Saturday, November 17, 2012

The bible = a help and a hindrance

Today, I was at a conference organised by Sarum Concern for Israel/Palestine in Salisbury. Very timely, given all that is going on in the Middle East right now.

The speakers were Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Revd Stephen Sizer, Prof Mary Grey and Dr Mark Owen. To summarise HUGELY:
  • Dan spoke about the origins of Zionism (a secular movement to begin with) and argued that for change in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (IOPT) to occur there needs to be a redistribution of attention amongst Jewish people from one 'theme' in their scriptures (the divine promise of land to Israel) towards all (God's care for all oppressed people, to name one)
  • Stephen showed how a systematic, literal approach to Christian scripture can be used to dismiss Zionism just as it can be used to support it - focusing on addressing Christian Zionists rather than any Jewish audience
  • Mary argued that Dan's case was weakened by the fact that many of the biblical texts he referred to have dubious historicity
  • Mark questioned the usefulness of Stephen's approach, given that scripture seems well-suited to manipulation by anyone.
It was fascinating. I'm glad I went and am now better informed. But I am dubious about the potential of theological discussion when it comes to peace and justice in IOPT. It is true that we need to stand up and argue when people spout biblical interpretations that are questionable or wrong - and as such are obliged to educate ourselves in any scriptures we claim to hold dear. (And that means to read them carefully ourselves, not simply read or listen to what others have said about them).

I have been studying a brilliant commentary on Genesis: in that case, I leave a chapter with interesting dinner table insights about being faithful to scripture (did you know there is absolutely no suggestion in the biblical account that the serpent is evil or has anything to do with Satan?) And no doubt we should do similar with passages about the divine claims of Israel. But does it get us anywhere?

I find it offensive - indeed blasphemous - that people use scriptures and therefore God to justify their own political position. It is strange to me that fewer Christians get angry about this kind of thing when so many are happy to be affronted by someone saying 'Jesus Christ' in frustration. Is this taking the name of God in vain? No - taking the name of God in vain is claiming to be one of his family and using that as license to act as if one were God.

But I fear the positions in the case of IOPT are so entrenched that becoming affronted by the abuse of relevant scripture merely reinforces prejudices.

The best approach I can come up with when facing IOPT is to do as much as I possible can to support the people there, on the ground, who are doing good stuff to fight injustice and promote reconciliation in the face of the evils taking place. Such as PHRI. And this is just one reason that I am so grateful I work for Christian Aid.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Big time agree with the comment about what taking the Lord's name in vain really means. You captured it perfectly, I think.