“I am sorry.”
That is what so many of my Christian friends wrote and texted, in response to the strangely regressive report from the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Committee entitled “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land,’” scheduled for a vote of ratification in the May 23rd General Assembly. Christian and Jewish scholars and faith leaders are virtually united in their shock and condemnation of the bad theology that rots through the paper’s core.
Supersessionist ideology, namely that the life, mission, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, supersedes and thus nullifies the covenant between God and Israel, runs rife throughout the report. Don’t take my word for it; at a mere 10 pages, it’s possible to read the entire ‘Inheritance of Abraham?’ on one dram of Scotch (which you will need). But here’s just one example:
“If Jesus is indeed the Yes to all of God’s promises, the promise of Abraham about land is fulfilled through the impact of Jesus, not by restoration of land to the Jewish people. Jesus gave a new direction and message for the people of God, one which did not require a special area of land for them.”
A Jewish academic offered this: “As I read this report, with its 19th century style scolding of the Torah, I envision myself back in the shtetle singing ‘If I were a rich-man.’”
Gentle reader, I would like to share with you why this report is entirely justified, (if you happen to be running the Church of Scotland). Before you, three exhibits:
Exhibit 1: The Church of Scotland’s sister Churches in Syria and Lebanon
Although the exact situation is difficult to determine, most eye-witness accounts from these congregations report dire threats to some of the oldest Christian communities on the planet. As the Jihadists gain increasing control of Christian neighborhoods, many churchgoers rarely venture outdoors for fear of kidnapping and abuse. Elias Karmo, 22, a Christian living in the Syrian border town of Ras Al-Ayn, quietly speaks out: “Everyone is scared they could be kidnapped.” Issam Bishara, regional director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, reports that upward of 300,000 Syrian Christians have fled the country thus far. Imagine if the Scottish Church had used a similar set of theological principles and New Testament sources to publicly criticize the Islamic claim to the Dar al-Islam (the lands of hegemonic Islamic rule). Imagine if these lines from the ‘Inheritance of Abraham?’ report were focused on Syria or Iran, Mecca or Medina: “Jesus’ vision of the kingdom is not for a limited area of territory, it is a way of anticipating how things can be if people are obedient to God.” (Pg. 8)
The Church of Scotland presumably feels that in order to safeguard the credentials of its threatened members in Syria it ought to publish invective against Israel. For this church, apparently, it is simply good politics to disseminate a report that condemns the one country that just about every faction killing each other in Syria can agree to dislike. Will this ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ narrative save the life of a single on of those Christians trapped in an appalling civil war?
Exhibit 2: The second-hand bookshops in West Port, Edinburgh
It is rather troubling that the Church decided not to share this report with a single Jewish communal organization or Rabbi before making it public. As the Torah is quoted 12 times in the piece, one might think that somewhere, someone would raise their hand and say: “Just before we publish this on our web-site, might it be a good idea to ask a Jew or two what they think of these lines we are quoting from their Holy Scripture?”
I believe the reason that no one asked a single Jewish organization or rabbi for feedback is because the authors of this report had already been in deep and fruitful dialogue with numerous ‘Jewish voices.’
Walk into any of the lovely bookshops in West Port, and head for the Middle East section. There you will generally be greeted with a cavalcade of critical books about Zionism, Israel, and all that. What always unnerves me is that the majority are Jewish. Pappe, Braverman, Chomsky, Sands, Finkelstein, (early) Morris. A regular minyan. So the authors of the ‘Inheritance’ report dipping into a cozy West Port Bookshop meet Jews all the time and these Jews provide plenty of ‘Jewish perspective.’ In fact, Braverman is even quoted in the report as the “American Jew.” In the official response to the actual, living and breathing, scared and outraged Scottish Jewish community, a church spokeswoman writes that the Church is “speaking the truth in love”.
(And with so much truth going around, the reader might find it surprising that so far, a week after the Times of Scotland put the Church report and the Jewish communal response on its front page, the Church of Scotland website has made no mention of the fuss over the document, although the Church did have time to issue a statement offering a bigger reward than previous for the return of stolen church articles.)
Exhibit 3: The average age of Churchgoers is 61
Seventy percent of the ministers in the Church of Scotland are over 50, and only 6.4 percent are under 40. With an ageing Church laity and clergy, this is a pivotal moment, a crisis moment. A time, perhaps, for returning to the roots of Church dogma. The only problem is that Christianity has evolved – sometimes well, sometimes not so well – over the intervening two millennia; Karl Barth and his two-fold covenants; the near-silence of the Christian voice in the Shoah; Pope John Paul II calling the Rabbis his elder brothers. A lot of thought has been given to Jewish-Christian relations since the writing of the Gospels, and the trope of speaking to the Jewish ‘other’ has been altered, radically. Yet the Church of Scotland report, like a hypothermic victim sending all the blood back to the heart, and shutting down the brain, may now be in shock from a cold bath of secularism, which could help explain regrettable lines such as: “the Jewish people have to repent of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians between 1947 and 1949. They must be challenged, too, to stop thinking of themselves as victims and special.” (p. 6); or referring to the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai as the “final difficulty” (p.7) in the “Zionist Project.”
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Let us end with this word “crisis.” To quote the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks: “The Hebrew word for ‘crisis’ is mashber, (shattering) which also means a birthing-stool. In Hebrew, crises are not just opportunities; they are birthpangs.” On May 23rd, the assembly of the Church of Scotland will vote on whether or not to “encourage wide discussion of the report The Inheritance of Abraham”. On May 23rd, we will know whether this crisis is a shattering of our shared dialogue, or a rebirth.