Thursday, September 08, 2016


Dear Bishop Eaton,

I write to you with a sad heart. Our ELCA has chosen a specific course of action in seeking a just solution for both Israelis and Palestinians in their conflict. With overwhelming votes, the Assembly has chosen to take action against one side in the conflict, Israel, and this, after having only heard from Palestinians in the conflict. I am deeply disappointed that this can be defined as justice!

My goal in this letter is two-fold.  One, to respond specifically to resolutions regarding actions against Israel that passed in our August assembly, and two, to go beyond the assembly itself, to address matters of the heart, and some serious speculation as to our pattern of singling out Israel in our resolutions. Sometimes points one and two overlap, because they do.

The resolutions

1.     We claim to be seeking justice for both Israelis and Palestinians in our resolution language. This gives our voters the impression that we Lutherans are fair, and that both sides will be regarded fairly. Yet, our resolutions propose action against only one side in the conflict.

        We are not honest about our intent to present only one side, the Palestinian side, which we do by inviting only Palestinian Lutheran pastors to speak at our assemblies. When resolutions about Israel come before our assemblies, we should invite Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and non-ELCJHL (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, ( Palestinian Christians, and the thousands of Philippine workers who support their families by doing domestic and basic personal care to Israeli families. They all have their personal stories which we should not overlook. Our resolutions are also about them. We do listen to select Jewish organizations concerning the conflict, but only those, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, who take the side of the Palestinians. There are more than just two sides that need our attention, yet we give unique credence to the ELCJHL version of the conflict.

2.     In our quest for justice, the ELCA has a dedicated website, called Peace Not Walls (PNW, This website is totally dedicated to incessant Israel bashing, without one word regarding any Palestinian wrongdoing. Does this fit our criteria for justice? My fear is that Lutherans who view this site are receiving all of what the ELCA wants them to know about the conflict. Do we have to guess what this misleading and biased reporting stirs in the hearts of its readers?

3.     Resolution 16-06.27 charges the CSR review team to develop a human rights screen regarding investments in any country. Is this deceptive in intent? I think Lutherans would prefer that resolutions simply be honest in their real intent, and not hide under a deceptive general concern. Will Israel be the only country targeted for divestment or non-investment?

4.     Resolution 16-05.13 asks the U.S. to withhold military aid to Israel, showing that we are willing to allow other countries to threaten Israel’s very existence. U.S. law already requires compliance regarding upholding human rights as a condition of receiving money. The Oslo Accords, as agreed to by both sides, states that a two-state solution will only come through negotiation. A resolution to encourage this would be fair and appropriate since it would not attempt to force one side to make all the concessions.

      The two resolutions passed at the assembly this August in New Orleans stand against Israel, bearing witness about who Lutherans are, not about who Israel is. There is not one resolution regarding wrongdoings of Palestinians, not one resolution regarding human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, and not one resolution about human rights violations in any other country. While we might hear from some of our Jewish friends that our resolutions are “more balanced” than that of other resolutions against Israel by the UCC and Presbyterian churches, they are still only about Israel and our Lutheran special focus on them. A Jewish colleague of mine, seeing that I was upset about the resolutions, was indifferent to them. She said to me, “You are so upset with these resolutions; we Jews are used to it.” And she shrugged her shoulders. My stomach cringed at her assessment that it has always been this way for them. I responded to her, “I will be upset, then, for you, and I am upset as a Lutheran.” It is our witness that history will assess.

Beyond the resolutions

1.     Many Lutherans have their first entry into any discussion about the state of Israel through the conflict, specifically through Palestinian eyes or anti-Israel Jewish voices (Jewish Voice for Peace). Christian tours of the Holy Land ignore nearly everything of Israel that does not support the “occupation narrative.” Can we address this imbalance?

2.     The Lutheran church has a long history of anti-Judaism, starting with Luther and his treatise, “On the Jews and their lies.” Most Lutherans are unaware of our history, of Hitler’s use of Luther’s words to outline a strategy of persecution and destruction of Jewish life, or of our 1994 statement to the Jewish community. That statement addresses both Luther’s works and German Lutheran culpability in the Holocaust. Because Israel (as a collective Jewish community) remains a special subject for our Lutheran assemblies (as it continues to be in other mainline Protestant churches), our history should be known, studied, and discussed.

3.     Today, unlike any other time in our history, Christians acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew, that he was born, lived, and died a Jew, that he never left his faith in the God of Israel, or left the Jewish people. We know the debates he had with Pharisee and Sadducees in our scriptures were normal intra-Jewish debates of the Second Temple era. This was not Jesus being anti-Jewish. Jesus's “background” wasn't Jewish; his being and reality were Jewish. We need to teach a positive view of Judaism and see Jesus as the Jew who links us to one another, instead of the one who separates us from one another.

4.     We also now acknowledge what has always been true, but that we were blind to, that God remains faithful to the Jewish people, and that the Old Testament is not old at all, but a living covenant, never revoked. These realities should encourage us to ask what God is doing with the Jewish people and with the state of Israel, as well as with the Palestinian people. We already show that we love the Palestinian people. If we can show that we love the Jewish people too, as our 1994 declaration asserts we do, perhaps our resolutions will reflect that complicated, multilateral love that will enable an honest discernment needed to establish an honest peace and true justice.

Yours in Christ


The Rev. Dr. Kathleen J. Rusnak, Ph.D.
New England Synod, ELCA)

Mr. William Horne, Vice-President ELCA

Ms. Kathryn Lohre, Executive Director for ELCA Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations

Dr. Kathryn Johnson, Director for ELCA Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations

The Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla, Executive Director for ELCA Global Missions

The Rev. Cynthia G. Halmarson, Area Program Director for Europe/Middle East, Global Missions


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review and Response to Walter Brueggemann's book, "Chosen?: Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict"

A renowned Old Testament professor who writes a fifty-three page book called "Chosen?” with a study guide for church groups, obviously wants Christians to know something very important about Jews in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What? And why?

I say "about Jews" because Brueggemann does not talk about Palestinians, except to say that they are victims of injustice and human rights violations by Israel. His goal is to teach the Christian reader that the Jewish scripture has so many voices and ambivalent views, that a literal reading regarding Jewish chosenness and God's promise of the land cannot be used to give the State of Israel a "blank check" for its abuse of Palestinians, taking all the land for itself, with the goal of excluding all Palestinians.

Before making further comments on the book, and just to be clear, I have several of Brueggemann's books on my shelf, as do many mainline Christian clergy. His writings are popular, insightful, well written, sometimes pastoral, and have informed and influenced many of us on the Hebrew Scriptures. Exactly the point! And his hope! Will the faithful and trusting reader of Brueggemann, be influenced by this latest and perhaps last writing of an eighty-one year old scholar? I think that this is Brueggemann's hope, and the hope of the two mentors he credits for the writing of this book--the anti-Israel, Israeli-Arab citizen and Christian Cleric, Canon Naim Ateek, and American born Jewish anti-Israel activist Mark Braverman. I can see them shaking hands with each other or giving high-fives at their big catch. Convert to their side! Their loud and influential authoritative voice. Brueggemann!

While Brueggemann argues that the Bible can be used to prove any position, he proceeds to use that factor to claim three truths in three chapters that he wants his Christian readers to know: one, that Jews aren't chosen, two that the land is not their land, and three, that modern Israel is not biblical Israel.

To expound further, he begins this brief document by illustrating in chapter one the various and ambivalent voices in the Jewish scripture. He uses the widely accepted historical criticical method to show how editors of the bible rewrote the past to give their meaning to their current reality. He introduces this with respect to the promise of land, its acquisition (by Joshua, which we will see below), loss, and restoration. It was during this restoration period, upon return from exile, that Brueggemann notes, “. . . the great tradition of land promise and land reception was given final biblical form during this critical period,” giving “legitimacy . . .in the moment of restoration” (3). What is troubling, is that Brueggemann intentionally uses the word “legitimacy” and then links it to the return to the land, a highly emotive and loaded term used today to question Israel’s right of return to the land, of its right to exist.

When Brueggemann states in chapter one that, “The appeal of the contemporary state of Israel to the bible concerning the land is direct and simple. It is that the land of promise was given initially and unconditionally to Israel and thus to the ongoing community of Jews,” (2) he implies that Israel believes all the land is theirs exclusively for the Jewish people. He then gives a brief excursion into what he calls the ongoing tension between Ezra’s exclusiveness and Deuteronomy’s inclusiveness regarding the “other” in the land: “In the current state of Israel with its Zionist policies, the exclusion of the other (now the Palestinians) is a dominant motif” (6-7). I will close with remarks concerning this allegation.

Chapter two takes up his first argument against Jewish chosenness. Are the Jews chosen? He answers emphatically yes, but adds that this status is "arbitrary," and without anything “identifiable about Israel that would evoke such a decision and status" (16-17). He claims that the use of "love" by God towards Israel is "rhetoric" to show that "God is smitten with Israel" (17!) Even so, he say, chosenness is also revocable, because it is a conditional status based on Israel's obedience to Torah’s requirements of justice and holiness. He even wants us to know that, "for a moment" even "God had abandoned Israel"(18). He goes on to tell of three other groups of people who have also claimed to be chosen by God: Christians, the United States, and the poor. "It isn't fair," you can hear him say, "Aren't we all special to God?" Then he asks how it feels to be the “not chosen,” and asks how Jewish chosenness must feel to the Palestinians.

With regard to the land, Brueggemann implies that God did not have a chance to give the land he promised to the Hebrews, and that it is significant that the promise was only "anticipated" but not yet given in the five books of the Torah (30). Instead, he says, Joshua took the land by force from another people, and linked "the victory of Israel to the preceding land promises . . .  fulfilled, but only through the vigorous action of Israel" (32). This assertion forces the question, of how God's promises, whatever they may be, or how the Kingdom of God in Christian theology, are to become realities? How does Brueggemann envision God giving the land to the Hebrews?

The promise of land is conditioned by adherence to the covenant, states Brueggemann. "Thus, the land is given, the land is taken, the land is losable," and just as the prophets warned, Israel lost the land and was exiled. Brueggemann implies that this pattern, “promised, taken, lost,” is about to be repeated again with Israel. In the study guide he asks a leading question after he reminds his reader that Joshua knew he took the land from another people by force:  "How is the modern conflict between Israel and the Palestinians similar to the earlier biblical account" (80)?  This is followed by what I believe is an audacious question to Christians, “Is the land and the promise of the land really indispensable for Judaism's existence?” He know that Christians do not believe anything in the physical world is essential in order to worship God, yet he does not teach his Christian reader the meanings or significance of land in Jewish thought, or its connection to their covenantal understanding. What again is his implicit message about Judaism and the State of Israel for his Christian reader?

Very disturbing, Brueggemann then claims that there is no link between ancient Israel and modern Israel because "there is a defining difference between a covenant people and a state that relies on military power without reference to covenant restraints."(48) Again, this statement is not accompanied by the covenantal language of responsibility and duty that is in Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948, and again he does not teach his Christian reader the meanings and significance of covenant in Jewish thought. Regarding the concept of covenant, he does not teach the post-Holocaust Christian affirmation that the covenant between God and Israel is still a living and vital covenant (Romans 11:16-18); a claim Christianity did not hold for nineteen hundred centuries. This affirmation should have been accompanied by the humbling realization that God is still working with and through the Jewish people, and thus Israel, in the world today "without first consulting with us Christians."

Another vital and missing part, is that while Brueggemann is talking about Jews, Israel and the Jewish Bible, he never lets his reader know about the unique and binding relationship Christians and Jews have with each other. New research has shown that both faiths are children of the Jewish Bible and Second Temple Judaism (in which the Jewish movement of Jesus was born), and that both grew and developed alongside each other as Jewish movements until they eventually became todays rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

This is an important omission because any talk by Christians about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would then imply a dual loyalty to both Israel and Palestinian Christians. Yes, the church has a long and deep relationship with Arabs in the Middle East, due to missionary activity, but it also has an eternally binding relationship with Israel. We share belief in the same God, use the same theological language, and much more.

Some mainline congregations claim that they are seeking justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, while at the same time admitting that their primary relationship is with to Palestinian Christians. My denomination, the ELCA states, “Our church’s primary companion church in the Holy Land is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ECLJHL). This Arabic-speaking community of faithful Lutherans is the primary relationship through which the ELCA sees the situation in Palestine and Israel” (Italics mine) ( This being acknowledged, how can the church equally say, “The ELCA is working for justice and peace in Palestine and Israel through our campaign.”? Can a one-sided view seek justice?

It isn't enough for Brueggemann to state a sentence or two out of a whole book that he is happy Israel has a state, and that Jews need safeguarding after the Holocaust. He needs to say something about the continuing covenant of God with Israel, and the unique and binding relationship between Christians and Jews

The last item I would like to discuss, is Brueggemann’s use of the phrase “facts on the ground,” as a proof of Israel’s injustice towards Palestinians. This is a term widely used and appropriated by Brueggemann from his mentors Ateek and Braverman.

The truth is that "facts on the ground" don't say anything about their cause. "Come and see" Christian pilgrimages to the West Bank offered by Sabeel (Ateek’s organization) simply let you come and see those facts, while you are asked to believe the stories about what you see from those who invited you. It is unclear if Brueggemann has visited the West Bank himself and seen the facts he refers to, or if he is relying on his mentor’s witness.

In any case, let me share two stories behind two visible “facts” that have caused some Christian clergy to literally “cringe” in accusatory disgust when they hear the word Israel; these “facts” are the security barrier and black water barrels on the roofs of Palestinian homes.

A Jewish Israeli guide from an NGO in Jerusalem, whose organization uses legal means to help Palestinians, took me and others to the concrete part of the security barrier, sometimes referred to as "the wall."  He looked at the wall and asked, "Should this wall come down?" He shrugged his shoulders and said, "It saves Jewish lives!" The security barrier resulted after over one thousand Israelis were murdered by suicide bombers in restaurants, buses, discos and elsewhere is Israel, by Palestinians in the second intifada. Then he asked, "Does it make life hard for the Palestinians?" He simply answered, "Yes." Then he added, "So we go to court to get more openings for them and to try to ease their suffering." He went on to tell us about this work.

The second story came as we passed a Palestinian village with black water barrels on their roofs in East Jerusalem. I have repeatedly heard Christian clergy state how these barrels are an indication of Israel’s refusal to give running water to Palestinians. “See these water barrels on the roofs?” he asked. “All they need to do is vote in elections to get representation for themselves. But, they refuse to vote because that would be ‘normalizing’ relations with Israel, which is tantamount to treason according to the Palestinian leadership. They are under a lot of pressure. So, they don’t have benefits they could otherwise have. In addition, they don’t want to pay taxes, which would be necessary to get running water. Unfortunately, in this case, there is nothing our organization can do to help them. This is their choice.” He shrugged his shoulders again, and we drove on.

"Come and see" Christian pilgrimages, meant to show “facts on the ground” of Palestinian suffering, do not necessarily indicate that their suffering is caused by Israel, or by the occupation, which seems to be blamed for everything that is wrong with the Palestinians.

The “facts on the ground” also negate Brueggemann’s claims that Israel wants all the Promised Land and wants all Palestinians expelled from the land. This may be true of a very tiny minority of Jews in Israel. Yet, Israel’s declaration of Independence states clearly that it wanted to live in peace with its neighbors. Israel  also accepted the UN partition plan--far less land than all the land mentione in the Bible—willingly divvying up the land between Israel and a Palestinian state. He fails to tell his reader that Israel is a Jewish state and a democracy, with a twenty percent Arab population, who are guaranteed equal rights; they serve as mayors, judges, and hold seats in the Knesset. Discrimination in  every democracy is an issue, and just as America struggles to live up to its democratic ideals of equality for all after over two hundred years of existence, so Israel struggles to do the same after over sixty five years of existence. Israel has no intention of expelling its Arab citizens, or of acquiring all the land of the Biblical promise.

One wonders why Brueggemann does not inform his readers that Israel has offered both Arafat (2000) and Abbas (2008) an independent Palestinian state. Both were turned down without counter offers. These were serious offers of a viable independent Palestinian state. He also does not give his readers readily available statistics on the growth of the Palestinian population both inside Israel and in the disputed territories since 1948. These populations have continued to grow, countering accusations of Israeli aspirations to exclusivity over all the land.

One wonders if such unwarranted accusations are not mere projections. Hamas states clearly it does not want a two-state solution, but all the land for Arabs only. Arafat, turned down Ehud Barak’s offer of a state in 2000, by saying, “There never was a Jewish Temple,” knowing that this admission
would mean Israel has a rightful claim to exist in the land. Is it Israel that does not want to live with Arabs as neighbors, or the other way around? Christian readers need to ask questions, and investigate.
In summary, I feel like Brueggemann has been high jacked by his mentors who have indeed influenced him to speak their message about Jews, Judaism, and Israel, to Western Christians.

Brueggemann's writing is seductive to the trusting follower of a biblical scholar "who must know what he is talking about," and to any Christian reader who might be uninformed about the 2000 year history of Christian anti-Judaism that infiltrated every aspect of Christianity, it's teaching, preaching, scriptural interpretation, liturgy, church policies, and so forth. Herein lies the danger for Israel, a danger Ateek and Braverman relish.

So, what is his purpose in writing this book? Whatever else it may be, it also stands in line with the many centuries of Christian biblical theological pieces about Jews and Judaism, (only now adding the state of Israel) by renowned theologians who focus on Jews as the problem, and use Jewish scripture to highlight Jews in an unfavorable light. What good can come of his book? Or is good not the purpose?

One hundred years from now, or whenever "the facts on the ground" in Israel and the disputed territories are really exposed through history, how will Brueggemann be viewed by church historians? That's the legacy he is willing to risk.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ahmadinejad, The Holocaust, and the Psychology of Denial

Working as a hospice chaplain for many years, I have experienced a lot of denial. Patients, or family members of patients, who can’t bear and refuse to deal with the reality that they or their loved one is dying, are said to be in “denial”. “Don’t tell my husband he’s dying,” says the wife of a patient I am about to visit, “He doesn’t know”. As my visit with the patient ends, he says to me, “When you visit with my wife, don’t tell her I am dying, she doesn’t know.” This is a familiar story to all of us who work in end of life care. Of course, both husband and wife know. They signed their names on papers granting them hospice care, a health care service with an eligibility requirement that patients have a prognosis of less than six months to live.

Denial has its pay-off. When a couple refuses to acknowledge that one of them is dying, they both attempt to live their lives the way they did before. Of course, one of them is very sick, but the language and actions of both patient, and spouse refuse to let on. “You’re getting stronger,” says the wife. “Maybe I can get out of bed and practice walking a bit today”, suggests the husband. “Maybe we can ask the nurse if we can get physical therapy”. “You need to regain your strength!” prompts the wife. “Eat. You can’t get better if you don’t eat.”

The cost of denial is huge. By refusing to acknowledge the truth of the situation, this couple is cheating themselves, each other, and all who know them. By not completing the necessary and healing tasks, conversations, and resolves that are integral to the one dying and to the one(s) who will go on, they are cheated. Healing and growth can only emerge through honest disclosure.

Denial is paradoxically an acknowledgment of the truth. Denial does not have an independent existence. It comes into existence whenever something is desperately wished to not be true. Denial, by definition, is attached to and a part of the truth it cannot bear to face.

Denial is a popular emotional response to reality. Alcoholics, people in prison, persons who are terminally ill, you and me in everyday life, in everyday relations with others, cling to our own actions and words despite the reality they may have created. We are innocent. We are right. We didn’t say that. We didn’t do that. I am amazed at the audacity of the accused to claim innocence even when their crimes are caught on video-tape and aired on TV. We like denial. No, we love denial. We don’t want to be wrong or others to be right. Denial safeguards us from the hard work that facing ourselves or the truth of a situation demands.

We must ask the necessary questions. What’s the pay off for Ahmadinejad if the Holocaust was not? What is it he won’t have to face or deal with, if he can convince himself and others that the Holocaust never happened? Why is he so desperate for the Holocaust not to be true? What does he want to take away from the Jewish people, from Israel, from the perpetrators who have confessed already, or from the world by his denial? What actions or beliefs will denial of the Holocaust justify for him? These are the questions we need to be asking. Not, did the Holocaust really happen? Confessions by perpetrators, documents kept of the Nazis, Christian admission of complicity, survivor testimony, research, dissertations, and technical proofs are readily available.

Denial doesn’t make truth go away. It delays the pain of what needs to be faced and accepted. It delays right words and right actions. It delays healing and moving forward in unexpectedly good directions.

Denial never negates the truth of what is, it just buries it away until enough courage arises within to face whatever it is that needs to be faced. Why does AA make public acknowledgement of one’s alcoholism a prerequisite for membership? Because sobriety’s first demand requires the courage to withdraw denial by stating the truth, “My name is so and so, and I am an alcoholic.” Only this admission, this truth coming from one’s own mouth and rising to the ears of others, this reversal of denial, this facing of truth, begins the process of recovery.

The early confessions of the Christian churches in Europe after the war related to its part in the Holocaust turned the church in a direction it had never faced before and on a theological journey still being unraveled. Destination unknown! Denial would have been easier. No changes would have been necessary. Proceed as usual. But, what the withdrawal of denial and the facing of truth have given the church is beyond its foreseeable theological horizons. It is discovering parts of itself it did not know existed (not knowing Jesus as a Jew has meant he was a stranger to us for centuries), eliminating or transforming parts of itself necessary for integrity (anti-Judaism), living with paradoxes yet to be resolved (God’s continued covenant with the Jewish people and the existence and mission of the church), and trusting in God that what the church will become is what God intended.

We have to see denial for what it is. It isn’t about truth, but about the inability to deal with or cope with the truth. Denial is usually reserved for someone directly affected by whatever it is that is being denied. In the case of the Holocaust, denial could come from the victims, from the perpetrators, or from the bystanders. Ahmadinejad was born in 1956 in Iran. He has no vested interest in the event itself,so we can only guess at what his inner motives really are in denying the Holocaust and inviting other Holocaust deniers to a conference.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Real Muslims--Real Christians: The Seeds of Genocide and Hope

“They want all of us to convert to Islam.” These were the first words, two Sundays ago, out of ninety year old Bob, a parishioner in the church where I serve. “Well,” he continued, looking at the floor quietly, thoughtfully, and even a bit unselfconsciously, as if he were talking not to me but to himself out loud, “I won’t do it, no matter what! That’s all there is to it!”

At coffee hour, another parishioner, Alice, of the same generation as Bob said, “Who would have ever thought that we would face what we only knew about in history, being asked if we believe in Christ and being forced to convert to Islam or be persecuted if we don’t.”

I felt like I was living in another century too when I watched the same young bearded man they watched, wearing a turban, speaking on an al-Qaeda videotape calling for all Americans to convert to Islam. Bin Laden recently called non-Muslim lands apostate and subscribes to bringing the rule of Allah to the Earth. Amadinijad has said the same. Like Alice, my mind went back in history to Christianity’s adolescence, when during the Crusades, the cross was turned into a sword, and Jews and Muslims were given the choice to convert or die. I felt a chill go down my spine. Is this really happening? Will it happen in my lifetime? Images of a church burning in Gaza this week and massacres of worshipping Christians in Afghanistan some time ago came to my mind. It was happening elsewhere. It could happen here.

This week Pope Benedict said something very negative about Islam during his visit to Germany. He quoted from a 1391 text of a dialogue between the Christian Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologos and a Persian on Christianity and Islam. “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Muslim world was offended and outraged. Real Islam, they said, is a religion of love and peace. This is a false Islam.

It had happened in the past with Islam. Omar and his successors brought Islam to many parts of the world through bloody conquests. Churches were desecrated and turned into Mosques. The blood of the “infidels” both Jewish and Christian ran like rivers.

Today we see Muslim homicide/suicide bombers throughout the world, huge disasters with 9/11, Madrid, London, and elsewhere. Kidnappings, beheadings, and millions of Muslims calling for the death of infidels. I would hate to be a loving and peaceful Muslim too, who cringes at the debacle, fears death threats by extremists calling themselves Muslims, and floundering in how to move forward with integrity and faith. But which Muslim today would criticize Omar or say that he was not a true Muslim?

I teach the Holocaust. When my audiences are Christian, many are deeply offended when I say that the Holocaust, which took place in Christian Europe, would not have been possible without the help of Christians and Christian theology, particularly Lutheran and Catholic. John Roth says it like this. “…while Christianity was not a sufficient condition for the Holocaust, nevertheless, it was a necessary condition for that disaster.” It’s a hard bullet to swallow for sure. It is for me too. A common reaction is to defend Christianity with the rationalization that a Christian, by definition, cannot murder. Therefore, they say, they weren’t real Christians. But they were, just like those who espoused to be Christian during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Pogroms were real Christian. And their actions were backed by Christian theology. The Crusades are part of Christianity’s history. The Holocaust is part of Christian history too, not just Jewish history. Saying they aren’t real Christians doesn’t make it so.

Robert P. Ericksen points out in his book "Theologians Under Hitler," that Paul Althaus, Gerhard Kittel, and Emanuel Hirsch were three very influential Protestant theologians in Germany who welcomed Hitler and his antisemitic policies. We must claim them as Christian. They were real Christians. Oh, we cling to the Bonhoeffer’s too, knowing only too well that history has yet decided our attempts at faithfulness in the challenges we have been called to and are blessed to live in now.

Both Christian and Muslim estremists teach us something important. They have found the seeds of genocide in each of our faiths, and they have acted on them. One thing is for sure, neither of us can remain scriptural literalists any longer. These deadly passages, the theology that flows from them, cannot be ignored. The long theological and scriptural investigation, which already began in Christianity after the Holocaust, hopefully will begin for Islam now. That is our only hope!

Yes, extremists are ours. Both Christians and Muslims, both past and present, whom we would love to disown, but cannot. They are ours then and they are ours now. Only by this claiming can we repent. Only by this claiming can we change. Only by this claiming can we become whole.

Until next time. Thank you so much for reading.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A View from Before I was Born: What it Means for Christians, Jews, and Muslims Today (Part I)

It was over dinner that Marianne said, "Isn't the antisemitism just awful?" I wondered how many people sitting in the dining room of her senior living community in Massachusetts knew that she had been through this before? That she was a living monitor of how bad things could get for Jews.

Marianne was a teenager in Germany November 9-10, Kristallnacht, when the Gestapo came to her front door. I was sitting and eating with a person who had actually experienced the Gestapo! The Gestapo. The Nazis SS of my history book. Black uniforms, hats with high shiny visors, pants tucked into Jack boots loudly and rythmically approaching. Pounding at her door. Storming in. Ransacking her home. Kicking, screaming, terrorizing, and later returning to take her father, whom she never saw again. She had seen the hatred in their faces. Felt their loathing. Experienced their agenda. I tried to imagine them knocking at my door. I couldn't.

But they had returned. Different uniform. Same hatred. In every country, terrorists, facists. Convincing others of that old refrain, "The Jews are our misfortune."

The July, 2006 failed political campaigns of Lieberman (CT) and McKinney (GA) are still fresh in my mind. Fox news read an email that they had received in which the writer tries to remember Lieberman's wife's name, saying it was something like Haggadah, "or something you eat at Passover." McKinney lost her relection to congress, and television showed the horrific antisemitic, anti-Israeli, and anti-Jewish comments made by her staff to reporters. How easy it returned. To see what the Jews are doing wrong. Not to take their side. They are guilty. Jews are aways guilty!

I was shocked. It is an understatement to say that we Americans are intolerant of racist, antisemitc, and prejudical expressions about anyone. How easy it returned then. Some of the countries in the EU protesting against Israel in its war with Hizballah were holding signs boldly calling for the destruction of Israel. Others stating Israel was using aggressive force and acting illegally in its destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, its bridges, gas stations, roads and airports. These widespread anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiments explained to me why the sudden outbursts of antisemitism in America were expressed with strength, hatefulness, cynicism, and in relative safety.

I'm beginning to fear the boots slowly approaching my door. Your door. Who speaks out for Israel? For Jews? Only America? It seems so, and for the world, that seems too much. And the church, except for Christian Fundamentalists who have their own religious agenda for supporting Israel? The church didn't speak out for the Jews in the 1930's either. In fact, the German Lutheran church became Nazified. An underground church, The Confessing Church formed, and even in this movement only a minority were for Jews. The heroes of that movement are well known among scholars and many lay persons. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Niemoller, even though he admits that he was an antisemite. Bonhoeffer is known and lifted up as the one who from the beginning could see clearly amidst a church and clergy that were so blind to Nazism and the plight of the Jews. How lonely he must have felt, I thought, even as he wrote his book The Cost of Discipleship, in 1934. I am beginning to feel lonely too, as I experience mainline Protestant churches focusing almost exclusively on the Palestinians and their situation, buying their view of the history of the Middle-East, without batting an eye, without an urge for Israel's survival.

Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis. Niemoller spent time in Sacksenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, and survived. Both are recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Gentiles. I do not know of one fellow clergy-person today that would not wish, had they lived during that time, to aligned themselves with that faithful remnant. Of course. But we haven't learned. Oh, we look back and see our mistake...then! It looks so obvious in hindsight, how we should have tried to stop the extermination of the Jews. Protested at least. But not if you lived then. Not if you were deeply absorbed in the anti-Jewish politics, culture, and theology of the day that was considered default. But then, and back in 1967 when Israel was threatened with annihilation, and now, the church at large has not been the protectorate of Israel, and Israel is quite aware of this.

My friend Judy, whose mother was one of the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters, asked me recently, "Why do gentiles hate the Jews?" Her question reminded me of Anne Frank, who in her diary while in hiding from the Nazis in Holland during WWII, asks her father the same thing. A friend in Israel, Tanja, a Sabra, whose parents survived the Holocaust, emailed me during this last war stating, "Why don't they just leave us alone!" I thought about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that forged hateful document of the early 20th century, widespread today in all Arab countries and used by Hitler himself, that accuses Jews of conspiring to take over the world. Why didn't Anne, and Judy, and Tanja know about their own conspiracy?

It wasn't the first time I had ever been in the company of a survivor. Yet, everytime, I was acutely aware of how open, accepted, and justified anti-Jewish language and behavior were back then--a history I didn't think ever would be repeated--but were living memories for many Jews. I suddenly felt alone and realized how alone Jews must have felt in Germany and Marianne was beginning to feel again. I had overheard comments in passing conversations stating that if there just wasn't an Israel, we would all be safe. People were not planning on helping them this time either.

I hear what the respected mainline churches in the world say, and the professors at respectable academies say. If Israel would just give back the territories it won in the Six Day War. If we would just realize that peace is possible if we address all the greivances of the Muslims against America's policy in the Middle-East and against Israel. One otherwise caring and open clergy colleague said to me. "I feel so bad for the Palestinians. Who had the right to give the Jews a country anyway?" These words are not too far from the President of Iran's words that Israel should be wiped off the map. I remember my history and the voices of the churches and the academies in Germany too.

I am reminded of the words of Martin Neimoller in the October, 1945 Stuttgart Confession of Guilt that emerged from the Protestant Churches following WWII: "We accuse ouselves that we did not witness more courageously, pray more faithfully, believe more joyously, love more ardently." This was the first Protestant response to the Holocaust, even without mentioning the Jews to whom it refers. In fifty years, will we be confessing these words again?

Until later. Thanks for reading!