August 1, 2006
CHURCHES NEED TO SAY IT –
& U.S. ACTIONS ARE WRONG
by Mark Lewis Taylor
Yes, Israel and its
peoples have a right to live in peace. Yes, Hezbollah should be
pressed to cease firing rockets into Israeli civilian communities.
Yes, nearly every site of world conflict today is complex, marked by
ambiguities that make the taking of sides simplistic. Denunciations
of one side as wrong, the other right, can often only fuel endless
cycles of violence.
Sometimes, though, daring to point out a deep-running wrong that one
stronger party perpetuates can open up space for new peace
negotiations. Naming the wrong can be like the lancing of a boil
that enables a skin surface to heal.
U.S. churches in the context of U.S. support for Israel’s attack on
Lebanon need to dare pronouncing as wrong the current attack posture
of the U.S. and Israel toward Lebanon. Consider the words of Martin
Accad (Dean, Arab Christian Theological Seminary, Beirut), who
refers to Israel’s policy as
As children’s bodies continue to be pried from rubble left by
Israel’s bombings, as in Lebanese village,
Qana, this past Sunday, let us hear U.S. churches name these
attacks as the slaughter they are.
With a few
exceptions, and occasional
notes about Israel’s “disproportionate” response, U.S. churches
have concentrated on general laments about escalating violence. Such
laments are surely the right place to begin, with a heartfelt,
thoroughgoing human grieving for men, women and children of
all sides suffering war
trauma, injury and death.
But it cannot be the place to stop. Stopping with universal lament
will not expose some powerful truths that need airing and further
address in U.S. church statements:
Israel’s attack policy is brutally aggressive, wildly
“disproportionate” to the precipitating offenses of Hezbollah
against some Israeli soldiers, and still aggressively
disproportionate in spite of Hezbollah’s unjustified rocket attacks
against Israeli civilians some 60 dead). Israel’s response has
subjected Lebanon to 2,500 aerial attacks, wrecked 5,000 Lebanese
homes, displaced 600,000 people, killing more than 500 Lebanese
civilians (probably many more), and wrecked
Lebanon’s environment. Earlier, in Palestine, Israel abducted 7
cabinet members and 21 members of the Palestinian Legislative
Council for kidnapping its soldiers, and still is ratcheting up the
number of deaths in Gaza.
The unjustifiable attacks on civilians by Hezbollah and
other Palestinian groups are the vengeful, often desperate,
counter-productive, but expected, tactics that subordinated peoples
throughout history have often deployed against occupying power.
Hezbollah’s rocket attacks are the sinister shadow side of a
struggle of Lebanese against a long history of Israeli military
Recent reports thus show Hezbollah retaining support of a
majority of Lebanese.
International law and UN judgments continue to weigh against Israel,
2004 ruling against Israel’s partition wall showed. Israel can
escape enforcement of this worldwide moral censure not because it is
right but only because it has the might of the U.S. behind it. The
U.S. has vetoed UN censures of Israel
more than 40 times.
Outside the U.S. there are Christian groups who offer up universal
lament for all sides, but with a more pointed critique of Israel.
Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem have recently stressed
that “the core of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is
the deprivation of the Palestinian people of their freedom.”
Similarly, the Vatican has issued a
statement with some teeth in it, holding that Israel’s right to
self-defense “does not exempt it from respecting the norms of
international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian
Within the U.S. such pointed critiques are harder to find. It is
encouraging, though, that
Tikkun magazine is spearheading an inter-religious
campaign for an ad in the New
York Times about the present crisis. While mincing no
words in criticizing Hezbollah’s rocket attacks, it introduces its
ad by challenging Israel’s powerful military leaders to “take the
first steps toward ending the cycle of hatred and violence.”
Where are the U.S. church voices? They are often silent. Too many
churches are in lockstep to growing Christian Zionist movements that
exchange faith in the God of Jesus Christ for a nationalist loyalty,
politically romanticizing a Pax
Americana/Israelica, thus giving a blank check to U.S.
and Israeli governments’ attack policies.
Too many U.S. Christian Zionists imitate Islamist fundamentalists,
seizing upon sacred texts to justify a messianic apocalypticism that
leads them to welcome battlefield conflagration as prelude to their
fantasies of “end-times” salvation and damnation.
And too many other U.S. Christians seem silent out of fear that
their criticism of the U.S./Israeli axis will bring charges of
numerous studies show anti-Semitism is an evil, often giving
birth to a host of other racist bigotries and practices. It must be
vigilantly resisted. But criticizing Israel’s attack policies, or
the U.S. support of Israel, is
not anti-Semitism (yes, churches, we can and must say
The burden is now on all U.S. churches, of whatever stripe, to find
a place amid their general lament over violence, to say bravely,
creatively and with a love for the good of all, that Israel’s
murderous aggression with U.S. backing – is wrong. Am I overlooking
the churches who have dared such speech?
Mark Lewis Taylor
is Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture, Princeton
Theological Seminary. His most recent book is Religion, Politics
and the Christian Right: Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire
(Fortress Press, 2005).