The Theological Roots of the Christian Left’s Turn against Israel

November 21, 2022 | Mark Tooley
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Earlier this year, in a brief statement in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) singled out Israel—and no other foreign country—as guilty of “21st-century slavery” and urged American Jews to call upon the U.S. government to cease supporting Israel’s “immoral enslavement.” Such rhetoric has become normal for the PCUSA. But, notes Mark Tooley, even if this denomination is one of the worst offenders, it very much represents a broader trend among left-wing American Christians:

For the old religious and evangelical left, Israel often represents Western civilization, colonialism, and imperialism. For aging [devotees] of liberation theology, the Palestinian cause offers the narrative of a Third World people oppressed by First World wealth, technology, and cultural superiority. Israel is an ally of the United States, and from the religious left’s perspective, is an unwelcome extension of American (and British) power into the Mideast. The Palestinians, from that view, are victims of the American imperium, meriting special advocacy by concerned justice-minded American Christians.

Evangelical leftists relate to this narrative, often informed by their own neo-Anabaptist perspective, which is pacifist and anti-empire. Israel of course has by necessity a significant military force, much of it made possible through American aid. This rankles neo-Anabaptists who think anti-violence is the gospel’s chief theme.

There is sometimes another underlying concern for neo-Anabaptists. They are discomfited by ancient biblical Israel, with its divinely ordained kings, warrior heroes, armies, and military victories, all of which defy the neo-Anabaptist stress on God as supremely peaceful. If only unconsciously, they are inclined towards a form of Marcionism, the early church heresy that minimized the canonical authority of the Old Testament. This discomfort with the Hebrew scriptures facilitates unease with modern Israel.

The religious left’s animus towards Israel leads to often absurd contradictions and double standards, especially for a denomination like the PCUSA. It and the other mainline Protestant bodies have countless statements condemning Israel for ostensibly oppressing the Palestinians among other depredations. But they are largely silent about human-rights abuses so prevalent among Israel’s Arab neighbors, including the Palestinian Authority, not to mention countless repressive regimes around the world.

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