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Donald Trump’s Jerusalem move sparks Christian disputes

Donald Trump’s Jerusalem move sparks Christian disputes

CHRISTIAN leaders reacted with strong emotion to the news that President Donald Trump has recognised as capital of Israel the city where their faith’s foundational events unfolded. Some (especially American evangelicals) were passionately in favour, and others (especially Christians with deep roots in the region) were passionately against.

Paula White, a megachurch pastor from Florida who is a member of the president’s faith advisory council, said: “Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends.” She has repeatedly hailed Mr Trump as a man uniquely sensitive to God’s “divine plan” and willing to take counsel from Christian leaders like herself as to how that plan should be helped along.

Those sentiments are typical of an inner circle of evangelicals that helped to bring Mr Trump to power and that has pressed him to keep his Israel-friendly promises. 

Meanwhile Pope Francis spoke of his “deep concern” about the situation created by Mr Trump’s move, given the disruption of a delicate equilibrium in the governance of the sacred city and its holy sites. “I wish to make a heartfelt appeal to ensure that everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations,” he said on December 6th. Some 13 leaders of Jerusalem’s traditional Christian communities, including the Orthodox and the Catholics who are guardians of the city’s holy places, warned of “increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land” as a likely result of Mr Trump’s initiative.

These contrasting reactions typify two utterly different schools of Christian theology. Especially over the past 20 years, religiously inspired support for Israel (and for hawkish Israeli policies) has been a powerful impulse on the conservative side of American politics. The idea that God’s purpose is at work in the ingathering of the Jewish people is dear to the hearts of the 80% of evangelical voters who solidly opt for Republican candidates.

In this camp, much emphasis is placed on the teaching of the apostle Paul that compared the Jews, as partners in the original covenant with God, to an old olive tree. At the same time the “Gentiles” or non-Jewish Christians are merely new branches that have been grafted onto the tree. Ultimately, as Paul teaches, all segments of the tree will thrive and “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).

Non-Zionist Christians, including Palestinian ones, often emphasise another pronouncement by Paul. This says that for those who have accepted Christianity, “there is neither Jew nor Greek…slave nor free…male nor female…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is taken to mean that as the son of God, Christ has transcended all human categories and there is no longer a “chosen people” that is God’s unique interlocutor. All human beings, regardless of race or gender, are invited to accept Christ’s teaching as equal sons and daughters. (Galatians 3:28)

The meaning of both these passages, and of all other New Testament passages that refer to Israel and Jerusalem, is hotly contested, even among those with a particular fondness for one verse or another. Some evangelicals who look forward to the day when “all Israel will be saved” insist that in order to become “Israel” in the fullest sense, Jews will have to accept Jesus of Nazareth as their divine saviour. This is sometimes associated with end-time events for which the creation of Israel is a necessary harbinger. Others believe the mere fact of being Jewish will be a guarantee of salvation.

Among more traditional Christian confessions, it was long taught that the very meaning of the word “Israel” had changed with the coming of Christ. It referred not to a race or a state but to anyone who could “see God”, a status to which any human could aspire. Although the Holy See’s relations with Israel are far from problem-free, Catholicism has gradually moved to a more positive assessment of the state of Israel. In 2008 Pope Benedict sent a warm message of congratulation on the state’s 60th anniversary.

To sum up, some Christians expect the establishment of Israel, and by extension the acceptance of Jerusalem as its capital,  to lead to God’s final triumph. Others fear the latter development could lead to war. And some believe both those things.

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Source: The Economist Latest News

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