I had finished my speech about the impact of Sept. 11 and its aftermath on theological education, and now I was responding to questions from my evangelical audience. This particular questioner was obviously upset with me. "You have managed to talk a lot about world events," he said, "without expressing any support for the nation of Israel! Don't you know that this is the main thing that God is concerned about right now?"

I had a strong hunch about what was behind his question, but I decided to draw him out before answering. "Well," I replied, "I have no doubt that the Lord is deeply grieved by the terrible things that are happening right now in the Middle East. But there is much tragedy in other parts of the world as well. Why do you think that this the main thing on God's list of priorities?" He wasted no time getting to his basic theological point: "God has said that he will bless those who bless Israel, and curse those who curse them. If you don't want to be cursed, then you had better support Israel against her enemies!"

The biblical reference that my challenger had in mind here is the opening verses of Genesis 12, where the Lord is promising Abram-soon to become Abraham-that his descendents will be special beneficiaries of divine favor: "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12: 3). This verse is a favorite among those evangelical Christians who are inclined to see contemporary developments in the Middle East as the unfolding of a "Bible prophecy" scenario. They are convinced that God's ancient promise that Abraham's Jewish descendants will, as the Chosen People, return to the Promised Land and prosper there- that this promise began to be fulfilled with the establishment of the modern state of Israel, and that the rest is yet to come. To take the side of Israel's enemies, then, is to go against God's announced plan for the Middle East.

While I tend to hang a little loose on questions of "Bible prophecy," I do take the issues at stake here very seriously. Indeed, it isn't just evangelicals who take the question of Christian solidarity with Jewish people seriously. Roman Catholics have struggled with this topic in recent years, especially in light of much-publicized debates over what the Vatican did or did not do to protect the Jews in European countries during World War II. And for many Protestants the role of the church in Nazi Germany-a conflict that led, for example, to the martyrdom of the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer-has received much attention.

I personally believe that God has not simply backed off on the key promises made to the ancient Israelites and their descendents. So because of that-and because I am deeply ashamed of the Christian community's long record of anti-Semitism-I do not take it lightly when someone accuses me of being weak in my support for present-day Jews. But that does not mean that I am ready to follow my questioner in his insistence that support for all the present policies and campaigns of the Israeli government is a test of Christian faithfulness.

For one thing, my theology also tells me that I should also take a special interest in how my fellow Christians around the world are faring. And some of those fellow Christians happen to be Palestinians. It is unfortunate that the impression is often given by evangelicals that the struggle in the Middle East is basically one between Jews and Muslims. This ignores the plight of thousands of members of the Christian churches in that region. Israeli policies affect at least two groups of people who loom large in the Bible's scheme of things, Jews and Christians.

But there is an even more basic theological point to be made. Even if we believe that God wants the contemporary nation of Israel to prosper in the land that was promised to her ancestors, evangelical Christians do Israel no favors by refusing to criticize what the Israelis are presently doing in the Middle East. No one cared more about the well-being of the Hebrew people than the prophets of ancient Israel. Yet those prophets regularly criticized Israel's leaders for their corrupt practices. They minced no words when they were convinced that the people of Israel were guilty of injustice: "O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity" (Hosea 14: 1); "Woe to those who devise iniquity, and work out evil on their beds.[who] covet fields and take them by violence, also houses, and seize them" (Micah 2: 1-2). Why did they utter these harsh words? Because those prophets knew that God would never bless Israel unless that nation conformed to God's standards of justice and righteousness.

I know that the present situation is an extremely complex one. I am deeply appalled by suicide bombers who destroy the lives of innocent Israelis. I certainly have no clear proposal that would solve the present crisis.

My only point is this-and I believe it is an important one. For people who want to be faithful to what the Bible teaches, simply being "pro-Israel" has never been the posture that honors the will of God. Or to put it differently, to be pro-Israel in the proper sense is to urge-in word and deed-both Israel and her neighbors to heed the ancient formula for righteousness: "and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6: 8).

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