Last week while Tzedakah Ministries was at the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (North America), the LCJE-NA which is an organization dedicated to Jewish evangelism and missions shared a few moments with Dr. Gary Burge, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and an advocate of the Palestinian position in the Middle East crisis. It was an awkward meeting because it was a conversation of two divergent opinions. It was a tense encounter because I believe both positions felt constrained by the desire to be polite and exhibit Christian civility. It was also a frustrating time because so many things that needed to be asked/answered were either left deftly avoided or never asked in the first place.
Therefore, and especially considering that the Third Christ at the Checkpoint is occurring even while I am writing this blog, I decided to write this open letter to Dr. Burge to ask some of the questions that I sought to ask but did not have opportunity as well as give him an opportunity to allow Dr. Burge to clarify some points he made as well as some points that the Manifesto for the Christ at the Checkpoint makes. I do hope that Dr. Burge will read this post and realize that I have sought to do three things with this blog post:
- Have the opportunity to express my concerns which I do not believe we of the LCJE-NA were allowed to truly do so at the meeting last week because of the communication boundaries that were placed upon us;
- Allow Dr. Burge to respond to what I heard/perceived Dr. Burge say at the LCJE-NA event; AND
- Continue a necessary and needed conversation for those of us who are very concerned about the Jewish and Arab people — people whom God loves both dearly.
Dear Dr. Burge,
Last week I was one of the LCJE-NA attendees that was an avid listener between yourself and Gary Hedrick at Wheaton College. I took diligent notes as audio recording was not allowed and I wanted to follow-up with you on both some of your comments as well as the question that I sought to ask but did not make it past the gatekeeper. I hope you will read this post and take the time to thoughtfully consider the questions which are being asked with respect and Christian civility.
- The question I sought to ask but which did not receive an audience is simply — as a New Testament scholar what Biblical archaeologists impact your understanding of the “Holy Land”? Israel Finkelstein, Keith Whitelam, Niels Lemche, or others? I believe you understand the rationale for the question because as you know who influences your understanding of Biblical archaeology will truly impact how you view the picture above related to Moses’ encounter with God and death at Mount Nebo as he looked over the Promised Land that was given to the Jewish People.
- You “allow” for the right of Israel’s existence but you repeatedly call them occupiers. How are they occupiers when Palestinians never controlled the land and CHOSE not to accept the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan that Israel accepted and instead joined with the other Arab countries in the 1948 war against Israel. How is Israel occupying land that they gained as a result of wars won? How is Israel occupying land that was never Palestinian in the first place? By your logic, most of the United States should be returned to either the Native Americans (who don’t believe in land ownership) or to Mexico? By your logic, the USA is itself an occupying force. Please clarify how Israel’s situation is different than the United States, especially considering how they have given away so much land in exchange for peace that according to the premise of war and to Scripture itself they were under no obligation to return?
- You stated at the LCJE-NA discussion at Wheaton that while you consider the modern state of Israel of Israel to be a remarkable event in history, you do not want to associate it with theological or prophetic significance. Is this because of your archaeological understanding of Biblical history? Is this because of New Testament focus at the expense of the Hebrew Scriptures? Is this because of an allegorical exegesis of the Tanakh that is rooted in Supersessionistic thought?
- What did you mean by the repeated usage of the phrase “Project of Israel”? I note that you are a wordsmith and your words are chosen very carefully. Therefore, this phrase has meaning to you. Would you care to explain. While you are explaining this phrase, you chose to apologize for the insinuation/inference/implication/comparison of Israel to South African Apartheid during the 1980s but you referenced it again during your Wheaton/LCJE-NA discussion. Would you care to apologize for it publicly … AGAIN?
- You stated that Palestinian response (i.e., terrorism as I would define it) is not justifiable but explainable in light of “Israel’s occupation of the area. You also condemned Israel and the IDF for bombing Hamas installations in the Gaza, even when the Hamas choose to situate these locations next to schools/hospitals as human shields. Is there not any culpability on the side of Hamas for placing their own people in danger? And why is Hamas justifiable for bombing Israeli hospitals and schools randomly and purposefully? It appears that you incorporate a double standard that makes it impossible for the Israelis to either defend themselves or explain their position. They are literally in a “damned if they do and damned if they don’t” situation.
Many of my questions/issues are implied in the Christ at the Checkpoint Manifesto as well. The repeated usage of the word “occupation” must be considered in light of the historical facts and not simply as a byword that plays well in the media. What exactly is Israel occupying? What rights do Arab women have in Israel that they are allowed to enjoy in no other Middle Eastern country? Is there a need to do a measure of self-examination before an eye is cast in the direction of Israel.
Dr. Burge, I hope you will consider these questions seriously as they were asked in academic and Christian respect. I recognize that Israel is not a perfect country and those at the LCJE-NA are not those who consider the nation of Israel, the nation of God’s promise, and the one we love as infallible. However, it is not the monster or the occupying force that is portrayed by those at Christ at the Checkpoint.
Is there room for real dialogue that does not require so much conciliation that genuine questions cannot be asked without fear that someone will walk out of the room because it was not pre-screened? Is there room for Christians with dissenting opinions to come together for the sake of the Kingdom and the sake of the Gospel mission? The Jewish people are the children of Abraham through Isaac. The Arabs are the children of Abraham of Ishmael. However, it should be our desire as believers in Jesus that we could all become members of the Family of God through the blood and sacrifice of Messiah Jesus, the Jewish Messiah who came also for the Gentiles (Romans 1:16).
Amy Downey — Director (Tzedakah Ministries)