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“War is not the will of God, this we know.”
– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1967.
“God will let the satanic rearmament of nuclear weapons and biological warfare strike the godless themselves in forms of plagues that will exterminate large portions of humanity.”
– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1968.
Pentecostals were the largest religious group among conscientious objectors in Sweden between 1967 and 1971, a time characterized by passionate debates on the ethics of war in the shadows of Vietnam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my master’s thesis on church history, I aimed to review and analyze how the Pentecostal periodicals Evangelii Härold and Dagen described and ethically motivated military violence and pacifism during this period.
The purpose was to identify potential motivations for pacifism and/or military support during a time when a large number of Pentecostals refused to bear arms, with particular interest in how these motivations related to ethical evaluation on contemporary wars.
The findings were fascinating. Pacifism and conscientious objection were regularly promoted and seldom criticized, while most contemporary military violence was condemned with one glaring exception: Israeli warfare.
Folke Thorell, quoted above, thought that God principally is against war, but allows them to fulfill his eschatological plans and even engages himself in warfare. He envisioned two-thirds of all Jews to die in a future third world war involving nuclear bombs, a genocide so brutal it would make the Holocaust seem “minuscule” in comparison.
Unlike the American war effort in Vietnam, Israel’s wars were commonly viewed as eschatologically significant and biblically predicted holy wars, with several writers suggesting that God himself has waged and will wage war on Israel’s behalf. Pacifism was primarily motivated by obedience to the Bible rather than empathy, fitting with Lisa Cahill’s theory of obediential pacifism being distinct from empathic pacifism in the Christian tradition.
Support for Israeli warfare was also derived from biblical interpretation, primarily based on Old Testament texts. It was further motivated by ideas of Jewish suffering and death being part of God’s plan, with several Pentecostal writers speculating that an apocalyptic genocide would precede the second coming of Christ.
Many Pentecostals did not see this as standing in conflict with personal pacifism and conscientious objection, as both views were perceived as biblical.
Future research could further explore the relationship between Pentecostal eschatology and empathy, along with how mid-century Pentecostal Zionism might have been influenced by antisemitic ideas from the 1930’s.
Originally posted at PCPJ.
Once again, the Holy Land has been struck by war.
I feel compelled to write something that I wish nobody should have to write, something that should be obvious to everyone but which for some ill-conceived reason can be controversial to state in certain contexts:
War is awful.
Hamas firing on and killing the Israeli civilian population is awful.
The counterattacks by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killing Palestinian civilians are awful.
War has no winners, there is no one to “cheer” on as if it were a sports event, there is no victory in war that does not come at the price of hating, tormenting and killing your fellow human beings.
Take a look at these pictures.
The upper image shows an apartment in Israel that was hit by one of Hamas’ rockets a few weeks ago. Five-year-old Ido Avigal, pictured to the right, lived in that apartment. He died immediately.
The picture below shows a girl being rescued by medical personnel after an Israeli attack in Gaza. The attack destroyed nine buildings and killed 43 people, including eight children.
In total, 68 children have been killed in the Holy Land these last couple of weeks. 66 of them were Palestinian.
All of this is awful. It’s sickening.
I honestly can’t understand those who are either trying to portray Hamas’ rocket attacks as a legitimate “freedom struggle” or the Israeli excessive violence as a legitimate “self-defense.” It’s madness on both sides.
They all kill children. I repeat: THEY KILL CHILDREN.
Of course, some will say: “Yes, but the children that my favorite team kills are really the other team’s fault because they use all the children who happen to die as human shields”.
Can’t you hear how crazy that sounds?
Sure, human shields are being used in this conflict both by Hamas and by the IDF, but many of these children have nothing to do with the warring parties. For example, five of the 66 Palestinian children who were killed by IDF attacks were sons and daughters of an employee of the Danish organization DanChurchAid.
They had nothing to do with Hamas or the war. They were just children living in Gaza and now they are dead because war is awful.
Thankfully, the violence has currently ended in a ceasefire, but it’s a fragile one. Please pray that peace negotiations are reactivated and that both sides lay down their weapons for good.
We know for a fact that more rockets from Hamas won’t end the occupation, because it has never worked so far. We also know for a fact that IDF bombing Gaza doesn’t end the Hamas’ rocket attacks, because it has never worked so far.
We don’t need people cheering on either side of the conflict as if the killing were some kind of a football game. We need peace. Even those who do not follow Jesus need to realize the wisdom and power of loving their enemies. And that love means that we cannot rejoice in anyone’s death.
God lets the sun shine on the righteous and the unrighteous, he wants us not only to love those who love us but to break the spiral of violence by reaching out to those who hate us. That’s the only way forward.
Yesterday I defended my paper on the Isreli-Palestinian conflict and since it seems to have gone pretty well, this means that I know can graduate with a bachelor’s degree in peace and development studies. And it’s summer break! Now, I will get much-needed time to work on some really cool projects that I’ve felt God wants me to do.
First of all, I will spend more time writing on my book. An American publisher has given me the opportunity and honor to publish a work on church history through them. The main thesis of the book is that Christian movements that have emphasized evangelism and miracles have almost always also emphasized peace, justice and social activism. I hope to get the project finished by the end of this year.
Secondly, I will release my very first documentary film. It’s about how the Jesus Army in the UK practice community of goods, and will hopefully give insights on how it’s not only possible but also really nice to share all one’s stuff with others. Half the movie is already edited, and I hope to get this thing done this summer.
Thirdly, I will of course continue to blog here as well as publish videos on my Youtube channel. I have an unfinished blog series on a Biblical, non-Zionist perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which could be suitable to pick up now that I’ve studied the actual conflict a bit more, and when it comes to the Youtube videos I’m thinking about perhaps posting some theological sketches that could be fun to do, and perhaps reboot my old God vs Wealth series to some better quality. We’ll see, God knows 🙂
Away from keyboard, I will visit and speak at some Christian conferences here in Sweden, travel to the Jesus Army together with some friend as well as rest, enjoy God’s creation, evangelize and help the poor.
So, what are you up to this summer? And would you like to help me out in some of my projects? Let me know in the comments!
This semester, I’m finishing my bachelor program in Peace and Development studies at Uppsala University, and I’m doing that by solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Seriously, I solved it. It’s done.
Now, what’s left is simply Israeli and Palestinian leaders obeying my policy recommendations, which could be a little trickier. But when it comes to the actual conflict resolution proposal, I’m quite confident that this would indeed solve the Middle East conflict once and for all.
Here you can download my paper as a PDF: Israel and Palestine – Solving this Mess Once and for All
The paper includes a lot of background, conflict resolution theory and a discussion about pros and cons with both a two-state and a one-state solution. The juicy part is of course my actual solution, which reads like this:
I propose the establishment of a Federation of the Holy Land, consisting of the State of Israel and the state of Palestine based on the 1967 Green Line, as well as the federal district of Jerusalem (including Abu Dis). Both the Knesset and a Palestinian parliament may be located in Jerusalem, together with a new federal parliament and possibly a senate.
Desmond Tutu, formerly archbishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa and a well-known anti-apartheid activist, is one of those people that accuse the state of Israel of practicing the crime of apartheid when it comes to how Palestinians are being treated. This is a quite controversial accusation though, even if it is supported by several human rights advocates and academics, it has also received a lot of criticism, since the situation in Israel and Palestine is noticably different from the South African case.
Mitchell G Bard from Jewish Virtual Library points at the fact that around 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs that have equal rights compared to Jews and other people groups in Israel. Arabs and Muslims are represented in Knesset, in the courts and at the universities. FW De Klerk, former South African President who together with Nelson Mandela ended apartheid, also says that because of this reason it is unfair to call Israel an apartheid state. “You have Palestinians living in Israel with full political rights. They are represented in the Knesset. You don’t have discriminatory laws against them, for example that they may not swim at certain beaches or anything like that.”
However, people who use the apartheid analogy to describe Israeli policy usually discusses how Palestinians are treated by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza rather than how Arabs are treated within Israel. The thing is that race actually can equal nationality according to international law. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Israel along with most other countries has signed, defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life” (emphasis mine).
Ten years ago, John Piper held a sermon on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East. It was a hot topic then and may be an even more hot topic now, and I really recommend you to read it. It may not be any convincing for Jews themselves, since they don’t believe in the New Testament, but Piper gives a good case why Christians should not think that Israel has to occupy Gaza and the West Bank in order for Jesus to come back, but instead support a solution that secures the safety and peace of both Israelis and Palestinians, no matter how the borders look like. Below, I qoute point 3-5 from Piper’s seven-point sermon:
3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.
This was the point of Romans 9. When Paul grieved over the lostness of so many Jews who were rejecting Jesus and were perishing, he said in verses 6-7, “It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” In other words, the promises cannot be demanded by anyone just because he is Jewish. Jewish ethnicity has a place in God’s plan, but it is not enough to secure anything. It does not in itself qualify a person to be an heir of the promise to Abraham and his offspring. Romans 9:8 says it clearly: “It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Being born Jewish does not make one an heir of the promise—neither the promise of the Land nor any other promise.
This was plain in the Old Testament, and it was plain the teachings of Jesus (which we will see under truth #4). For example, in the terrible list of curses that God promised to bring on the people if they broke his covenant and forsook him was this: “ And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it” (Deuteronomy 28:63 ). Throughout the history of Israel, covenant breaking and disobedience and idolatry disqualified Israel from the present divine right to the Land. (See also Daniel 9:4-7 ; Psalm 78:54-61 .)
I involuntarily get a lot of updates from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in my social media feeds, since I follow other Christians and some of them think it’s godly to share and retweet war propaganda (frankly, that’s what military forces’ public messages are, per definition). IDF regularly updates how many rockets are being fired from Gaza and how far they reach, but not so often what destruction these rockets cause. And this is of course because most of them either miss or get shot down. Whenever they hit something though, IDF immediately shares it on Twitter:
Well… it sure sucks for those people living there, but personally, I wouldn’t kill 200 children because of that. IDF started “Operation Pillar of Defense” before one single person had been killed by the Palestinian rockets. During the conflict though, three Israeli civilians have unfortunately been killed, and IDF could provide some more disturbing images: (more…)
In this fifth part of the Promised Land blog series, we will look at what the Bible really says about the land of Canaan, a.k.a. the Holy Land, a.k.a. Israel/Palestine. Christian Zionists are often convinced that God wants the Jewish people to possess Gaza and the West Bank, since these areas were included in the biblical land of Israel that God gave to the Jewish people. They say that this divine promise is eternal, and that it must be fulfilled before Jesus returns. A few even think that Israel will possess an even greater area, from Egypt to the Euphrates (including Syria, Jordan, Iraq and parts of Saudi Arabia).
This belief is affecting the current conflict in the Middle East in huge ways. Jews and Christians who are convinced that Gaza and the West Bank rightfully belongs to Israel are often skeptical towards a two-state solution, and they do not criticize the Israeli settlements or the occupation and blockade of Palestinian territory. They have strong lobby groups in both Israel and the US, and even though politicians are more pragmatic, it has been shown very clearly that American and Israeli politics have been shaped by these ideas.
Let us look then at what the Bible actually says about this. The land of Canaan is first mentioned in the book of Genesis, when God calls Abram from modern-day Iraq to resettle in the west. “To your offspring I will give this land.” He said (Gen 12:7) In Gen 15:18, He clarifies what land we’re talking about: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates”, and in 17:8, He clarifies how long this covenant will last – forever! “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” This promise is later transfered to Jacob, or Israel (Gen 28:3-4). That settles it right? Israel has eternal, divine right to all Palestinian areas, as well as to Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Ka-boom!
Stephen Sizer is one of the most influential critics of Christian Zionism, and he has done some extensive research both on Israel and the holy land in the Old and New Testament, as well as the history of Christian Zionism and the present conflict in the middle east. I can highly recommend his Bible studies and other articles where he effectively challenges Christian Zionism and present an alternative Christian response to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that is based on peacemaking, reconciliation and love for all people.
In this video, Sizer is interviewed by Allan Lee, who is clearly pro-Israel but who tries to hold his arguments back in order to listen to Sizer’s reasoning. I’m very impressed by Sizer in this video, he gives a very balanced, respectful and convincing impression when he argues for peace, justice and a biblical viewpoint on Israel.
When Lee talks about the threat of islamist terrorism, Sizer points out that we should ask ourselves why people become terrorists and argues that if we want a secure and peaceful Israel, we should work for justice for Palestinians. When Lee discusses how several Palestinian leaders haven’t recognized Israel, Sizer agrees with that it’s a problem but points out that Israel has never defined its borders and has not recognized a Palestinian state. And when Lee brings up how Gen 12:3 says ” I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse” as an argument for standing with Israel, Sizer points out that those words were to Abraham, and according to Gal 3:16, it’s fulfilled not many people but in Christ.
In a time when many Christians are eager to support everything Israel does due to bad theology, Sizer’s input is very welcome to the debate, and I hope this video can convince some Christians to be more balanced, biblical and peaceful when it comes to Israel and Palestine.
As the conflict in Israel and Gaza is going on, conservative Christian friends of mine are posting videos and images that tell the message that everything is Hamas fault while Israel only defends itself, that Hamas wants to kill civilians and use them as human shields while Israel actively tries to avoid hurting civilians, that Hamas wants war while Israel wants peace, that Hamas is evil while Israel is good. Over and over again I hear that if Hamas lays down its weapons, there will be peace, but if Israel does it all Israelis will be killed. One Christian friend told me that Israel is righteous while Hamas has a demonic, Nazi spirit.
Now, there are indeed big differences between Hamas and Israel. Hamas is a fundamentalist organization where there is a lot of antisemitism and hatred, and they do indeed target civilians and use them as human shields. But to blame everything on them and nothing on Israel, is not a true portrait of reality. Israel has done attrocities (for example, the use of human shields) and many of them are on a structural level: the settlements, not letting enough goods through to Gaza in order to stop the humanitarian crisis, breaking international humanitarian law over and over again, etc.
And in the conflict, it is the Palestinians that suffer and die the most. People that are pro-Israel often point out how many rockets Hamas is firing into Israel, but they are often quite silent about the fact that very few die from them. During operation Cast Lead in 2009, 1391 Palestinians died and 5 Israelis. More than half of the killed Palestinians were civilians, while all five of the killed Israelis were soldiers. In the current conflict between Hamas and Israel, over 100 Palestinians have died and 77% of them are civilians. (more…)
My dear friend Andreas have just returned from a trip to Israel and came back with some amazing stories. He shared how he and his friends were walking in the Old City of Jerusalem, and suddenly Andreas recognized the Church of S:t Mark, a Syriac Orthodox church that claims to be built on the house of Mary, the mother of Mark (Acts 12:12-17). Not only that, they claim that this also contains the upper room, the place of the Last Supper, several appearances of the resurrected Jesus and where the Holy Spirit ascended on Pentecost; although this is also claimed by the Cenacle. Anyways, they went inside to have a look.
It’s a pretty cool church. The liturgical language, Syrian, is similar to Arameic, the language of Jesus. The liturgy itself is extremely old, and even if it is doubtful that the practices of the church goes all the way back to biblical times, it’s a good indicator of how ancient Christianity looked like.
Andreas and his friends met a nun who was so excited to share what God is doing in their little church. She told them about a man who had came to the church, and how she guided him around. A few weeks later he returned, and the nun welcomed him back, but for some reason he looked confused and said something in Hebrew. The nun didn’t know Hebrew so she asked him to talk English like last time they met. The man was even more confused and talked a lot of Hebrew with her.
The Promised Land is back! In the previous parts of the series, we have looked at the origin of Christian Zionism, we saw that it was totally absent in the early church and we have discussed how important it is to realize that just because one isn’t a Christian Zionist, one isn’t necessarily an anti-Semite (and shouldn’t either). Now, we will turn to exegesis to see what the Bible has to say about Israel and the Promised Land. Let’s start by discussing God’s Chosen People.
Israel is the name of a man, Jacob, and it was used to describe his descendants. These were expected to believe in the Lord, and thus be God’s people, but they were actually not the only ones that belonged to Israel. This is something Stephen Sizer has pointed out (and the following account is based on his works): the requirement to belong to God’s people was and is primarily faith, not race. In the Psalms, we read:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me—Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ Indeed, of Zion it will be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.’ The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: This one was born in Zion.” (Ps 87:4-6)
Here, we see that Egyptians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese and Ethiopians all can be recognized as “born in Zion”, receiving full membership and citizenship of God’s people, if they acknowledge the Lord. Already Moses said in Deut 23:7-8: “Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.” In Esther 8:17 we read “And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.” The requirement to belong to God’s people was faith, not race or nationality.
For the rest of the blog posts in this series, go here.
As we’ve seen in the previous parts of this series, Christian Zionism is a new theology; it did not exist in the early church and has in its current version only existed for about 150 years. Before that, supersessionism was basically the universal teaching of the church. This is the teaching that Christ has fulfilled the promises to Israel and welcomed Gentiles into God’s people while those who do not believe in Him has been excluded from this people. Thus, the promise of the land does not refer to the Jewish people any more but to the church, which supersessionists interpret as the promise of Heaven.
We will look at the biblical foundation for this teaching in the next parts of this series. For now, I want to discuss whether this theology is antisemitic, which some Christian Zionist claim. When they talk about how the early church was “hijacked” by Gentiles that replaced Zionism with supersessionism (which was hard to do since there is no evidence for Christian Zionism in the early church to begin with), they often quote other church fathers, like John Chrysostom, who were downright antisemitic, and jump to other periods of church history when Christians have done horrible things towards Jews and argued that this is rooted in supersessionism. You can see example of this reasoning here and here.
The problem with this argument is that it fails to show how supersessionism would lead to antisemitism. All the texts I have read just assumes that this is the case rather than proving it. Instead of showing a logical connection between supersessionist and antisemitic thought, they merely point to antisemitic rhetoric and action through church history and say that since they were supersessionists, supersessionism causes antisemitism. (more…)
For the rest of the blog posts in this series, go here.
In the previous part of this series we looked at how the theology of Christian Zionism, which claims that the Jewish people must return to the land of Israel before the second coming of Christ, is very young. Its roots are found in the 16th century and its developed form didn’t appear until the 19th century. However, most Christian Zionists don’t view this as a problem, since they believe that this was not the birth of the theology but its resurrection – Christian Zionism was the original church teaching about the role of Israel, and the Puritans and Dispensationalists simply rediscovered it.
However, the early church did not believe in Christian Zionism. None of the church fathers, neither any anonymous early Christian writings, argued that the Jewish people must return to Israel before the second coming of Christ. On the contrary, they were supersessionists, teaching that Christ had fulfilled the covenant with and promises to Israel and that these now belonged to His followers, the church.
The non-existence of Christian Zionism in the early church is rather indesputable, even most Christian Zionists themselves acknowledge this. They claim that the apostles believed in Christian Zionism, but that it was immediately lost. I call this “The Men in Black Theory”. Just as the movie agents use their neuralyzer to erase people’s memories, Christian Zionism was suddenly deleted from the collective mind of the whole church right when the final pages of the New Testament was written.