Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for December 24th, 2017

Christmas is about human exclusion as much as divine solidarity. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11)

A couple excluded from the hotels and guest-houses of their home town, and later forced to flee as refugees from state persecution. A child who is excluded from his community and eventually from life itself, dying in solidarity with all who suffered the shame of crucifixion.

The best way to celebrate Christmas, therefore, is to reflect on- and repent of – the way we exclude other people and other voices from intruding on our comfortable existence.

I think today, Christmas Eve, especially of my Palestinian Christian brethren. They are caught in a vulnerable position between, on the one hand, an aggressive Israeli settler movement (backed up by an occupation army) and an equally aggressive Islamist militancy, on the other. Rarely, if ever, are their voices heard in mainstream secular news media.

The only exposure to Palestinians on “Christian” news channels is of stone-throwing children or the remains of suicide-bombers. How humiliated Palestinian Christians must feel by constant references on the part of Western Christians to “the Holy Land” (a sentimental phrase that is not found in the Bible) combined with a wilful ignorance of history and a fundamentalist abuse of “biblical prophecy”. The global Church needs to listen to their voice.

Any student of Middle Eastern history is familiar not only with the shameful story of European colonial interference in that part of the world, but also the tragic influence of “dispensationalist theology” (promoted by the Scofield Bible, Moody Bible Institute, Andover-Newton and Dallas theological seminaries) on American and British policy-makers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several of them, including Lord Balfour (author of the infamous Balfour declaration of 1917) were influenced by such theology, believing that the creation of a Jewish state would hasten the “return of Christ”. Such influence has continued under Benjamin Netanyahu who has frequent contact with Christian Zionist churches in the US as well as the so-called International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

It is now approaching 70 years since the creation of the state of Israel, and there is still no “return of Christ.”

I said in an earlier post (“A New Reformation”, 24 July 2017) that some exported forms of American Christianity pose a far bigger threat to the cause of the Gospel in the world than Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist persecution. This is because it undermines the moral and intellectual integrity of the Church. The misuse of the Bible by those claiming to be “Bible-believing Christians” is, I believe, more dangerous than ridicule of the Bible by atheists; for it turns away thoughtful non-Christians.

All that is necessary to debunk Christian Zionism is to show that (a) “the land” is not mentioned even once in the New Testament; (b) all Old Testament texts, promises and concepts (such as “Israel”) are to be read by Christians through the lens of the New Testament; and, therefore, (c) Christians have no theological stake in Jerusalem but instead look towards the New Jerusalem that is to come (cf. Heb. 11:13-16; Rev.21, 22).

What many Christian Zionists also fail to realise is that there are many more Jews living outside Israel than in the state of Israel; that many among them have decisively rejected Zionism as a political ideology; and that there is a courageous human rights movement within Israel itself, that is deeply critical of Netanyahu’s policies and of human rights abuses by Jewish settlers and the Israeli army.

A sane Palestinian Christian voice that needs to be heard by the Church worldwide is that of Munther Isaac, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem- ironically, the very town/village where the Christmas story begins. Several of his talks are available on Youtube, and I commend especially his talk “Christian Zionism as Imperial Theology”, given at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in 2016.

As for the decisive rejection by the UN General Assembly of Trump’s and his acolyte Nikki Haley’s bullying tactics, best commentary I have read on this is by Hamid Dubashi, a well-known Middle Eastern scholar at New York’s Columbia University.

I wish all my American friends would read this. But I know that some will refuse, because it unsettles. That is the tragedy of Christmas.


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