Land of Promise

‘Land of Promise’ is a Report from NIFCON – one of the Anglican Communion Networks – about Christian Zionism. It’s weighty – 33000 words. But I think it is an excellent attempt to unravel and describe the various threads – political, cultural and religious – which make up the issues around the state of Israel and its relationship with the Palestinians. In that sense, it seems to me to be as significant and helpful as some of the material which first give us an understanding of sectarianism.

I was not part of the group which produced the Report but was asked to present it to ACC – which I was happy to do. I was fascinated to see how sensitive some members were about it – it required a redrafting of the Resolution before it was passed.

This is what is said about it:

I’m honoured to have the opportunity of speaking about this important Report ‘Land of Promise’ which, as Sue
Parks has said, is work done at the request of previous ACC Meetings. I’m sorry that it has to be presented on behalf of the group which produced it – I wasn’t part of that group – because it seems to me to offer a comprehensive and authoritative survey of a very complex issue set of issues.

As Sue has said, we’re going to give you an opportunity for discussion. Our suggestion is that your discussion should be around the question of what our response as Anglicans might be.

Some definitions first from the Report.

What is Zionism – ‘Zionism is a form of nationalism of Jews and Jewish culture which supports a Jewish nation state in the land defined as the land of Israel’
What is Christian Zionism – ‘Christian Zionism is a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 is in accordance with Biblical prophecy’

What is this Report then really about? It does not invite us to identify ourselves with those definitions. Rather it is about exploring the complex of issues, religious, political and cultural which lie behind those statements – offering ways if thinking which may inform future discussion and ultimately resolution of the question.

Section 8 of the Report is particularly directed towards us as Anglicans – it identifies issues which we can affirm; it identifies views which it regards as likely to be unacceptable. Most helpfully of all it identifies issues on which it is harder for us to come to agreement. Within this section there are key understandings of the role of a God who is active in history; of the authority of scripture and of prophecy in particular and its applicability to particular places, times and circumstances.

There are too many for me to mention all – but let me just refer to one or two as a sample
There are three sections

First some things which we can affirm:
God is equally concerned for all peoples and all lands
It is essential to sustain a Christian presence, and in particular, an Anglican presence in the Holy Land.
The state of Israel is an established national state and it’s citizens have the right to live in security, peace and freedom
Palestine has a national identity, with a cultural heritage to be acknowledged and respected. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have a right to live in freedom, peace and security without military occupation or appropriation of land and to self-determination

And some which the report regards as unacceptable to Anglicans – reminding you again that this is a few drawn from a longer list:
God has given the Holy Land as an exclusive possession to any one community
Christians, Muslims and others have no right to live in the Holy Land because it has been given by God to the Jews
Prophecy as prediction can be separated from prophecy as ethics

Thirdly there are some where the report recognises that there are significantly different views held with integrity among those who hold an Anglican interpretation of the Christian faith:
The continuing is significance of Israel as a partner in a continuing covenant with God
The status of Israel as a Jewish state
The moral duty of Christians to support the state of Israel in light of the history of anti-Judaism and the Holocaust
The call to direct action for Palestinian advocacy as an over-riding imperative for Christians.

Most helpfully of all, it seems to me, in the light of the references which I made a moment ago to other places and contexts .. this section and this report take a situation of unbelievable complexity and offers ways of finding little bits of solid ground on which we might stand. It encourages not to see this simply as ‘impossible’ or as ‘impossibly conflicted’ but as something which might one day find a lasting resolution.

There is as the Report implies a universality to these questions which makes it important for us as a Communion. When I was a parish priest in Northern Ireland, the Israeli flag flew on the roundabout at the lower end of my parish – a sign of the instinctive identification of the Ulster Protestants with Israel. More than that, I think that there are parallels with every situation in which faith, politics and religion unhelpfully intertwine. That may be the sectarianism of Ireland or Scotland where religion seems to be at the service of political or cultural movements. Or it may be other parts of the world where Islam strives to create theocratic states and puts pressure on governments. These situations often are so complex that they seems to defy rational description and leave us helpless observers. This Report addresses what is probably the most complex of all of these situations and attempts to describe, inform and engage.

If you read nothing else in this document, I suggest you turn to the Postscript written by Archbishop Rowan. He suggests that the fundamental question which this Report asks is ‘what will be lastingly just for everyone?’. It seems to me that that is where this report leads us – not to taking sides nor to a helpless disengagement. Rather to an informed understanding of an very complex situation and the search for what is lastingly just

I commend the Report to you