To put it mildly, as a group my circle of Christian friends lists to the right. In their views, Palin is a political goddess, lazy people use Welfare, Ferguson wasn’t about race. And Senator Ted Cruz is a rock star.
On September 10, at the In Defense of Christians meeting in Washington, D.C., Cruz addressed the horrors of ISIS and the persecution of religious minorities. At least, he attempted to do so; his comments elicited boos and jeers, and he left the stage without finishing. To my right-leaning Facebook friends, the crowd’s treatment of Cruz reflected a liberal, CNN-driven, anti-Republican bias that sets the stage for a weakening of the U.S. government’s traditional position of support for Israel, God’s chosen race.
Cruz’s words (transcript and audio available here) boil down to the following thesis: Religious persecution of Christians across the Middle East is heinous; mistreatment of the Jews is equally terrible. Persecution of Christians, in fact, equates to mistreatment of the Jews. Christians should unite with Jews, their greatest ally. To stand in opposition to such a notion is an expression of hatred for the Israeli state and the Jewish faith.
For starters, Cruz is right: religious persecution is never correct. That’s about all he was right about.
Cruz and his worshippers conflate two notions: the State of Israel and the Jewish faith. Thoughts of the Jewish faith necessarily prompt thoughts of the State of Israel. Probably no other major religion so closely identifies with a single nation. After all, history and the Bible together illustrate the degree to which the Jewish identity wrapped itself in possessing their own land. However, there’s a marked difference between the statements “persecution of religion” and “opposing the Israeli state and it’s political aims.”
Perhaps American Christians struggle to differentiate between the two, but the Christian world is not limited to America and its western allies. Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan serve as homelands to ancient Christian traditions and churches. Christians in those places all experience a measure of persecution due to their Christian views of the world, and can easily identify through the scriptures how God has viewed persecution of His people. At the same time, these same Christians live in political environments that have legitimate complaints with the Israeli state. Trade, immigration, treatment of nationals in transit through the region, treatment of political allies all influence how a godly, Christian resident of Palestine or Syria might feel about the Israeli state. They can freely disagree with how Israel relates to its neighbors without hating Israel or wishing extermination on all Jews.
Cruz’s statements linking American patriotism with support of the Israelis is a political issue in its own right. Christians should consider carefully how to politically support or oppose the notion of an official relationship between the USA and Israel. As well, Christians should support the right of Jews (Israeli or otherwise) to have their own faith tradition without concern for persecution.
However, claiming that Israelis are a Christian’s best friend overlooks the fact that there are Iraqi Christians, Syrian Christians, Palestinian Christians, Jordanian Christians and more who can point to ways in which they have suffered at the hands of Israeli public policy without ever having launched a missile or blown up a bus. Christian Palestinians lost their ancient homeland at the same rate as Muslim Palestinians, and would continue to scratch out an existence in Gaza even if they shouted their love for Jews from the rooftops (and lived). Christian Iraqis are, in the Israeli mind, Iraqis who require strong-armed examination – not an ally in the fight against persecution. A Christian Saudi deserves detention, not respect. Christian Syrians, Jordanians, Egyptians – they receive no hand of friendship from the Israeli state, and unsurprisingly object to being told that their Christian faith requires them to support what they consider to be an abusive state.
Again – an abusive state, not an evil people or wicked religion.
So, my politically and theologically conservative friends, consider a middle ground that carefully treads around both the political and the spiritual. Pray for the salvation of the Jews, since they sin at the same rate as everyone else. Pray for a peaceful, mutually respectful relationship between Israel and her neighbors. Just don’t confuse spiritual salvation with political triumph.