Source: Sight Magazine
Christians in the West need to cease giving uncritical, one-sided support to Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and instead engage with Christians in the Middle Eastern church who are working for peace and reconciliation.
That’s according to Rev Dr Stephen Sizer, an Anglican minister and founder of the UK-based Peacemaker Trust, a non-denominational Christian charity which works with churches in East Africa and the Middle East, particularly in areas where the church is marginalized or persecuted or where there are religious tensions, on projects based around evangelism, discipleship and issues of justice and peace.
Invited by various groups including the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network and Fighting Fathers Ministries, Rev Dr Sizer is spending a couple of weeks in Australia speaking at a series of events on a mission to “deconstruct” how the Bible has, in his words, been “misused” to justify what he describes as the “apartheid regime in Israel today” and how Christians can be involved in bringing peace to the region.
“[How] to be part of the solution rather than a problem in the Middle East, not siding with either the Israeli regime or the Palestinian Authority but identifying with the Christians in the Middle East who are working for peace and reconciliation,” explains Dr Sizer, who founded the trust a few years ago so he could work fulltime in peace-making work, having previously spent more than 35 years doing so part time while also serving as a parish priest in England.
His stance of not taking sides is one which runs contrary to that of the estimated 60 to 100 million Christians around the world – including many evangelicals in the US – who identify today as ‘Christian Zionists’.
That’s a term which Rev Dr Sizer says once simply meant giving support for the idea of a Jewish homeland and to those Jews who faced persecution during World War II, but has now moved “well beyond” that and come to mean giving “uncritical support” for the Israeli state – a position which results in some US churches, for example, giving unqualified support to controversial Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories as well as supporting US President Donald Trump’s decision late last year to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“These are all political ways in which Christians in America are living out their faith in a belief that God will bless them because they are, as they see it, blessing Israel,” he says.
Rev Dr Sizer has charted the history of Christian Zionism for his PhD (it’s also a subject he tackles in books, Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? And Zion’s Christian Soldiers: The Bible, Israel and the Church).
He says ideas surrounding Christian Zionism as it looks today first emerged in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and were subsequently exported to the US where they were adopted by the likes of DL Moody and Cyrus Scofield (of the Scofield Reference Bible fame).
He adds that he doesn’t believe the central tenet of Christian Zionism as it is today – which centres on the concept that “God had two peoples – Israel and the church – and that they are separate and promises made in the Scriptures either apply to the church or to Israel”, an idea known in theological terms as ‘dispensationalism’ – fits with Scripture.
Rev Dr Sizer points out that in the Old Testament Book of Esther, for example, it speaks in chapter eight of the “many” people of other ethnicities who became Jews after the Persian King Xerxes issued a decree in support of them.
“What does that mean? It means that from the time of Esther on – 400 to 500 BC – a Jew was not necessarily someone who was descended from Abraham.”
He also points to Ezekial, chapter 47, where, in verses 21 to 23, God speaks of the distribution of land among the tribes of Israel: “You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe a foreigner resides, there you are to give them their inheritance,’ declares the Sovereign Lord.”
“You look at those three verses and it says the same thing three times in three verses – share the land with the foreigners,” says Rev Dr Sizer. “So if we’re looking for a solution today to the Middle East conflict, it is the one state solution. You share the land with those who live in the land, the foreigners as well as the native-born Israelites. God has to say it three times – why? Because they wouldn’t do it, they didn’t want to do it because they thought God had given them the land.”
Rev Dr Sizer rejects the idea that he is anti-Israel – saying he has always been opposed to racism and anti-Semitism – and says that he wants to see Israel “survive and prosper as a nation for its citizens, for those who choose to live there or who were born there”. “But that does include non-Jews,” he adds.
He says that he prays a solution to the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories can be reached without further bloodshed but he believes that such a solution will only came about when Israel either gives up the West Bank and allows “an independent, sovereign Palestinian state” or embraces a one state solution “whereby everyone within Israel and the Occupied Territories has equal rights and the right to vote, the right to education, healthcare and so on”.
“It’s either a one state or a two state – what we have at the moment is a no state solution and it’s one that the present Israeli Government is happy to perpetuate,” he says. “It wants the land without the people; it wants to allow the Palestinians to have autonomy but without having independent borders, without having a military, without having any sovereignty over their airspace, their water borders, their land borders. It is turning the Palestinians into the equivalent of a Bantustan in South Africa or Indian reservations in North America and that is not acceptable these days.”
Asked how Christians in countries like Australia can help in bringing about peace, Rev Dr Sizer says churches locally could consider partnering with churches in Israel-Palestine and other parts of the Middle East to help people gain a better understanding of the situation there as well as support the work of organizations like the Bethlehem Bible College, Holy Land Trust, and Musalaha.
And for those who want to get involved at a political level, he says, they could also support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement which aims to put pressure on Israel over Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, considered illegal by most countries.
But the first port of call, Rev Dr Sizer says, is prayer.
“As Christians we start with prayer – pray for the peace of Jerusalem and that means pray for the people of Jerusalem…”
To see where Rev Dr Sizer is speaking during his Australian tour, head here.