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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Jewish View of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and The Divestment Controversy

(I was recently invited to address a group of Presbyterians in various stages of immersion in the clerical world of the PC(USA). I was asked to give a Jewish community perspective on the recent discussion and decisions in the PC(USA) concerning divestment from those firms doing business with Israel which the PC(USA) deem to contribute to what they term the Israeli "occupation" of the West Bank. I was encouraged to be frank, and I was. What follows is approximately 20 percent of my presentation, which was presented holographically. This means I first stated my position in one sentence, then in paragraph, then in one page, then in a ten minute treatment, then in a 20 minute treatment. What follows is the one page version.)

Most Jews are not surprised that the Presbyterian divestment discussion and decisions identify the PCUSA as anti-Semitic, biblically twisted, and morally selective because it fails the Sharansky test. This test, developed my Natan Sharansky, specifies three criteria of contemporary political anti-Semitism: the application of double standards to Israel, the demonization of Israel, and the delegimization of Israel.

We are not surprised, because this is what we have come to expect from Christendom in general, which deems itself the new Israel, therefore leaving the Jewish people at best vestigial as far as being the chosen people of God. This is the tradition of supersessionism, the transfer of chosenness status to the church, which has superseded Israel in this status. This theology is also called by some "Replacement Theology," because the church has replaced Israel.

My PhD research demonstrated that this position pervades Christian theologizing except for those theological camps stigmatized by the "enlightened" theological establishment. Thus, anyone holding for a continuing theological status for the Jewish people and for the Jewish state is labeled "a Christian Zionist" or a "dispensationalist," words which at Fuller Seminary and in the PC(USA) means to be a "theological hayseed," "red-neck fundamentalist" and "biblical idiot."

This smacks of what UC Berkeley linguist George Lakoff, in his best seller "Don't Think of an Elephant" calls "framing." "Framing" pertains to the conceptual field of the language we use. Lakoff says ""You can't see or hear frames. they are part of what cognitive scientists call the 'cognitive unconscious'--structures in our brains that we cannot consciously access, but know by their consequences; the way we reason and what counts as common sense. We also know frames through language. All words are defined relative to conceptual frames. When you hear a word, its frame (or collection of frames) is activated in your brain" [2004:xv].

Lakoff, a Progressive Democrat, discusses framing as the reason Republicans have been winning elections, and the Democrats losing. The Republicans have set the stage of the debate through the language they use, and language almost predetermines results. For example, when taxation is discussed under the rubric "tax relief," even before debate is begun, tax is assumed to be a burden, those who cut taxes are rescuers from that burden, and those who seek to increase taxes are oppressors.

Similarly, the PC(USA) has skillfully stigmatized the theological legitimacy of Israel in their own circles through labeling adherents of such a position as "Christian Zionists," ["Zionists" being a ""bad word" due to its being stigmatized in the UN as a form of racism, and due to the political milieu of Left-leaning Presbyterians], and "dispensationists" is likewise a stigmatized term, explicitly associated in PC(USA) documents with such caricatures as John Hagee and the authors of the "Left Behind" series of books. What sophisticated Presbyterian would want to be identified with such people? Thus, the entire discussion is foreclosed through how the position of those who theologically favor the State of Israel is framed. Skillful, and, in my view, by no means accidental.

The presumption of Israel's replacement by the Church is as subtle as it is pervasive. So it is that the respected Reverend _________, of the likewise Fuller-respected _______Presbyterian Church in _________, California, writing of the divestment controversy, performs theological sleight-of hand which makes the Jewish people disappear as the people of God, thus delegitmizing the Jewish state. In a sermon delivered July 25, 2004, he quotes Rev. _________, of ________ Presbyterian Church, whose words precisely mirror his own sentiments. Watch carefully as the Jewish people disappear as the Israel of God, and notice who becomes Israel instead!

"I for one, will never back off on my support for Israel's right to exist peacefully. I oppose terrorism, whatever the source. Israel has a right to protect itself. But it also has a higher calling to do justice in the way the prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed. The State of Israel is unbelieving Israel. Only a small percentage of the population has any religious orientation. True Israel, in the Old Testament, was never seen as a racial, blood identity. Israel is a spiritual identity fulfilled in the new Israel, made up of believing Jews and Gentiles, who have bowed the knee to Jesus the Christ. Members of the body of Christ are our Arab brothers and sisters who we cannot forsake, nor can we tolerate their oppression."

It is stunning what he does, and for Jews like me, absolutely chilling. The state of Israel is labeled as "unbelieving Israel," and dismissed as being without theological standing or significance. Then he substitutes "the new Israel" made up of [Jesus] believing Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, only Jews who believe in Christ are part of Israel. Then, having pushed the descendants of Jacob off-stage as the people of God, he moves the sons of Ishmael into their place: Members of the body of Christ are "our Arab brothers and sisters who we cannot forsake, nor can we tolerate their oppression". So, Arabs are Israel and Jews are not. Stunning!!

Israel is delegitimized theologically, demonized as unbelievers, and subjected to a double-standard for its failure to do justice in the way the prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed. Somehow, Israel's use of violence and restrictive measures marks them out for special opprobrium. Somehow, the non-stop violence from the Palestinian side, most of it directed at civilians, creating myriads of orphans, widows, and parents bereaved of their children, is "understandable under the circumstances," receives no chiding, escaping the prophets' and PC(USA)'s censure. But not so Israel. Is this not a double standard, and is Israel not being demonized and delegitimized here?

So we see these Presbyterian icons failing the Sharansky test. So does the PCUSA.

At 2/25/2005 1:19 PM, Anonymous Paul Kugelman said...

Well put!


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