There is much in Steve Haas’ organisation – World Vision – to be admired.
Putting aside earlier controversies and in particular, that ‘painful’ u-turn, World Vision has modeled the very best of evangelicalism. They’ve handed out billions of dollars of aid in the name of Jesus, while also implementing a strict anti-proselytizing code.
And who could argue with their slogan?
“Our vision for every child, life in all its fullness; our prayer for every heart, the will to make it so.”
So far, so good.
But for Christian supporters of Israel, there have been major concerns about World Vision (see Dexter Van Tille’s lengthy analysis, published in August last year).
These concerns were proven true last month when The Lausanne Movement published a speech by World Vision’s VP Steve Haas – ‘All of Me’ – Engaging a world of poverty and injustice.
There is much to be praised in the above speech, and I encourage all Christians to read this heartfelt cry to Evangelicals to avoid past mistakes.
Haas wants Christians to “integrate personal faith and social action in ways that help people better understand who Jesus is.” He also raises important questions.
How is it that 80% of Rwanda’s population described themselves as ‘Christians’ and yet failed to stop a horrific genocide?
Why were conservative Christians so slow to show compassion to those with HIV/AIDS?
These are excellent questions, and the way Haas gently explains where Christians have got it wrong, is superb.
“At the turn of the twentieth century, a chasm opened between personal faith and the expression of that faith to the world. The deeds of our belief became de-linked from our words and faith commitments, and the result was an incomplete witness to the world. We are still dealing with the unintended consequences of that one-sided gospel.”
But in nearly 50 paragraphs of important analysis, there is one section which falls significantly short.
After rightly recognising Christians have been on the wrong side of history in Rwanda and on AIDS, Haas launches into an attack on Christian Zionism.
In doing this, Haas lumps ‘Christians hating gays’, ‘Christians committing genocide’ and ‘Christians supporting Israel’ together into one category. This is unacceptable.
In making these outrageously broad brushstrokes, Haas ignores the solid theological and biblical reasons for believing the Jews have returned to Israel as a fulfillment of prophecy.
His definition of Zionism is ‘a national movement to return Jews to Israel, which Jews perceive as their sovereign homeland.’ (my emphasis)
The idea of Israel being a homeland for the Jews should not be a debatable point. This is not an issue of perception. Whether one focuses on the aftermath of the Holocaust, the much earlier San Remo agreement and Balfour declaration, or most importantly, the Hebraic scriptures, its clear that Israel is the Jews’ sovereign homeland. This is just as the Jewish prophets (Ezekiel, Jeremiah etc) and Christian leaders (Spurgeon, Wilberforce etc) of old predicted.
Haas says he wants to be fair to both Israelis and Palestinians, but he never even tries to use equal terms. ‘Apartheid’ and ‘Occupation’ are mentioned heavily in his speech, but not one word about Islamic terrorism – which is strange, considering Islamism is a threat to everyone – Israel, Christians like Haas and also Palestinians.
Rather than engaging with the good theological reasons for believing that God’s promise to “give you [Abraham’s descendents] this land as an everlasting possession” means exactly what it says, Haas ignores the Scriptures. Given that Haas – a well respected Christian leader – was speaking at a Seminary and in a chapel, I don’t think its unfair to expect him to talk about the Scriptures. He quotes 1 Corinthians 13 in his conclusion, but can’t bring himself to admit that Christian Zionism has its basis in the same Bible.
One of the most disturbing aspects of Haas’ article is expressed belief that Israel represents “apartheid on steroids”.
The claim that Israel is apartheid is false. Despite being often repeated, it remains false. Israeli hospitals treat Arabs and Jews. Israeli schools teach Arabs and Jews. There is no ethnic division.
While it is true that Israel have constructed a security barrier between Israel proper and the West Bank, this is not a wall of ethnic separation. It is solely political and defensive separation.The wall was only constructed after Israel suffered years of suicide bomb attacks. Since its construction, many hundreds of lives have been saved.
According to Haas, it seems all of the problems are Israel’s fault. He even blames the declining Palestinian church on Israel. This is simplistic at best. Was, for example, the shooting of a Christian bookshop manager by a Palestinian inside Palestinian territory, Israel’s fault? Surely not.
Despite the flaws, Christian Zionists should read Haas’ article. At least one of his criticisms is fair:
“They have become so tied to these theological interpretations that they have labeled any critical comment against the nation-state as antithetical to Christian belief and even anti-Jewish.”
This is a fair criticism of not all, but some Christian Zionists. Legitimate criticism of Israel does exist and must be acknowledged.
But Haas’ comment that, ‘I truly believe we can be pro-Palestinian, pro-Israeli, and pro-justice because we are adamantly pro-Jesus’ would hold far more weight if he took time to recognise Israel have their side of the story which should be listened to and acknowledged.
Haas throws plenty of political objections to Christian Zionism into his speech. But if he wants to dismantle what he believes to be ‘incorrect theology’, he needs to use theological rather than political arguments.
Haas doesn’t like it, but Christian Zionism is still standing strong and fighting back against theological objections. Perhaps leaders like Haas have realised this, and having failed to convince Christians with inadequate theological arguments are now turning to politics? If that’s true, then evangelicalism is in a bad way. If we’re to take heed of Haas’ important call to ”integrate personal faith and social action” then we must get back to reading and believing the Bible.