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Lincoln and the ‘unfinished work’ of racial equality

When I was researching for my book “Floodgates” several years ago, I became fascinated by the life and beliefs of Abraham Lincoln in relation to Charles Darwin and their comparative views on God and mankind. Lincoln is a towering figure in world history most remembered for emancipating black slaves in America, and like his contemporary Darwin, his true religious views are vigorously debated to this day. And I believe the world would do well to remember Lincoln’s words and actions concerning the equality of man as we wrestle with the heated racial tensions now plaguing an America and world also beset by a global pandemic.

Darwin published his book Origin of Species in 1859, on the eve of the American Civil War. Though some have framed that great conflict as a battle over states’ rights and other issues, President Lincoln rightly boiled it down to a struggle over the equality of man as a creation of God. This makes the Civil War unique from all other conflicts in human history, and the man who presided over the nation during that grueling fight is equally unique.

It was a time when Darwin and others began using his evolutionary theory to question the divine origin of man. Lincoln read these works, was drawn to them intellectually, but in the crucible of the “War Between the States,” he came out retaining his belief in a God who made all men equal. He also firmly believed that God’s judgments are righteous and true, and they are still in the earth today.

Lincoln’s worldview
The long, swirling debate among scholars and biographers concerning Abraham Lincoln’s religious beliefs come in part because he kept them private as a matter of principle. This debate was already raging during his lifetime, as on several occasions Lincoln even considered bringing libel suits to stem rumors he had denied Christian beliefs. Today, Lincoln remains such a monumental figure that Christians and atheists alike claim him as one of their own. Thus, some portray him as a skeptic or an iconoclast who rejected the established Christian views of his day, while others depict him as a deeply spiritual man who was given over to much prayer and was fully cognizant of Divine Providence over human affairs.

Lincoln biographer Fred Kaplan notes three distinguishing characteristics about the 16th president of the United States. First, Kaplan lists Lincoln, along with Thomas Jefferson, as the greatest intellectual president in American history, whose every written or spoken word was composed by him alone Self-educated, Lincoln read profusely on an array of subjects.

Second, as a young man Lincoln first learned to read by candlelight from the Bible, a book which impacted him deeply for the rest of his life. Kaplan recounts that in Lincoln’s day the Bible “was given full currency as the source of the dominant belief system. It was also the great book of illustrative stories, illuminating references, and pithy maxims for everyday conduct. More than any other glue, it held the society together.”

Third, nearly everyone who knew Lincoln came to see him as a very decent and honest man. As a young lawyer, his clients took to calling him “Honest Abe” as a compliment to how he was always fair and deserving of trust. Accordingly, Kaplan notes that Lincoln “was also the last president whose character and standards in the use of language avoided the distortions and other dishonest uses of language that have done so much to undermine the credibility of national leaders.”

So whenever Lincoln quoted from the Bible, which he did quite often, it was not just to manipulate Christian voters or simply because he admired its literary value, but he honestly believed the Scriptures shed much needed light on the world. At an early age, he was steeped in the Calvinistic views of his mother, with its focus on predestination. And while he ventured into other views in his day, he always returned to the Bible as a guiding light of truth and morality.

We see this in his famous “House Divided” speech while running for the US Senate in 1858. Taken from Mark 3:25, the speech thrust Lincoln onto the national stage as an articulate opponent of slavery, and helped propel him to the presidency two years later.

A humbled man of prayer
No doubt the Union army’s poor showings early in the war drove Lincoln to his knees in prayer. Many sources also claim that the tragic death of his eleven year-old son Willie in 1862, and then the emotional experience of visiting the vast military cemetery at Gettysburg in late 1863, were catalysts for Lincoln’s deepening spirituality. He prayed more earnestly, and his public speeches reflected a leader with a deep personal sense that somehow God was using him as an instrument of good within His unfolding purposes for America.

Lincoln’s sense of Providence was already apparent in his First Inaugural Address in March 1861, in which he expressed hope that a combination of “intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land” would somehow resolve peacefully the crisis then brewing due to the secession of the Southern states.

Around the time of the Union’s sound defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862, Lincoln sat alone in his office and penned the following words:

“In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party… I am almost ready to say that this is probably true – that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet…”

This grappling with God’s purposes amid the bloody conflict continued to dominate Lincoln's public remarks for the rest of the war. In his immortal Gettysburg Address, Lincoln distilled the essence of the Civil War as a struggle over America’s belief in the equality of all men:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure… It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom...” [60]

The Union’s victory at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 also prompted Lincoln to call for the first official nationwide observance of Thanksgiving Day in order to reflect on “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Finally, we see a similar theological message in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, delivered in March 1865, in which he stated that both sides “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other… The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

Lincoln then referenced King David the Psalmist: “As was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’” With this precious truth from Psalm 19:9, the president humbly deferred to powers beyond the reach of logic: He had come to believe that God’s judgements were proper, even if they belied any rational explanation. Lincoln then concluded his speech on a note of reconciliation, with perhaps his single greatest utterance:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds...”

Upon listening to Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the famous black statesman Frederick Douglas commented that it “sounded more like a sermon than a state paper.” But Lincoln’s words, and especially his call for leniency on the South, provide us with a remarkable glimpse into his struggle to come to terms with four brutal years of war.

Trusting in divine justice
I believe that while Abraham Lincoln was intellectually open to new thoughts emerging in that day, including Darwinian evolution, he ultimately represents a man who still feared God and sought to understand His judgments in the earth. Though he may never have openly professed faith in Christ, his worldview was deeply infused with biblical insights into God, man and the universe. This included a high view of mankind as created in God’s image – a view he was willing to defend by force of arms.

Lincoln also rightly proclaimed that “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9) The same Psalmist also said that “His judgments are in all the earth.” (Psalm 105:7)

I believe that, indeed, God’s righteous judgments can be seen working themselves out in every generation. In that regard, I believe the Civil War was God’s correction upon all of America for the sin of slavery.

The whole nation, both North and South, was morally complicit for having allowed slavery to take hold in the New World. The selling and enslavement of human beings was contrary to the principle expressed in the American Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” The abandonment of this sacred principle was already underway in the drafting of the US Constitution, when the so-called “three-fifths clause” counted black slaves as merely three-fifths of a person solely for purposes of allocating seats in the US Congress; otherwise they were not deemed to be persons entitled to equal rights. This clause was included as a compromise to sway the southern slave-owning states to join the new, centralized federal government.

Then as new states were admitted to the Union, more slave states were allowed to join, such as in the “Missouri Compromise” of 1830, which served to maintain the balance between slave and free states in Congress. That delicate balance lasted for another 30 years but eventually tensions over slavery boiled over into open conflict. Thankfully, the right side won that bitter contest, but not before both sides had paid an immense price for allowing the evil of slavery. I believe Lincoln came to realize this to some degree, and therefore called for leniency on the South just ahead of his untimely death.

Yet even though America paid a very costly price for the evil institution of slavery during the Civil War, it took another 100 years and the Civil Rights movement to finally shame many white Southerners (and many other Americans as well) out of their sense of racial superiority. We still have a ways to go, in all nations and societies, to recapture the biblical truth that all men are created equal by a benevolent God, and thus we should treat every human life with dignity and respect. It is indeed an “unfinished work,” as Lincoln said at Gettysburg.

But we can also trust that God’s judgments are righteous and true, and that they are still in the earth today. We do not have to try to force justice through senseless violence, as many are doing at present. Besides, our own human sense of justice is usually a lot different than what God considers justice. Rather, what we could all use right now is a little “malice toward none, charity for all.”



David R. Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist and ordained minister who serves as Vice President & Senior Spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. His book “Floodgates” is available at

Points to Ponder this Tisha B’Av

Beginning next Wednesday evening (29 July), the Jewish world will mark Tisha B’Av, an annual day of mourning and fasting to lament the uncanny series of tragedies which have befallen their people on this singular date in history. Regarded as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av (“Ninth of Av”) primarily recalls the destructions of the two Temples in Jerusalem. But this day also witnessed a long litany of other major Jewish calamities which should give us all pause for much thought and reflection even amid our own current Corona plague.

According to the Talmud, this day of mourning is warranted due to five specific disasters in Jewish history which all occurred on the Ninth of Av.

1) The bad report of the ten spies sent by Moses to search out the Land of Canaan.
2) The destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.
3) The destruction of Herod’s Temple by the Roman general Titus in 70 AD.
4) The Roman crushing of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD.
5) The Roman plowing of the Temple remains still in Jerusalem that same year.

Strangely, a number of other catastrophes in Jewish history also have taken place on the Ninth of Av. This includes the launch of the First Crusade (1096), which left thousands of Jews dead in its path; the Expulsion from England (1290); the Expulsion from France (1306); the Expulsion from Spain (1492); and the initial Nazi approval of the “Final Solution” (1941), just to name a few.

Focusing on the Talmudic list, there are important lessons to be drawn from them in relation to where we are today.

The Bad Report of the Ten Spies
Many Jews share the sense that all these calamities have occurred on this specific day because of the original sin of the negative reports brought back by ten of the twelve tribal leaders sent by Moses to spy out the Land of Canaan (Numbers 13 & 14). It was indeed a serious incident. They confirmed that the Land “truly flows with milk and honey,” but also voiced fears over the strength of its inhabitants, their fortified cities, and especially the giants in their midst, which made them appear as “grasshoppers.”

Their doubts about God’s ability to help them overcome these obstacles sorely displeased Him, especially after they had just seen His might so thoroughly displayed against the Egyptians. In fact, the Lord took their bad reports as a “rejection” of Himself (Numbers 14:11). It came down to a matter of simply lacking faith in God’s ability to keep His promise to deliver the Land of Canaan into their hands.

Now Moses interceded and spared the Israelite people from destruction, but there still was a price to pay for their unbelief – that of wandering in the Wilderness for forty years until a new generation arose which was ready to possess the Land.

This Tish B’Av, Israeli leaders are pondering the “annexation” question and looking at all the obstacles to possessing the Land of Israel this time around. They see a mass of Palestinian people and worry about the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and whether Israel can remain a Jewish and democratic state. They see other ‘giants,’ such as Hizbullah rockets, Iranian nuclear ambitions, and the anti-Israel alignment in the United Nations.

But if Israelis are able to see with the eyes of faith, like Joshua and Caleb, they would realize God already delivered the entire Land into their possession some 50 years ago. True, there is still another hostile people in parts of the Land, but with patience and trust in God all these obstacles can surely be overcome.

Right now, the Trump peace plan offers them a chance to expand Israeli sovereignty to 30% of Judea/Samaria and the Jordan Valley. But as Jason Greenblatt, one of the architects of the Trump plan, confirmed this week, extending Israeli sovereignty under the plan “comes with a commitment to set aside a certain area of land for the eventual potential Palestinian state.” As vague as that may sound, it means annexing settlements would lock Israel into the real possibility of having to accept a Palestinian state on the remaining 70% of the West Bank.

It is better for Israelis to wait and trust God, rather than enter a process which would require them to cede forever part of their God-given land inheritance. To do so is like the sin of the twelve spies, for you are saying that God is not able to keep His promise to deliver the entire Land of Canaan to you in rest and peace.

The Destructions of the Temples and Jewish Exiles
The destructions of the First and Second Temples were both very painful for the Jewish people – they still remember it even in moments of great joy like weddings. And the fact that both destructions occurred on the same date is doubly ominous. God certainly works on a precise timeclock. Further, both destructions also were accompanied by bitter Jewish exiles from the Land of Israel.

The second destruction and exile at the hands of the Romans came in two phases. In the first stage, the Jewish people were deeply divided over whether to fight to the last man or surrender to the Romans and become their slaves. The Jews trapped in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD were actually fighting each other inside the walled city over this very issue, and it hastened the Roman victory. Then in the second stage a few decades later, the people followed a false messiah who led them to defeat and dispersion.

But God promised well beforehand that He would not leave the Jewish people scattered among the nations forever. Rather, He vowed to bring them back and “assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.” (Jeremiah 32:41)

This Tish B’Av, more than 45% of the Jewish people are now gathered back in the Land of Israel. That means we are almost near an historic milestone of more than half the Jewish people living back in their ancient homeland for the first time in actually 2700 years – since the Babylonian exile. But we have been hovering around these same percentages for the past few years, as the number of Jews moving to Israel has been about the same as the number of Israelis moving abroad.

Ironically, the Coronavirus crisis may be the thing which tips the scale and pushes us past the 50% mark. All indicators point to a sharp rise in interest and applications among Diaspora Jews to make Aliyah, due in large part to the resurgence of antisemitism worldwide. Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog recently said he expects as many as 250,000 Jews to come home to Israel over the next three to five years. Together with the increased numbers of Israeli citizens returning from foreign lands, it may be the Corona pandemic which helps accelerate the formal end of the long Jewish exile.

This brings up one more point to ponder this Tisha B’Av. When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, the Jewish Sanhedrin met in Yavneh and took a momentous decision to refocus Jewish religious life around the synagogue system. This fateful ruling held that as long as more than half the Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel, they were no longer obligated to keep the commands of the Mosaic law concerning Temple worship. But if half the Jewish people are soon regathered back in the Land, will Yavneh have to be re-visited? And will it mean they are obligated to rebuild the House of the Lord in Jerusalem?

The Jewish people have come so far in recent times, arising out of innumerable tragedies and centuries of exile to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild their nation here. The remaining obstacles are not so steep that they, too, cannot be overcome, and a glorious future lies ahead for the nation and people of Israel. Let us be praying for them this Tish B’Av, as they ponder the events which befell them on this day in Jewish history.

Why Pandemics are Dangerous for Jews

For Abundant conspiracy theories and misinformation about the Coronavirus pandemic have elevated fear and anxiety levels for many. We have had to sift through benign misinformation and intentional disinformation to understand the potential dangers of this virus and the best practices to avoid it. Even the US government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has become controversial and many question whether it is the place to go for reliable information.

Government Misinformation
Other countries have even less trustworthy and helpful governments. They are at the mercy of corrupt leaders attempting to hide their own mishandling of the crisis and place blame elsewhere through their state-controlled media.

Case in point: a Chinese government spokesman set off a disinformation frenzy in China when he tweeted the self-serving lie that it was the US army that brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Russian media then chimed in accusing both the United States and the United Kingdom of developing the virus to harm Russian ally China.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard generals claimed the virus was an American biological weapon aimed at both China and Iran, while Iranian state media also blamed the “Zionists.” Throughout the Muslim world, rumours abound that the Jews developed the coronavirus to gain power, kill a large number of people, and make a fortune selling the antidote.

Conspiracy Theories
These lies have infiltrated the internet and are used by conspiracy theorists to advance their anti-Semitic theories. The Anti-Defamation League is tracking and documenting the proliferation of these lies on both fringe internet platforms as well as mainstream platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit.

Conspiracies abound about the origin of the virus that blame everyone from the US government to Bill Gates to Israel. Some are using the virus as proof in their case for—or against—vaccination, immigration, or imposition of martial law. Racists are denigrating all things Chinese, while anti-Semites blame Jews for the virus as a means to manipulate the stock market to their financial advantage, bring down President Trump, or profit from a vaccine they developed beforehand.

Why the Jews?
Why the Jews? They are suffering from the virus like everyone else and trying to develop a vaccine just as fast as the rest of the world. Their religious leaders called for prayer at the Western Wall for the entire world to be spared this pandemic. Yet, they are blamed for creating it, using it to kill masses of people and then profit off of its treatment.

As wrong as it is, the proliferation of false accusations against the Chinese people is because the virus started in China. But what do the Jews have to do with this virus? Why the lies about Israel and the Jews? Because age-old anti-Semitism will use every opportunity to spew hatred on the Jewish people.

The danger for Jews during pandemics is not just the disease but also the conspiracy theories it spawns. One of the greatest catastrophes to afflict the human race was the fourteenth-century bubonic plague—known as the “Black Death”—that swept through Europe. Historians estimate that up to 50 percent of Europe’s population died in the pandemic, with rates of death as high as 75 percent in Italy, Spain, and France.

The Jewish minority had already been demonized by church and state, so they were an easy scapegoat. They also fared better than the general population, possibly due to their dietary and religious practices or the fact many were confined in walled ghettos. Their lower death rates, however, fuelled suspicions they were behind the pandemic, and many Jews who survived the plague were then massacred in pogroms.

We should not dismiss conspiracy theories as mere craziness. Conspiracy theories produce anger, and anger moves quickly from words into actions; verbal insults often result in physical attacks. It is, therefore, our responsibility to speak up against these lies and point people to reliable sources of information.

Flattening the Curve
While seeking to flatten the curve of the coronavirus, we must do the same with the pandemic of anti-Semitism. It is a deadly virus that poisons hearts and minds, eventually destroying those it infects along with those they hate.

We must take the necessary steps to identify and isolate it, protect others from becoming infected, and develop educational “vaccines” against it in our churches, schools, and society.

Is the Middle East Sitting on a Powder Keg?

For at least a decade now, Israel has been conducting a shadow war with Iran in the region that is proving quite successful, maybe even a little too much so. The radical regime in Tehran is currently under mounting pressure to either account for a series of recent mishaps across the country or start exacting revenge on Israel for its suspected sabotage campaign. Given other developments in the region, even the Corona pandemic may be not be able to forestall a serious military flare-up in the region.

FOR THOSE keeping count, as of this Friday morning there have now been eight mysterious ‘incidents’ at various military and industrial facilities across Iran over the past two weeks. This includes explosions and/or fires at a ballistic missile factory, a missile storage facility, a medical clinic in Tehran, a power plant and a petrochemical plant in southern Iran, an automotive factory, a gas storage facility next to the Parchin military base, and a warehouse at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

These last two sites are especially noteworthy. The Parchin base was once linked to suspected nuclear trigger tests, and Iran has repeatedly denied UN atomic inspectors access to the site. Meantime, the Natanz blast apparently took out a building where new centrifuges were being “balanced” before they were put into operation. Recall that the Natanz plant was temporarily incapacitated ten years ago by the Stuxnet computer virus co-designed by the US and Israel. More recently, Iranian authorities doubled its enrichment capacity in violation of the 2015 international agreement meant to curb Iran’s atomic weapons drive. Analysts estimate last week’s blast could now shut Natanz down for up to two years.

The clerical regime has been attempting to explain away all these mishaps as leaky gas pipes and unconnected accidents, but it sure is starting to look like a series of deliberate sabotage attacks – even to the Iranian public. They are demanding answers, and there is even a move afoot in parliament to impeach President Hassan Rouhani over his apparent incompetence.

If these recent events are indeed part of the covert conflict between Israel and Iran, this would now bring the aggregate score in this contest to a decisive 180 goals to 0 in favor of the ‘Zionist’ side!

OVER RECENT YEARS, Israel has carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes inside Syria against Iranian, Syrian and Hizbullah targets. Some of these bombing raids and missile strikes were devastating, lighting up the Damascus skyline and rattling the entire city, wiping out arms depots, crippling major air bases across the country, and killing dozens of fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its affiliated Shi’ite militias.

Israel also has reportedly struck at Iranian-backed militias and missile batteries operating in western Iraq.

In addition, there was that daring raid on a non-descript Tehran warehouse in 2018 when Israeli operatives whisked away a treasure trove of secret archives from Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program.

Add in the IDF’s discovery and destruction last year of Hizbullah’s cross-border terror tunnels in southern Lebanon, thereby robbing Iran of a key secret strategy for attacking Israel.

Plus, after thwarting a cyber attack that would have poisoned much of its water supply, Israel sowed complete confusion at Iran’s main port through its own cyber hacking.

Finally, in January of this year the US army scored a dramatic hit on al-Quds Force commander Qasem Solemani at the Baghdad airport, which succeeded in large part due to the accurate tracking information provided by Israeli intelligence.

Strangely, the Iranians have rarely responded to these multiple Israeli blows, and the few counterpunches they have thrown were unusually feeble. There have been a handful of rockets fired from Syrian territory in the direction of the Golan, but most were shot down or fell short of the border. There also were a couple drone incursions into northern Israel that were easily detected and neutralized by Israeli air defenses.

So the Israeli military has dealt numerous upper cuts to the Iranian axis, while the Mossad picked the Ayatollah’s pockets and helped decapitate the main exporter of the Iranian revolution. Now with an apparent sabotage campaign going on inside Iran, the pressure is building on the ruling regime to either explain all these accidents or start taking revenge on Israel. The Iranian government is downplaying the rash of explosions and fires. But it is looking rather inept, especially when you also take into account the collapsing economy, the freefall of the rial, Corona’s true toll in the country, and its lies about the recently downed Ukrainian airliner.

THIS LEAVES one wondering why Iran has let the score get so lopsided. Tehran has shown it is quite capable of carrying out potent, sophisticated military operations in certain circumstances. For example, the surprise attack on the oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia last September involved numerous armed drones and low-flying guided missiles which successfully evaded advanced US-supplied air defense systems.

And Iranian officials indeed generate a lot of bluster and noise about getting back at Israel, and its American ally, every time they take a punch.

But the Iranians also invented chess, we are told, and they like to think more long-term, weigh the stakes, and anticipate several moves ahead. In this school of thought, it is more important for them to keep entrenching their forces in Syria and Iraq, tightening their grip on Lebanon, threatening Riyadh via their Houthi surrogates in Yemen, shipping oil to Venezuela, and developing their missile and nuclear capabilities at home.

In the meantime, if they can deliver the occasional and plausibly-deniable strike through some regional proxy militia, then so be it. And latest reports indicate they were just caught trying to resort to an old tactic of striking at Israeli diplomatic missions abroad.

Still, they do have extremely lethal assets at Israel’s doorstep which pose a real threat to the Jewish state, most notably in the form of Hizbullah’s arsenal of more than 150,000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon. This now includes scores of longer-range, precision-guided missiles that can strike anywhere in Israel, as well as improving “killer” drone capabilities that remain an unknown to the Israeli military.

Lebanon itself is in the throes of a severe economic crisis which could seriously destabilize the country along sectarian lines once more. The national currency has lost nearly 80% of its value, pushing many into poverty. People are bartering their goods and services on Facebook to find food for their families. The reeling government has started leaving crates of fruits and vegetables along the streets to help feed the desperate population – a drastic move not seen even in the darkest days of the nation’s 15-year civil war.

Drained of hope by the economic meltdown amid the Corona lockdowns, many courageous Lebanese citizens – Shi’ites included – have taken to openly confronting Hizbullah about its lead role in causing the national calamity. At the same time, recent reports out of Lebanon also indicate a growing sense that the radical terror militia may try to extricate itself by sparking a war with Israel. Every mysterious explosion over in distant Iran only fuels those fears.

The Lebanese may already know something the rest of us are just waking up to: the Middle East is sitting on a powder keg and the slightest ‘accident’ could set it off.

Why Christians care about Annexation

I have engaged with a number of reporters lately, both on and off the record, concerning the Trump peace plan. And one odd question keeps coming up: Why should Christians care about whether or not Israel annexes more territory in the West Bank?

I say “odd” because journalists are not asking the same question of everyone else. The United Nations, the European Union, Russia, China, leftists, the Arabs, the Muslim world, even the Black Lives Matter movement – they all are sticking their noses in Israel’s business. Yet many the press treat their concerns about annexation as legitimate, while questioning whether evangelical Christians really have a genuine interest or stake in this matter.

When some media outlets do give our concerns a serious look, we get slanderous pieces like The Washington Post column this week entitled “The mainstreaming of Christian Zionism could warp foreign policy,” by Cambridge grad student Jeffrey Rosario. In it, he trots out the tired old bogeyman of “Dispensationalism” and accuses American Evangelicals of thirsting for Armageddon and “weaponizing biblical prophecy for political ends.”

So for the record, here are some very valid, sincere reasons why Christians should and do care about Israel and its current debate over whether to annex parts of Judea/Samaria in the context of the Trump plan.

Standing for Fairness
Because so many Christians were hostile to the Jewish people down through history, we view it as our moral duty for Christians today to stand with Israel against those who are hostile to the modern Jewish state and people. There are simply too many nations and peoples who treat Israel unfairly and even loathe its existence without just reason or cause. So we are determined to stand against the rising tide of antisemitism, the rampant anti-Israel media bias, the stone-hearted threats of sanctions and violence, and the outright bullying of Israel in international forums.

We are simply standing for fair treatment of the Jewish nation and people, in hopes it will create a more level playing field for Israel. The UN Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2334 in December 2016 is a prime example of the lopsided and prejudicial decisions routinely made against Israel. By declaring that the entire West Bank and eastern Jerusalem are “occupied Palestinian territory,” the international community ran roughshod over four millennia of Jewish claim and connection to the Land of Israel.

So when Israel is debating whether to assert its rightful historic claim and title to the biblical heartland of ancient Israel, Christians are interested and we have every right to be.

Standing for Right
Israel is a democratic state whose legitimate historic right and claim to the Jewish homeland was duly recognized by the international community not so long ago. Thus, “annexation” is not really the proper word for what Israel is considering, as it normally connotes the hostile taking of another’s property. Rather, Israel would simply be asserting sovereignty on lands it currently possesses and over which it already has a valid historic claim. Yet the world blithely treats it as an attempt to steal someone else’s lands.

Admittedly, there is a rival Palestinian claim to these same areas, but of such recent origin that it pales in comparison to the long-standing Jewish title over Eretz Israel. The people of Israel must decide whether to compromise on their superior land claim for the sake of peace. And as Christians, we respect Israeli democracy and the right of its people to make this decision free of outside interference or threats. Thus, with great empathy and care we will be watching the annexation debate and will stand with Israel as it wrestles with this very complex and consequential decision.

Standing for Truth
To build their rival nationalist claim to the historic Land of Israel, the Palestinians have found it necessary to deny any Jewish connection to the land, and particularly to Jerusalem. In doing so, they have decreed our Bible – both Old and New Testaments – to be full of falsehoods concerning the ancient Jewish presence in this land. This would mean King David did not rule over a large Israelite kingdom from his palace in Jerusalem, as recorded in the Hebrew Bible. And that Jesus did not enter and teach in the courts of the Second Temple, as the Gospels all say. That should get the attention of Christians, and rightly so! The Palestinians also have routinely damaged and destroyed important biblical sites which bear the archaeological proof that ancient Israel once inhabited the land. So Christians are standing for truth, and the preservation of history, when we partake in the debate over the fate of the disputed territories.

Standing for Justice
Christians believe God made a covenant promise to Abraham to deliver the entire Land of Israel as an “everlasting possession” to his descendants. How and when God ultimately fulfills that promise is up to Him. But we do believe the modern-day return of the Jews to the Land of Israel, including the mountains of Judea and Samaria, are part of God keeping His covenant promises to the Jewish people concerning their land inheritance. Our Bible also says that God scattered them from the land for corrective and redemptive purposes, while at the same time vowing that He would always regather them to the Land of Israel one day. Thus, we consider it a matter of historic justice that the Jews have returned to their homeland in modern times. And since Christians also serve the same God as the Jewish people, our own faith is strengthened when we see Him being faithful to His promises to Israel concerning the Land.

So to answer the question, Christians have plenty of reasons for why we care so deeply about the annexation debate and how the Jewish people hope to maintain their enduring connection to their biblical homeland.

Revisiting the Trump Plan

At first glance the Trump peace plan appeared to have a lot of positive benefits for Israel, but now I am not so sure it would be a change for the better

US President Donald Trump’s “vision” for peace certainly marked a welcome reversal of the trend of recent decades whereby the international community slowly whittled away at Israel’s rights and positions in the peace process. Whereas Israel was increasingly under pressure to offer the Palestinians nearly 100% of the West Bank for a Palestinian state, Trump’s plan dropped back to only 70%. And even with that, Israel would retain overall security control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and no settlements would be forcibly uprooted.

The Palestinians also would have to meet some steep preconditions to qualify for statehood – e.g., disarm Hamas, accept a demilitarized state, end the ‘pay-for-slay’ welfare benefits for terrorists, and educate for peace.

But with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now poised to start extending sovereignty to parts of Judea/Samaria come July 1st, many have taken a closer look at the Trump plan and are having second thoughts. To find out why, I joined a tour this week of the northern Shomron and spoke with local Jewish community leaders there.

Do The Math!
These settlement leaders said they prefer the status quo to the unpredictable consequences of the Trump plan, as all the Israeli communities in Judea/Samaria currently can access each other and Israel proper with ease. Israelis and Palestinians peacefully share the same main roads every day because the IDF is in control of them. This includes Highway 60, the primary north-south artery which runs from below Hebron, through Jerusalem and up past Nablus.

However, they fear the Trump plan is going to sever Highway 60 in several key places, blocking access to local Israelis. For proof, they point to the “conceptual map” which was released along with the Trump plan back in January. Although press reports suggest the final map is still being worked out by an American-Israeli joint committee, that initial map emerged after several years of consultations between US and Israeli officials and it already seems to reflect the Israeli consensus on which settlements should be kept in any peace agreement. The map also incorporates the Trump plan’s express aim of creating a contiguous Palestinian state wherever possible. Thus, we should not expect the map to change all that much.

The problem here is in the math. The Trump plan would allow Israel to “annex” up to 30% of Judea/Samaria, being half of the 60% of the West Bank designated as “Area C” under the Oslo accords. These are areas now under full Israeli civil and security control, where all the settlements and most of the main roads are located.

Yet Netanyahu is determined to procure the Jordan Valley, to create a security buffer between the Palestinians and Jordan, and that region already accounts for 20% of the 30% Israel is allowed to claim. On the conceptual map, the remaining ten percent is quickly consumed by solidifying Israel’s foothold around Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs of Ariel, Gush Etzion and the Binyamin region. As a result, little is left to secure the futures of some 15 significant settlements in northern Samaria and southern Judea.

The conceptual map shows these 15 towns completely cut off from each other, and each one accessing the rest of Israel via single, narrow corridors completely surrounded by the proposed Palestinian state. Further, once Israel starts extending sovereignty under the Trump plan, it immediately imposes a building freeze in those 15 settlements for the four years of proposed negotiations with the Palestinians.

So although the Trump plan would not force the dismantlement of any settlements, it would leave some of them so isolated, frozen and insecure, that they would likely succumb to voluntary evacuation. As one settler leader put it, the plans intends for these communities to “dry up.” The result would be a long, slow, painful displacement involving three-to-four times the number of Israeli families uprooted in the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza.

Lost Heritage
Our hosts in the Shomron also voiced concerns over the potential loss of hundreds of important biblical sites revered by Christians and Jews, once they fall into Palestinian hands. This includes Joshua’s Altar, which we visited on Mt. Ebal (see Joshua 8:30-35). This is one of the oldest and most authentic biblical sites in the entire Land of Israel. The 3500 year-old altar was found to contain numerous irrefutable proofs of the biblical text, and helps to date the correct time of the Exodus – a major point of contention with Bible skeptics and Egyptologists.

Even notable New Testament sites like Jacob’s Well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman (John 4), would be lost to a Palestinian regime that has shown no regard for preserving Jewish or Christian holy sites.

Exit Ramps
Above all, many settler leaders and their allies are coming out against the Trump plan simply because it calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. Some are banking on the Palestinians to continue rejecting the Trump plan, as they have always done with other peace plans. But others are worried that once Israel starts extending its laws to portions of the disputed territories, the nation will be locked into a process which could lead to a hostile Palestinian state in the heart of Israel. They are hoping the government will insist on clear exit ramps from the process for Israel should the Palestinians not comply with their obligations – which was a major point of weakness of the failed Oslo process.

In addition, Israel is only assured of American recognition of its sovereignty in the 30% it annexes, which could easily be reversed by a future US president as early as next January. Meantime, Israel would be widely viewed as having permanently ceded its claim to 70% of the territories and yet will still face the fury of the rest of the world for doing so.

A Plea for Patience
My own view is that the members of the Trump team which crafted this plan were well-meaning and have indeed tabled the best deal any US government has ever offered to Israel to resolve the Palestinian issue. However, I get uneasy any time Israel gets close to giving away any part of its biblical inheritance forever.

In June 1967, Israel came into possession of Judea/Samaria – the heartland of ancient Israel – in a war of self-defense. God miraculously delivered these territories into Israel’s hands, but the world has been trying to talk Israel out of them ever since.

Yet the lesson of the peace process over the intervening decades is that – whether under outside pressure or not – every time Israelis have been ready to cede in perpetuity any part of their God-given land heritage to the Palestinians for the sake of peace, it always seems to blow up in their faces in the form of violence and terrorism.

Instead, the Israeli people and their leaders need to have patience and faith in God, and allow Him time and room to work out His purposes for their nation. To surrender all future right and claim to major portions of Judea/Samaria just seems to me like a serious expression of unbelief, because it says God is not able to deliver these lands to Israel in rest and peace, as He has promised.

Rather, Israel should find a way for the Palestinians to run their own lives and affairs, but without ever having to permanently relinquish its claim and title to these contested areas. In other words, something akin to the status quo – which is not perfect by any means, but still may be the best answer until God provides a better one.

The international community also needs to learn the lesson that every time they try to birth a Palestinian state on lands divinely promised to Israel, that state always comes out stillborn. The Palestinians have declared statehood several times already and many nations have recognized it, and yet there is still no viable Palestinian state. Instead, we only wind up suffering through the birth pangs. May that not be the fate of the Trump plan.

ICEJ Statement on Annexation

With a new Israeli government finally in place, the debate is now fully engaged – at home and abroad –as to whether Israel should “annex” portions of Judea/Samaria under the terms of the Trump peace plan.

As this debate unfolds, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem will remain respectful of Israeli democracy and the right of its citizens to decide these matters of great national concern. Yet we also realise not everyone will afford Israel the same respect, and thus we will stand with Israel’s historic claim to the lands under consideration and its right to make these decisions free of undue interference, pressure and threats.

The term “annexation” is actually a misnomer in this instance, as it commonly denotes the forcible taking of the territory of another. But here, Israel already held a legitimate historic right and claim to Judea/Samaria even before it came into possession of these areas in an act of self-defense in 1967. The question now facing Israel is whether to fully assert its sovereign title to certain of these territories by simply extending its laws there.

The Jewish people’s claim to the historic Land of Israel was recognized by the international community at the San Remo Conference in 1920 and in the League of Nations’ mandate decisions in 1922. This was not the granting of a new right to the land, but recognition of the Jewish people’s pre-existing claim as an indigenous people seeking to reconstitute their national sovereignty in their ancestral homeland. Nothing since has abrogated or voided that right to sovereignty over the Land of Israel, including those areas now commonly referred to as the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s title to Judea/Samaria under international law is just as valid today as the sovereign claims of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to their own lands, since they all trace their title back to a common source. That is, the same decision-makers resolved in the same basic transactions to recognize the respective rights of each nation based on the same set of legal principles.

By its nature, sovereignty also includes the right to cede lands, and the Israeli people must now decide whether to fully assert their rights to certain portions of Judea/Samaria and to cede other areas to their rival Palestinian claimants for the sake of peace. Sadly, previous Israeli attempts to achieve peace by conceding disputed lands to the Palestinians were met by rejection, violence and bloodshed.

The Trump plan represents a clear departure from these failed peace efforts of the past. It dramatically reverses the trend of recent decades whereby the international community has slowly eroded away at Israel’s rights and positions without requiring any Palestinian concessions. It also truly tests, for the first time, the real intentions of the Palestinian leadership.

Meanwhile, the plan has many benefits for Israel, but it also would require painful concessions and involve huge security risks. There are a number of other factors which will need to be considered, such as the repercussions in the region and the re-election chances of President Trump. But these are decisions for the Israeli people to make, and the leadership and global following of the ICEJ will stand beside them in a responsible, constructive role as committed friends and supporters no matter the outcome.

Dr. Jürgen Bühler
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Deleting ‘Israel’ from the Bible?

In April, Christians in Denmark raised the alarm about a new translation of the Bible published by the Danish Bible Society which omits or replaces hundreds of references to “Israel” in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the new Contemporary Danish Bible 2020, the name “Israel” is deleted in all but two of the sixty places it appears in the New Testament, and in some instances it is replaced with phrases like “the Jews” or “land of the Jews.” In the revised Old Testament, some 250 references to Israel are similarly erased or replaced, amounting to just under 10% of all such references in the Tanakh.

The Danish Bible Society contends that these changes were necessary so that ordinary Danes will not mistakenly connect Biblical Israel with modern Israel. However, this can never justify such an assault on the integrity of the Holy Scriptures and their eternal truths. And because most national Bible societies around the world receive broad support from Evangelical believers, it is important that we raise our voices about this errant work of Bible translation.

First of all, we must uphold the Holy Scriptures as inviolable – their original, essential meaning must never be changed. Now translating the Bible into various languages can present many challenges, especially when it comes to certain Hebrew or Greek words in rare use or with multiple meanings. But “Israel” is “Israel”, and there is no need or rationale for ever changing it.

Secondly, it is impossible to remove the nation and people of Israel from their central role in God’s redemptive plan for all humanity, as is so consistently affirmed throughout the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. The New Testament concurs with theOld Testament that God’s election over both the land and people of Israel are inseparable and enduring. But the Danish Bible Society is seeking to sever that connection in people’s mind, which would render of no effect the many divine promises of Israel’s last-day restoration to the land. This would mean God is unfaithful or untrustworthy concerning His promises, and even turn Him into a liar. Heaven forbid!

In an exchange of letters between the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and the director general of the Danish Bible Society, they have insisted that the Danish public has a problem when they read the Bible, see the word “Israel,” and immediately equate it with the modern-day state of Israel. It seems that today’s Israel is viewed in such a negative light throughout Denmark (thanks largely to the Danish media’s incessant bias against Israel), making any connection to it skews the average Dane’s understanding of the historic Israel of the Bible.

Their answer is to steer the reader’s attention away from Israel as a nation inhabiting a particular land, and focus it instead on the ancient (and modern) Jewish people. But, more often than not in the Bible, “Israel” refers to both the land and the people – that is, the nation of Israel. This is an inescapable truth! And the two cannot be separated so easily, as it does incalculable harm to its original, fundamental meaning – and to the immutable counsel and purpose of God (Hebrews 6:13-20).

Now what the Danish Bible Society has sought to accomplish, they easily could have done in column or foot notes alongside the Bible text, which has become the accepted practice in the field of Bible translation. But here, the sacred words themselves were changed in order to accommodate shifting secular views.

It is one thing to seek to interpret biblical passages in a way which divests the Jewish people of their unique place in Scripture or their irrevocable heritage in the Land of Israel. This is a grave mistake which many Christians have been making for centuries now. But to translate actual passages of the Bible by erasing key references to Israel in this way is an even greater travesty.

Where does this folly end? Will they one day replace the word “Church” in Scripture with the name of some popular socialist movement? Will they replace the name of Jesus with some false savior?

And how can you rob God of His very own identity, seeing that He repeatedly describes Himself in Scripture as the “God of Israel”? (See e.g., Exodus 5:1; 2 Samuel 12:7; Psalm 72:18; Isaiah 45:3; Jeremiah 31:23; Ezekiel 44:2; Malachi 2:16; Matthew 15:31; Luke 1:68; Acts 13:17). Sure, He was the God of an ancient people known as Israel, but He also gave this people a specific land as an “eternal possession” (Genesis 17:8), planted them in that land so they could become a unique nation in the earth, and promised to watch over them in that land. Some may not be comfortable with what the contemporary nation of Israel is doing today, but God has brought the Jewish people back to their eternal homeland to do great and marvelous things with them here which will bless the whole world. This is not something to run from but to embrace, and to take the time to explain as best we can to every Dane and anyone else who will listen.

The international network of Bible Societies around the world are widely respected within the Christian world for their noble mission of making the Word of God available to all peoples and nations in their native languages. But the Danish Bible Society has now brought disgrace upon its own chapter of this revered association by its disturbing and unacceptable actions. They need to honor the integrity of the Holy Scriptures by withdrawing this seriously flawed Bible translation from circulation.

Please sign our online petition to the Danish Bible Society 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and Senior Spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. 

A Bridge Too Far?

The row between Israeli authorities and GOD TV over its new license to broadcast Gospel programming in Hebrew on HOT cable is a story that is not going away soon, and many are now joining the fray. It is a dispute that is beginning to tear at decades of efforts to build bridges between pro-Israel Christians and their Jewish friends. Now that the facts are a little clearer, it is time to weigh in on the matter, appeal for calm, and seek to preserve those hard-won advances in Jewish-Christian relations.

The story broke several weeks ago when Ward Simpson, CEO of GOD TV, announced in an online video that Israeli authorities had approved their new channel for carrying the message of Yeshua to the Israeli people, while also appealing for donations to support the new channel. Facing a sudden public outcry, the head of Israel’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council tried to plead that they were misled and to deflect blame.*

Thus the initial media reports suggested that GOD TV may have misled the Council about its intentions to evangelize on air when applying for a license to broadcast its new Hebrew channel Shelanu (“Ours”) on HOT. But the station’s local Messianic Jewish leaders are now insisting that they were clear about their plans with HOT representatives, who offered to draft and submit a license application on their behalf and came back with the license for Shelanu.*

The Council is scheduled to meet next week to review the license application and decide whether to revoke it for violating Israeli laws against proselytizing. Shelanu has retained legal counsel to assert its democratic rights to free speech and salvage its seven-year contract with HOT, the largest cable provider in Israel. The most severe measure would likely be that this new channel will wind up behind some sort of parental code restriction, for reasons stated later.

A Hot Button Issue

As that bureaucratic process runs its course, many Christians and Jews are voicing their positions on this sensitive issue of missionizing in Israel. Some of the reactions have been measured, reasoned and constructive; others have been heated, alarmist and way off-topic.

Many of the Jewish contributors to the debate have said this episode has confirmed their suspicions that pro-Israel Evangelicals were hiding their real intentions all along. They also have accused Messianic Jews in particular of using deceptive tactics to blur the differences between Judaism and Christianity.

On the Christian side, a surprising number of Evangelical leaders have openly called for an end to any preaching of the Gospel to Jews, due to either the history of Christian antisemitism, the teaching of Replacement theology, or their belief that the Jewish people have their own covenant of salvation. One leading pro-Israel Evangelical activist even wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to ban the channel from broadcasting missionary content in Israel.

One of the most thoughtful, balanced responses overall came from Jonathan S. Tobin, the veteran American Jewish journalist who currently serves as editor-in-chief of the Jewish News Service. Writing in Haaretz this week (“Evangelicals Trying to Convert Jews: A Fair Price for Christian Support for Israel?” – 11 May 2020), Tobin laid out the pros and cons of accepting Evangelical support for Israel and then concluded: “If Jews, whether they are settlers or liberals, are genuinely alarmed about Christians seeking converts, they should compete against them in a free market of ideas rather than just fume about the sinister nature of missionizing.”

Here, Tobin touches on the real heart of the issue at hand – the tension of Israel being both a democratic and a Jewish state.

A Delicate Balancing Act

As Christians, we regularly and robustly defend Israel as the only true democracy in the Middle East, and rightfully so. This necessarily includes the right of all Israelis to free speech – including its Messianic Jewish citizens. Yet weighed against this is the Jewish vision that the restored nation of Israel would serve as a safe haven from all the abuses and atrocities the Jewish people faced out among the nations – especially in Christian lands. This includes an expectation to never be bothered again by any attempts to convert them to another religion.

Now for whatever reason, there is a broad misperception that missionary activity is completely banned in Israel. It is true that there is a strong cultural stigma against proselytizing here, but so far the Knesset has enacted only two laws regulating this area. One makes it a crime to offer material inducements to persuade someone to change their religion, while the other forbids proselytizing a minor (under 18) without the consent of their parents. These are both reasonable measures. And there have been few criminal prosecutions and no successful convictions yet under either law.

There have been other legislative efforts to significantly broaden the legal limits on missionizing in Israel. The most serious attempt came in 1998 after a prominent Pentecostal minister mailed an evangelistic book in Hebrew to nearly one million Israeli homes. In response, a bill was introduced in the Knesset which would have effectively made it illegal to possess the New Testament in Israel. The proposed law was a clear overreach for a democratic country, and it was eventually withdrawn amid fruitful dialogue efforts between Christian and Jewish clergy in Jerusalem.

Meantime, in a more recent test of the limits of Israel’s anti-missionary restrictions, the Supreme Court upheld the religious freedoms of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to hold a public event in Raanana after the city sought to close it down for fear of proselytizing.

Thus, it is clear that one is fairly free to share one's faith in Israel. You just have to stay within the confines of the two relevant laws while also being prepared to face some form of societal backlash, such as eggs and tomatoes thrown by haredi youths. In fact, there have been violent demonstrations in front of Messianic congregations, and some Christians have encountered visa problems at the Ministry of Interior due to zealous lobbying by anti-missionary groups. Or a state broadcasting board might try to withdraw your cable license under public pressure.

Even so, Christians also must take into account the uniqueness of Israel as the Jewish nation, First, we owe Israel a generous measure of humility and respect in light of the unavoidable, undeniable history of Christian antisemitism. To exercise the right of free speech here without any regard for that history or the Jewish sensitives against missionizing would be a callous misuse of that right. 

In addition, the Jewish people are not just like any other nation or people who need to hear the Good News, since it was through them that faith in the God of Israel, the God of the Bible, came to the Gentile nations. The very first missionaries to bring the Gospel to Greek and Barbarian lands were what we would today call "Messianic Jews," who within a generation or so had turned multitudes in the Greco-Roman world into believers in a loving and redeeming God. 

The Evangelical Approach 

With these truths in mind, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was founded on a biblical mandate to acknowledge, repent of and redress the wrongs and deep wounds inflicted on Jews in the name of Christ by our forebearers in the faith down through the centuries. We are primarily evangelical Christians who have been working for forty years now to remove this greatest of stains on the Church and to establish a new attitude towards Israel within churches worldwide. In addition, we believe that the modern-day restoration of Israel is in line with ancient biblical promises that God would restore His people back to their land one day.

It is true to say that leading Evangelical figures openly advocated for a future restoration of the Jewish people back to their homeland even before the emergence of Jewish political Zionism.

Our Jewish friends also should remember that in the 500-year history of the Evangelical movement, there is little record of antisemitic violence or hostilities against Jews. There have been some Evangelical proponents of anti-Jewish beliefs and Replacement teachings as well as the lamentable failings and silence of Christians in general during the Holocaust. But there are no instances of forced conversions, inquisitions or pogroms carried out by Evangelical Christians. These things indeed happened to the Jews! We acknowledge them, we regret them, and we willingly take responsibility for repairing their damage as best we can. But we Evangelicals did not commit them ourselves. Thus it is wrong for Jews to project onto their Evangelical friends the fears they still harbor of religious coercion which arose out of the abuses committed by other Christian traditions in the past.

The core of Evangelical belief is a personal relationship with God, rather than belonging to a state religion or denomincation. We view faith as precious and something which can only be received freely by a willing heart. We agree that no one can or should be compelled to believe something contrary to their conscience. Thus, we do not practice coercion. Rather we believe that faith is ultimately a gift from God and our calling is merely to share that Good News with others. 

Furthermore, we have never tried to hide who we are. We are Christians who believe Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah, and that we received the message and gift of salvation from the Jewish people. Much like the Hebrew Bible, even our New Testament was written by Jewish apostles who arose in Israel. The command to share our faith with the entire world is a major tenet of Christianity. To demand that we refrain from giving witness to our faith is like asking the Jewish people not to keep Shabbat. And yet through this very command of the Great Commission, faith in the God of Israel has reached literally to the ends of the earth. The consequence is that Israel today has faithful friends in every country of the world. 

Yet because of the long, painful history of Christian antisemitism, the ICEJ has made a voluntary commitment not to engage in missionary activity towards the Jewish people, and this we have faithfully kept for the past four decades. Our support for Israel is not contingent on Jews accepting our beliefs as to who the Messiah is, but rather we stand with Israel and fight antisemitism around the world because Israel is the "apple of God's eye" (Zechariah 2:8). The Apostle Paul even instructs all Christians to love and bless the Jewish people. because they remain "beloved for the sake of the fathers" (Romans 11:28).

At the same time, we cannot demand that all Christians refrain from sharing the Gospel with Jews. Nor will we disassociate ourselves from our Messianic Jewish brethren. Those Christians who are doing so in response to the GOD TV controversy not only contradict Christian teaching but also risk becoming outcasts from the mainstream Evangelical movement. Rather, we must strive to forge an honest, genuine friendship with the Jewish people, even while never removing the tension of Jesus from between us.

We fully understand that Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism each have a different "end of history." But ever since the nadir of Auschwitz, many Jews and Christians have come to realize that we need to build secure bridges between our faiths without any hidden agendas. This historic shift has meant that there are now hundreds of millions of Christians who feel immense gratitude towards the Jewish people and are even more impassioned to express it because their Messiah declared that salvation has come from the Jews (John 4:22).

We can and must continue to build strong, lasting relations between Christians and Jews, while doing so along clearly understood parameters. Evangelicals should never condition our support for Israel and the Jewish people on whether they will allow us to preach the Gospel to them. By the same token, our Jewish colleagues in this endeavor cannot expect Christians to affirm their rejection of Jesus as a condition of our friendship.

I firmly believe that the bridges built between Jews and Christians over recent decades is a remarkable historic phenomenon orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. This new-found relationship is a fascinating and enriching journey for both sides. And I am confident it will survive the current dust-up over GOD TV. It is not a bridge too far.

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and Senior Spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. 

* Details in these paragraphs were corrected for accuracy as of 20:35 on 16 May 2020, to clarify the role of HOT cable in this matter.

Israel's New Government & the Annexation Puzzle

After three elections and seventeen months of political deadlock, it was a relief for most Israelis this week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz finally agreed on a deal to form a unity government. The coalition agreement hinges around a rotation formula between the two rivals, and even though there are still many hurdles to overcome before the new government can be sworn in, the logjam does appear to be broken.

Yet the broad coalition will instantly face some steep challenges, such as ending the Coronavirus lockdowns, reviving a shuttered economy, and deciding whether to annex parts of Judea/Samaria under the favorable terms of the Trump peace plan. The annexation quandary could prove especially thorny, for several reasons.

To begin with, the national religious camp has been pressuring Netanyahu to forge ahead with his recent campaign promise to annex the Jordan Valley, plus the larger settlement blocs. Some contend it is especially critical to do so while US President Donald Trump is still in the White House.

But others insist such a move could easily backfire, as Trump may lose his re-election bid come November and the next US president might come down hard on Israel. And even if he wins re-election, annexing lands under Trump’s plan also would require Israel to accept a demilitarized Palestinian state in the rest of the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Palestinians can be expected to vehemently oppose any annexation moves. But perhaps the biggest worry is that annexation of the Jordan Valley could endanger Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan and even destabilize the Kingdom due to anger among its Palestinian majority.

No matter how this annexation decision plays out over coming months, the irony is that history has somehow cornered Israel into an internal debate about annexing lands that it already owns. So how did this come about?

Remember San Remo
Among the recent casualties of the Coronavirus threat were well-laid plans to celebrate the centennial of the San Remo Conference, a diplomatic conclave which took place exactly 100 years ago this week and served as a monumental moment in the modern-day rebirth of Israel as a nation. It was at San Remo that the international community first recognized the Jewish people’s historic right to reconstitute their national sovereignty in their ancestral homeland – which included what we now call the West Bank.

At the end of World War One, the victorious Allied Powers met with the vanquished German side at the Palace of Versailles in 1919 and agreed on how to redraw the map of Europe. They then gathered a second time the following spring in San Remo to sit with the defeated Turks and divvy up the lands the Ottomans had just lost in the Middle East.

San Remo is a gem of the Italian Riviera. In April, the orange trees begin blossoming and sea breezes carry the sweet scents up the green hillsides. As key world leaders gathered there in late April 1920, it must have provided an intoxicating atmosphere in which to finally unwind from four horrible years of war and two years of the even deadlier Spanish flu pandemic.

When the San Remo delegates did get down to business, the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Japan – with American foreknowledge and acquiescence – made some fateful decisions which still resonate to this day.

These ‘Principal Allied Powers’ did an unusual thing at San Remo. Rather than claiming lands conquered in war as their own territory, as with most victors before them, they decided to maintain possession of the Ottoman lands and hold the sovereign title in trust for the benefit of the local inhabitants until they were ready to govern themselves. This was accomplished through the novel concept of the mandate system.

In fact, the San Remo conference actually marks a self-imposed end of the colonial era. The age of empires exploiting the populations and resources of foreign lands for their own enrichment was passing. US president Woodrow Wilsonian was advocating freedom and self-determination for native peoples worldwide. And the European powers responded with the concept of mandates, or trusteeships, to help them develop and mature as free, self-governing nations.

Credit for the mandate concept belongs to Mark Sykes (of the secret Sykes-Picot accord) and more directly to Jan Christiaan Smuts, a quite remarkable figure. He fought against the British as a commander of South African forces in the Second Boer War, only to later serve as a member of the British cabinet. He was the only person to sign both peace treaties ending the First and Second World wars. Smuts also became a champion of respecting and empowering native peoples, and he had a special affinity for the Jewish people.

In 1919, Smuts had drafted a memorandum setting out the mandate concept, which later became Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. This document, first unveiled at San Remo, specifically mentions Palestine as a mandated territory to be developed into a Jewish state in accordance with the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

At San Remo, the allied powers agreed to apply the mandate system to the vacated Ottoman territories. The British were assigned trusteeships over Palestine (including Transjordan) and “Mesopotamia” (later Iraq), while the French were given guardianship over the areas of today’s Syria and Lebanon. The mandatory powers were to hold sovereign title in trust for the native peoples and help them progress towards self-rule. And, quite importantly, the Jewish people were recognized as indigenous to Palestine to the same degree as the Arab peoples were considered indigenous to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. Further, the national beneficiaries of the Palestine mandate were deemed to be the entire Jewish people, even those still living in exile.

These decisions were encapsulated in the San Remo resolutions, and two years later they were affirmed by the League of Nations when approving the British and French mandates in the region.

So the British recognized the pre-existing right and claim of the Jewish people to the historic Land of Israel in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which was then endorsed by other leading world powers at San Remo in 1920, and finally affirmed by the broader League of Nations in 1922. The United States promptly endorsed Britain’s Mandate in Palestine, both in a joint act of Congress in 1922 and in a treaty with Great Britain two years later, and pledged to be a guarantor of its provisions, which included the obligation to encourage “close settlement of Jews on the land.”

Nothing since has nullified the Jewish right and title to the entire lands west of the Jordan River. Not the UN Partition Plan of 1947, which was rejected by the Arabs. Not even the Oslo accords (although it certainly helps when Israel asserts more vigorously its title to Judea/Samaria).

As Noble as the Neighbors
What all this means is that the nation and people of Israel are now considering whether to annex something they already own. The Jewish people may have lost possession of the West Bank during the 19 years it was (illegally) occupied by Jordan, but they never lost their sovereign title to it. The state of Israel came back into possession of these territories in 1967, and it is just that the world has been trying to talk them out of it ever since.

Yet those who question or deny Israel’s legal claim to Judea/Samaria need to realize that Israel’s title to this land is just as solid as the sovereign claims of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq to their own lands. The reason is that they all can be traced back to a “common grantor.”

Under this legal principle, the source and quality of one man’s title to a piece of land is considered to be just as good as his neighbors if they can both trace title back to the same grantor in the same basic transaction. In this case, Israel can trace its claim of ownership to Judea/Samaria back to the same decisionmakers, meeting at the same San Remo conference and relying on the very same principles of international law which created the sovereign states of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

So if Damascus is truly Syrian, if the Lebanese belong in Beirut, and the Iraqi people own the land between the two rivers, then the Jewish people have every right to lay claim to the Jordan Valley as their home.


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