If you think “standing with Israel” means never criticizing them, you’re going to have to get a new Bible

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Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that from a biblical perspective the modern state of Israel and the Old Testament nation are one and the same. Let’s say the old covenant is still in force, that the founding of modern-day Israel in 1948 fulfilled biblical prophecy.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Paul’s assertion that “all Israel will be saved” was a political statement rather than an expression of his belief that Jesus would rescue his own people from sin and death, along with Gentiles.

Many evangelicals take some or all of these assumptions to be indisputable fact (though evangelical support for Israel may not be as unanimous or unilateral as commonly thought). A plurality of evangelical leaders believe the founding of modern Israel fulfilled biblical prophecy. White evangelicals overwhelmingly sympathize with Israel in their conflict with the Palestinians. Half of evangelicals reject any possibility of peace between Israel and Palestine. Only 12% of white evangelicals believe the US should scale back its support for Israel.

The belief that the modern state of Israel is entitled to the blessings and benefits of what Christians regard as the “old covenant” gives way to yet another evangelical sentiment: namely, that it’s never OK to criticize the Israeli government. That “standing with Israel” means supporting them no matter what they do.

No matter how many Palestinian children are killed in the crossfire.

No matter how many homes and farms they bulldoze.

No matter how many walls they build.

No matter how many settlements they establish on Palestinian land, knowing full well that each one makes a viable Palestinian state more unlikely.

This sentiment was on full display in the aftermath of the reprehensible kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the subsequent retaliation by Israeli extremists. As Benjamin Corey wrote:

What bothers me most is that when news broke of the death of the Israeli teenagers, the internet lit up with your standard “stand with Israel” cheers, yet whenever Israel is the agent of aggression or retaliation, things go silent. The only voices who speak up are a few brave souls who are willing to be castigated by other Christians for having the courage to stand up against the violence and oppression of the nation state of Israel.

Why do we do this? Why does Israel get a free pass in doing whatever they want? They bulldoze communities so they can build illegal settlements, and we say and do nothing. They systematically use violence and oppression over their neighbors, and yet we say and do nothing. When things over heat, they retaliate—burning children alive, and we say and do nothing.

Why? Why would we be so foolish as to completely ignore behavior on the part of Israel that would in any other circumstance result in international sanctions or worse?

Let’s say modern Israel IS a continuation of the Old Testament kingdom (with the noticeable absence of a king or a temple). Let’s say the new covenant promised by Jeremiah and inaugurated by Jesus didn’t bring the old covenant to completion. Let’s say God didn’t expand the definition of Israel (in a spiritual sense—that is, his chosen people) to include Gentiles alongside Jews. Let’s say the dispensationalists are right.

Or, to put it as Benjamin Corey did, let’s say the “stand with Israel” folks are right.

How do we conclude from any of this that it’s not OK to criticize the Israeli state—especially when so much of the Hebrew Scriptures are themselves a prophetic critique of Israel? 

If “standing with Israel” means never saying anything negative about the Israeli government and berating anyone who does, then we should have nothing but contempt for the biblical prophets. We should cut them out of our Bibles. They should be condemned for treason against Israel.

In fact, they were. Amos was accused of conspiring against the government and was driven out of town. Jeremiah was thrown in prison by the king of Judah for predicting Jerusalem’s downfall.

The prophets routinely condemned Israel and its leaders for wishing destruction rather than mercy on their enemies (Jonah); for wrongly assuming that their military advances and territorial expansion were signs of God’s favor (Amos); for murder, theft, and adultery (Hosea); for coveting and seizing other people’s fields and houses (Micah); and for relying on military power instead of trusting God to protect them (Isaiah).

The prophets did not hold back. For them, “standing with Israel” meant speaking out whenever the nation fell into idolatry and injustice. Being God’s chosen people didn’t mean they got a free pass. If anything, they answered to an even higher expectation of integrity.

The prophets understood what Benjamin Corey states so well:

The best way to bless someone who is caught up in destructive behavior is not to condone or to support the behavior, but to lovingly confront the behavior and show them a better way.

Believing that the Israeli state is synonymous with the Old Testament kingdom shouldn’t change how we respond when it acts unjustly toward its Palestinian neighbors. Nor should our response be different when Palestinians perpetuate the cycle of violence in their own ways—though, as Benjamin Corey argues, those with greater power should be held to a higher standard.

It would be disingenuous to read the prophets as divinely inspired Scripture yet condemn others for doing and saying what they did. The best way to truly stand with Israel is to follow the prophets’ example, to lovingly but firmly confront evil and injustice, whoever the perpetrators might be.

Image credit: Zach Evener on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

John MacArthur’s advice for parents of gay children

John MacArthur has some advice for Christian parents whose children come out of the closet: shun them.

To quote from his video:

If that adult child professes Christ, claims to be a Christian, then that becomes an issue for confrontation of the sternest and strongest kind, because that falls into Matthew 18. That’s a sin for which you go to that person. If the person doesn’t repent and turn, you take two or three witnesses and confront again. If there’s still no repentance, you tell the church, and the church pursues. And if there’s still no repentance, then there’s a public putting out of the church of that person who professes to be a Christian. That’s how you deal with that.

You have to alienate them. You have to separate them… You isolate them. You don’t have a meal with them. You separate yourself from them. You turn them over to Satan, as it were, as Scripture says.

MacArthur calls this a Matthew 18 issue, referring to the passage where Jesus tells his disciples how to deal with sin. So let’s take another look at this text.

MacArthur’s translation of choice, the NKJV, says, “If your brother sins against you.” Granted, not all manuscripts include these qualifying words. But the context—including the mention of “two or three witnesses,” evoking courtroom imagery—indicates a situation where one person has injured the other.

There’s even less ambiguity in the parallel passage, Luke 17:

If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

Matthew 18 isn’t about just any alleged sin. It’s about what you should do if another member of the church wrongs you personally. Even if being gay is a sin, how would my child be sinning against me personally by coming out to me? This isn’t about me. It’s about them and their identity. They haven’t done anything to me. I suppose someone might want to argue that they’ve sinned against me by letting me down as a parent. But how I respond is my choice. No one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever come out of the closet because they wanted to hurt their parents.

Matthew 18 is not a license for indiscriminate shunning. Whatever camp you’re in—affirming, non-affirming, or just confused—we should all agree this is a shamefully selective misuse of the Bible. We can do better.

If your son or daughter comes out to you, don’t follow MacArthur’s advice. Please don’t. For the sake of your child. Their life could literally depend on it. When parents reject their kids for being gay, it can send them on a downward spiral from which there may be no coming back.

  • Their risk of depression goes up.
  • They’re more likely to engage in substance abuse and unprotected sex.
  • They’re SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to attempt suicide.

Of course, maybe that’s what MacArthur thinks it means to “hand them over to Satan.” (Pro tip: it’s not.)

If you want much, much better advice on how to respond, read Benjamin Moberg’s piece. It’s beautifully written from the vantage point of personal experience. And yes, it has something for you—whether you’re open and affirming or whether you maintain a traditional sexual ethic.

Your kid’s life and well being could hang in the balance.

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Postscript: My friend Nathan makes another good point about MacArthur’s misuse of Matthew 18. Jesus is addressing the church, not families. In fact, Matthew 18 is the only time the word ekklesia, translated “assembly” or “church,” appears in the Gospels. Even if a church were to decide that a person’s sexuality was a “Matthew 18 issue”—and that’s something a great many churches, affirming and non-affirming, would dispute—it has no bearing on how a parent should treat their son or daughter for coming out. What MacArthur is advocating is wrong, and it’s based on a careless reading of Matthew 18. As Nathan put it yesterday, “No church, whatever their position on this is, has the right to tell you to alienate, shun and un-invite your own children from the dining table they grew up eating at.” MacArthur should know better. We all should.

3 things in the Bible you’ll want to avoid if following Kirk Cameron’s parenting advice

Kirk Cameron, photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr
Former Growing Pains and Left Behind star Kirk Cameron is getting into the parental advice business. In a recent post, Cameron shared the “train, don’t explain” childrearing philosophy of author Jay Younts.

Basically, this approach says you don’t owe your kids an explanation. Ever. You tell them what to do/think/believe and demand their unquestioning, unhesitating obedience.

To quote Younts:

God has not called parents to explain but to train. Explanations often lead to frustration and anger for both parents and children. Children are not in need of lengthy, compelling explanations. What they are in need of is the understanding that God must be obeyed.

Setting aside the question of whether this parenting advice is better suited for raising robots than actual humans, there are at least three things in the Bible you might not want to let your kids read if you follow a “train, don’t explain” approach.

Otherwise, your kids might start getting ideas.

1. Don’t let them read Exodus 12. Or Deuteronomy 6. Or Joshua 4. 
The ancient Jewish faith had many rituals, ceremonies, and symbols. And these had a way prompting curiosity. Every time a family would celebrate Passover or break out the phylacteries or build a monument from a pile of stones, kids would ask why.

Even worse, it seems this was the whole point: so that kids would request an explanation from their parents:

“When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’…” (Exodus 12)

“In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees, and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’…” (Deuteronomy 6)

“In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’…” (Joshua 4)

It’s almost like the Israelites didn’t follow Kirk Cameron’s parenting advice at all.

2. Definitely don’t let your kids read the book of Job.
After being hit with all kinds of calamity (apparently the result of a cosmic bet between God and the devil), Job spends most of the book demanding an explanation… from God himself.

Job’s three friends are shocked by his impertinence. Their advice to Job — essentially, “Shut up and take your medicine” — sounds a lot like Kirk Cameron’s “train, don’t explain” method of parenting.

The only problem is God doesn’t seem to mind Job’s impertinence. He shows up. He answers Job’s summons. And when he does, he’s angry — not at Job, but at Job’s friends.

If kids read Job and see that it’s OK to question God, they won’t think anything of questioning their parents now and then.

3. While you’re at it, you might want to avoid any mention of Israel.
After all, their name means “wrestles with God.” To the ancient Israelites, the Scriptures were not a monologue from God; they were a dialogue with God. And God’s people didn’t hesitate to ask some hard questions.

In fact, it’s probably best not to let your kids read the Bible, period. Otherwise they might stumble across Abraham asking God to explain how he can possibly deliver on his promise of children for the aging patriarch. Or Jeremiah accusing God of deception. Or Habakkuk demanding God explain himself over his plan to use Babylon to punish his own people. Or Jesus wrestling with his Father in the garden.

And so on.

God is often described as a Father in the Bible. Yet he doesn’t seem to follow Cameron’s “train, don’t explain” method of parenting with his own children.

Maybe a better approach would be one that honors the curiosity and personhood of our children. One that shows them it’s OK to ask questions. In other words, “Explain. Don’t just train.”

(H/T Benjamin L. Corey, who wrote about Cameron’s parenting advice on the Formerly Fundie blog.)