An Israeli, Arab, Christian educator got mixed response at local area churches: warmth and respect from Presbyterians, and a mixture of love and ice water at an Israelist church.
Archbishop Elias Chacour1 is a rotund 69 year old dynamo. As a child of eight he was made homeless by the Israeli army, but against all odds he stayed in Israel long after most of his villagers became forced refugees elsewhere. He went on to become one of the most important educators of Arab children, and a Christian citizen of Israel. There he built schools that teach some 4000 thousand children in Galilee, northern Israel. Now he has been appointed Archbishop over several Melkite Catholic Churches that are sanctioned by Israel within its territory. Bishop Chacour is author of Blood Brothers (Arabs and Israelis) and is a proven advocate of peace, preaching love of all races as his “only weapon.”
This is the message Archbishop Elias Chacour delivered at Scottsdale Bible Church.
Archbishop Chacour pulls no punches in describing his background. He remembers vividly when, in 1948, the state of Israel drove them from their home the family had owned for generations. He relates with the vivid memories of a child how the Israelis separated the village men from their families, shipping the men including his own father to the borders of Israel. The men gone, they ordered the women and children out of their homes to seek refuge wherever they could find it. Later, Israel’s new Air Force bombed the empty homes to rubble so no one could not sneak back to live. It is this part of his life’s story that, in part, seemed to arouse the ire of Christian Zionists in his audience.
Archbishop Elias Chacour gave this story Sunday night at Valley Presbyterian Church to a near full church, whose attendees treated him like a Christian brother from afar. On Monday night he spoke at Scottsdale Bible Church (SBC), where the response was marred by the words of a few. It is this strange and varied reaction to his words…words that have the unmistakable ring of truth supported by undeniable history that we will now discuss in detail. From these few we must learn how to change many.
Elias Chacour’s life seems to demonstrate peace, love and sacrifice. But he also challenges Israel’s right to take life and property from his Christian and Muslim Arab friends. And he speaks with passion to his belief that his Christian God hates killing regardless of what race of human is being killed. And he emphasizes that God has no favored race held above His Commandments.
It seems these statements, which Chacour made with indelible clarity, were enough to elicit a charged response from a dozen or more who attended his talk at SBC. We can guess at their number by counting those who either spoke out or walked out! We will examine this strange and un-Christ-like reaction to this unimpeachable presentation because it is We Hold These Truths’ goal to expose and reclaim Christian Zionists, most of us having once had and rejected this virus.
Chacour’s lecture, at which perhaps a hundred attended, was not, we are told, a formal function of SBC, but was arranged privately and without church advertising, nor was the meeting even noted in the Church bulletin. This seems to suggest that the church leadership had reason for concern about the reaction to Chacour’s words. The invitation was spread, not by the church, but by word-of-mouth through sponsors, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, and friends, including We Hold These Truths.
In contrast to Chacour’s life of self-sacrifice, Israelists, the most extreme of which call themselves “Christian Zionists,” are invariably preoccupied with what they consider political Israel and its absolute right, as they see it, to take any and all land in the Middle East. And, if taking or holding land involves killing Arabs they feel the Bible justifies killing. And, they invariably believe that political Israel and its Jewish settlers are favored by God, and are still the “chosen people” of God. Finally, they wrap these three beliefs around their borrowed “end times” eschatology, to come up with “Israelism,” posing as evangelical Christianity.
The Pharisees again, attack a man from Galilee
We Hold These Truths has long held that Israelism (Christian Zionism is the advanced form) is a religion separate and distinct from traditional, new covenant Christianity, which we think of as following Christ as best we can. Archbishop Chacour is, I suspect, a Catholic, Arab, Israeli, educator, Christ follower.
I should not have been surprised to see an organized response to Chacour’s talk at SBC. About five made statements of sorts and others walked out togather during the program. How impolite to a guest from 7,400 miles away. No wonder Jesus said: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51)
An SBC member who identified himself was the first to contest Chacour’s firm assertion that the Palestinians had a historic right to their houses and land before Israel was a state..that he at age 69 is older than Israel. This SBC member referred to the ancient story of the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12:3, from which he asserted that God gave the land to the State of Israel long ago (and presumably before the Chacour family had it).
The great bible land swindle is the most common and most tragically illogical claim made by both Israelis and Christian Zionists. The Genesis land grant is an invention, not of God, but comes from the work of Cyrus I. Scofield in the 1967 edition to his bible, as written into the footnotes on Page 19: “God made an unconditional promise of blessing through Abram’s seed to the nation of Israel to inherit a specific territory forever.” Christian Zionists take the man made footnote to be God’s sacred promise, though the text says nothing like this.2
The next speaker from the floor challenged to the Archbishop’s strong assertion that God never favors killing. This bible educated churchgoer set out to prove that God does endorses killing if he wants to. Drawing on a large Study Bible, the floor speaker said Joshua received direct instructions from God to annihilate entire tribes in the course of land acquisition. By inference he imputed this same authority to political Israel now, which presumably may also annihilate the present day Philistines with God’s Blessing. Elias Chacour objected to his interpetation of Joshua.
Strangely, We Hold These Truths has found the logic expressed from the floor at SBC to be entirely normal for Christian Zionists. They simply believe that the “Israel” of today inherited the right to kill Philistines from the “Israel” of three or four thousand years ago.
Another floor speaker delivered a back handed poke in the eye question with deeply racist implications. This British sounding chap twice demanded to know why the Palestinians live in shabby circumstances while the Israelis live neat and tidy lives a few blocks away, which he said he had observed while busing around Israel. (His Israeli guide might have suggested this, as they often do.) His demanding question implied the Palestinians were somehow inferior to the Israelis because they lived in ghetto conditions. This man would not let go even after Chacour patiently explained the huge legal discrimination against Arab citizens like himself, and favoring Jews, such as the fact that the former are allocated less water to drink, get only 1/4 as much application of tax money.
This superior race, or “God’s chosen” argument is another standard Christian Zionist way of saying what Israelis say more bluntly: “Palestinians are animals” or “dogs”. Christian Zionism is an advanced infection of a common church spawned, and, a Zionist fed virus we call “Israelism,” which we believe has affected as many as 100,000 churches. It holds as a primary unspoken tenant: “the present day political state of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophesies.” Ergo, Israel’s leaders can really do no wrong, being not only God’s chosen, but also being marked for a future part they are thought to play in the afterlife of Christians.
Christian Zionists seem to recognize theirs is a militant role as pit bulls for Israel. Their attack target may be anyone who challenges that Israel is the chosen people, with an absolute right to occupy land and control the lives (and deaths) of the Philistines of Gaza and the West Bank.
Bishop Chacour is savvy and experienced in dealing with the very mean Israelis. It is likely this event was a new and frustrating experience for him, since he told me they do not have Christian Zionists in Israel, only in America. I am sad for this reception, but he too will gain from it.
We have learned that the best answer to every argument that falls from the mouth of an Israelist is: “Suppose you show me where the New Testament supports that statement.” The New Testament book of Galatians tells us if we are Christ followers we are Abraham’s children and heirs to the promise, and that Jesus is Abraham’s Seed, so there can be no chosen race. Jesus does not support taking the life of even one human, and all races are made in God’s image, as Archbishop Chacour asserted. Never accept quoted scripture, read it yourself for context; it is invariably out of context if it comes from a Christian Zionist and is being applied to Israel.3
Bishop Chacour correctly told his antagonists they were dragging verses out of context in attribution of Genesis and Joshua to the present day Israel. We have found all logic fails with Christian Zionists because they must rely upon the Old Testament, must welcome war, and are actually led to deep resentment of all who seem to them not to worship Israel enough. Stick to the New Testament whenever you are dealing with a Christian Zionist. Only with Jesus’ words can you change them. If Archbishop Chacour does not love Israelis enough, I can not imagine who could…perhaps not Jesus Christ himself.
1 Archbishop Elias Chacour’s Sponsor’s link: Evangelicals For Middle East Understanding
2 The Roots of Christian Zionism, Charles Carlson; (http://www.whtt.org/show)