The Christian case for supporting IsraelFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
Why should Christians care about Israel?
In particular, it was a question I had to think seriously about a few years ago when I was invited to join the board of directors of the Canada-Israel Committee, the branch of organized Jewry in Canada that defends the cause of Israel, works to enhance Canada-Israel relations and promotes Israel in Canadian public opinion. Before accepting, I wanted be sure that there were theological reasons for joining. I did accept, for three reasons which I think answer the broader question of why Christians ought to care about Israel.
The first reason is because of the unique relationship, shared with no other religion, between Christians and Jews.
In the late Pope John Paul II's felicitous phrase, the Jews are our "elder brothers" in the faith. We believe as a matter of faith that the covenant made with Abraham, renewed on Sinai with Moses, is irrevocable. God does not repent of His promises. Jews do not believe that the promises made to Israel are definitively fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but we hold that all that is authentically Christian has its roots in Judaism. St. John's Gospel records the words of Jesus: "Salvation is from the Jews."
The consequence of this is that Christians ought to care about the concrete, historical reality of the children of Israel, among which are counted the Lord Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and the apostles. Today, to care about Jews is to care about what Jews care about, among which the State of Israel occupies a central place. To care about Israel does not mean approving all the policies of any particular Israeli government — not even a majority of Israeli Jews do that! At the very least though, it seems to me that to care about Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people means to support its full membership in the family of nations. If all the nations of the Earth are to be blessed in the blessing divinely promised to Abraham, then it cannot follow that the one nation excluded should be that of Israel.
Second, professing faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, means embracing the whole incarnational dimension of God's plan of salvation.
Matter matters for Christians — flesh and blood, history and land. The finger of God has traced an itinerary of sacred places around the world, and primary among them is the holy city of Jerusalem. We cannot forget Jerusalem, as the psalmist sings, and so we must also care for the holy places of Jerusalem and related sites in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt.
The State of Israel has proved a trustworthy guardian of the Christian holy places, making it relatively easy for Christians to go on pilgrimage. It is true that there are Palestinian Christians who live close to Jerusalem who are unable to freely travel there, and that needs to be resolved, but on balance, given the long sweep of history, the State of Israel has been a friend to Christian pilgrims. That merits support.
Third, the ancient local churches in the Holy Land are the living body of Christ.
Christians are under great pressure. There is plenty of anti-Israel sentiment — and more than sentiment — among Christian Arabs, some of it justified. Yet the unhappy reality is that inconvenience and occasional injustice from Israel is better than the alternative Christians face in Arab societies increasingly coming under the sway of militant Islam. Israel does not persecute Christians qua Christians; that is too often the reality elsewhere. Indeed, throughout the wider Middle East, Israel is certainly in the lead in terms of religious liberty and the practical situation of Christians.
I part company from those Christians who argue that the State of Israel is theologically necessary. That strikes me as confusing the kingdom of God with the politics of this world; to attribute to any state a divine mandate is to go a step too far. I prefer to rest with a contingent judgment based on the very contingent facts of history, as messy as they are, and no place are they messier than in the land of Israel and her neighbours.To be a friend of Israel is not, I think, mandatory for Christians, but I submit that our faith gives us ample theological reasons to not only befriend Israel, but amid the many storms, to be a stalwart friend.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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