• OPINION \ Dec 09, 2017
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    Evangelical Obsession with Israel - Is it good for the Jews and the Arabs? by Yohanna Katanacho
Evangelical Obsession with Israel - Is it good for the Jews and the Arabs? by Yohanna Katanacho Evangelicals in the USA and in the Middle East are members of the same body, followers of the same Christ, readers of the same Bible, but many of them have a different perspective on Israel or more specifically on end time theologies. One looks at end time theology as a spectator while the other is a field player. Unfortunately, Arab Evangelicals are located in the wrong team because of their ethnic identity. They are the political enemies of the state of Israel and consequently the enemies of God. This imposed polarization puts forward a theology that overlooks the centrality of Christ and his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Then it embodies a merciless theology into a political program that focuses on the Jewish people and on a third temple in Jerusalem. Trump’s recent statement on Jerusalem fuels this anti-Palestinian theology.

Consequently, many Evangelicals no longer carry the good news to the peoples of the Middle East. Instead, they only describe their doomed future, the destruction of their peoples, and a theology rooted in an angry God who seeks to destroy them because of their stance towards Israel. Palestinian Evangelicals, in particular, are confused. What do they need to do in order to please the Evangelical God? Should they abandon their homes, their history, their culture, and their call to serve their Muslim and Jewish neighbors? Should they betray their nation because being a Palestinian is by definition evil? Many American Evangelicals are not addressing the Palestinian question from a sympathetic point of view. There is no mercy for the political enemies of the Jewish people.

On the other hand, Christ calls us to bless all the peoples around us. God expects us to be good news rather than a nightmare to those who encounter us. Millions of Jews need to encounter Jesus but many American Evangelicals abandoned their evangelical task in the name of eschatology. Millions of Palestinian refugees need to encounter the Gospel but many Evangelical Americans are simply not interested in this task. Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank are hungry to meet the loving God but they mainly hear about the God of Israel who is interested in the territories of their ancestors, not in their blessing.

As an Evangelical Palestinian, I discovered that a theology rooted in a relational blessing provides a better alternative to the aforementioned merciless theology. God became one of us and lived with us. He ate our food and danced with us in order to bless us. God’s response to all the evils of Genesis 1 – 11 was the blessing that comes through Abraham and embodied in Christ. Blessing is holistic and relational. Blessing is communicating life not death, justice not oppression, and love not hate. Christ is God’s blessing to both Palestinians and Jews. His birth, life, death, resurrection, and teachings are the means of God’s blessing. His person and worldview are the best means for conquering evil. The God of Jesus wants to bless both Jews and Palestinians who are living in the same geography. Followers of Christ must adopt this approach and must be willing to address hate speeches with blessing, violent acts with benevolence, and false beliefs with a loving truth.

Now, let us go back to the relationship between American and Middle Eastern Evangelicals. I have few remarks. First, we love Israel in a relational way not an ideological way. We want to bless the Jewish people by living faithfully as followers of Christ in their midst and as their neighbors. We are not excited about proposals for an eschatological doom in which two-thirds of our beloved neighbors are killed! At the same time, we want to love them in a way that does not endorse stealing land, violating UN resolutions, or oppressing our Palestinian people. Loving the Jewish people does not mean hating Palestinians. On the contrary, loving the Jewish people entails provoking them to love their Palestinian neighbors and treat them as themselves. This is the way of Christ.

Second, we want to bless the Jewish people in a way that empowers them to become messengers of justice and transform them into good Samaritans. Like Jesus, we seek to challenge ethnocentric mindsets rooted in hatred, stereotyping others, and bigotry.

Third, we want to bless the Jewish people by making them friends with Christ. Jews today refer to Jesus using the Hebrew word Yeshu, which is an acronym that means: May God obliterate his name and memory! We believe that giving the Jewish people a third temple or Jerusalem without offering them Christ is the harshest and most abhorred gift. A right relationship between Christians and Jews cannot happen without Christ at its center. We abandon our Christianity when we leave Christ outside our interaction with our Jewish neighbors. This does not mean proselytizing Jews or another crusade but it does mean honoring Christ and his vision in our relationship with the Jewish people. Christ died on the cross for the whole world including Palestinians and Jews. Christ seeks to build a community of his followers from all ethnic backgrounds. All are equal.

Fourth, I disagree with many of my Evangelical brothers and sisters especially on their view on Jerusalem. But they are my family. I will continue to pray for them and to seek ways to engage them. We disagree but we can still bless each other by humbly seeking to honor Christ. A relational blessing seeks to empower the other for God’s glory even if it means suffering. In fact, suffering in the right way is intimately related to a life rooted in blessing. We in the Middle East are called to enlarge our blessings because our sufferings are increasing. Sadly, our Evangelical brothers and sisters contribute to our suffering but we have no choice but to bless. Last, some want to look at Jerusalem as an eschatological city in which blood will be spilled and judgment will be displayed. I see Jerusalem as the city of Christ, the city of crucifixion, the city of resurrection, the city of Pentecost, the city of reconciliation, and the city of blessing. Jerusalem’s relationship to Christ changed its identity forever. May the blessing of Jerusalem heal all of us from merciless or graceless theologies! This can only be done when the centrality of Jesus of Nazareth is restored!

Last, I naively think that the best answer lies in focusing on Christ not on different eschatologies or even on mutual respect of different positions. What kind of Christ are we advocating? It seems to me that we have a christological crisis, not only an eschatological one. Let us reflect on the kind of Christ that best represents scriptures, ethics, and our theology. I would say, I want to advocate Christ as the Savior of both Palestinians and Jews, Lover of both peoples, Lord of both nations, Prince of Peace for both nations, Judge over every unrighteousness, Defender of every oppressed, Reconciler and Mediator, and Owner of Jerusalem as well as the whole world

Christ’s main interest is soteriology, not end-time prophecies. The latter is meaningless without the former. Soteriology should lead us to repentance and to disrespecting self-centered positions in order to discover the power of God. It challenges us to courageously bless when others are cursing, to point people to Christ when others are busy with futile debates. It is missional and is immersed in pursuing God’s justice from the logic of love. True wisdom, in my opinion, seeks to humbly contextualize this reality in our communities. Only God’s grace can help us to accomplish this humanly impossible task. Such prophetic theologies push us outside our comfort zone but it brings forth lasting fruit for God’s glory. Christology must be the center of prophecy.

Rev. Yohanna Katanacho, Ph.D.