Participating in a panel discussion at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Robert Benne—an expert on Lutheran theology—found himself deeply disturbed by one of his co-panelists, the prominent Palestinian Lutheran pastor Mitri Raheb. Raheb, “something of a celebrity” on the campus, has been influential in bringing the anti-Israel cause—including boycotts—to mainline Protestant churches. In his talk, Raheb repeated, to enthusiastic applause, the standard anti-Israel talking points about apartheid, colonialism, and the like, adding the claim that Jews have no ancestral connection to the ancient Judeans and Israelites. Even more troubling, Benne found in Raheb’s words a revival of supersessionism—the doctrine that the advent of Christianity has completely voided God’s prior covenant with Israel:
[In his presentation], Raheb proceeded to reduce Christian faith to a crude liberation theology, one essentially without mention of [traditional Christian notions of redemption]. Those oppressed by “empire” (Israel as a tool of the U.S.) are the Palestinians, whom all good people will support in their effort to end occupation. The faith demands justice for the Palestinians! To top it off, he asserted, the cross of Jesus is “the ultimate critique of political and religious terror.” I presume that “political terror” refers to Rome in the ancient world and Israel today; “religious terror” is Jewish in both eras. Jesus is all about “liberation,” not “salvation.” (An alert Lutheran pastor in the audience asked if there were not more meaning to the cross, to which Raheb shook his head, claiming that his “contextual theology” is the way Palestinians interpret it.)
Entirely absent was the reality on the ground: Muslim oppression of Christians in the West Bank, as well as the danger that militant Muslims would present to Raheb and his family—and the many West Bank institutions he leads—were he to criticize them or the Palestinian Authority. He spoke not a word about the flight of Christians from his own hometown, Bethlehem, and the protective strategy of Christians in the West Bank to gather into small enclaves distant from their Muslim neighbors. . . .
[Raheb] is a one-man wrecking crew, supported by many who are no friends of Israel or of the Jewish people. He is closely associated with the BDS movement and steers churches toward strategies that would destroy Israel if successful.
[A]s a Christian, I am concerned about the emergence among Christians of a politically driven supersessionism—a “replacement theology” based on a crude liberation theology. Raheb’s statement about Jews as a medieval East European “invention” is an egregious example, for it denies that they are people of the covenant. This mentality could do great damage to the Jewish cause.