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The Hazards of Speaking Up for Palestine

Security Barrier between Israel and West Bank/...

Security Barrier between Israel and West Bank/Palestine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve told my story before, how I grew up unreservedly Christian in the United States and accepted the importance of Israel in our (Christian) lineage and prophecy.

When I met a Nazi prison camp survivor during my college years, I was overcome with emotion. He was sitting across from me at a “dish-to-pass” we held each week at the Messianic congregation I attended in Philadelphia.

These were the years when the JDL (Jewish Defense League) was threatening to attack Messianic congregations in Philadelphia. Each Sunday, as we worshiped in our little storefront building on Chestnut Street, danger was palpable.  Heads would cautiously turn towards the front door each time it opened during the sermon, wondering what to expect.

I counted it a privilege and honor to be a part of my Jewish friends’ suffering for their rights to worship as they wished.

For years, I never questioned my high view of Israel. Meeting a Jewish person was, for me, like meeting a celebrity, because they were “God’s Chosen”.

The first time I realized others in the world didn’t support Israel in the same way that Americans did was in Indonesia. A good friend asked us why America always sided politically with Israel against the Arab world.

I hadn’t realized there were sides.

This was the first step in my education which continued as we traveled across the world and then returned home to host international students who held very different opinions from traditional American views.

This was especially clear as we discussed international issues with our Arab students, especially the one from Palestine.

We selected Ahmed because he listed his home as the “West Bank“, and we wanted to learn about him.

His stories were wildly different from the beatific scenes we associated with Israel. Were they possibly true? We began to read up on this area and ask questions. One book was unforgettable, “Blood Brothers”, by Brother Elias Chacour.   http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Brothers-Dramatic-Palestinian-Christian/dp/0800793218

Blogs were written about life in Israel contrasting it with the very poor conditions behind a wall separating it from the West Bank/Palestine.

I wanted to see for myself, so Jon and I took several trips to visit our Palestinian students, and then met Palestinian Christians who told the same stories about Israeli abuses.

When one is meeting a diverse (Christian, Muslim, educated, working class) group of people and all writers from that area are telling similar stories you cannot afford to dismiss their story lines as fantasy.

So, I resolved to return home as an advocate for the Palestinians to tell their stories. I am not

Bantustans, Palestine 2006

Bantustans, Palestine 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

anti-Israeli, but I will not cover up what they do.

It hasn’t been popular to speak up for Palestinians, but I’ve had it easy.

Others, like Steven Sizer, who has a prominent place in the UK, has his way of life threatened.

Read on:

Stephen Sizer: Craig Murray Responds to anti-Semitism Allegations.

Christians, Romney and Deception

Cover of "The Kingdom of the Cults"

Cover of The Kingdom of the Cults

Thanks for staying with me through our move and resettling despite my not writing. We’re in Virginia now, and adore the area where we’re living. It’s called “Horse country” and we’re surrounded by horse and cattle farms and beautiful scenery.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the peculiar “congruence” that has occurred in our country as Christians have become enthusiastic advocates for a Mormon as President, while just a few years ago, Mormonism was clearly considered as a cult by Evangelical Christians.

I remember the days when electing a Catholic as President struck fear (illogically) in the hearts of Evangelical people; Fear that the Pope would exert too much influence on our country.  Before the 2008 election and even now, there certainly has been tremendous fear of Islamic Jihad entering the Oval Office.

Recently, The Billy Graham Association, representing a spiritual leader whom I have always admired for his sensible moderate views, took down from its website, a reference to Mormonism as a cult. What changed? Perhaps someone, possibly Billy’s son, Franklin, did what was necessary to make Mitt Romney more acceptable for voting Christians.

What’s behind this extreme shift in view among Evangelicals who have a history of conservatism?  Now, they stand with the candidate who takes genuinely conservative positions…even if he is a member of a cult. Confusing.

I’ve heard two key phrases repeated often: “We are not electing a Pastor, but a President”and “We are electing the lesser of two evils”. Always, I hear this about voting against Obama and for Romney.

But, why Romney?

Christians used to believe that people in cults were deceived, and if Mormonism is a cult, what has changed? This really troubles me. If Christians are about to choose someone to the highest office in our land who has been deceived in believing in a “cultish” religion (see the link below)… then how easily could he be deceived in other matters? We can assume that he will gather other Mormons around him as spiritual advisers as Presidents of other faiths have done. Consider this.

How did we arrive at this place, where a majority of Christians are clamoring for a Mormon to lead them out of troubled waters? Out of all the possible GOP candidates, how could Mitt Romney rise to the top?

I would suggest two things: Extreme fear and loathing of our current President Obama may have clouded discernment, and the peculiar rise of Romney’s fellow Mormon Glen Beck*, popular pundit formerly from FOX News, and spokesperson for Christian Conservatives has softened Christian attitudes toward Mormonism.

Our nation has had all sorts of Presidents with varying beliefs, including cults such as “Masons”. I don’t fear for our Nation if we choose a Mormon as a President.   But, the important difference is that Christians have chosen so clearly to stand with him and against President Obama, and I believe, for some, it is because of issues that have become idols to them:

Abortion, Gay marriage, Patriotism/ethnocentrism and Economic well-being seem to have taken over as priorities for us, rather than God and His Kingdom.  For Christians, this is the slippery slope, and falling for a candidate simply because he upholds these values is dangerous. It is a good time to consider instead, what are true “Kingdom” values.

We can and must develop a heart of love for Romney and Obama, but pray for God’s wisdom before voting for either one.

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other
than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”
Galatians 1:8

Here is the website for Walter Martin’s book, “Kingdom of the Cults“. This is the book many of us studied in Bible Doctrine classes to learn the definition of a “cult”.  I’d urge you to read the section on Mormonism.


A Baptist Confrontation

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many, many different Baptist groups and lately, they don’t seem to have much in common except that they can all be listed under the category, “Protestant”, and most put grown-ups under water to “baptize” them. Babies don’t get baptized, but they do get “dedicated”.
Just as everyone reading this blog has a different opinion about most subjects, so do people who are members of the many Baptist Churches around the world.
Here is a post by Bill Leonard a professor at Wake Forest University who weighs in on a particularly odious opinion held by one Baptist pastor in the south.
It would be terribly wrong to say that all Baptists agree with either of these opinions.
Thursday, May 24, 201

A Baptist shame

After years of living through Baptist controversies I determined to address issues — not individuals — in public debates. I’ve kept that covenant for two decades. But not tonight.

By Bill Leonard

Tonight I am ashamed to be a Baptist. Born into Baptist “cradle role” in the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Texas, and baptized on profession of faith in that congregation when I was 8 years old, I’ve been a born-again Baptist for over five decades.

I grew up in churches associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but as a child often went with my grandmother to the Fundamental Baptist Church in Decatur with its neon anchor out front flashing “Jesus Saves” 24/7.

My grandmother was a grace-filled member of that Independent Baptist congregation that drew a straight line from themselves to Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan and to 20th century fundamentalism — inerrant Bible, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection and literal second coming.

Independent Baptists got saved hard, preached hard and fought sin hard with leaders like Fort Worth’s J. Frank Norris, Chattanooga’s Lee Robertson, Springfield’s Noel Smith, and Lynchburg’s Jerry Falwell.

I’ve written about them across the years, and often thought I might publish a history of the Independent Baptist movement. Not anymore.

Tonight I watched excerpts from a sermon preached by Charles Worley, pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church, an Independent Baptist congregation in Maiden, N.C., the state where my family and I live.

North Carolina remains a church/state battleground over Amendment One, an addition to the state constitution that declares that marriage is between one man and one woman. On May 8, 2012, the amendment passed by over 60 percent majority.

Yet for reasons that mystify, this Independent Baptist preacher’s remarks go far beyond the amendment, President Obama’s recent announcement on such issues, voting one’s conscience or even differences of opinion that divide Christian brothers and sisters.

Pastor Worley said things that are repugnant in any Christian pulpit, that shame the name Baptist and undercut the gospel itself. Although I’ve sometime been embarrassed to be a Baptist, until now I’ve never really been ashamed.

I remain haunted by the courage of those early Baptists who, for reasons I cannot fully comprehend, looked beyond their historical context to the vision of a believers’ church, uncoerced faith, freedom of conscience and transformation through Christ.

But tonight I am ashamed, because I heard a Baptist pastor say things so abhorrent to the gospel of Jesus that I could not keep conscience with my Baptist forebears and remain silent. In what appears to be a May 13 sermon, Charles Worley declared: “Build a great, big, large fence — 150 or 100 mile long — put all the lesbians in there,” Then he continues: “Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. Feed them, and you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce!”

I’ve listened to those statements multiple times, each time hoping that I’m not hearing what I think I’m hearing. But I am.

That a person who serves a congregation calling itself Baptist would utilize such brutal words is not simply an affront to the men and women he wishes death upon, but to all who “name the name of Christ.” So dastardly are those words and the sentiment behind them that those of us who value the Baptist tradition must demand repentance of this fallen Christian brother.

Indeed, repentance is the only way back. And anyone who stands with him in those words must also repent. Whatever one believes about culture-war controversies, to use the language of violence and death as this pastor did is a repudiation of the good news of Jesus. It is a false witness to the Jesus Way in the world.

In 1980, a Baptist evangelist declared on national television that, “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew,” a remark that in many ways advanced this type of homiletical diatribe into the American public square.

E. Glenn Hinson, then my colleague at the Baptist seminary in Louisville and one of the most Christ-like human beings I have ever known, said of that statement, “Such is the stuff of which holocausts are made.”

Hinson’s statement sparked great controversy inside and outside the seminary. His words were true then, and perhaps even truer now. Such concentration-camp language is shameful, whether used in 1930s Europe or 2012 North Carolina.

After years of living through Baptist controversies I determined to address issues — not individuals — in public debates. I’ve kept that covenant for at least two decades. But not tonight.

Tonight I’m disgusted with and praying for Pastor Worley, clinging to Paul’s words to Corinth offered in contrast to “another gospel” he found rampant there: “We recommend ourselves by the innocence of our behavior, our grasp of truth, our patience and kindliness; by gifts of the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by declaring the truth, by the power of God” (2 Cor. 6:6-7).

Tonight I am ashamed to be a Baptist. Maybe the grace of Jesus and my Independent Baptist grandmother will find me by morning. Maybe that grace will somehow find a repentant Baptist preacher in Maiden, N.C. One can only hope.

EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: As part of our mission to provide credible and compelling information about matters of faith, Associated Baptist Press actively seeks a diversity of viewpoints in its columns, commentaries and other opinion-based content. Opinions expressed in these articles are not intended to represent ABP editorial policy and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABP’s staff, board of directors or supporters.

Bill Leonard

Bill Leonard is James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies at the School of Divinity, Wake Forest University.


Practicing Peace

The word, “Peace”, seems to irritate some Christians. They want to qualify it in “spiritual” terms, not “Hippie” peace and love…Secular terms…How many times have I seen the bumper sticker, “Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace”
Peace! I get that, I really do. I’m thankful for a peaceful heart and relationship with my creator and it has grown as I’ve matured in my faith.
But, many church people I know squash talk of peace with a knowing shake of their heads and a quote from a well-known passage in the Old Testament, though out of context:
“Peace, Peace, and there is no Peace”,  in context, it referred to false prophets who soothed Israel in ancient times, telling the Jews that everything would be okay, when it wasn’t.  In other words, Liars.
I understand where they’re coming from when Evangelicals do this. We believe and experience that Christ brings peace to our hearts through His forgiveness and love.
So it’s frustrating and painful to watch people struggle towards peace outside of that transforming faith and love, when we know darn well that nothing short of a “miracle” will bring it. So, Christians/Evangelicals just don’t think it’s “worth the trouble”. Why bother?
Here’s where I disagree.
Jesus said in His sermon on the mountain, “Happy are those who work for peace for God will call them his children”.  I think He was serious about wanting people’s hearts to have a peaceful transformation leading to peace.  If we’re not out there mixing with people who aren’t peaceful, how on earth can this transformation take place?  I guess you could say, I expect God to show up in the midst of the process, in unexpected ways!
My experience in Evangelical Churches in the USA where I live and worship is that people often respond negatively to good news coming out of the Arab World. I’m told frankly that it is because of the church’s “Biblical” foundations which they feel excludes the Arab world from…? The Peace Process?
However, there are a growing number of followers of Christ around the world who, despite criticism from devout believers, are working to break down barriers to peace in the Holy Land, hoping to exclude neither Jew, Palestinian, nor Christian from the process.  I like to count myself among that number.

The “Christ at the Check Point” Conference,  http://christatthecheckpoint.com/ , in Bethlehem is one place where all of us come together to learn from Palestinian believers how it is done.

Read this article by Munther Isaac, Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College to learn more.

How Evangelicals Are Learning to Be Pro-Palestine, Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Justice and Always Pro-Jesus
by Munther Isaac

Many evangelicals, who were discouraged by the failed prophecies and the “mood of doom” that dominated the evangelical church in the second half of the 20th century, are rediscovering that the gospel also speaks powerfully to issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Books about the end times, such as those written by Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsey, no longer dominate the bookshops, and people are being challenged by writings that focuses on the here and now, instead of the there and then!

In particular, the evangelical church typically has looked at the Middle East through the eyes of prophecy, leaning towards an unconditional support for Israel. Evangelicals in the West cheered the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent wars, believing them to be signs of the second coming of Christ—all the while neglecting the impact these events had on real people in the Middle East, specifically on Palestinians, and especially on the Palestinian Church.

The irony for Palestinian Christians is that evangelicals, with their over-emphasis on prophecy, have lost the capacity of being prophetic!

In many cases, when Palestinian Christians (or those who are sympathetic to them) share their take on things, they are demonized, ridiculed, and even accused of being anti-Semitic. The mere presence and voice of Palestinian Christians presents a dilemma for many Christian Zionists, who prefer a simple black-and-white perspective. But over the years, Palestinian Christians have challenged the Western church to consider what it means to be the church. They have reminded them of the importance of justice and peacemaking. If our theology produces apathy to injustice, it must be re-examined. In the words of Carl Medearis, “If your end-times theology trumps the clear commands in Scripture to love neighbors and enemies, then it is time to rethink your theology.”

Many who come to visit the “Holy Land” are troubled by the situation of Palestinians, and are beginning to ask questions about the occupation and the injustices that Palestinians are facing on a daily basis.
Facts do not lie. There is still the problem of about 5 million refugees, of whom about 1.8 million still live in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and the surrounding Arab countries. The 700 kilometer-long (435 mile) separation wall continues to affect the lives of Palestinians, leaving thousands living in isolated ghettos. The building of this wall has been judged illegal by the International Court of Justice.

The building of settlements continues to complicate matters for Palestinians and remains one of the biggest obstacles to peace. Though Palestinians and Israelis share the same water resources, per capita use in Israel is three and a half times higher than in the West Bank, due to water restrictions placed on Palestine by Israel. The Israeli military occupation is the longest occupation in modern history. Any visitor to the Palestinian areas cannot escape these realities. Checkpoints, the wall, refugee camps, land confiscations, and lack of water define the reality of Palestinians.

More and more evangelicals are paying attention to the Palestinian Church and its testimony and ministry in the midst of the conflict; the writings of Elias Chacour, Naim Ateek, Mitri Raheb, and Alex Awad are good examples, along with the nonviolent peace activities and advocacy by Palestinian Christian organizations. There are also the writings of many Western evangelicals who are sympathetic to Palestinians, and new documentaries that offer a different perspective, such as With God on Our Side and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.

Then there is the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference, in and of itself a big example of this change. Among the confirmed speakers for 2012 are ESA’s Ron Sider and Paul Alexander, John Ortberg, Lynne Hybels, Shane Clainborne, Tony Campolo, Samuel Rodriguez, Sang Bok David Kim, and many more.
In addition to the international speakers, local Palestinian and Messianic Jewish leaders will share their own experiences and offer diverse perspectives. Participants will meet Palestinian Christians, and be able to listen and see first-hand the realities on the ground, as seen through the eyes of the people.

Lynne Hybels, co-founder of the Willow Creek Church with her husband Bill, has described her discovery of the church in Palestine. She concluded after many journeys, “I am still pro-Israel, but I’ve also become pro-Palestine, pro-peace, and pro-justice and pro-equality for Jews and Arabs living as neighbors in the Holy Land. And the bottom line is always: pro-Jesus!”

If more Christians go to Bethlehem in 2012 and leave with the same attitude, we can start looking at this part of the world with hope, in a time when it is desperately needed.

Munther Isaac is the Vice Academic Dean at Bethlehem Bible College and a PhD candidate at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies. He is also the director of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. Learn more about the event.

Tony Perkins: Obama Is Hostile, Disdainful of Christianity | Politics | Christianity Today

In January 2009, President of the United State...

Image via Wikipedia

Read this and decide for yourselves. I would suggest you also read the comments.

I think you know where I stand.

For readers outside the USA, you can enjoy our freedom of press and religion…and be entertained by it also.

Tony Perkins: Obama Is Hostile, Disdainful of Christianity | Politics | Christianity Today.

Prayer: Letting God Be God in You

“To let God be God means to undergo the presence of God as a tree undergoes the presence of summer”; My own experience with God resonates with this metaphor and as I read it this morning in an article by Fr. Paul Scanlon, a Dominican, I was grateful that he quoted these words by Fr. Rolheiser.

Talking to God and reading Scripture are integral parts of our believing life, like breathing and eating: How else shall we grow up to know what we believe or who we believe in? Surprising that quite a few people seem to miss this and remain uninformed about Scripture and spiritual things, or jump to conclusions without any basis.

But, that passionate hunger for God and His word, that “starvation” feeling when nothing else will satisfy, requires quietness and peace. Our over-scheduled lives with free time filled in with noise and entertainment leave little time for feeling longing for God or emptiness.

Some may read Scripture and pray a prayer of duty, which seems far removed from the metaphor of God’s presence surrounding that tree in Summer.

To read Fr. Scanlon’s article see below


“Kick a Jew Day” Racism in CNY: Our Son’s Nightmare

Posted by Permission: When we moved to Central NY from South East Asia in the early 90’s, we were naive about racism in the US, believing that it was a ‘southern thing’, and long in the past to boot.

Our handsome, brown, adopted son soon found out differently. He was called “nigger”, and reviled as “black” by school kids, some of whom were from Christian families (his alleged friends) and worst and most hurtful this was tolerated by at least one teacher.

Imagine sending our excellent little athlete and young man to school and Sunday School to hear taunts of “you’ll never get a girlfriend, because you’re “black”, “don’t play with that “black kid”, “when are you going home (to your real country)”?

To our lasting regret, our vibrant son withdrew in silence to his room, and I was so overwhelmed by depression during those years, that his father and I were just vaguely aware of his suffering. In retrospect, in raising a teenage boy, we would have often visited our son in that room and caused a ruckus that might have changed a few paradigms among the very ignorant and downright racist Christians.

Eventually, ‘it’ become so flagrant in the public high school, that someone spit and drew Nazi signs on the locker our son shared with a half Jewish boy, and in the boys’ bathroom our son found a carving saying, “Nigger get out”.  Since our son was the only boy of color in his high school at that time, he knew who the “nigger” was.

We did take action at that point, and at first the all white faculty and staff were in frank denial and unbelief! “Not here”!  Well, that’s what we thought..but we were the “privileged” white family who were able to bear witness to this tragedy.

What about the suffering of hundreds and thousands of Black families whose children bear these comments everyday from “nice,” white, children and teens? No one ever finds out about it, certainly not the white families who somehow are perpetuating racism.

Are they teaching it to their children? Yes, some are. Like the teacher who wouldn’t let his child date our son because of his color. Well, that’s his preference, and I’m sad that I just now found out about that. Probably others are using racist terms in their homes.

But, I suspect there are many more who are just not talking about racism because they, like us, truly believe it is a thing of the past. At least that’s what people say to me. These people are just not talking to Black people or certainly not listening.

I bring up the issue of racism with Black people wherever I go all over this country and when I tell them that many, if not most White people don’t believe it is a problem any more, there is always the same sad, nod and words to the effect of, “Oh, it exists, It happens to me everyday!”

Our son tells me now that people don’t gang up on him any more because he’s Black.  Just the other day a group of men gathered around him and prevented him from going into a club in Ithaca, NY calling him a “Mexican”!

For More read below: