May 23, 2002
A few days ago I wrote that many in the Christian
Right favor the state of Israel because of their interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Since then, I
have been deluged with e-mail messages from Protestant supporters of
Israel. Most of them deny that their position has anything to do with the
prophecy of the battle of Armageddon as described in that book.
It seems Ive
been approaching the Bible from the wrong end. Most of these
correspondents simply appeal to Gods promise to Abram (later
Abraham) in Genesis 12:3: I will bless them that bless you and
curse them that curse you. Nearly all of them omit the rest of the
verse: In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.
Most Christians believe that this refers to the redemption of the human
race by Abrahams remote descendant, Jesus Christ. But let us pass
over this complication.
Still, its a long
jump from believing that Abrahams race is divinely favored to
believing that the present state of Israel is a continuation of the ancient
covenant. Its another long jump to believe that this could impose a
responsibility on the U.S. Government to back the current Likud regime of
Such long jumps come
easily to Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, who has said:
God appeared to Abram and said, I am giving you this
land the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It
is a contest over whether the word of God is true.
Why the United States
should be obliged to enforce Gods promises as Inhofe
understands them we are left to wonder. If only such
conservatives would interpret the U.S. Constitution as literally as they do
the Bible! How does intervening in a remote ethnic war for religious
reasons, thereby exposing the American people to needless danger, fall
under the heading of the common defense of the United
Does Inhofe think his religious duty to Israel supersedes his duty
to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people from harm? If
so, he should resign his office and help Israel in his capacity as a private
citizen. He could, if he chose, move to Israel and enlist in its armed
forces. But he has no right to involve the rest of us in his mission or to
make us bear its costs and risks.
That goes for others
too. They are entitled to hold their private interpretations of the Bible.
But they are not entitled to use political power, including the individual
vote, to give those interpretations the force of law, much less to plunge
us into war in order to vindicate them.
It has often been
observed that those who are eager for war usually expect others to do the
actual fighting. I have yet to hear from any pro-Israel hawk who says he
intends to take up arms himself.
I should add that
Ive also heard from equal numbers on the other side. Ive
received a counterdeluge of messages from conservative and
fundamentalist Protestants who vigorously disagree with their Christian
Right brethren on this matter. Some simply think Gods promises
are being misapplied when converted to approval of a modern secular
state. Others argue that the state of Israel hasnt kept up the
Israelites end of the original covenant. Others, citing St. Paul, hold
that Christians are now Abrahams spiritual heirs.
fascinating controversy, partly because it raises anew the old question of
the exact relation of the Old Testament to the New. I will merely note that
some of my pro-Israel correspondents come pretty close to denying that
the Palestinians in Israel have any rights at all. Apparently they feel that
Israel would be justified in Gods sight in slaughtering them all, on
supposed Old Testament principles.
One reader even
suggested that by quoting Christs words, Blessed are the
peacemakers, I was endorsing appeasement!
Obviously there are at least some situations in which appeasement is the
right course those in which, say, turning the other cheek will calm
your adversary down and appeal to his conscience. After all, reasonable
people can often be appeased. And sometimes they deserve to be appeased.
Well, it just goes to
show: The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.