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December 21, 2007

What kind of god?

Judging from a prayer she wrote to be used in worship services on the last two Sundays of 2007, Disciples of Christ member Krista Johnson worships one of two gods.

The first god is deaf to the calls of those who call for Israel’s destruction, blind to acts of violence perpetrated against Israel and dumb enough to believe that anti-Semitic groups like Hamas and Hezbollah can be mollified by conciliatory behavior on the part of the state they want to destroy.

The second god is too weak to be asked to address the really intractable problems facing humanity and can only deliver what is reasonable -- not what is necessary.

Johnson, a Sabeel activist who was recently denied access to Israel for problems with her visa, wrote a prayer currently published on the website of the Global Ministries Board, an institution supported by the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. The prayer offers a general petition for "peace with justice and security for Palestinians and Israelis." But when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road and for Johnson to make specific requests that reveal her understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, her indifference to Israeli suffering becomes manifest.

Below are the petitions Johnson offers:

• A renewed peace process;
• An end to the Occupation;
• A viable Palestinian state (yes, with the obligatory reference to security for both Palestine and Israel);
• The removal of checkpoints;
• A tangible loosening of restrictions on freedom of movement;
• A prayer for all those who struggle with visa renewals;
• A prayer for clergy serving around the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza who face new limits on their abilities to travel;
• A prayer for Palestinian political prisoners,
• A remembrance for 12,000 prisoners in Israeli jails; and,
• A prayer for all of those who continue to utilize nonviolence, in the face of oppression.

Judging from Johnson's petitions and remembrances, it appears that the only people suffering as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict are the Palestinians and that all the concessions needed to end the conflict must come from the Israelis. No where does Johnson offer any specific acknowledgment of Israeli suffering and Palestinian and Arab responsibility for the conflict. It's not as if recent events denied Johnson material to work with.

For example, Johnson could have prayed for the well-being of Israeli soldiers still in captivity after being kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah during the summer of 2006.

She could have acknowledged the suffering of the inhabitants of Sderot who have been subjected to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on a regular basis since the end of 2005.

She could have asked that Hamas end its policy of refusing to acknowledge Israel's existence.

She could have asked that the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip come to an end.

She could have asked that Iran stop supporting Hezbollah and that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad refrain from issuing provacative statements about the destruction of Israel. She could have asked that Iran stop supporting Hezbollah.

She could have asked that Syria stop meddling in the affairs of Lebanon.

But she did none of these things in her prayer, which is more than a petition, but an act of proclamation meant to inform congregants about the Arab-Israeli conflict. She is not only speaking to the god she worships, but on behalf of this god to the gathered assembly of Christians.

Are these issues so far removed from Johnson's prophetic imagination that she can't be bothered to raise them? Is it impossible for her to ask that Palestinian leaders come to their senses, that the rocket attacks come to an end, that the incitement on Palestinian television stop? Are the kidnapped Israeli soldiers and their families so distant from Johnson's circle of Christian concern that she can't be bothered to offer a petition on their behalf? Has she not heard about Sderot's suffering? Is there no balm in Krista Johnson's heart for the Israelis?

Maybe there is another explanation for her silence on these issues. Maybe she understands just how intractable problems on the Arab and Muslim side of this 60-year-old conflict are. Maybe she secretly believes that the hand of the god she worships is too short to fix these problems and that it is not worth the effort to ask.

Maybe for Krista Johnson, offering a prayers for peace is the art of asking for what is humanly possible, not what is necessary. If this is the case, Krista Johnson's prayer is actually an implicit acknowledgement of what leaders and peace activists of mainline churches are loathe to admit: Asking Hamas and Hezbollah to acknowledge Israel's right to exist out of the goodness of their hearts is a waste of breath, and at least the Israelis at least listen to criticism, no matter how one-sided, unfair and devoid of context.

Making one-sided demands of Israel may not achieve peace, but at least mainliners in the U.S. can say they are doing something when they offer prayers and resolutions about the conflict -- no matter how harmful, unfair, unreasonable and divorced from reality their statements are.

Whatever motivates Johnson's one-sided prayer, it is part of a pattern. The Global Ministries Board that published her prayer is supported by the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, two denominations whose 2005 synods passed resolutions asking Israel to take down the security barrier -- without asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that prompted its construction. (Talk about unreasonable, unfair and harmful.)

Krista Johnson's prayer raises an important question. Is the god to which she prays that indifferent to Israeli suffering?

Or is this god stupid?

Or is this god just too impotent to be trusted with the really tough stuff -- the problems that try our patience and test our faith in ways we dare not admit?

Is it too much to ask that progressive Christians start praying about the problems in the Middle East they would rather not talk about?

The upshot is this: The words of prayer and prophecy that flow so freely from the lips of mainline churches about the Arab-Israeli conflict reveal more about the god worshipped by these churches than they do about the conflict itself. And sadly enough, the god that inheres in mainline public speech about the Arab-Israeli conflict has some pretty ungodly characteristics.

Posted by dvz at December 21, 2007 03:52 PM

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