This reflection comes to us from Elizabeth Welliver, PPF Activist Council member and first year MDiv student at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
Last month, I shared an image on Facebook of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar with the statement: “We Stand with Ilhan. Palestine will be free.” The powerful image centers Congresswoman Omar, a Black Somali-American Muslim woman in hijab, who has been targeted for her critique of the pro-Israel lobbyist group AIPAC. Congresswoman Omar has acknowledged her mistake in furthering Antisemitism and has courageously voiced her support for Palestinian rights. As a white American Christian, it was relatively simple for me to share this image and read the guide produced by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice: “Understanding Antisemitism.” It was much more difficult for me to examine the ways that I contribute to white Christian support for Israel.
In reading responses to Congresswoman Omar, I came across the speech that vice president Mike Pence delivered before the Israeli Knesset in January 2018. “My country’s very first settlers also saw themselves as pilgrims, sent by Providence, to build a new Promised Land,” he said before Israeli lawmakers. Pence’s words uncover the deep allegiances between American and Israeli nationalism that bolster American exceptionalism and settler colonialism. I benefit from this narrative of the Promised Land that erases indigenous peoples and props up the privilege of my citizenship and white Christian heritage.
Christian Zionism traces its history to seventeenth century English Puritan and Calvinist beliefs that the elected Jewish peoples needed to return to Israel to fulfill Biblical promises of Jesus’ judgment of the nations. The rise of Christian Zionism in England fueled the Puritans’ drive to convert Jews to Christianity and support Jewish return to Israel. These views of Christian supremacy have their roots in our own Presbyterian heritage, though we now denounce them as supersessionism. As a seminarian, I have begun to deconstruct my own Christian Zionist beliefs: I am learning that Ancient Israel was not a modern nation-state, the people of Judah were not the Christian colonizers of the Americas, and the salvation of the Israelites does not look like American intervention in the Middle East to protect fossil fuel companies.
To say #WeStandwithIlhan, we also must recognize the death-dealing forces of Islamophobia and white supremacy in our midst. I mourn the violent loss of 49 Muslim lives in the Christchurch mosque massacre. I am disturbed by the ideology that criminalizes immigrants, American Jewish, and American Muslim communities as threats to white nationalism. To repent from Christian supremacy, I am challenged to turn from the fear and hatred of our Muslim and Jewish neighbors. In Lent, I believe we are called to return to the way of Christ who suffered death to expose the evil of Empire and embody God’s nonviolent resistance.
Today, if I think that only evangelical Christians for American support for Israel, I fail to acknowledge that I participate in a community where, according to AIPAC, “numerous Christian activists have developed strong pro-Israel relationships with their members of Congress, primarily in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest regions.” My own Reformed heritage and American citizenship stand complicit in the production of Antisemitism and Islamophobia, US interventionism, and white supremacist violence. Unearthing the painful legacies of colonialism, I ask myself, whose occupied ground do I stand upon? Working alongside our Muslim and Jewish neighbors against white Christian supremacy, how can we take steps toward the justice of God’s kin-dom?
Themes and sources:
- Reformed theology and American Protestantism
- “My country’s very first settlers also saw themselves as pilgrims, sent by Providence, to build a new Promised Land,” Mike Pence, January 2018
- The Church and AIPAC
- “Today, numerous Christian activists have developed strong pro-Israel relationships with their members of Congress, primarily in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest regions”
- Islamophobia and white supremacy
- “Ilhan Omar escaped war-torn Somalia and grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp. Her family immigrated to America with nothing. And tonight she became the first Somali American congresswoman in US history!” – Simran Jeet Singh