Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Jewish Question

David Brickner
Head of Jews for Jesus
(Image from Jews for Jesus Blog)

Yesterday's blog entry discussed the controversy over Governor Palin's remarks on the Iraq War, and for those remarks, I don't think that she can be seriously faulted, not any more so than Lincoln for making similar remarks during wartime, for neither she nor Lincoln claimed to know God's will.

The other controversy recently swirling about Palin is not directly about her but about David Brickner, leader of the organization Jews for Jesus, because of some remarks that he made while visiting her home church in Wasilla, Alaska. Brickner has helpfully posted the message that he gave that day: "The Jerusalem Dilemma," Wasilla Bible Church, August 17, 2008 by David Brickner

By dilemma, Brickner explains that although Jerusalem means "City of Peace," the irony is that it has no peace:
[This is] the Jerusalem Dilemma. Here is this city that represents a people, that represents a move of God; the name itself -- Ir Shalom -- means 'City of Peace.' And yet, what irony that there has been no peace, and there is no peace in the city of peace.
I think that Brickner is misusing the word "dilemma" to mean "irony," but perhaps I've misunderstood him. More importantly for our understanding of Brickner's talk in Palin's Wasilla church is this point:
Israel is an example of what all humanity has been saying to God since the beginning of time, shaking its fists at the heavens and saying, "You'll not rule over us."

And so all of the controversy that we see swirling in Jerusalem is really a mirror that the world looks in to see the controversy within. The Jerusalem Dilemma is the Wasilla Dilemma; it's the dilemma of the human heart.
I take it that Brickner is using Jerusalem, and therefore also Israel, as a symbol for all of 'rebellious' mankind, so we ought to keep this in mind as we come to his controversial words about "judgment":
But what we see in Israel, the conflict that is spilled out throughout the Middle East, really which is all about Jerusalem, is an ongoing reflection of the fact that there is judgment. There is judgment that is going on in the land, and that's the other part of this Jerusalem Dilemma. When Jesus was standing in that temple, He spoke that that judgment was coming, that there's a reality to the judgment of unbelief. He said "I long to gather you, but . . ." what? "You were unwilling." God never forces His way on human beings. And so because Jerusalem was unwilling to receive His grace, judgment was coming. He says, "Look, your house has left you desolate!" What did He mean by that? Remember where He is. He's standing in the temple there in Jerusalem, the place where God had promised, through Moses,
"There I will meet with you, there I will hear your prayers, and there I will forgive your sin."
And now Jesus in that temple, just before going to the cross, says, 'From now on this place is desolate.' And Jesus' words have echoed down through the centuries. Not a generation after He uttered this promise, Titus and his Roman legions marched into that city and destroyed both the city and the temple. And from that day until this very present there has been no temple, and there is therefore no sacrifice in Judaism. Only we could sacrifice in . . . the only place was in the temple. And therefore there has been, and there is today, no confidence of atonement, no confidence of forgiveness. If you were to stand outside of a synagogue on the day of atonement and ask those leaving the service, "Did God hear your prayers? Were your sins forgiven on this most holy of all days?" the answer would be, "I hope. I hope, but who can know?" Who indeed but those of us who have come under the wings of the Almighty, who've entered into that place of grace where forgiveness is assured for the dilemma of human life. Judgment is very real and we see it played out on the pages of the newspapers and on the television. It's very real.

When Isaac [i.e., David Brickner's son] was in Jerusalem he was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment -- you can't miss it. And Jesus talks about it, but He didn't leave us there. There's a promise of a return from this judgment. Jesus concludes His message there in the temple by saying this -- 'I tell you, you will not see Me again, you will not experience what I have come to bring, this place of grace which I have and will soon establish . . . you will not see Me again until you say, until you’re able with conviction to articulate, these words: "Baruch hab-ba bashem Adonai -- 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."' Once again quoting again from a Psalm, this time Psalm 118:
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief . . . the chief corner stone. And this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Well, what are we to make of this? Is it antisemitic? Brickner himself is ethnically Jewish, but some Jewish converts to Christianity throughout history have turned against their own people in a hatred that is perhaps self-hatred. From my reading of Brickner's words here and elsewhere, I don't clearly sense hatred. We should also keep in mind that Brickner is using Jerusalem and Israel as symbols for all of humanity's relation to God. God offers either forgiveness or judgment, and each individual chooses one or the other. That's pretty standard evangelical language. But the example is problematic, and raises some troubling questions:
When Isaac was in Jerusalem he was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment -- you can't miss it.
In the context, since Brickner had first discussed the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as judgment on the Jews for their rejection of Jesus's offer of God's message, this also would seem to be offered as an example of God's judgment upon the nation of Israel. That would be problematic, for it would imply that the Jewish-Muslim conflict as a whole is God's judgment on the Jewish people. Would this mean that the American-Islamist conflict is God's judgment on America? That 9/11 was God's judgment on America?

Or was Brickner offering the bulldozer example as an instance of God's judgment upon specific individuals? That would also be problematic.

Brickner would have done better to place the bulldozer story in the context of the Christian belief in the fallenness of the world rather than using it as an example of God's judgment on unbelief.

Brickner has gotten a lot of criticism for his remarks, and I must say that I think the criticism appropriate. Apparently, Brickner himself sees the some validity in the criticism, for he has posted a response:
The notion that the terrorist, bulldozer attack in Jerusalem this summer was God’s judgment on Israel for not believing in Jesus, is absolutely not what I believe. In retrospect, I can see how my rhetoric might be misunderstood and I truly regret that.

Of course I never expected the kind of magnifying glass scrutiny on a message where I was speaking extemporaneously. Let me be clear. I don't believe that any one event whether a terrorist attack or a natural disaster is a specific fulfillment of or manifestation of a Biblical prediction of judgment. I don't believe that the newspaper should be used to interpret the Bible. The Bible interprets the Bible.

I love my Jewish people and the land of Israel. I stand with and support her against all efforts to harm her or her people in any way. Please feel free to read my further explanations, in my Realtime article and in the interviews I did with Christianity Today and NBC.
I'll leave the reading and analysis of those links to others, but we should keep in mind that the controversy is David Brickner's controversy based upon David Brickner's words.

On the other hand, Governor Palin is reported to have been present during Brickner's presentation, so a question about her opinion concerning his words is a fair one. I haven't actually seen a direct, explicit statement by Palin on this issue, but I did find an article by Ben Harris, "McCain team: Palin rejects views of church's Jews for Jesus speaker," The Jewish Journal (September 3, 2008), which states this:
Vice presidential pick Sarah Palin says she doesn't share the views of a Jews for Jesus leader who in a speech at her church suggested that violence against Israelis resulted from God's judgment against Jews who have failed to embrace Jesus.
In particular, Michael Goldfarb, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, announced:
"Governor Palin does not share the views he expressed, and she and her family would not have been sitting in the pews of this church for the last seven years if his remarks were even remotely typical."
Although I'd prefer to hear Palin's own words, I don't see this controversy about Brickner's words having much traction in generating controversy about Palin.

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At 2:41 PM, Blogger Deplorably Bonnie Blue said...

Off Topic, but too funny to not pass on, you being a professor and all.

Hopefully, this will let me post a link.


Seriously, I think you will get a kick out of it.


At 3:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That was amusing. Also, I checked the original at Obama's website (using a link at the cite you referred me to), and Obama really had written that. His words looked better in font, I have to admit, but that's just the psychological effect of seeing it look so official after having seen it look so juvenile.

I suspect that the writing of a lot of candidates would look about as silly if handwritten.

Mine would . . . especially if I tried to write on economics.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Romans chapters 9-11 deals with Israel's current and future status.
As I see it, Israel as a nation has been set aside partially and temporarily, while God deals with both Jew and Gentile in this age of grace, commonly called the Church age where there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, male or female, bond or free, in God's program. This age ends when the fulness of the Gentiles is complete, then once again Israel is brought in prominence and restored to their promised position with God.
The promises made to Abraham, thus to Israel, were unconditional, and will be ultimately fulfilled.
In this present time, God is preserving Israel as a nation.
To say that any particular event today is a fulfillment of prophecy is reading more into it than can be substantiated.
But it is interesting to see current events unfold, and look at them from a Biblical perspective.

At 7:34 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, that's probably what Brickner also thinks, but he certainly put things in the wrong way with his talk in Wasilla.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:32 AM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

Jeffery, doesn't Israel, The United States, Palestine, Russia, Al-Quaeda, etc. ALL bring judgment upon themselves either through actions or lack thereof?

I mean...God has suggested a certain protocol, hasn't He?

At 6:13 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio, that may be so, but one has to exercise caution about judging.

For instance, I'd be reluctant to interpret a man with a bulldozer as one sent to carry out a judgment by God. More likely, such a man is carrying out his own vendetta -- or the orders of radical Islamists.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:14 AM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

Which is...in some way...judgment in itself? Born of grossly imperfect society?

God has explained the rules...and the severity of the consequences for dissing them.

At 1:16 AM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

Not that he would "send" someone...or someTHING to carry out his judgment...the judgment is automatically built into the product.

At 3:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio, I'm no theologian -- despite being introduced as one by my brother in church last February -- but I think that theologians would draw a distinction between human actions in accordance with God's perfect will and human actions contrary to God's perfect will.

Sarah Palin's much maligned words about praying that the Iraq War be God's will presupposes that this war might be contrary to God's perfect will, or that it might be conducted in such a way as to be contrary to God's perfect will.

Your point about dissing the rules also implies -- I think -- that one can act outside of God's perfect will.

Strict accounts may be being kept up above, but the books are not being balanced here and now.

Consequently, there exists injustice within the world, and not every tear is dried in this life.

Jeffery Hodges

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