War is full of moral dilemmas

Rob Rogers

The comic above is trying to establish a moral equivalency between Hamas and Israel on the subject of the current round of bombings. It is a mistaken equivalency. If I were to draw a moral equivalency, I would do it on different reasons. However, discussing anything having to do with Israel and Hamas immediately triggers rabid reactions on both sides as is mocked in the video below.

What tends to happen in arguments about Israel is that we often concentrate on the incident in question while ignoring all previous history. USA theologically conservative Christians have been on Israel’s side since shortly after its founding. In part, it is because of the strong culture of apocalyptic thinking that permeated—and may still permeate—much of American culture. In that cultural viewpoint, we must support Israel because it is the equivalent of the third book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Return of the King.” Many theologically conservative Americans see the existence of Israel as a necessary prelude to the return of Our Lord Jesus Christ. More than that, they see the building of Jewish settlements and the driving out of the people of the land as equivalent to the Old Testament wars of conquest. Many who follow that theology foresee not only the Reconquista of all the lands that Israel held under David & Solomon, but also the rebuilding of the Temple and the re-establishment of Temple worship. Once Temple worship is re-established, it is but a short time until the Return of the King.

Under that theology, it would be easy to justify almost any action by Israel. After all, any opposition to Israel is an opposition to God’s plan. Folks who object to being thrown out of their homes and having the land that their parents and grandparents owned taken over by settlers simply do not understand God’s plan. There are some who will admit that particular actions by Israel are not appropriately moral. Even then, however, they will argue the equivalent of some eggs having to be broken in order to make a good omelet.

On the other side are some Christians who see Israel with a certain amount of displeasure. To them, any support of Israel is tantamount to the genocide of Palestinians. Among them are some Orthodox priests whom I know. It is interesting to hear their side of the story. One of them, a Palestinian, can tell me about how his grandfather was thrown off of land that had been owned by his family for generations. He had not participated in the conflicts against Israel. He was Arab Christian, so he did not have a strong stake in the conflict. Nevertheless, he was thrown off his land by invading Jewish forces. I know of more than one Arab priest, who comes from generations of Christians, that can tell a similar story. Their question for American Christians is how American Christians can support the taking of land and resources from their fellow Christians without protest and without support. More than one of them has wondered how could Christian not support Christian?

I do not have easy answers to questions of this type. Whatever we say nowadays about how Israel began, there is a country there now, a country recognized by the United Nations and the world community. In that sense, it does now have a right to national existence and peaceful borders. In fact, Israel is actually older than many countries that exist nowadays. One need only look at the Ukraine to see a country that is still in the throes of formation (or dissolution) and is much younger than Israel. On the other hand, this does not mean that we need to uncritically support any action by Israel. Sad to say, it is the very attitude of many American Christians that permits much of Israel’s ability to ignore the world community. [No, it is not true that the world community wants to destroy Israel, that is a convenient fiction that allows American Christians to ignore the world community.] Let us be honest with one another. Were a Muslim country to be taking some of the actions that Israel has taken, we would have conservative radio hosts bewailing lack of action by the President. Instead, we have conservative radio hosts urging Israel to take increasingly violent actions and urging the President to support them.

On the one hand Israel has the right to exist within peaceable borders. On the other hand, so do the Palestinians. Even the accords signed by the Israelis recognize a future that includes self-determination for the Palestinians. The right of Israel to exist does not give it the right to keep expanding its borders. The right of the Palestinians to self-determination do not give them the right to accomplish that goal violently. Both of the previous statements are true. One can neither simply claim that Jews are Zionists nor can one simply claim that Muslims are Jihadists. Finally, one cannot simply ignore Arab Christians nor use them as convenient proof that Muslims are evil. Let’s face it, in some ways Syrian Christians actually have a point that they were better off before Israel arrived! They may not have had full freedom and full rights, but on the other hand, they were allowed to live and work their land. After Israel, and the USA wars in the region, that is no longer true, and we American Christians bear some of the responsibility for that.

You see how confusing the moral landscape is on these issues? That is why I have no good answer.

Biting my lip hard

One Big Happy

The cartoon above makes me bite my lips real hard. The cartoonist caught just what some people think about the trend in some churches to turn the worship service into a coffee shop atmosphere with some talking. While the term “seeker sensitive” is not as much of a buzz-word as it used to be, the concept is still around.

But, there is a root that goes all the way back to the Jesus People of the 1970’s. The Jesus People were the parallel cultural reaction to the “hippies.” In both cases, there was a legitimate and merited rejection of the cookie cutter mentality of the 1950’s. They were not the only groups that pointed out the nominalism and cookie cutter attitude of the 1950’s. For instance, in 1956 the book “Peyton Place,” a book which tore into small town hypocrisy in the North, was released. In 1968, the country song “Harper Valley PTA” was released, pointing out hypocrisy in the South. George Orwell’s book “1984” points to a post-nuclear world in which the prevalent security and Cold War culture of the 1950’s is severely criticized.

Both the hippies and the Jesus People challenged the prevalent culture by dressing in ways that challenged the culture and behaving in ways that shocked prevalent culture. In the case of the hippies, events such as those chronicled in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” was one example. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were chronicled as they made their way around the country in their brightly painted bus, using LSD and generally shocking people. The Beatles write the song “Magical Mystery Tour” about that type of trip:

Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (And that’s an invitation), roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up (To make a reservation), roll up for the mystery tour
The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away
Waiting to take you away.

The Jesus People were something different, however. I am fully convinced that this was a true movement of the Holy Spirit. To this day, I still believe that God could not get into the churches of that time. After all, as chronicled by Martin Luther King in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” many of the churches either openly supported both the segregation and miscegenation laws, or were cowed into total silence. Their stand was so antithetical to Christianity that God decided to raise praised to himself from even among the stones. Many youth with a “stone” heart, many a youth who was rejecting the culture and acting out by taking drugs and joining other religions, had their heart touched by the Holy Spirit and a revival broke out.

As with many a move of the Holy Spirit, people with free-will took that move one way or the other. To the good, many churches were renewed, many people were touched for God, many people became life-long Christians. Twenty years after the beginning of the Jesus People movement, a group of those people entered the Antiochian Archdiocese, changing the face of Orthodoxy in America. That very move of the Holy Spirit in the 1960’s has today resulted in an openness to converts that was simply not present in American Orthodoxy of the early 1960’s.

On the other hand, it is also true that some have slowly taken the Jesus People movement in a different direction. For them, the message of what they experienced was misheard. Over the decades since then, the message that they took from it is that the Church must be a counter-cultural entity, meaning that it must always be doing things that are on the “cutting-edge” of culture. Any “rules” about what should happen in a worship service were slowly relaxed, and then dismissed. Nowadays, one can indeed find churches like those mocked in the comic above, where one comes in with their coffee, sits on a couch, has a sermon/discussion, etc. When multiple tattoos were still cutting-edge, many in these churches jumped into tattoos, piercings, etc. [Note: my purpose is not to criticize tattoos and piercings.] What I am trying to point out is that Christian slowly became defined as one who is always adopting the latest cutting-edge cultural trend and bringing it into the Church.

I look back with both nostalgia and horror. I was part of the events back then. I have a deep nostalgia for singers such as Keith Greene, who truly called us to live out what it means to follow Jesus. I have a deep nostalgia for a faith tinged with wonder and discovery, and strong church growth. At the same time, I look back with horror over some of the other events from back then and how they led us into some of the craziness we see today in the cutting-edge congregations. And, yet, I would welcome another move of the Holy Spirit, a move so strong that Orthodoxy is again touched with the wonder that Metropolitan Philip of blessed memory expressed when he welcomed home the Evangelicals who flocked in back in the late 1980’s and continuing on for many years after that.