Canadian United Church and Israel: True to their Holy Books?

Last month Israel was – and still is – bringing death, destruction and misery to millions of Palestinians under her occupation in both Gaza and the West Bank using its military might; bombing civilians, starving them to death and cutting off supply of water and electricity and detaining thousands.

While Israel was doing this to the Palestinians, most Christian Western leaders were saying and doing nothing to stop Israeli aggression but cheering by saying, "the Jewish state has the right to defend itself."

The exception came from the Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada which reissued last week its three-year-old motion calling for ending to investment in Israeli companies with dealings in the occupied Palestine in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The move of the Toronto’s United Church is a moral one. But is it true to its Holy Book; the New Testament as much as Israel’s campaign of death, destruction and misery against the Palestinians under its occupation is true to its Holy Book; the Old Testament?

To answer this question we must turn to one of the best books written on the subject; Jean Lasserre’s War and the Gospel.

Dr. Lasserre was born in Switzerland and has written his book in 1953 in French La Guerre et L’Evangile and then in German Der Krieg und das Evangelium. He was a minister of the Reformed Church in France. His wife and his three sons all are professors of theology and one of them taught in Canada. His book was translated into English in 1962.

Lasserre says that "[O]ne can say by and large that the Old Testament ignores that respect for human life, that unconditional love, that non-violence, which [is] the general climate of the New Testament. There is a striking contrast here between the two parts of our Bible."

"It is remarkable to find, for instance, that the three great personalities of the Old Testament most often mentioned in the Gospels and to some extent associated with Jesus’ ministry, of whom He often spoke and who have been seen as His remote forerunners, are all three of them men who never hesitated to shed blood, often in a most brutal manner."

"Moses had three thousand men slaughtered for having worshipped the golden calf (Exod. 32:28). David spent a large part of his existence making war, and killed almost the whole household of Nabal because the latter had doubted his Messianic royalty (I Sam. 25). As to Elijah, we know that he had four hundred prophets of Baal all massacred together after their spectacular defeat (I Kings 18). Such is the contrast between these three men, the spiritual elite of the Old Covenant, and Jesus, gentle and meek of heart, who was concerned to spare the life even of the adulterous woman."

"Everywhere in the Old Testament human life is cheap, and the best believers have scarcely felt any scruples about shedding blood. This is one of the reasons why some Christians find it so disheartening to read the Old Testament: its believers are almost all warriors; only Jeremiah is a non-violent in the manner of Jesus and the apostles."

"Neither Christ nor the apostles ever recommended lethal violence. They did not justify it nor sanction it. The only text which might be invoked as exception to this rule is Romans 13, where Paul seems to be sanctioning the use of violence, even of a lethal kind, on the part of the magistrate, that is to say the pagan judge, charged with the punishments of common law criminals."

"The Christian ethic is a morality of /gratitude/. The expression of gratitude is at once its end, it motive, its content, and its standard. For the Christian lives from the grace of Jesus Christ. For him, to live is joyfully to count God’s blessings. But how can he give thanks when destroying God’s creatures, when shattering the grace which is at work in his neighbour’s life? He cannot thank God while at the same time despising His mercy and His patience: the two attitudes are irreconcilable. The ‘Christian soldier’, once the lies of war’s mystique have been strained off, can neither express nor excite praise but only bitterness and blasphemy."

It seems that many political leaders in the Christian West are not living the teaching of their Holy Book while Israel is living its own.