Christianity gone haywire, and going down

Tom Holland the historian reckons we’re witnessing the total extinction of Christendom in the Middle East. And Christian leaders' attitudes and actions in the Holy Land are far from standing in the way

Plenty of criticism of Jews; support for MidEast Christians?
Steve Apfel
On 30 September 2013 12:40

Christian people are not like Muslims. They have no tradition of putting themselves out for co-religionists. Under attack they’ll remember to pray for them, perhaps; but picket embassies, occupy piazzas, marshal the media into battle, take the UN by storm – never.

Christendom right now is in dire straits. What would Paul the Apostle have done with some 100 million followers under existential threat? Has there been a time like the present when every hour another Christian is martyred?  

The way the church was afflicted under the Romans pales by comparison. Even under Muslims in medieval times the burning and slaying and pillaging to near extinction is dwarfed by the scale of what’s happening now.

Tom Holland the historian reckons we’re witnessing the total extinction of Christendom in the Middle East. He might also have warned about the sub-continent, after Pakistan’s worst-ever attack blasted 85 church-goers to kingdom come.

What have Christians done about it? Pakistan did erupt in country-wide protests; but elsewhere their hallmark behaviour has been passivity. "Everyone is ignoring the growing danger to Christians in Muslim countries,” bewailed Mano Rumalshah, the Bishop of Peshawar. “European countries don't give a damn about us."

Not quite. The Archbishop of Canterbury gives a damn. Though his words may have brought cold comfort to the bereaved and afflicted, they will at least take us where we need to go. So here’s what Justin Welby, head of the Church of England had to say after seeing the “mass graves” of latter day martyrs.

“I have no illusions about this. But historically the right response of Christians to persecution and attack is — it’s the hardest thing we can ever say to people, but Jesus tells us to love our enemies. It’s the hardest thing when you’re violently attacked. It’s an indescribable challenge. But God gives grace so often for that – to love our enemies.”

Hold onto Welby the consoler of Christians drowning in blood while we revert to people of another faith. When last did a Jew kill a person for being a Christian? When last in the Holy Land did Jews burn down a church? When last was a Christian converted to Judaism under pain of death?      

Yet churchmen aim their missiles where?

The Rev David Kim, head of the World Evangelical Alliance, takes aim at the ‘impossible people.’ ”How to Deal with the Impossible People – A Biblical Perspective,” was the title of his paper at a conference in Bethlehem. Ha – Muslims rooting up two thousand years of Christianity, you’d be given to think. Think again.

A banner in the hall made his reference as clear as daylight. It had a church and a cross imposed over a menacing-looking part of Israel’s anti-terror barrier. Kim’s paper was about how to deal with Jews. And that is odd because, in one unbelievably thin strip of land in a vast Christian graveyard Christianity has prospered and burgeoned.

In 1949, Israel had 34,000 citizens of that faith. Today they number is 168,000. In this awkward Christian haven, freedom to practice religion is guaranteed, along with access to holy sites. And what draws more visitors to Israel than Holyland tourism? Tiberius and Nazareth and Jerusalem practically live off pilgrim excursionism. Under the ‘impossible people’ Christianity is alive and well. 

Oh men of the cloth; with all that God-endowed grace for loving your murderous enemy, have you no leftovers of love for your friend? Is it all  spent on your Muslim persecutors? Only heed your imperilled flock in ‘Palestine’ and re-route some love to your benefactor, Israel.     

Will the church heed its flock in Palestine? Out of Gaza and Ramallah come leaks and whispers, hole-in-the wall fear-ridden testimonies, tearful stories told behind locked doors. Who knows the totality of fear, cruelty, confiscation, assault, homicide perpetrated on reclusive Christian pockets? Who cares to know? When did the media run a story on the torments of Gaza’s few remaining Christian souls; or on Bethlehem’s decimated long-time majority of Christian Arabs? When will men of the cloth sound the alarm?

With all his abundant love for the persecutors of his faith, Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu has nothing left to give the ‘impossible people’ but hatred. Indeed Tutu finds them more than impossible. “The Jews think they have a monopoly of God. Jesus was angry that they could shut out other human beings." Like Welby’s, here’s another statement to hold onto.  

Meanwhile people on whom Tutu showers love, the inhabitants of Gaza, have made half the Christian population flee. Decorations for Christmas are banned and public crucifixes forbidden. And the rulers have broadcast calls for Muslims to slaughter their Christian neighbors. Rami Ayad was one of the victims. Owner of the only Christian bookstore in Gaza, he was murdered and his shop reduced to ash.

"We pray for all those Palestinians whose homes have been demolished and those who have been driven away. For Palestinians who suffer because of the separation wall and settlements and for those who have lost their jobs and suffer from poverty, hunger and thirst, we pray to you, O God.”

Here’s a psalm to bring that loving spirit enjoined by Welby into the hearts of the flock. The words are part of a liturgy composed by the World Council of Churches. The authors were Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran and Catholic, and they were helped by the ‘World Day of Prayer Committee in Palestine,’ headed by a body named Kairos. It’s the body that lobbied church leaders to declare the Jews a “sinful” people for their occupation.

They all gathered in Bethlehem, Christianity’s cradle, not to defend the faith but to promote another Muslim state that would lose no time uprooting it. Defend Christians or attack Jews: for Bethlehem conference-goers it was a no-brainer.

Can men of the cloth, even pooling their faith, justify the perversity? Can they square the circle of exerting themselves to attack Jews while having no time for Christendom exploding on their doorstep? Yes they can; by leaning back to a St Augustine doctrine and forward to a modern pair.   

Put together, the two modern doctrines do not measure up to St Augustine’s one; so why not get them out the way promptly. Actually they’re more blind faith than doctrine, which is not to say that the doctrines are treated less reverently than the Gospels themselves. One is called Human Rights and the other goes under the name, ‘Multiculturalism’.

We find the human rights doctrine enshrined in the so-called Kairos Document. The doctrine relies on the bible to make the political views and world vision of the authors sacred. Their approach, if not their intention, converts Christianity into a very human ideology. For example at the ‘Christ at the Checkpoint Conference’ in Bethlehem the ‘priesthood’ of human rights deliberated on what Jesus would do and say if he walked through an Israeli checkpoint on a daily basis.

Delegates wanted to know how the Son of God would deal with the same feelings of anger and bitterness daily experienced by Palestinian people. So said Munther Isaac, Academic Dean at Bethlehem Bible College. Hence that liturgy and how it resonates with the idea of God the human rights activist: "We pray for all those Palestinians…”

A sermon for Easter coloured human rights with even bolder biblical hues. “It seems that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. … The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily”. Thus Naim Ateek, an Arab cleric, weaves the Gospel narrative into pro-Palestinian ideology.

Desmond Tutu, appealing to the United Methodists to punish Israel, is also a busy weaver. “The harsh reality endured by millions of Palestinians requires people and organizations of conscience to divest from companies …profiting from the occupation and subjugation of Palestinians.”

Apparently, then, employing time and energy on Palestinian Arabs is another way to get to heaven. Grace will come if a Christian can only learn to love his enemy and hate his friend.  

What of Multiculturalism? Is it a more credible-seeming doctrine for a good Christian believer? Going into it we find it is not far removed from the first doctrine of Arab rights and Jewish wrongs. And it seems easier for people to keep. All you have to do is pay homage to the “I – Word:” Islamophobia. Parody Islam, point a finger at the barbaric behaviour of Islamists, speak out against how they treat their women, and you’re Islamophobic. Your fate as a "bigot" is sealed.  

The doctrine, though strict but easy to follow, is not very consistent. Towards people of another faith the rules are ultra lax. If Muslims are off limits and  sacrosanct; you’re allowed to say what you like about Jews, provided you call them Israelis or, better yet, Zionists. And you can write a made–to-order record of that people, replete with blood libels, ethnic cleansing, Apartheid and all manner of crimes a Jew can inflict upon humanity. Say about Zionists or Israelis whatever you like, only avoid the fatal ‘J–trap.’ 

So much for new Christian doctrines which will bring God’s grace to those who love their enemy and hate their friend. A very old doctrine is a far more serious candidate. For all we know it may even be true.

Augustine in the 4th century made the exile of the Jews a matter of theological proof. Long after him, Pope Pious X, giving an audience to Theodore Herzl in 1904, reiterated Augustine. “The Jews, who should have been the first to acknowledge Jesus Christ, have not done so to this day. And so if you come to Palestine and settle your people there, we will be ready with churches and priests to baptize all of you.”

A Jesuit journal at the time explained that the Jewish people “must always live dispersed and vagrant among the other nations so that they may render witness to Christ by their very existence.” So, the Vatican’s refusal to recognize the new state of Israel in 1948 was not a matter of pro-Arab bias, but a matter of dogma.

The likes of the World Council of Churches, the Presbyterians of America, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, and many Christian leaders and icons, think in St Augustine's terms. Get the hell out of Palestine, they yell inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) at Israelis. You rejected the God Messiah. The Church took your place as God’s Chosen. Return to being the witness wanderers HE meant you to be.

In parallel, Israel’s rise from Holocaust ashes equally troubles secular anti-Zionists. For them the problem is not religious but perceptual. Anti-Zionists just cannot come to terms with the military Jew. Since when was that people meant to be stronger than its persecutors?

The stereotype of the Jew of old – that bearded bookish stateless wanderer – could never have evolved into a mean machine. What a vinegary mind anti-Zionists turn on it, what sourball gaze at the juggernaut Jew. Get the hell out! Go back to your natural born fate! 

With biblical fire Desmond Tutu, Stephen Sizer and co look to punish the unchosen people. ‘Your destiny was never to make the desert bloom; to build a Tel Aviv of Manhattan skyscrapers; to win Nobel Prizes by the wheelbarrow full; to boast a bustling high-tech economy with a currency stronger than Europe’s.’

The pores of Israel-hating Christians leak not envy but error – the faith-losing error of dogma. Hence the driver of Christian angst and bluster towards friendly Israel: the spoilage of the plot, the shattering of the icon.

Steve Apfel is director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book,'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics' (2012) and a contributor to, "War by other means." (Israel Affairs, 2012). His articles and blogs are published in several foreign journals and his new work, 'How the West was won' is due out next year

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