with death in Nigeria or Pakistan?  Should we divest in companies that sell bulldozers to Egypt?  Or don’t we care about what those other countries do?  And if we think only Israel is to be condemned what does that say about us Presbyterians?


Viola Larson said...

I think Bob, that when an organization, denomination or state is sick, they start picking on people. Not the closest ones or the worst but those who make them feel uneasy. I am not going to say anymore than that ...

Except to say I am in total agreement with you about the other states in the Middle East that are far worse than Israel- and that does not excuse somethings that Israel needs to change. But we, the Presbyterian Church, are lop-sided.

ram said...

Greetings, Pastor Bob,

Your blog is interesting.

You ask:
Or don’t we care about what those other countries do? And if we think only Israel is to be condemned what does that say about us Presbyterians?

I think it says that righteous criticism of Muslims or Islam offers the anti-Israel activist no _expiation_ value.

Speaking out for Copts and Mandeans would mean criticizing Muslims. BUT these critics yearn, ache, to play the role of righteously defending "others" against evil white westerners like their guilty selves, and so get some expiation. Why do they feel guilty? I think it's partly over consciousness of living the Western 1st-world good life in an unequal world. And also at least partly because in this day, we've substituted victimhood (real or hyped) for genuine morality, and as a basis for self esteem.

So Israel is id'd as Western (at least for this mental moment) in their morality play, which briefly gives them a white hat costume to wear, and they at last feel good about themselves. Seriously fighting the Islamicly mandated oppression of Christians in the Middle East - despite how righteous it is - wouldn't give them that _precious feeling_ because their morality play requires fighting "Westerners" in opposition to "non-westerners" (and non-white, and non-Christian, ideally). It's whom they oppose, not whom they "defend," that determines the feelings their precious selves experience or endure.

Theirs is a battle against angst. And maybe if they can stamp hard enough on Israel, they hope, they will at last conquer that angst. At least this is what it looks like to me.

I arrived at your blog via Viola Larson's blog, which I found from DivestThis.