Inasmuch as others have attempted to clear up the muddy waters of religious dogma and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, let me further muddy the waters with some insights from my own experience.
As the child of an evangelical pastor, it was clear that my father and mother shared a special affection for Israel. They led “Holy Land Tours” for their friends and congregants called “For Love of His Land.”
Like many Christians, their love of Israel grew out of their religious beliefs.
Many people outside conservative Christian circles are unaware that some interpretations of Old Testament prophecy include a belief that Jews, though scattered across the globe, will one day return to the land of Israel.
Many conservative Christians believe this prophecy must be fulfilled before Jesus’ Second Coming. For them, 20th-century events — including the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948 — directly fulfill that prophecy and pave the way for Jesus’ return.
This same religious impulse is at the heart of statements from pastors like John Hagee or politicians like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry who speak of a clear biblical directive that requires unwavering support for Israel.
Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also driven by prophetic passions, although of a decidedly different sort.
In a 2006 United Nations speech he referred to “the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace, and brotherhood on the planet.” Ahmadinejad is a member of a Shiite Muslim sect that believes Muhammad al-Mahdi, born in 869 A.D., is expected to return soon as the Mahdi, or Messiah, to save mankind.
Ahmadinejad also believes that Israel’s destruction must precede the Mahdi’s return.
So a subset of Christians believe the establishment of Israel leads to the Messiah’s return, and a subset of Muslims believe the destruction of Israel accomplishes the same thing.
Jewish, Christian and Muslim messianic predictions all rely on interpretations of complex and ancient biblical prophecies. Speaking for the Christian community, not all Christians or even evangelicals interpret the Bible in a way that requires an unquestioning, one-sided support for the State of Israel.
There is a group called Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding whose self-described mission is to “pray for and promote God’s justice, peace, reconciliation, and religious freedom by building friendships with the people and churches of the Middle East and the West.”
They point out that when the Bible refers to the Jews in God’s ultimate plans, it does so within a broader set of beliefs.
For instance, the Old Testament covenant with Abraham teaches that through the descendants of Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” When Jesus was born it was prophesied that he would be a light for revelation to the Gentiles (non-Jews) and for the glory of Israel. The message was clear; the Jewish boy Jesus came to bless all people, beginning with the Jews but not limited to them.
This brings me back to my own journey. As a child I was taught that all humans are created in God’s image and therefore have inestimable value and worth. We sang the simple song, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” and I figured that included Palestinian and Jewish children too.
My parents, who clearly loved Israel, never taught me otherwise. As a matter of fact, through them I became acquainted with their American-born Jewish tour guide Stephen Langfur, who wrote a book, “Confession from a Jericho Jail: What Happened When I Refused to Fight the Palestinians.”
In it he expressed his serious concerns about the plight and rights of the Palestinians, saying, among other things, “In killing Palestinian children, we condemn our grandchildren.”
I came to see that within both my Christian tradition and Langfur’s Jewish tradition that there is a paradoxical appreciation for Israel and the Jews, but not in ways that deny the rights of all humans.
My devout father, now 88, has reached a new place in his understanding of biblical interpretations of the end times.
He says when we all get to heaven, we will all be lined up and God will say, “You were all wrong.”