We will fight for peace, but we will do no violence.

Monday, December 26, 2011


In 2002 Tommy and his wife moved into the Garnet neighborhood – a low income, predominantly Latino community – in Fullerton.  Through gang members, pregnant teens, and broken families Tommy and Rachael began to experience the Kingdom in profound ways.  These seemingly insignificant relationships led Tommy to deeper places in his relationship with Jesus.  God’s calling in Tommy’s life became much clearer at this point; to envision a church that lives out what it says it believes.     
Some say that Thomas Nixon’s perspective on the Church is innovative.  Others view the way he lives  - and the risks he takes  - for God’s cause as inspiring.  At first glance one might think that it’s through in-depth study and hours of strategic planning that has brought him to this way of living, but Tommy is the first to admit that he  stumbled into this understanding of God’s intention for His Church.  It was God’s gift and blessing that he’s been able to experience the Kingdom in the way he has in the past nine years.
Tommy is the Executive Director of Solidarity Rising in Fullerton, Ca.
Topics: “I would love to touch on the church’s involvement in the global protests that have been happening. I recently read Time’s “Person of the Year” article and I keep asking myself, “where is the church in all this?”

Saturday, December 24, 2011


It was Christmas week and I was in San Antonio, Texas visiting my sister-in-law. Her church was taking bags of groceries to a local housing project and my wife and I had brought our two little sons along with us to take part in the outreach.

After a quick prayer lead by my little seven-year-old, each of us took a grocery sack and started towards a row of houses across the street.

We knocked on the door and it was opened by an elderly Hispanic woman who looked at us with more than a bit of apprehension. After we introduced ourselves we told her we were offering a free bag of groceries as part of a Christmas outreach from an area church. She invited us inside and thanked us for the food, telling us that she was very hungry.

Standing in her tiny living room, I asked her if we could pray with her for anything. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, "The other day I was so lonely and down. I asked God if He was real to send me an angel so I'd know that He had not forgotten me." She stopped to look at my wife and two little boys and then turned back to me with tears welling in her eyes. "But He sent me four angels," she said.

We were all in tears as we held hands and prayed for Gods blessing in her life, for healing to her body and for her Grandchildren, and then we said goodbye, going next door to pass out another bag of groceries.

Such a simple act of kindness made a wealth of difference to a total stranger.
I will never forget that day, or that woman we prayed with. I know my two little sons will never forget it either.

It's moments like these that Jesus smiles on His children and rains down grace on His people. It's what we were made for.

Even the most casual reading of the New Testament Gospels reveals a Christ who was full of compassion for the poor.

In Mathew, chapter six, Jesus instructs his disciples on the finer points of how to give to the poor with the assumption that they would, of course, be about this practice. "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Jesus (Matthew 6:3)
It's with the same assumptive reasoning that he follows this up by saying "And when you pray" in the very next verse. His assumption was that His followers would be giving to the needy, and praying.

1 John 3:17 says it even more strongly, "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"
How can the love of God be in him?

Every single day, something like forty thousand people die of starvation and malnutrition in this world of ours. That's about twenty-seven people per minute. Even more alarming is the knowledge that, out of these, twenty of these are under the age of five.

I read a commentary recently that compared this number to the dropping of the first atomic bomb every three days.


The question is not whether or not people are hungry in the world. The facts are clear. People are most certainly in need, and not just in those Third World countries either.

No, the question is not whether or not people are hungry, the question is whether or not God's people will rise up and do something about it.

I find it more than a little disturbing that every time Jesus tells a parable about someone who ends up in Hell, its because they were completely apathetic towards the poor around them.

For example, at the Judgement Seat described by Christ in Matthew 25, the goats are rejected because they were able to call Jesus "Lord" but had no compassion for those around them who were in need. In fact, seeing people hungry, naked, poor, and alone didn't seem to bother them at all.

Now, I'm not saying that if you don't serve the poor you're going to hell. But, Jesus does seem to use this as a sort of litmus test for those who truly belong to Him. Compassion for the poor is often used in scripture as evidence of salvation.

There's probably no better section of scripture to illustrate this point than in James, the second chapter, verses 14 to 19; "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, You have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder."
The demons believe in a way you and I can't. They've seen God with their own eyes. They've heard the actual, audible voice of Jesus. They don't just believe; they know. But this belief doesn't have the power to save them or change them. It's belief without any corresponding action.

Demons believe, but they don't comfort the sick in hospitals. They don't knock on doors and hand out free groceries to the poor, but those who name the name of Christ can't help but serve those in need with complete joy.

True faith always involves action. Faith is doing something about what you believe.
God's Word is clear as crystal on this issue; Those who call themselves followers of Christ must look with compassion on these who are in need.

Peace (on Earth),

Keith Giles

Friday, December 23, 2011


Photographs by Claire Felicie

How do the faces of soldiers change — before, during, and then after, war? Can we detect profound or subtle psychological shifts just by looking at their portraits?

This is precisely the challenge that Claire Felicie presents with her series of triptych portraits of marines of the 13th infantry company of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. The series, Here are the Young Men (Marked), shows close-cropped portraits of the Dutch marines before, during and after they were deployed to Uruzgan, Afghanistan in 2009-2010.

View the entire slideshow

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Especially in the current tough economic climate, a lot of usually-compassionate people feel like we just can’t sustain immigrants coming into the country right now. The presumption—which is actually inaccurate, according to economists—is that immigrants have a negative effect on the economy.

In fact, the discipline of economics is almost unanimously agreed that immigration is really good for the economy; while we’re in hard times economically now, we’d be in much harder times if it were not for immigrants. The Wall Street Journal surveyed 46 economists recently and found 44 of them said that illegal immigration, specifically, had been good for the U.S. economy. Why?

Basically, because immigrants fill in gaps in our labor market, at both the high and the low ends of the skills spectrum. America’s educational system does not produce enough scientists and engineers to meet the needs of a growing technology sector, so some of the brightest minds from across the world come to the U.S. (usually lawfully). But there are also major gaps in “low-skill” jobs, those which don’t require a college degree, or even a high school degree. Very few Americans are content to endure the long hours and strenuous work required of agricultural work, for example, which is why 50% to 60% of the food that touches our table was touched by immigrant hands along the way. Because immigrants are willing to do this hard work (at least for one generation—many do so knowing that their children will get the education that their country did not offer them and eventually have greater opportunities), we all enjoy inexpensive produce. The same logic applies to many other sectors of our economy, and we all benefit.

Beyond just their labor, though, undocumented immigrants are also contributing in many other ways. They are consumers, “stimulating” our economy as they go about their lives, and they are also disproportionately likely to be entrepreneurs, starting small businesses at nearly double the rate of native-born citizens.

Contrary to popular perception, most undocumented immigrants are also taxpayers. True, about one in four undocumented immigrants is paid in cash “under the table” (some U.S. citizens, I should note, do this, too), but the Social Security Administration estimates that three out of four undocumented immigrants has payroll taxes deducted from their paycheck and is paying income, Medicare, and Social Security taxes. Basically, that means that they are using a false Social Security card, typically with their name and an invented number. In fact, in 2007, the Social Security Administration took in $12 billion from names that did not match the right numbers.

They do not send this money back, though. While they might send a letter notifying the employer, which is usually where the discussion stops, because employers are wary to let go of good employee, the money gets sent out to folks like my grandparents who paid into the Social Security system a generation ago and are now entitled to its benefits. The convenient thing for our federal government is that those millions of undocumented immigrants who are paying in so much will never get a penny out of Social Security: their bogus number is not valid for receiving benefits. Undocumented immigrants provide a huge subsidy to our unsustainable Social Security system. The government could probably make a Social Security card that was not so easy to counterfeit—the current card, unlike practically any other governmental document, has no photo, no biometric information, not even a barcode; it looks to have been made with blue construction paper and a typewriter—but maybe they lack the incentive to do so.

Likewise, though the Internal Revenue Service has actually created a special “Individual Taxpayer Identification Number” that undocumented immigrants can use for filing tax returns (a false Social Security Number is not valid for that purpose, either) and, because they have been clear that they expect undocumented immigrants to pay taxes but will not communicate with the Department of Homeland Security so that they might be deported, many immigrants are filing taxes. But they are not eligible for most public benefits: without legal status, they are ineligible for welfare checks (Temporary Aid for Needy Families), food stamps, federal subsidized housing, Supplementary Security Income, and any other cash benefit.

Immigrants do carry some serious costs with them, particularly for public education (guaranteed by a Supreme Court decision for children through 12th grade) and for emergency room treatment that they are unable to pay. Those costs are primarily borne by local and state governments: in fact, the average immigrant costs state and local government more in services than he or she pays in taxes. At the federal level, though, the reverse is true: immigrants pay in much, much more than they take out, and the overall net result is positive: immigrants pay in $80,000 more over the course of a lifetime than they take out in services, considering federal, state, and local. No wonder the federal government, which is really the only level of government that can comprehensively fix this problem, seems so slow to enact reform, while state and local governments are eager to address the issue.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Calvin: "Dad, how does killing one another solve the world’s problems?"

Dad: [No answer]

Calvin: "I think grownups just act like they know what they’re talking about."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Billy Graham on Social Injustice

"As long as there is one man who should be free, as long as slums and ghettos exist, as long as any person goes to bed hungry at night, as long as the color of a man's skin is his prison, there must be a divine discontent. We Christians have no right to be content until the principles of Christ are applied to all men." - Billy Graham

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fighters Speak: Shane Crash

"Accordingly nonviolent resistance is not directed against people but against forces of evil. Those who happen to be doing evil are as victimized by the evil they do as those who are the object of their oppression. Therefore, I will not go to war. I will not support war against other nations. I will resist recruitment into the military. I will encourage others to do the same." - Shane Crash

Sunday, December 18, 2011

JIM WALLIS: The American Bible

At an Evangelical Seminary in 1970, a man named Jim Wallis met in his dorm room with eight other new students and made a startling discovery. Although they all had been raised in mainline Evangelical Christian churches, not one of them could remember a single sermon about taking care of the poor.

“One of my colleagues decided to try an experiment,” Wallis remembered. “He took an old Bible and a pair of scissors and began to cut, literally, every single reference to the poor. So, when my friend was done, this old Bible was in pieces. It was literally falling apart in my hand.” Soon after this, Wallis started publishing a magazine called Sojourners to specifically address the biblical mandate of Christians to serve the poor and help the oppressed.

“If the Bible is the word of God, if Jesus is Lord, what does that mean? We need to remember the biblical tradition that we give lip service to, but don’t often pay attention to. That first year of seminary where we made a study of everything the Bible said about poor people, wealth, poverty, injustice and oppression, we found several thousand verses on the subject. It is the second most common theme in the Old Testament. The first being Idolatry, and the two are often connected. In the New Testament, one of every sixteen verses is about this subject. In the first three synoptic Gospels, it’s one of every ten verses. In Luke’s Gospel, one of every seven verses is about the poor,” Wallis stated.

Wallis continued, “I still have that Bible, by the way. I take it out to preach with me and I hold it high above my head and I say, ‘Brothers and Sisters, this is our American Bible. It’s full of holes from all we’ve taken out, ignored, and paid no attention to. We each, might as well, get out a pair of scissors and begin to cut.’” Thirty years later, Wallis is still raising the question of poverty in the Church.

“Whatever else the Gospel may be, it may clean up your marriage, it may solve your drinking problem, it may do all kinds of other wonderful things, but if it isn’t good news to poor people, it’s not yet the Gospel.”

Jim Wallis was raised in an evangelical Brethren church in Detroit. In the early ’60s, at the age of 14, Wallis began to notice that the way he lived in “white” Detroit was drastically different from the way people lived in “black” Detroit. “I asked questions of my little church like, ‘How come there are people missing meals, going hungry, without jobs right here in Detroit?’” The answers Wallis got from asking those questions sent him spiraling away from the church and into a pursuit of social justice outside of the Church. “The answers I got were ‘When you get older you’ll understand’ or ‘We don’t know why it’s that way, it’s just always been that way’ or, as one honest elder informed me, ‘If you keep asking these questions, you’re going to get into a lot of trouble’, and that proved to be true.”

Wallis soon found himself repulsed by the attitudes of those in his church and felt drawn to the people around him in need. He spent time walking around downtown Detroit and exploring a world he never knew existed. A world of poverty and struggle was just beyond his world of comfort and plenty. “I took jobs in the city at old factory assembly lines or janitorial jobs and all my money was being saved for college and all the young guys I’m meeting, their money is going to help their family survive. I met a lot of young guys my age who were just like me except they were black in Detroit, and I was white,” he said.

After making connections with people around him who needed the help of the church, Wallis returned to his church hoping they would share his excitement for this new opportunity to be salt and light. Instead he found a great opposition that was worse than he ever expected. “I was told one day by another elder that ‘Christianity has nothing to do with racism, that’s political and faith is personal.’ At that point, these questions were tugging so hard at my heart as a teenage kid, I decided that if Christianity had nothing to do with these questions then I wanted nothing to do with Christianity. My church agreed with that sentiment; they wanted nothing more to do with me either.”

Wallis found a new home in the civil rights and anti-war movement of his generation. For years he did a lot of work organizing protests at Michigan State that numbered over 2000 people. “I was into some heavy movement organizing and politics, but that still didn’t answer all my questions about why these things were still happening, and what the foundations were for all these things,” shared Wallis.

“I was reading, in those days, Karl Marx and Ho Chi Minh and Che Guervara and all that kind of stuff, but I didn’t find the answers there either. Then, I went back to the New Testament. During all that time, I don’t think I ever got quite shed of Jesus, even though I’d left the church. Looking back now, I’d say that Jesus stayed with me through that whole time. I was pretty angry at the Church, I felt betrayed by the Church, and a lot of young people feel that way. Not only was the Church not doing anything about these issues (of poverty) it was on the wrong side of these issues,” he said.

“I had some deep questions. I would’ve liked some Christians to try to figure out how to help. We were kids. We were young students who made a lot of mistakes, (and we) weren’t getting any help from conservative churches, or moderates or liberals.”

Wallis finally decided to take one last look at Jesus for himself and went back to the New Testament. After years of being chased by police and tear-gassed at rallies, he read the Sermon On The Mount and discovered a Jesus he had never met before. “I’d never heard a sermon on this in my entire life growing up. In my church, this was for the Kingdom dispensation, it wasn’t for now. It was for when we all get to heaven. But, I mean, ‘Blessed are the peace makers,’ what’s the point of that if you’re already in heaven? (This was) the cathetical Scripture for all new converts in the early church. It was the Magna Carta, the Constitution of the new order in Jesus Christ. This was it. This was the way of life.”

Reading the words of Jesus as an adult, Wallis found his view of Christ, and Christianity itself, transformed. “I was mesmerized by it. This was the most radical thing I’d ever read. More radical than Ho Chi Minh and Marx put together because this was going to change everything. It was meant to change the personal, the social, the economic and the political. It turned the world upside down. It turned the values on their heads. This was a whole new order of things. This was a revolution if there ever was one.”

Wallis read until he got to Matthew chapter 25 and began to understand that he and Jesus had a lot in common when it came to taking care of the poor. “My conversion text was this chapter of Matthew. Here is the Son of God standing in Judgement over all of those who think they belong to Him. Both sides name His name. He’s saying, I’ll know how much you love me by how you treat the poor. I had never seen anything as radical as that. This is the God of the universe saying that in some very special, particular way, you’ll find me dwelling ‘in the distressing disguise of the poor’ as Mother Theresa puts it. I was just blown away by that,” admitted Wallis.

“The people who had raised me were just like those who said, ‘We didn’t know it was you Lord’. I realized that they had been keeping Jesus at arms length all those years, while sincerely thinking that they were following Him. So, I hearkened back to that little talk with the elder who told me that ‘Christianity has nothing to do with racism’ and I realized at that moment, God is always personal but never private. That has been a personal theme for me ever since. If we don’t have a personal God, we don’t have any faith. I don’t want just a social teaching of Jesus, I don’t want a Liberal agenda for politics, I don’t want just a philosophy or wisdom to follow. If I don’t have a personal God, I don’t have any faith that means anything. God is always personal, but never, ever, private. When we privatize God and the Gospel and our faith, the truth is we’re committing a heresy.”

Wallis is adamant that the Church needs to do more than give money to their favorite charity when it comes to following the teachings of Jesus in regards to the poor. “It’s not enough to write a check and throw money at your favorite faith-based organization, it’s also not enough to roll up your sleeves and get on the ground and work directly with and alongside the poor. You can’t keep pulling bodies out of the river, and not send someone upstream to find out who’s throwing them in. For the last thirty years I’ve been banging the drum and brother Campolo’s been banging the drum, and Ron Sider, and John Perkins, and a whole generation that’s not so young anymore has been banging the drum, and we began talking about an Evangelical social conscience, and now I see a whole new generation of Evangelicals who are ready to apply that for a 21st century world,” he said.

Having spent the better half of his life on a crusade to awaken the Church to the needs of the poor around us, Wallis sees light at the end of the tunnel. “The audiences are larger and younger and more energetic than ever before. I think we have made enormous gains in the churches. I know younger people today can feel some of the frustration that I felt thirty years ago. But, back then we had no elders, no mentors, we had almost no one to teach us. We had to create our own communities, our own magazine, our own everything. I made a commitment a long time ago, that when the hearts of Christian young people turn in the direction of Justice, that they would have support. I want them to have mentors and somewhere to go for answers. I want them to have a movement to join and not one to begin,” vowed Wallis.

To find out more about Jim Wallis and Sojourners Magazine, go to

Taken from the book, [Subversive Interviews] by Keith Giles, available

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shane Crash: Jesus Is Our Example

"The way Jesus responded to his enemies as he faced crucifixion is the example we’re to follow when confronted by enemies. Peter gave this teaching to Christians facing persecution and possible death. Still, they were to imitate Jesus and abstain from all violence — even in their words. We’re to trust God who will eventually judge enemies if they need to be judged." - Shane Crash

Friday, December 16, 2011

Desmond Tutu on Injustice

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."
- Desmond Tutu

Thursday, December 15, 2011


A Scriptural View of Immigration

Isn’t the term “undocumented” just a euphemism for “illegal aliens”? Basically, yes—undocumented immigrants are those who are present unlawfully in the United States.
While we’re not sure illegal is the best descriptor of the people, but rather their activity (otherwise I might be an “illegal,” too, because I have to confess I have exceeded the speed limit on more than one occasion), and, as the English language has evolved, an “alien” means something to most people other than a human being made in God’s image, these are just semantic preferences: undocumented immigrants are individuals who are present in the United States without lawful authority.

It’s interesting to note that that does not necessarily mean that all the undocumented entered unlawfully. At least half of the undocumented population entered “without inspection” (illegally) across a border, but the other 40% to 50% entered legally, with a visa—but then failed to comply with the terms of the visa and fell out of status at a certain point. That means that, while border security may be an important part of fixing a broken immigration system, it can at most solve half of the problem.

The fact that these individuals are present unlawfully is a big problem for a lot of Christians. After all, Scripture is very clear that we’re called to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1). So, yes, we do understand that people are here illegally—but that leads to another question: what do we do about it?

The government and the church clearly have very different roles. The church can’t deport people even if it wanted to, so—while we can influence the government (we’ll discuss that below)—we need to figure out our role. It’s important to know that we can minister to immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, without violating the law (at least as it stands in most states). A church can preach the gospel to immigrants, teach English, meet material needs (without offering employment), and be a friend to immigrants and never violate the law.

For the undocumented immigrant who is here unlawfully, this gets more complicated. While one could argue whether they have made themselves “subject to the governing authorities” (some might say that the government has the option of deporting them, but has chosen not to, mostly because it is in the nation’s economic interest for them to be here), they are certainly not obeying the law. But, that’s not to say they are flippantly ignoring Scripture: many stay because they feel it is the only way that they can provide for their families, necessary to fulfill another biblical mandate: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim. 5:8). At the end of the day, some have chosen to provide for their families—and be right before the Lord—even if that means disobeying the government, and risking the “sword” that Romans 13:4 tells us it bears.

Christians can disagree on which response is right, but I hope we can all agree that it’s tragic that our system forces people to choose between those two, equally biblical commands of following the law and providing for one’s family. We can advocate for the government to reform the immigration laws so that illegal immigration is very, very difficult and legal immigration—not without limit, but sufficient to keep our economy growing and families united—is much easier. And then we need to find some mechanism that recognizes that those who are undocumented have broken the law—insisting that they pay a fine, for example—but which also recognizes our own government’s complicity in creating a morally hazardous, dysfunctional system and avoids the incredible expense of deporting 10 to 12 million people.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Good Mexican

The Good Mexican by Bethany Anderson

I have been thinking about a Bible story found in Luke 10, you may have heard of it - The Good Samaritan.

I have always looked at this story from the perspective of the injured traveler. Why? Because he is who most closely represents me. I am a white, American Christian. I am of the "dominant" ethnicity, culture and religion. I do not see my self as a religious hypocrite (hopefully others don't either) and I don't really relate to the Samaritan either. I have never been looked down upon by society. I have never been treated like a second class citizen and I don't know what it feels like for an entire people to consider themselves superior to me. So I guess I am the wounded traveler.

As I reflect on this story I have to ask how it relates to our society today. I can't help but draw similarities between how Samaritans were viewed by the Jewish people and how our society views Immigrants.

I feel like I just had an epiphany.

I need Immigrants to teach me how to be a neighbor, just like the expert in the law from Luke 10 needed a Samaritan to teach him how to be a neighbor. What a concept.

We NEED those who our society calls week, sinful, valueless to teach us about holiness.

As I think about my own story and how I have come to so deeply carry the burden of the undocumented I know it was not by accident and it surely was not of my own accord. I care because people in my neighborhood took the time to share their stories with me. They took care of me, fed me, loved me, and allowed me to enter into their lives. They welcomed me. They were vulnerable with me. They allowed me to be vulnerable. And now, I am a better person because of it. I have something I don't think very many people ever experience:

I have a calling.

With that calling comes freedom, hope, peace, and joy.

I have never felt more like myself, the person I was intended to be, then I do now. I have never felt more connected to God and His purpose for my life. The words of Mordecai to Esther are ever present in my mind, "Perhaps I was created for such a time as this." Perhaps I was created to stand up for the poor and carry the burden of the Immigrant. Perhaps I was created to be apart of a larger Christ movement of engaging people who look like me in a fight they might not be connected to otherwise.

And what if more people like me were able to enter into meaningful relationships with the "Samaritans" among us? What if more White, conservative Christians, broke bread with the Central American who cuts their grass? If God can use a few Immigrant families to DRASTICALLY change the course of my life, the possibilities are endless. Relationship is key, folks. We have to step out, on both sides. We need the Immigrant church to reach out, love the non-Immigrant church and teach us how to be a neighbor, even if we don't deserve it. And the non-Immigrant church, we need to be willing to learn. We need to see ourselves and others, even if they look different than us, as God sees us all: equally broken and equally loved.

It's changed my life...

And all because a Mexican treated me like a neighbor.

Taken from Bethany Anderson's blog

Monday, December 12, 2011

How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend - PART 5

One Jew who prefers not to worry is Esther Levens. In 1990 she and Christian friend Allen Mothersill decided to start a pro-Israel, interreligious study group after the Bush administration started making loans to Israel contingent on not allowing new Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Levens was surprised to discover the level of support for Israel among evangelicals, so she decided to network as many evangelical and Jewish organizations as she could find. The result was Voices United for Israel, which currently enrolls two hundred organizations, of which two-thirds are evangelical.

In 1998, the Kansas City-based organization sponsored two conferences in Washington, D.C., at which Netanyahu spoke, and the group's "media committee" has consulted with Israeli government officials in the development of new promotional and educational materials for use in American media markets. The organization faxes information about Israel to anyone who is interested and sponsors a speakers' bureau of heavy hitters from think tanks involved in Middle East policy.

Politically, Voices United for Israel is fairly homogeneous, but religiously, it is diverse. While the Christian contingent is almost all evangelical, the Jewish contingent ranges from Orthodox to Reform. What holds everyone together, says Levens, is their support for Israel and its current government and their willingness not to press religious differences. She knows about the prophetic views of the evangelicals in her organization and chooses not to dwell on them. For her, the important thing is that evangelicals love and support Israel. But still, Levens and her Jewish friends can get a bit mystified. A common joke in their circles is, "When the Messiah finally comes, my first question to him will be whether this visit is his first or second."

Ira Nosenchuk of Brooklyn, who attended the Voices United for Israel Conference in April, summarized the spirit of cooperative compromise well: "When you have people supportive of your beliefs,…you have to go with them…. Sometimes I feel like there are more supporters for Israel among evangelicals than among Jews." Supporting Israel makes the strangest bedfellows.

The evangelical-Israel relationship also raises important theological issues. Despite the widespread influence of their views, dispensationalists have always made up a minority of the entire evangelical family. But their prophetic beliefs raise important questions that all Christians need to think about seriously.

As Christian history makes clear, in the wrong hands the doctrines of providence, divine sovereignty, and eschatology become fatalism; and fatalism takes the significance out of human action. If the future is fixed, people are merely playing out their assigned roles, with no ability to alter the direction or outcome of the divine drama. If one is privy to the process, one can identify the players, evaluate their performance, and make judgments about them. When one knows how the drama is going to end, there are no surprises. At times, then, dispensationalist prophecy can be quite fatalistic.

Eschatological activism
So why are evangelicals working so hard to keep Israel strong and independent? Why bother when they know how things are going to end up? How do their prophetic views and their political involvement fit together? These are hard questions to answer because evangelical political activists and prophecy teachers rarely if ever reflect on such issues. They do say that Christians must "occupy" until the Lord comes and that supporting Israel is a basic biblical imperative, citing Genesis 12:3 as their proof text: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (NIV). But neither observation says anything about what constitutes responsible action when historical outcomes are essentially determined.

Obviously, many evangelicals do not want to do anything to put themselves at cross purposes with God over Israel and the end times. The tendency is for many evangelicals to idealize Israel and believe that it can do no wrong. Some evangelicals have demonized the Palestinians: because they are the enemies of the modern State of Israel, they are also the enemies of God and the servants of Satan.

When evangelicals force all the complicated issues in the Middle East through the tight grid of their prophetic views, they can lose the ability to think critically and ethically about what is really going on there. For example, many evangelicals are reluctant even to consider the ethical issues involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and their 1982 invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon. Many Christians—mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and evangelicals among them—believe that Israel has some hard explaining to do.

While Jews have a right to be secure within their own borders, do they have the right to seize other people's land, occupy their territory, ignore their rights of self-determination, and bulldoze or blow up the homes and businesses of Palestininan families? Certainly the relationship between Jews and Palestinians in Israel poses difficult questions, and people of good will may disagree about what is justifiable when survival is at stake. But for prophetic reasons, many evangelicals seem unable to entertain the possibility that Israel may be at fault in some way for the stalemate in the region. Evangelicals need to consider whether believing in Bible prophecy absolves them of grappling with issues of right and wrong. Does having a handle on the prophetic details allow them to turn a blind eye to injustice? Do the ends justify the means, just because the ends have been prophesied? Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals believes that most evangelicals simply have not thought through the issue of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. Maybe it is time they start.

Of course, premillennialists are not the only Christians who struggle with issues of human responsibility and divine providence. These are tough issues and worth thinking through. Answers do not come easily. How do human beings participate with God in unfolding history? Drawing lines on a prophetic chart is easy in comparison to unpacking the complexities of the divine-human relationship within the historical process.

The most serious issue that grows out of the relationship between evangelicals and Israel is whether the connection has helped or hindered the peace process. Because of their prophetic views, evangelicals are often less than optimistic about the prospects for peace. For instance, Jerry Falwell sounded downright scornful of the Camp David peace accords that were brokered by fellow evangelical Jimmy Carter in 1979. "In spite of the rosy and utterly unrealistic expectations by our government, this treaty will not be a lasting treaty…. You and I know that there's not going to be any real peace in the Middle East until the Lord Jesus sits down upon the throne of David in Jerusalem."

Falwell and other evangelicals have a right to be skeptical. Agreements have been fragile. But 20 years is not bad for a Middle East peace treaty. Even so, no one really expects any human peace accord to be "lasting." Most are only temporary. But that does not mean that they are worthless. The pessimistic attitude of many other evangelicals toward peace in the Middle East does not give even a temporary peace much of a chance. And it certainly does not honor Jesus' words "Blessed are the peacemakers." No peace is perfect; no peace lasts forever. But how can anyone be sure that we are so close to the end that peacemaking is a waste of time?

Part of the problem is the overconfidence evangelicals have about their prophetic views. Bible teachers are not inerrant; and they have changed their minds often. The history of prophetic interpretation shows that the Devil is in the details. Premillennialist prophecy pundits have been wrong over and over again about identifying Antichrist, setting dates for the Rapture, and a host of other things. Nobody anticipated the demise of the Soviet empire or most aspects of the Gulf War. When history takes unexpected turns, the experts have to make adjustments, redraw their maps, and come out with new editions. History is still full of surprises—so why make categorical statements about what cannot happen between Israel and her neighbors?

A new generation of dispensationalist scholars has toned down the excesses and sensationalism of its predecessors. "Progressive dispensationalists," though seeing a future for national Israel, are less inclined to engage in map drawing and categorical predictions. When one is teaching or writing for a well-defined religious community, speculating about the future is one thing; but when one is engaging in political advocacy with far-reaching consequences, it is another. The future is in God's hands; in the end, Jesus wins. But getting to that point may be more complicated and full of surprises than many people think. It is time for a strategy of humility and hope.


Timothy Weber is professor of church history and dean at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Illinois.

October 5, 1998 Vol. 42, No. 11, Page 38

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Scott Bartchy is a radical. He believes in a subversive system that embraces those on the fringes of our society and seeks to establish a new way of life that goes against the status quo.

Kind of like Jesus.

Bartchy, currently the Director of the Center for the Study of Religions at UCLA, notes a great gap between the original, early form of church in the first three hundred years of Christianity, and the modern concept of doing church today. “The biggest difference I see would be that those who became the followers of Jesus (in the early church) were convinced that Jesus was right about God,” says Bartchy. “They weren’t debating whether or not he was God, but simply said that if you’ve seen Jesus, you have seen God. As Jesus said to Phillip, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:6-11)

For Bartchy, the difference between the modern church and the original church is summed up in a single question; “Was Jesus right about who God is?” Bartchy notes, “The earliest followers of Jesus believed that he had the authority to change the rules and to define how the God of Israel is to be thought of.”

So, what is it that Phillip and the other disciples had seen Jesus doing that would inform their ideas of who God is? “First of all they’ve seen Jesus at a wedding, turning water into wine. They’ve seen Jesus at the temple healing a man born blind, and addressing the question of whether or not sin is the cause of someone being born blind, or being sick. Jesus says that it’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s so that God might be glorified,” says Bartchy. “Phillip has seen Jesus comforting Mary and Martha, who are his personal friends, and raising their brother Lazarus from the dead, and of course he’s seen Jesus take the form of a servant and wash the feet of his disciples. Jesus says, if you’ve seen that, you’ve seen the Father.”

Bartchy is quick to make a distinction between the assertion that Jesus is God and the more radical concept that God is like Jesus. “Now, the profound irony of this is that Jesus is named after “Y’Shua”, or “Joshua”, Israel’s dominant warrior who fought the battle of Jericho and lead the children of Israel on numerous conquests. He (Jesus) is saying that the God of Israel isn’t acting that way anymore. Jesus is saying that the God of Israel loves his enemies and he’s not going to kill anybody.”

While much of what the media portrays concerning the “Religious Right” in America deals with the overtly political, Republican, Pro-War version of the Christian Church, Bartchy sees things a little differently. “I really do think that people are so eager for Christ to return today because they don’t like what he did the first time. They still want a kick ass God. They want a divine legitimation for what was done to us at 9-11,” he says. “That’s the only way I can understand how so many people in the Church are in favor of attacking Iraq, or killing people, or whatever. They certainly don’t believe that Jesus is right about God.”

But, the early followers of Jesus, Bartchy contends, did believe that he was right about God. “And for that reason they blew off Temple religion and the whole idea of priests and programs, and the like. They rejected the idea that what God really wants is to be served inside a church building rather than on the street. If Jesus is right about God then it means there are no more Holy Places, and for the first three hundred years Christians didn’t have any Holy Place other than their own homes where the churches met. So, they focused primarily in their relationships with each other because that’s where the Holy Spirit was manifested, in the very people who followed Jesus.”

The disconnect, so to speak, for Bartchy comes in the methodology of the modern church which has become so fixated with amassing large numbers of people, establishing political alliances and building larger facilities rather than simply acting out the compassionate example of the founder of the movement itself. “I think the big difference I see is that, today, the church isn’t really believing the same things about God that Jesus himself did and acted out,” he says. “That’s why the success of the Church today is seen not so much in doing the kind of things that we’re told that we’re going to be judged by when Jesus does return to judge us, as seen in Mathew 25, concerning whether or not we’ve clothed the naked or fed the hungry or visited those in prison, etc., and apparently doing so simply because this is the kind of people we have become.”

In Matthew 25 Bartchy notes a profound undermining of the modern apocalyptic rapture scenario depicted in most, if not all, Christian literature. “Yes,” says Bartchy, “The son of man is going to come on the clouds to separate the sheep from the goats. But one of the most fascinating things to me about those sheep is that Jesus identifies them as such because they have been visiting those in prison and they’ve been feeding the hungry, and Jesus says, ‘If you’ve done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me’ and the sheep say, ‘Hey, we didn’t have any idea we were doing it to you’, which is to say, they are doing it because of their new nature, they are doing it because of what they have become as followers of Jesus,” he says.

“The second bunch in this scenario are into what I like to call the ‘Save Your Butt’ religion. These people say, “Hey, if we’d have known it was you buddy we’d have done it” but only in order to save their own butt, not because of who they actually were.”

For Bartchy, what’s missing, sadly, is an emphasis on being a people who are transformed by the Gospel and who embody the example of their Lord. “We have preachers who come onto the campus today at UCLA down by what we call Bruin Walk and those guys all preach a version of the ‘Save Your Butt’ religion. They ask, “If you would die tonight where would you be?” So, it’s still a matter of appealing to the narcissism of the American public. It’s not an invitation to become a part of God’s new people,” says Bartchy.

Even though Bartchy spends most of his time instructing college students in the historical events of a fledgling movement several thousand years ago, he holds a very immediate passion that burns in him to this very day. “Now, what I’m saying then, is not only is Jesus right about who God is and what God is trying to get done, it’s that it’s supposed to be done here and it’s supposed to be done now. Jesus did not teach his disciples to pray, “Take me to heaven when I die”, what he says is, “Your will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven”, in the here and now. What we’re supposed to be praying for is for Heaven to come here, rather than for us to go to Heaven. Now, I do believe that Heaven is the bonus at the end of the road,” says Bartchy, “But there I’d be on the same page with the apostle John, or with Paul who held that Eternity was a quality of life, not a quantity of life. It was a quality of life that begins here.”

Rather than focus on the typical questions of faith that surround the discussion about who God is, or whether or not He exists, Bartchy feels that the fundamental question begins with whether or not we believe that Jesus is right about who God is. “I find people saying that what I need to say is that Jesus IS God, but the reason I’m reluctant to put it those terms is that people give themselves permission to define God as they please. So, God is whoever they say he is, in the Freudian sense that he fulfills the projection of your desires. So, people define God they way they want and then they make Jesus fit into that,” says Bartchy.

“People tell me that they believe that Jesus is God, and yet they’ve never read the Gospel of Mark from beginning to end, or even the Gospel of John. They may have a formal understanding of the book, but they don’t know what’s in it. In any case, the Jesus that you read about in the Gospel of Mark has a program, Pardon me, Mel Gibson, but there’s only one and a half chapters that deal with his execution, and then there are a few verses that have to do with his resurrection,” he says. “But there are twelve to thirteen chapters that have to do with his program. His program is everything I’ve been talking about so far, it’s the Kingdom of God. It’s everything that Jesus anticipates should be done here and now on this planet by his people. I know the literature of the early church up until the time of Constantine backwards and forwards and I don’t see any evidence there that the appeal being made to people was about ‘If you died tonight would you be in Heaven’. The appeal was to come and be a people of God.”

The questions on the minds of the earliest followers of Jesus reflected more practical concerns of a faith for the here and now. ”Instead of asking people the sort of salvation question we always hear, the early church asked people to consider things like, how would spend your money, how would you treat people, how would you respond to that person who just called you an asshole yesterday, and how would you deal with the real world stuff?”

“Because the church today hasn’t asked this question,” says Bartchy, “ It ends up thinking materialistically and since we’re so fragmented from each other we can’t imagine that we might help each other when we get older, the world plays on our fears. It seems to me that if a church was a real church they’d have their own social security program. Indeed in the early church that was how they got their reputation, it was that they cared for so many people.”

As Bartchy speaks, the chasm between the faith of the early church and that of the modern church begins to grow wider and wider. “None of the current signs of success in the modern church can be found in the New Testament. When the people laid their offerings at the disciples feet it wasn’t so that they could build a bigger building or give the disciples a salary increase.”

“One of the things that Jesus does, in contrast to all of the other teachers, including John the Baptist, was to say that we don’t have to wait for God to kill anybody. We don’t have to wait for Tiberius to be knocked off his throne, or for Pilate to go home, we can start living according to the rule of God right now and all they can do to us is to kill us, but they can’t stop it,” says Bartchy.

“Out of the conviction of Jesus being alive after his crucifixion, what we call resurrection experiences, they know that they can’t be stopped and I don’t think that it can be stopped. As a secular historian on the outside and as a follower of Jesus on the inside, I would say it cannot be stopped,”he affirms. “Now, sometimes the gears grind really slowly, but it can’t be stopped. We can be blocked by sin or by oppression or by dictatorship or by injustice and the like, but all I can say is in the midst of that there is still hope.”


Read the full interview in the book [Subversive Interviews] by Keith Giles available

How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend - PART 4

The late great planet Earth
The 1970s brought a major change in the evangelical-Israel relationship. The Israelis began to understand the importance of the American evangelical community. According to Paul Boyer, "As liberal Protestant support eroded, Israel played its fundamentalist card. Privately ridiculing premillennialist readings of prophecy…, they recognized an important political bloc and dealt with it accordingly." On the American side, evangelicals realized that they needed to become more hands-on in their support of the Jewish state due to the increasing pressure on Israel to make peace with its neighbors by giving up occupied territory. Often this support turned into strong political advocacy, with right-wing political connections.

An intense courtship began. In 1971 Carl Henry, former editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, announced a prophecy conference in Jerusalem. Fifteen hundred delegates from 32 nations showed up. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion greeted the delegates, and the Israeli government provided the meeting hall free of charge. That started a flood of favored treatment of American evangelicals from the Israeli government. The airport in Tel Aviv was quickly overrun by evangelical tour groups.

Entourages led by the likes of Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, or Hal Lindsey were treated to briefings by Israeli cabinet officers, such as Defense Minister Moshe Arens or Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Every televangelist worth his Nielsen Ratings scheduled his own tour; and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism brought evangelical pastors to Israel at little or no expense so that they could return later with their own tour groups. In January 1998, Israel brought at its own expense a large contingent of American evangelical seminary presidents and deans to the Holy Land.

The more this relationship developed, the more blatantly political evangelical support for Israel became. Hal Lindsey is a perfect case in point. In 1970 he published what became the best-selling book of the decade, The Late Great Planet Earth, which introduced dispensationalism to the widest audience ever. Lindsey jazzed up the standard dispensational scenario by showing its connection to current events. The Antichrist's revived Roman Empire was the European Common Market. The northern confederacy was the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. The southern confederacy was an Arab-African coalition headed by Egypt. The kings of the east were the Chinese Communists. He translated "fire and brimstone" into nuclear explosions and showed the chaos of the sixties as signs of the times. He predicted that before Antichrist is revealed and end-times events accelerate, the United States will decline into a second-rate power, done in by materialism, immorality, addiction to drugs, and false religion—or possibly destroyed by a surprise nuclear attack.

It was scary stuff, and Lindsey said exactly what he wanted his readers to do about it: accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and escape the wrath to come. For all its prophetic razzle-dazzle, The Late Great Planet Earth was essentially an evangelistic exercise.

When Lindsey took another look at world conditions ten years later, his perspective had changed considerably. Though still interested in evangelism, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon contained a full-blown political agenda. He maintained his prediction that "the U.S. must fade from its place of leadership for the west and its former supreme superpower status," but now he believed that if American Christians acted quickly, it might not happen until after the Rapture. His suggestions for slowing America's downward slide sounded like a page from the political Right's playbook. He blamed America's ills on a group of conspirators (the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and other political liberals) who had dismantled the military and undercut free enterprise. "…I believe that the Bible supports building a powerful military force. And the Bible is telling the U.S. to become strong again." "We need to clean house in Washington, and elect a Congress and a President who believe in the capitalist system." Only then could America give Israel the help it needed.

The politics of loving Israel
By the time Lindsey wrote The 1980s, conservative American evangelicals were finding their political voice. Concerned about what was happening to their country, they formed groups like the Moral Majority and the Religious Roundtable to help elect Ronald Reagan President in 1980. For the first time ever, premillennialists were becoming political insiders, and they liked it. In The 1980s Lindsey reported that the success of The Late Great Planet Earth had opened many doors for him. He had been invited to speak about Bible prophecy to Jamaican government officials, military planners at the American Air War College and the Pentagon, and to Israeli government officials.

It was becoming obvious to everybody that believing in Bible prophecy could have profound political consequences. Shortly after the Six-Day War, evangelicals organized Christians Concerned for Israel, which later changed its name to the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel. The NCLCI's goal was to "educate the American public, and especially the Christians, in the political and religious significance of the close relationship between the United States and Israel." The NCLCI opposed any attempt to internationalize Jerusalem or trade West Bank land for peace. It defended Israel's invasion of Lebanon by putting on a pro-Israel rally at the White House and running a large ad in the New York Times.

No Israeli prime minister since Menachem Begin would think of making a trip to the United States without checking in with leaders of the New Christian Right in both public and private meetings. In April 1998, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a National Unity Coalition for Israel gathering, which included Kay Arthur of Precept Ministries, the 700 Club's Terry Meeuwsen, Paige Patterson (now president of the Southern Baptist Convention), columnist Cal Thomas, and a host of politicians such as Senators Trent Lott and Sam Brownbach and Representatives Dick Armey, Dick Gephardt, and Tom DeLay. Jerry Falwell was there, too, and gave a speech against the internationalization of Jerusalem.

Falwell is a major player in the evangelical-Israel connection. When Netanyahu visited the United States in January 1998, Falwell helped arrange a meeting between the prime minister and a number of other evangelical leaders, including John Hagee and Southern Baptists Morris Chapman and Richard Land. Falwell and the others pledged to mobilize the evangelical community against the Clinton administration's pressure on Israel to give up more land to the Palestinians. "There are about 200,000 evangelical pastors in America, and we're asking them all through e-mail, faxes, letters, telephone, to go into their pulpits and use their influence in support of the state of Israel and the prime minister."

Pat Robertson likewise uses his vast connections and his Christian Broadcasting Network to promote Israel. He regularly features news stories about the Holy Land on his 700 Club and invites Israeli officials to appear. During a January 1998 interview with Netanyahu, Robertson asked him, "What would you like our audience to do?" He replied, "I think they are already doing it…, letters to the editor, communications with representatives … to support Israel."

The pro-Israel network
Examples of this kind of public advocacy by evangelical leaders are endless. But the real story in the last 20 years is the founding of scores of small, grassroots, pro-Israel organizations that rarely get into the headlines. They exist to educate and mobilize their local evangelical community to support Israel in the current crisis.

Some have rather specialized missions. Many help Israel by teaching Christians about the Jewish roots of their own faith. The Restoration Foundation of Atlanta puts on seminars, colloquia, and retreats to promote "the restoration of all believers to their rightful heritage in the Judaism of the first century church" and love for Israel and its people. The Arkansas Institute of Holy Land Studies in Sherwood, Arkansas, advertises itself as a "specialty college" and offers unaccredited bachelor's and master's degrees in "Middle East History."

Some of these groups promote Messianic Judaism as the truest form of Christianity. Hebraic Heritage Ministries of Houston wants Christians to worship on the Sabbath (Sunday worship is a product of paganism) and observe the Jewish festivals. First Fruits of Zion Ministries is based in Jerusalem but tries to get American Christians to live like Jews: to keep kosher, study Hebrew, keep the Sabbath and the festivals, and learn messianic Jewish dances (see CT, Sept. 7, 1998, p. 62).

Some of the pro-Israel evangelical groups are more humanitarian than educational. The Tulsa-based Bridges for Peace is a charitable organization working in Israel. Its "Operation Ezra" provides food, blankets, kitchen and school supplies, home-repair items, and the like to new immigrants and others in need. It claims its food bank is the only one currently operating in Israel. Its pitch for support says, "Don't just read about prophecy when you can be part of it!"

One of the most innovative humanitarian organizations is Christian Friends for Israeli Communities, which was founded in 1995 by Ted Beckett, a commercial real estate developer from Colorado Springs. He organized the CFIC to provide "solidarity, comfort, and aid" to Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, and the regions of Gaza by linking them with evangelical congregations in the United States.

At present 35 congregations are part of the program. Beckett's goal is to provide an evangelical partner for every Jewish settlement that wants one, which he estimates to be 100 to 110 out of 150 settlements. Each congregation is taught how to "link" with its assigned community by identifying pen pals, making e-mail connections, helping with fundraising, sending books or other supplies. Churches are also expected to promote awareness of Israel in their own communities. Beckett knows that his work is also political because, he says, God is sending Jesus back to Israel to set up his kingdom. There is nothing more political than that.

In short, there is an enormous network of pro-Israel and Christian Zionist organizations. Most of them have their own Web pages on the Internet, and they usually have links to one another. Unlike many other evangelical groups, they understand the virtues of cooperation. An umbrella organization that tries to bring them together from time to time is the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. Founded in 1980, the embassy, which has no real diplomatic standing, opposes internationalizing Jerusalem and establishing a Palestinian state. It has offices in over 50 countries and does what it can to encourage and facilitate Christian Zionism. Over 1,500 people from 40 countries attended its Third International Christian Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in 1996.

Last things
Israel has needed all the friends it can get, and evangelicals have been loyal, productive supporters. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, no one defended it more strenuously in the U.S. than evangelicals. At one time, Israeli prime ministers could count on the strong support of both the U.S. President and the American Jewish community. But the present prime minister has neither. Netanyahu's relationship with President Clinton is strained, and the Jewish community is deeply divided over some policies of Israel's present government. Netanyahu was correct when he said that American evangelicals are the best friends Israel (i.e., his government) has.

But friendship comes at a cost. Supporting Israel has often meant that evangelicals must not be as evangelistic as they would like to be. Cooperation is difficult when one side is trying to convert the other. This does not mean that evangelicals stop believing that Jews need to be saved, only that evangelism must always be the first priority in their relationship. Evangelicals probably learned how to do this when they re-entered the world of politics in the late seventies. The Moral Majority welcomed Jews, Catholics, Mormons, and anybody else who shared common concerns. Falwell often said that since the organization was political, not religious, everybody could get along. Ted Beckett tells participating churches that people are always free to share their faith if asked, but they are not permitted to engage in any kind of overt proselytism. He says that he will "yank the charter" of any congregation in his project that tries to make a direct religious appeal to Jews in Israel. But old habits die hard.

For their part, Jews must learn to ignore what evangelicals believe about Bible prophecy and the need for all Jews to come to Jesus. Just as it is difficult for evangelicals to lay evangelism aside, so some Jews find it hard to ignore the motives behind evangelical support.

Rabbi James Rudin, interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, complains that "some of the very same people who are most supportive of the state of Israel and its security and well-being don't see Judaism as a full and valid religion. It's like 'Israel si, Jews no.' " Rudin is also critical of Jews who turn a deaf ear to such teachings in order to gain more allies for Israel. "Many American Jews will say: 'Any port in a storm. If they support Israel,…don't worry too much about the apocalypse.' "


Timothy Weber is professor of church history and dean at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Illinois.

October 5, 1998 Vol. 42, No. 11, Page 38

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Faces of Reform: Immigration

Faces of Reform: Immigration
by Crissy Brooks

Roman was a pretty average student at the after school teen center where we met nine years ago. He was timid but he liked to joke around. As neighbors, I still saw him after graduation. He worked here and there and was always trying to keep his sister on track.

At the community center, church volunteers are great about helping kids with their homework. Volunteers coach kids in soccer. They teach Bible studies and put on Vacation Bible Schools. Our volunteers truly want good things for our students. They plan field trips and college visits. They take kids to the theater and sporting events to expose them to culture and our community.

People love to be a part of seeing an immigrant kid be the first one in his family to go to college. Volunteers take it upon themselves to help students fill out applications and some volunteers even help kids pay for college. It’s hard to argue with education. There aren’t too many arguments against educating immigrant kids. It is the way to get ahead, the way out of poverty, the hope for their future.

But what is the future of undocumented immigrant children? What is the future for students like Roman? There are 2.8 million of them who would benefit from legislation like the Dream Act- If they do go to college, which they legally can in the state of California, what is their future when they graduate with a degree? They still can’t legally work. Despite the fact that they have a bachelor’s degree, they cannot work even the most menial jobs. So are we holding out a false hope to our students by telling them, “If you work really hard, you can be successful”?

And what does this say about our stewardship as the Church and a nation? Our volunteers invest hours and hours of their time and energy. We give thousands of dollars to worthy programs to help students succeed. The director of an admirable program I spoke with last week estimates they invest $40,000 in one student over the course of nine years to make sure they attend and graduate from college. That doesn’t take into account the thousands of taxpayers’ dollars we invest in a student’s public education.

As the Church we are quick to invest in community betterment programs. Our ministry has been the grateful recipient of thousands of dollars to prepare students, many undocumented, to be leaders in our community. But we cannot go the distance. We cannot make good on our intentions for these students under the current system. Until we engage in systemic change, we are lying to kids and poorly stewarding our resources.

It is hard to find volunteers to fight for immigration reform. When it comes time for systemic change we spend our time debating and nitpicking while the kids we have poured so much into are literally dying. Last month Roman was found dead in the desert. After years of schooling and tutoring and field tripping with church volunteers, Roman was deported for fighting and on his way back home across the border he died in the desert.

Now you can say that he should not have been fighting. And you can say that he never should have come to the US without papers in the first place but the fact of the matter is that millions of children were brought here by their parents without having any say in the matter, were loved and educated by us, and were then failed by a system that does not go the distance for them.

We will engage in a life up to a certain point but will not participate in changing systems to ensure that those we care about will continue to succeed. A couple years ago, when we had an opportunity to reform the immigration system the Church, for the most part, did not engage. It was too controversial, too political. Some of us lament the sad situation but when it comes to speaking up, we shrink back. We don’t bother to get involved. We are silent. Is all we have worked for, for nothing?

We have two choices then. We can give up. We can see the futility with our current system and not even start to help undocumented students. We can realize that it is a risky investment- one that may end up dead in a desert. So we can choose to not even try.

Or we can work to change the system. We can recognize that these students aren’t “investments” they are beloved children of God. The same Father who from the beginning of communicating his heart to his people said, “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

And we are aliens here. We are citizens of heaven and not of this world. In the Kingdom I am a citizen of it is heartbreaking that the neighbors we love are dying in the desert. In this Kingdom we speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. We speak up and judge fairly; we defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Cornel West said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Roman is dead because we only loved him in the confines of our church buildings and community centers. He is dead because our love didn’t go far enough to ensure justice. Our voices were silent when we had a chance for change. For the sake of the millions of undocumented students like him, for the sake of obedience to the Scripture and the Church’s witness in the world, let us not be silent anymore.

Crissy Brooks

Visit her blog online

Friday, December 9, 2011

How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend - PART 3

The Protocols Conspiracy
Despite such rising expectations, it would take 30 more years and another world war to establish a Jewish state. But the events of 1917-18 gave dispensationalists ample assurance that they were reading the Bible correctly; and further evidence was pouring in: Ecclesiastical wars between fundamentalists and modernists confirmed the rise of religious apostasy. The public schools were overrun by evolutionists and secularists. Personal and public morals took a nosedive, with increasing divorce rates, the obscenities of the "new woman," and the open flouting of Prohibition laws. Dispensationalists watched the rise of fascism in Europe, the spread of communism, and growing anti-Semitism. Civilization was obviously spinning out of control, and for the prophecy pundits, everything fit and was right on schedule.

During the twenties and thirties, a number of leading dispensational teachers promoted right-wing conspiracy theories and even fell prey to Nazi propaganda. Shortly after World War I, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion started making the rounds in Europe and America, purporting to be the secret minutes of a group of Jewish conspirators plotting to take over the world by destroying Christian civilization. When Henry Ford serialized them in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, in the early 1920s, many people believed what they read. From then on, American anti-Semites made The Protocols "exhibit A" in their propaganda campaign.

Not all dispensationalists were fooled by The Protocols, but a number of leading Bible teachers were. In 1921, James M. Gray, president of Moody Bible Institute, called The Protocols "a clinching argument for premillennialism and another sign of the possible nearness of the end of the age." Arno Gaebelein also believed that the plan outlined in The Protocols was consistent with Bible prophecy. Well known as an evangelist to Jews, Gaebelein obviously loved some Jews more than others. He liked Orthodox Jews because they still expected the coming of Messiah, read Bible prophecies with expectancy, and honored their traditions. But he had no use for Reform or secular Jews, whom he considered apostates capable of anything. Though he could not be sure, Gaebelein thought that The Protocols were "from the pen of apostate Jews" who were responsible for Russian Bolshevism, the illegal liquor traffic in the U.S., and the general decline in morals. "There is nothing so vile on earth as an apostate Jew who denies God and His Word."

Most dispensationalists paid little attention to The Protocols until Gerald Winrod gave them a new lease on life. In 1933, Winrod, founder of the Defenders of the Christian Faith in Wichita, Kansas, published an elaborate exposé to show that Jews were in charge of the world's banking system and responsible for World War I, the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and just about everything else.

In 1934, William Bell Riley, who presided over a fundamentalist empire in the upper Midwest, published The Protocols and Communism to show that the same conspiracy that turned Russia communist was at work in Roosevelt's New Deal. "Today in our land many of the biggest trusts, banks, and manufacturing interests are controlled by Jews…. Most of our department stores they own…. The motion pictures, the most vicious of all immoral, educational and communistic influences, is their creation." Riley preached such views regularly from his pulpit at the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis, which some Jewish leaders considered a major center of anti-Semitism.

Gray, Winrod, Gaebelein, and Riley strenuously denied that they were anti-Semites. They were simply explaining events in light of biblical prophecy. But most dispensationalists quickly figured out that using such arguments put them in very bad company. By the thirties, The Protocols were identified with the peddlers of virulent anti-Semitism, which dispensationalists said was a horrible sin against God.

Eventually The Protocols split the dispensational movement. Jewish-Christian believers objected to their use, arguing that it was not enough to distinguish between good Jews and bad: when people believed conspiracy theories, all Jews suffered, even Christian ones. Others concluded that some of their colleagues had been duped by Nazi propaganda. Harry Ironside, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, was grieved "to find that the Protocols are being used not only by godless Gentiles, but even by some fundamentalist Christians to stir up suspicion and hatred against the Jewish people as a whole."

In 1938, Keith Brooks, a former Winrod associate, founded the American Prophetic League in California to put as much distance as possible between dispensationalism and Nazi anti-Semitism. The next year Brooks published a "Manifesto to the Jews," signed by 60 leading dispensationalists, which condemned the spread of pro-Nazi propaganda under the guise of biblical prophecy and disavowed further use of The Protocols. Three years later, Brooks was still trying to get fellow prophecy teachers to "clear the church at large from the charge laid against it by unbelievers, that it had been a tool of Hitler and the Jew-baiters." Before his death in 1935, Gray swore off ever using The Protocols again; but Winrod and Riley never backed down. Some time after the "Manifesto" appeared, Gaebelein tried to get his name added to the list of signers. The fact that he never told his own constituency and continued to sell Conflict of the Ages until he died in 1945 made the gesture disingenuous.

Suffering with a purpose
Dispensationalism had a dark side that grew out of its beliefs about the Jews' complex role in prophecy. Jews are God's chosen people and heirs to all the prophetic promises; but present Jews are under the power of Satan and contributing to the decline of the present age. The glory of Israel is future.

It is no surprise that dispensationalists received news of the Holocaust with a combination of horror, resignation, and hope. They were among the first to warn the world of the coming catastrophe. In 1930, Gaebelein told his readers about Hitler and what might happen to Jews if he ever got control of Germany; and by the late thirties, premillennialist leaders had figured out what was going on in places like Buchenwald long before most people realized what the Nazis were capable of.

While dispensationalists condemned persecution of the Jews, they believed such things were inevitable and were happening for a reason. Just like Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians centuries before, Hitler and the Nazis were God's instruments of judgment. God was using them to increase the Jews' desire for a homeland of their own in Palestine. As Harry Rimmer observed, "By driving the preserved people back into the preserved land, Hitler, who does not believe the Bible…, is helping to fulfill its most outstanding prophecy." Needless to say, once their awful work was done, God would judge the Nazis just as he judged the Babylonians.

Sometimes dispensationalists took comfort in their belief that persecution made Jews more susceptible to the gospel. Moody Bible Institute president Will Houghton claimed that Jewish youth in Warsaw turned to Christ en masse in the summer of 1939, immediately before the Nazi invasion. "Perhaps that is the reason the Devil saw to it that Warsaw was wrecked and the Jews scattered."

Later the same year dispensational leaders called for an international day of prayer for the Jews. Interestingly, the organizers did not advise people to pray for the persecutions to stop, only that Jews might turn to Christ in their despair. The best thing people could do for Jews under the circumstances was send them more New Testaments and missionaries.

The State of Israel
As bad as things got, dispensationalists knew that the Nazis would never annihilate the Jewish people. After all, God's entire prophetic plan hinges on getting a Jewish remnant back to Palestine to establish their own state in preparation for Armageddon and the Second Coming. Prophetically speaking, the most crucial point was not that millions were dying, but that some would survive.

In the thirties and forties, dispensationalists thought that the formation of a Jewish state was imminent. But the British were not so sure. For obvious reasons, the Palestinians, who greatly outnumbered Jews in the Holy Land, disliked the Balfour Declaration and mounted a massive resistance campaign. They went on strike, rioted, and occasionally committed acts of terrorism against the British and the Jewish population. The British did what they could to stop the protests, including restricting Jewish immigration and suggesting in the spirit of compromise that the Holy Land be partitioned into both Arab and Jewish states. But nothing worked. In 1939 the British issued a white paper that essentially abandoned the Balfour Declaration.

By the end of the war, not much had changed, except the Jews were now well armed and ready to force the issue of statehood, sometimes through their own brand of terrorism. Looking desperately for a way out, the British appealed to the newly organized United Nations. In August 1947, the UN Special Committee on Palestine also recommended that the area be partitioned into Arab and Jewish states; but Arabs refused to relinquish their land, so the UN abandoned the idea. By the spring of 1948 it was obvious to everybody that a political solution was not possible.

The British finally announced plans to withdraw their forces from the region on May 14, 1948. On that day the Jewish National Council declared statehood; and Arab armies invaded. Almost immediately, the U.S. recognized the new state. The fighting was fierce. By November the better-trained Israeli troops had prevailed, and a cease-fire was called. In May 1949 Israel was admitted to the UN.

Dispensationalists were ecstatic. This was the "sign of all signs." Louis Talbot of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles declared, "I consider it the greatest event, from a prophetic standpoint, that has taken place within the last one hundred years, perhaps even since 70 A.D. [sic], when Jerusalem was destroyed."

In the flush of prophetic fulfillment, most evangelicals showed little or no concern for Palestinian rights—which was ironic since there have always been more Arab Christians in the Middle East than Jewish ones. During the thirties and forties, a few evangelicals raised questions of justice, self-determination, and fair play for Arabs. After all, Palestinians had been there for centuries, much longer than the United States had been a nation. But most evangelicals believed that God's prophetic purposes were more important than such local concerns. Their attitude seemed to be, "This is the fulfillment of prophecy; the Palestinians will just have to get used to it."

Many evangelicals saw the establishment of an Israeli state as the beginning of the end. But there were unresolved problems: The new Israel occupied only a fraction of the land it held in Bible times. Therefore, dispensationalists were eager to see Israel expand its territory. In 1956, with French and English support, Israel attacked Egypt: the Israelis wanted the Sinai; their European allies wanted the Suez Canal. The U.S. government opposed the action. Most dispensationalists objected to the U.S. position because they considered it anti-Israel. For dispensationalists, not to support Israel was to align oneself against the purposes of God.

Evangelicals who thought this way were elated by the Six-Day War of June 1967. Fearing an imminent attack from Soviet-supplied Egyptian and Syrian forces, Israel struck first. In less than a week, the Israelis defeated the Arab coalition and occupied the Sinai peninsula, territory west of the Jordan River, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. Now the modern State of Israel looked more like the "Bible Lands" maps on the walls of Sunday school rooms. The most important result of the Six-Day War was that Israel controlled all of Jerusalem. Nelson Bell wrote in CHRISTIANITY TODAY, "That for the first time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives a student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible" (CT, July 21, 1967, p. 28). Here was an obvious fulfillment of Luke 21:24: "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (NRSV).

For most evangelicals, the war for Jewish statehood and the Six-Day War were nothing short of miraculous. News reports on the wars of 1948 and 1967 read like excerpts from Exodus and Joshua. How could Bible believers complain or question what was happening? One did not have to be a dispensationalist to see that God was obviously in control and vitally concerned with Israel. After 1967, many people who had not given it much thought before were willing to consider Israel's prophetic significance.

[end part 3]

Timothy Weber is professor of church history and dean at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Illinois.

October 5, 1998 Vol. 42, No. 11, Page 38

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend - PART 2

Dispensationalism's sensational influence
Clearly, one does not have to be a dispensationalist to be influenced by one. In his recent study of prophecy belief in modern American culture, historian Paul Boyer found that in addition to the relatively small number of committed "experts" who study Bible prophecy and seem to have everything figured out, there are millions of others who are not so well informed but still believe the Bible contains valuable clues about the future. Such people are susceptible to popularizers who "confidently weave Bible passages into highly imaginative end-time scenarios, or who promulgate particular schemes of prophetic interpretation."

Even secular people who normally ignore the Bible may, during times of crisis, pay attention to someone who uses the Bible to explain what is going on when the world seems to be falling apart. Boyer concludes that dispensational views about Israel and the course of history have influenced popular opinion far beyond the boundaries of the dispensational movement.

What dispensational beliefs have influenced a significant number of evangelicals and the broader American culture? For a hundred and fifty years, dispensationalists have been predicting something like the following:

*After the "times of the Gentiles" are finished and the Jews are regathered in the Holy Land, human civilization will begin to unravel. Morals will decline, families will break apart, crime and anarchy will increase. Wars, political and economic unrest, natural disasters, unstoppable epidemics, shifts in weather patterns, and other calamities will increase suffering and despair. Organized Christianity will experience apostasy; religious leaders will abandon historic beliefs and behavioral standards and openly embrace heresy and immorality. Despite massive efforts to stop civilization's demise, nothing can stop its downward slide.

*After the rapture of the church, a charismatic leader will gain a following by promising peace and security. This Antichrist heads up a ten-nation confederacy in western Europe. Unaware of Antichrist's true identity, Israel will sign a treaty with him to guarantee its security, then rebuild its temple in Jerusalem. After three and a half years, Antichrist will break the treaty, declare himself to be God, and persecute all who refuse to worship him and receive his mark on their foreheads. Antichrist will be helped by a False Prophet, a seductive religious leader, who will use miraculous powers and repressive measures to force compliance. For three and a half years, a remnant of God's people who were converted after the Rapture (Rev. 7:4) will suffer horrible persecution in the Great Tribulation.

*Despite Antichrist's power, other nations will rise in opposition. Some time after Antichrist betrays Israel, a northern confederation of nations under Russian control will join with a southern confederacy to launch a devastating double attack against Israel. This move will prompt the intervention of Antichrist's armies from the west and a 200-million-man army under the "kings of the east." As armies from east and west converge on Israel, the Russian confederates will try to destroy Israel; but God will intervene to destroy them. With the northern confederacy annihilated, the forces of Antichrist and the "kings of the east" will do battle at Armageddon, a valley northwest of Jerusalem. While the battle rages, Jesus will return, wipe out the surviving armies, subdue Antichrist, and set up his millennial kingdom. Finally, the surviving Jews will accept Jesus as their Messiah. For a thousand years, King Jesus will rule the world from Jerusalem, while Jewish priests perform sacrifices in the restored temple. In the end, God will fulfill all the promises to Israel. The redemptive plan will be complete.

Obviously, the key to this entire prophetic plan is the refounding of Israel as a nation state in Palestine. Without Israel, the whole plan falls apart.

Reading the signs of the times
In the nineteenth century, most British and American evangelicals did not believe in the restoration of the Jews. They believed that God is essentially finished with the Jews as a people. According to this "replacement theology," because Jews had rejected Jesus, God had rejected them and had transferred divine favor to the church. The church has become the New Israel and has received all the Old Israel's promises and prophecies.

Dispensationalists (and a few nondispensationalists besides) insisted that God is not yet finished with the Jews, and while there was little movement in that direction, they looked for evidence that Jews were heading back to Palestine. A few Jewish agricultural colonies were established in Palestine in the 1880s and '90s, but the number of colonists was small. The Zionist movement was organized in the 1890s, yet at first few Jews paid it much mind. Dispensationalists at that time seemed more eager for Jews to move back to Palestine than did Jews themselves.

Most dispensationalists were content to let God handle the details. It was their job to teach the truth and monitor the signs of the times. But not all dispensationalists were bystanders. A small minority wanted to help move things along.

No American dispensationalist beat the drum for a Jewish state more than William E. Blackstone (1841-1935). Born in New York and reared in an evangelical Methodist home, after the Civil War Blackstone settled in Oak Park, Illinois, and established himself as a successful businessman and lay evangelist to the Chicago business community. He became a dispensationalist and a close friend of D. L. Moody. In 1878 he published Jesus Is Coming, which went through three editions, was translated into 42 languages, and was dispensationalism's first bestseller in America.

In the late 1880s, Blackstone visited new Jewish settlements in the Holy Land and returned to Chicago committed to helping the restoration of the Jews. In 1890 he organized the first conference of Christians and Jews in Chicago and used the occasion to push for a new Jewish state. Most participants, including the Jews, were not interested.

Undeterred, in 1891 Blackstone drew up a petition (or "memorial") advocating the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In short order, he collected 413 signatures from leading Americans, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the speaker of the House, the mayors of Chicago, New York, and Boston, and business leaders such as Cyrus McCormick, John D. Rockefeller, and J. Pierpont Morgan. Blackstone forwarded the memorial to President Benjamin Harrison, who ignored it, and later he sent others to Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

In spite of his ongoing efforts to convert Jews to Christ, he became good friends with Zionist leaders and regularly sent them the results of his prophetic study. In 1918, at a Zionist conference in Philadelphia, organizers hailed Blackstone as a "Father of Zionism"; and in 1956, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of his memorial to President Harrison, the citizens of Israel dedicated a forest in his honor.

A few of Blackstone's Chicago friends took another approach. In 1881, Horatio and Anna Spafford and 16 others established the American Colony in the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem to watch at close hand the restoration of the Jews and the second coming of Jesus. The Spaffordites held all property in common and, at least for a while, made celibacy the house rule.

The Spaffordites went there primarily for prophetic reasons. As one settler put it, "We wanted to see the prophecies fulfilled." One of the children of the community recounted years later how for a while the group "went every day to the Mount of Olives with tea and cakes, hoping to be the first to offer the Messiah refreshment." When hundreds of penniless Jews from Yemen arrived in Jerusalem in 1882, the colony considered them part of the Ten Lost Tribes and a clear sign of prophetic fulfillment, so they provided them with food, shelter, and other support. The colony became a popular stopover for visitors to the Holy Land. Blackstone came; so did Moody. The colony prospered economically when over 100 Swedes from Chicago and the old country joined up in 1896.

For over 50 years the colony survived as a religious community, but subsequent generations lost their prophetic zeal and turned the colony into a business concern. By the 1930s, their perspective on life in Palestine had changed. The colony identified more with the needs of the indigenous Arabs and considered Zionism a threat to their legitimate rights.

Blackstone and the American Colony in Jerusalem were exceptions, not the rule. Most dispensationalists were content to study the Bible and scan the horizon for prophetic fulfillments. During the twentieth century, signs of the times multiplied. World War I gave a major boost to their hopes for the future. Dispensationalists used their Bibles to predict with uncanny accuracy the results of the war, including the redrawing of the map of Europe, which was necessary to get ready for their end-times scenario. But nothing brought them more pleasure than the disposition of Palestine.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Palestine was firmly in the grasp of the Ottoman Empire. By 1916, there was widespread speculation, even in the secular press, about the restoration of a Jewish homeland if the Turks could be vanquished. By late 1917, events were rapidly moving along those lines. As British forces fought their way into Palestine from the south, Lord Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, wrote to Lord James Rothschild, a leader in international Zionism: "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best efforts to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

Five weeks after the Balfour Declaration, the Turks surrendered Jerusalem to British forces, virtually without a fight. This sent shock waves through dispensationalist ranks. Here was the most concrete proof ever that the "times of the Gentiles" were coming to an end. It made little difference to dispensationalists that Jerusalem had passed from one Gentile power to another. The important thing was that the British had declared their intention to establish a Jewish state. If the "times of the Gentiles" were coming to an end, could the restoration of Israel be far behind?

Dispensationalists could barely contain themselves. Arno C. Gaebelein, editor of Our Hope, called the coming restoration of Israel "the sign of all signs." In 1918, dispensationalists organized two well-attended prophetic conferences in New York and Philadelphia, where the real possibility of establishing a Jewish state got much attention.


Timothy Weber is professor of church history and dean at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Illinois.

October 5, 1998 Vol. 42, No. 11, Page 38