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Citing Scripture

May 23, 2002

A few days ago I wrote that many in the Christian Right favor the state of Israel because of their interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Since then, I have been deluged with e-mail messages from Protestant supporters of Israel. Most of them deny that their position has anything to do with the prophecy of the battle of Armageddon as described in that book.

It seems I’ve been approaching the Bible from the wrong end. Most of these correspondents simply appeal to God’s promise to Abram (later Abraham) in Genesis 12:3: “I will bless them that bless you and curse them that curse you.” Nearly all of them omit the rest of the verse: “In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Most Christians believe that this refers to the redemption of the human race by Abraham’s remote descendant, Jesus Christ. But let us pass over this complication.

Still, it’s a long jump from believing that Abraham’s race is divinely favored to believing that the present state of Israel is a continuation of the ancient covenant. It’s another long jump to believe that this could impose a responsibility on the U.S. Government to back the current Likud regime of Ariel Sharon.

Such long jumps come easily to Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, who has said: “God appeared to Abram and said, ‘I am giving you this land’ — the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether the word of God is true.”

Why the United States should be obliged to enforce God’s promises — as Inhofe understands them — we are left to wonder. If only such conservatives would interpret the U.S. Constitution as literally as they do the Bible! How does intervening in a remote ethnic war for religious reasons, thereby exposing the American people to needless danger, fall under the heading of “the common defense of the United States”?

[Breaker quote: Same texts, opposite applications]Does Inhofe think his religious duty to Israel supersedes his duty to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people from harm? If so, he should resign his office and help Israel in his capacity as a private citizen. He could, if he chose, move to Israel and enlist in its armed forces. But he has no right to involve the rest of us in his mission or to make us bear its costs and risks.

That goes for others too. They are entitled to hold their private interpretations of the Bible. But they are not entitled to use political power, including the individual vote, to give those interpretations the force of law, much less to plunge us into war in order to vindicate them.

It has often been observed that those who are eager for war usually expect others to do the actual fighting. I have yet to hear from any pro-Israel hawk who says he intends to take up arms himself.

I should add that I’ve also heard from equal numbers on the other side. I’ve received a counterdeluge of messages from conservative and fundamentalist Protestants who vigorously disagree with their Christian Right brethren on this matter. Some simply think God’s promises are being misapplied when converted to approval of a modern secular state. Others argue that the state of Israel hasn’t kept up the Israelites’ end of the original covenant. Others, citing St. Paul, hold that Christians are now Abraham’s spiritual heirs.

It’s a fascinating controversy, partly because it raises anew the old question of the exact relation of the Old Testament to the New. I will merely note that some of my pro-Israel correspondents come pretty close to denying that the Palestinians in Israel have any rights at all. Apparently they feel that Israel would be justified in God’s sight in slaughtering them all, on supposed Old Testament principles.

One reader even suggested that by quoting Christ’s words, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” I was endorsing “appeasement”! Obviously there are at least some situations in which appeasement is the right course — those in which, say, turning the other cheek will calm your adversary down and appeal to his conscience. After all, reasonable people can often be appeased. And sometimes they deserve to be appeased.

Well, it just goes to show: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
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