Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Christian Cowboys in Sderot

The drive south from Tel Aviv to Sderot takes only a little more than an hour. Sderot is, of course, the Israeli town lying closest to the border with Gaza, known to us primarily as the town that has been the target of so many Qassam rockets. In the past the residents of Sderot have been regularly terrorized by incoming rockets but, as a waitress told me this morning, there have not been any rockets for more than five months. "It is quiet, thank God." Reinforced concrete shelters stand along most roads and I saw new shelters being constructed behind a row of two flats.

My goal in these visits is to learn how people live and what they hope for. Most want what we want ... to live normal lives, to feel safe in their homes, to educate their children, to support their families. The waitress I talked with this morning lives with her husband and children in his parent's home. She likes Tel Aviv better, but economic necessity brought her and her family back to Sderot.

Much of what I saw in Sderot was what I expected to see - ordinary people trying to live normal lives in abnormal times. What I did not expect to see was a gaggle of Christian cowboys from Texas, easily identified by their Stetson hats, fancy buckles and cowboy boots. They were from the Cowboy Church, a self-described community of Evangelical Texans who love horses, think alike and love Jesus. They were both friendly and eager to tell me why they were here ... to support the Jews in restoring Israel to the people God gave it to, to prepare for the rapture when the Messiah returns to bring all this messy history to a close. "We'll all be one then." Except for those who don't accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. "How about the Muslims, will they be saved too." No, they've had their chance and they've rejected Jesus. "It's what the Good Book says."

Well, it went along like that for awhile and then got worse. Learning that I was from Illinois, the inevitable question came: "What do you think about Obama." Well, sir, do you know he has disobeyed every one of the ten commandments? And do you know that "mercy killing" - just like the Nazis carried out on disabled Jews - that could happen in our USA? "When they come to the door to get my disabled daughter, I've got a plan how to hide her." And you watch, "if ever the United States does anything negative toward Israel, there will be negative consequences for us. You just watch and see if that's not true."

These are not the first Christian Zionists I've met in Israel. John Hagee was here recently and was honored as a great friend of Israel by Bibi Netanyahu. Many members of CUFI (Christians United for Israel) must have come along with him.

It's frankly a little bizarre encountering these folk. I try to approach them openly, listen respectfully, ask questions gently. I think what disturbs me most is the abandon with which these Christians give their support to an Israel I cannot believe in and the extreme caution with which progressive Christians, especially my own Episcopal Church, advocate for our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters and their Muslim neighbors. If we wanted justice and peace as strongly as CUFI wants whatever the hell they want, we might see a little less violence in this troubled land.


bar_kochba132 said...

Rev Cotten-I see on RabbiBrant's blog that you asked a colleague, RabbiBrian Walt, while on your tour of Jenin, "how is it that a people (the Jews) who suffered so much can inflict THE SAME suffering on other people". I presume you mean that since we Jews (I am a Jew living in Israel, originally from California) suffered a Holocaust and pogroms, mostly inflicted by your brother Christians over the centuries, how is it that we can also perpertrate holocausts and pogroms against the Palestinians?
Well, if we do assume that we Jews/Israelis have built gas chambers and are stuffing into them Palestinians at the rate of 10,000 a day, as happened at Auschwitz, and have mobs of Jews beating up and killing innocent Palestinians all the time (and I, of course, have never seen such things, I hope you will post some pictures of these gas chambers and rioting Jewish mobs to document these atrocities) we then have to answer your question as to how we Jews "who have suffered so much" can be capable of such things.

I think this can be answered in several ways:
(1) Look in the mirror. Your Christian ancestors were persecuted by having the Romans throw them to the lions, yet many of their decendents, believing Christians, had no trouble causing suffering to us. So you can look within your Christian tradition for the answer.

(2) This question can be asked of other groups as well; you didn't have to travel all the way to Israel to get the anwer. For example, blacks in the US are 10% of the population, yet they make up something like 50% of the prison population, so you can ask them "how can people who have suffered so much discrimination, lynchs and racial violence can cause suffering to other people."

(3) Ask the say they are enduring unbearable suffering yet they send suicide bombers into pizzerias and shopping centers and then throw block parties after the death toll has been announced. How can people who have suffered so much cause suffering to other people?

(4) Look at your own Christian theology. Although I am not a Christian, I have heard that Christianity teaches that since we Jews rejected Jesus, we have supposedly had our divine covenant cancelled, so I then ask you "what do you expect"? You were in Sederot, wouldn't you say that "we have it coming"? If according to you theology we have been cast out of divine favor, how can you expect us to be good, better than you Christians, which is what you indicate in your question? You are saying we are supposed to be BETTER than you Christians "since we have suffered", yet Christianity teaches that we are essentially unredeemable, at least as long as we don't convert to Christianity. So your question is essentially meaningless.

I hope my questions give you some food for thought, the next time you find it in yourself to rake my country over the coals on the internet. We learned the hard way what happens when we depend on the "good will" of the world to help us when we were in trouble and had no state or armed forces to defend us over 60 years ago.

I just looked at Roman Vishniac's book of photographs of Jews taken in the late 1930's in Eastern Europe. He knew the end was coming and he wanted to record traditional Jewish life there for posterity. When I look in the faces of those people, particularly the young children and realize what happened to them, I know that they would be happy to know that decades later, their surviving descedents set up a state to defend themselves. This is something that they couldn't do, and they would be willing to pay the price of having such a state even if it meant that Rev Cotten writes blogs denouncing them for it.

Bev said...

I also was in Israel in March 2010, visited the Tent of Nations, stayed at St. George's, was part of the Palestine of Jesus program there. Met some of the same people you are talking about. see