There’s Not One “Christian” Perspective on the Middle East

Citing my own complaint that MSM folk all too often write as though the only authentic Christians in America are politically right-wing conservative evangelicals, Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches carefully documents the existence of two sharply opposed points of view among major Christian organizations about Bibi Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress. One is the well-known “Christians for Israel” perspective so well known in the precincts of the Christian Right, which is demanding that Members of Congress sit quietly in their seats and accept their medicine from Bibi:

Yesterday, the Emergency Committee for Israel and Christians United for Israel, which claims to be “the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States” and “one of the leading Christian grassroots movements in the world,” accused legislators not attending the speech of siding with Israel’s (and America’s) enemies.

But there’s another Christian POV:

On the other end of the spectrum, the National Council of Churches is calling on Netanyahu to cancel the speech. The NCC claims it is a “leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States,” and that its “37 member communions — from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches,” represent 45 million Americans.

It’s hard to imagine a more sharply defined divide between these two groups. CUFI supports sanctions against Iran, not what it calls a “sham agreement allows Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability.” It supports settlements and opposes peace talks with the Palestinians. It casts Netanyahu’s speech as an essential education on Iran, and complaints about the way in which the invitation was extended “petty.”

The NCC statement, in contrast, calls the timing and lack of protocol surrounding the invitation “lamentable.” It saves its harsher words, though, for “the tacit support” the appearance “gives to Mr. Netanyahu’s policies, including unbridled settlement building and expansion into Palestinian territory.” Those policies, the statement continues, “erode the chances for a genuine two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the official position of the United States, and which is the only viable means to establish a just peace.” Supporting those policies, NCC argues in unequivocal language, is “morally indefensible.”

The NCC also calls engagement with Iran “the best means to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation.” Allowing Netanyahu “to inveigh against these negotiations is therefore to take a stand against the prospects for peace. Again, this is morally indefensible.”

Now you can quibble all you want about the affiliate membership claims of the WCC. I’ve lately adopted a lower number of 26 million for the number of Americans who actually embrace “mainline” Protestant views (though when it comes to many political issues, they are largely in accord with at least half of U.S. Catholics as well). I’d also concede that the eagerness with which a lot of mainline leaders have embraced the Palestinian cause probably isn’t that well known, and where well-known not widely shared, in the pews. Your average United Methodist probably isn’t agitated over the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. But then I doubt the average Southern Baptist or pentecostal is necessarily a militant supporter of the right wing of Likud, either.

Posner’s larger point is that few media types are sufficiently aware of these nuances involving “Christian” thinking to notice them, much less argue over them:

There is no single “Christian” view on Netanyahu’s speech, or on Israel, for that matter. Perhaps the more interesting development to watch here is not that the divide exists, but how (or whether) the media will cover it.

I’m not optimistic.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.