By David Gushee
Last week Glen Stassen and I released an “Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists.” We claimed that out of a well-intentioned love of Israel, Christian Zionists are misreading Scripture and actually endangering Israel.
Christian Zionists yearn for Israel to gain total control of every square inch of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and they support current Israeli policies that have this effect. This theology marginalizes the Palestinian people into total insignificance and blesses their endless occupation and subjugation.
The misreading of God’s promises to Abraham is part of the problem, but another is a major strand of Scripture that says that God’s covenant with Israel requires Israel to do justice, and that persistent injustice risks evoking God’s judgment.
Christian Zionists pay no attention to such prophetic warnings. Instead they bless the seizure and occupation of Palestinian land as if God no longer has concern for core principles of justice, at least not in the Holy Land.
All this means that Christian Zionism is a theological system that in the name of the Holy One blesses unholy violations of God’s clearly revealed moral will.
News of our letter coincided with that of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s stern statement of support for Israel in the name of both American and Christian values and identity. This was, of course, paired with bashings of President Barack Obama’s purportedly anti-Israel policies — a sure way to score political points on the right, and an even surer way to force Obama into the weak position he took on Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.
One predictable response to Gov. Perry’s comments came from the “strict separationists” so numerous in our Baptist circles. They argue that for Gov. Perry to take a pro-Israel stance in the name of Christianity is an inappropriate incursion of religion into American foreign policy.
United States policy, they say, should be crafted solely on constitutional principles and national interests, not some kind of religious vision, wherever it comes from. As citizens of a secular, democratic, constitutional republic — and not a theocracy — Christians are free to bring their faith to bear in their personal conduct but not into the statehouse or the White House.
These arguments are as old as our Republic, and there are very good reasons to adopt them. But this is not the approach Stassen and I offered in our article. Certainly one of our goals is to change United States foreign policy in relation to Israel and Palestine, but in seeking the deepest sources of our unfortunate policy it becomes quite clear that the religious beliefs of millions of American Christians play a key role.
Changing U.S. foreign policy requires addressing these religious beliefs. And the only way to address these religious beliefs is to take them seriously within their own framework. They must be addressed theologically — as if theology really matters.
So this makes for a very odd and perhaps instructive example of how Christian public ethics works in the United States. American Christians need to argue with other American Christians about the proper meaning of 3,000-year-old Bible passages in order for votes in the U.S. Congress and the United Nations Security Council to change.
This reality appalls secularists, but the fact remains that religiously driven policy positions cannot be defeated by secular arguments, but religious ones. Bad religion is overcome by better religion, not by no religion.
This isn’t the first time that better religion has been called on to drive out worse religion. Christian abolitionists attacked Christian arguments in defense of slavery in the 1850s. Christian Social Gospelers attacked laissez-faire Christian arguments for an unregulated market in the early 20th century. The Confessing Church attacked Nazified Christianity in Germany in the 1930s. Christian Civil Rights marchers attacked segregationist Christianity in the 1960s. Christian anti-nuclear activists challenged Christians who believed nukes might be how God brings in the return of Christ.
In each case, bad religion was resisted not by secularism but by better religion. And sometimes better religion prevailed.