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Judeo-Christian Politics… in Israel?

Judeo Christian Politics Israel
Image: Amir Levy / Stringer / Getty via CT

This article was first published at Christianity Today on April 11, 2019.

In one of the most tightly contested Israeli elections in years, Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to remain prime minister.

His Likud party is projected to win 35 seats in the 120-member parliament, the Knesset, tied with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party; but coalition partners will likely boost the incumbent Bibi to a governing majority of 65.

But for Christians in Israel, could the most significant electoral development have come from a new party that won a total of zero seats?

“We are the only party to give Christian and Messianic candidates parity in the candidates’ list,” said Avi Lipkin, the Orthodox Jewish head of the Bible Bloc Party, known as Gush Hatankhi in Hebrew.

“For the first time in 2,000 years, Jews and Christians are … brethren and allies.”

In Israel’s proportional system, a party must claim at least 3.25 percent of the nearly 6.4 million eligible voters—so roughly 200,000 votes total—in order to enter parliament.

The Bible Bloc only won 367.

The significance lies in their getting started. As a new party, Lipkin explains they had limited time to build a base. To legalize a party, 100 members are needed. The Bible Bloc recruited 150: roughly half Jewish and half Christian, as reflected in their candidate list.

Heading the list was…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Under the Law: Israeli Christians Worry About Secondary Status in Jewish Nation-State

Israel Nation State
Judaism and Christianity symbols on the Jerusalem old city gate – MyHolyShop

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 31, 2018.

In a legislative act both obvious and inflammatory, this month Israel cemented its nature as a Jewish state.

By a narrow vote in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, the law entitled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” was adopted to serve alongside over a dozen other “basic laws” that serve as Israel’s de facto constitution.

A key clause states that national self-determination is “unique” to Jews. Other provisions formally establish the nation’s flag, emblem, and anthem. Jerusalem is confirmed as the complete and united capital. The Sabbath and Jewish festivals are declared official days of rest.

But two other clauses have raised considerable concern. Jewish settlement is a “national value” to be promoted. And Arabic is downgraded from an official language to one with “special status.”

“This law outlines that Israel’s democratic values are secondary for non-Jews,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical living in Nazareth. “It sends a clear message that my language is not welcome and consequently, neither is my cultural and ethnic identity.”

Her fears are echoed by an Israeli lawyer.

“While the idea of the law is straightforward—it’s hard to argue that Israel isn’t a Jewish state—the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory, and possibly racist,” said Jaime Cowen, former president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events Religion

What Jesus Can Teach Muslims Today

muslims-love-jesus

The New York Times carried a very Christian op-ed recently, penned by a Turkish Muslim.

Mustafa Akyol is one of Turkey’s leading journalists, and argues that the crisis in the Muslim world today can be solved by turning to Jesus as example.

But first, a primer for those who don’t know the basics:

While Muslims respect and love Jesus — and his immaculate mother, Mary — because the Quran wholeheartedly praises them, most have never thought about the historical mission of Jesus, the essence of his teaching and how it may relate to their own reality.

Here is the historical comparison. The Jews of Jesus day, he said, were frustrated by their domination by Rome. Remembering well their former political golden era and ongoing religious claim of God’s favor, they found it very hard to adjust to their status as an oppressed client state in a global empire.

There were two primary reactions: the Zealots who resisted and the Herodians who collaborated. And these patterns mirror the current Muslim world:

The Islamic world has been in a crisis since the 19th century … because it was outperformed, defeated and even besieged by Western powers. Islam, a religion that has always been proud of its earthly success, was now “facing the West with her back to the wall,” causing stress, anger and turmoil among Muslims.

Modern-day Muslims, too … are haunted by the endless struggles between their own Herodians who imitate the West and their own Zealots who embody “archaism evoked by foreign pressure.” He pointed to modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, as an “arch-Herodian” and the “Central Arabian Wahhabis” as arch-Zealots.

Into the divide steps Jesus, he said, but also the Pharisees who are well represented in Islam today:

While being pressed by a foreign civilization, they are also troubled by their own fanatics who see the light only in imposing a rigid law, Shariah, and fighting for theocratic rule. Muslims need a creative third way, which will be true to their faith but also free from the burdens of the past tradition and the current political context.

And here, Jesus is necessary:

No Muslim religious leader has yet stressed the crucial gap between divine purposes and dry legalism as powerfully as Jesus did. Jesus showed that sacrificing the spirit of religion to literalism leads to horrors, like the stoning of innocent women by bigoted men — as it still happens in some Muslim countries today.

He also taught that obsession with outward expressions of piety can nurture a culture of hypocrisy — as is the case in some Muslim communities today. Jesus even defined humanism as a higher value than legalism, famously declaring, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

And Akyol’s closing plea:

Can we Muslims also reason, “The Shariah is made for man, not man for the Shariah”? Or, like Jesus, can we also suggest that the Kingdom of God — also called “the Caliphate” — will be established not within any earthly polity, but within our hearts and minds?

If Jesus is “a prophet of Islam,” as we Muslims often proudly say, then we should think on these questions. Because Jesus addressed the very problems that haunt us today and established a prophetic wisdom perfectly fit for our times.

The wisdom of Jesus transcends Christianity. Gandhi is perhaps the best example of successful application outside of faith. There is no reason Muslims cannot also benefit.

But can wide transformation come through Jesus’ teaching alone, apart from his equally weighty assertions of his (and through him, man’s) unique relation to God? Can those who rightly see themselves as God’s slaves advance in Jesus’ mission of civilization and spirit, unless also seeing themselves as his sons?

All success to Akyol and other Muslims who walk this path. May they find Christians to be an encouragement along the way.

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Current Events

The Quest for Minority Rights in Egypt

Minority RightsFrom my recent article on Egypt Source:

Coptic Christians have reason to celebrate… alone. While they and many others rejoice at the removal of the overall Islamist tinge of the 2012 constitution, this largely liberal-produced draft leaves other religious minorities out in the cold.

“One of the main concerns we have is that freedom of religion is limited to the heavenly religions,” said Chris Chapman, noting the non-recognition of Egyptian Baha’is in particular. “Freedom of religion is absolute and there should be no exclusion.”

The current draft of the constitution, slated for referendum on January 14, makes absolute the freedom of belief. Practicing religious rites and building houses of worship, however, is limited to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

But the article is not an analysis of the constitution but a description of why the largely liberal drafting committee did not secure greater rights for all, and what might be necessary for Egypt to fall in line with the international agreements it has signed. The interview is with Chris Chapman of Minority Rights Group, who recently presented his findings in Cairo.

Chris Chapman
Chris Chapman

From the conclusion:

If this constitution, however, does not fully satisfy liberal activists, a long term focus is necessary to transform a repressive environment to one respectful of human rights. “It happens gradually,” Chapman assured, “as a process of consultation and negotiation. I see Egypt as moving in the right direction, but it hasn’t got there 100 percent yet.”

Until it does, Chapman has the advantage of calling from the outside for both the rule of law and proper legislation. He urges activists and citizens alike to lobby for the rights of Copts, Baha’is, Shia, and others, but the ultimate onus falls on the government.

“This is international human rights law,” Chapman said. “If Egypt is going to live up to its obligations it must respect freedom of religion and belief.”

Please click here to read the full article at Egypt Source.

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Jayson Religion

Is Islam by Nature Political?

From Ahram Online, an op-ed arguing on behalf of Islamists, that Islam is essentially political:

A final point. Some of the opposition figures keep invoking the term “political Islam,” as if the term were a source of shame to Islamists.

Well, political Islam is not the invention of the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamists. It is rather solidly rooted in Islam and its holy scripture, the Quran.

I am not going to discuss certain arguments made by anti-Islam secularists who claim that the rule of Sharia is not a must upon Muslims and that Muslims might opt for modern Western-style democracy without violating the tenets of their faith. These arguments are quite nonsense, even for first grade Muslim children.

But I do want to point out that one cannot reject political Islam as a matter of principle, without rejecting Islam itself.

Yes, one might disagree with certain Islamist modalities, behaviours and interpretations. We all reject violence and terror committed in the name of religion. And we all would like to see a kinder and gentler practice of Islam everywhere.

But we must never allow ourselves as Muslims to compromise the main principles of our faith in order to appear more in tune with the age, and more acceptable to the West.

As a non-Muslim, it is never wise to argue what Islam is or is not. This, ultimately, is for Muslims to decide. But just as many demonize Islam saying it is a terrorist and illiberal religion, others assert the opposite, making it a personal faith akin to the Christianity of the West.

Religion and culture easily bleed together; certainly many Western Muslims do practice a personal faith. This voice, however, asserts that Islam is inherently political. It may be (and is) able to live peacefully as a minority faith, but it is not content here.

Consider a similar example: Does the word ‘Jew’ represent a faith or an ethnicity? Many Jews are agnostic or atheist; some convert to Christianity yet still consider themselves Jews. Perhaps there are few converts to Judaism outside of the ethnicity, but the line is sufficiently blurred to be confusing. Are you an anti-Semite if you deny the historicity of Moses?

Along the same lines, is Islam a faith or an ideology? Many Muslims are non-political, but does the faith demand more? Those who have claimed the mantle of leadership in the Arab Spring overwhelmingly say yes. Do they distort their religion? Or, do they compromise the many western Muslims who are forced to defend themselves from polemicists suspicious of them as a fifth column?

Judaism was birthed as the religion of a chosen family, marked by circumcision, wary of outsiders. Islam was birthed as the religion of a state, marked by confessions of loyalty, enveloping the outsider. Each one today houses the paradoxes of its emergence.

Can anyone attempt a similar consideration of Christianity?

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