November 26, 2014

September 10, 2013


PCUSA and Wheaton College Join in Slandering Israel?

Among mainline Christians of a certain political bent, lying in the pursuit of ideological goals is not only sinful, it is positively praiseworthy. An example of this behavior is currently on view at the web site of First Presbyterian Church of Wheaton, Illinois (PCUSA), where the ideology is anti-Zionism, and the lie is imputing racism to the most multicultural society in the Middle East:

World Peace is in danger because some philosophies are having terrible unintended consequences. Zionism was a Jewish movement to find a safe haven from anti-Semitism. Christian Zionism evolved from prophetic ideas and beliefs about the end of time. While well intended concepts, the results have become very dangerous. Zionists in Israel have created a state that wants racial purity. Many Zionists want native-born Christians to leave Israel. Christian Zionists in America support Israel because they believe this will accelerate the second coming of Christ. The conflicts in the Middle East have become more agitated because of these ideas. [Emphasis added.]

This bigoted, lying paragraph appears on a poster that is, perhaps, gracing a bulletin board at FPC-W. What’s wrong with it?

1) The use of the past tense in the second sentence implies that Zionism, while well-intended, is no longer about the purpose for which it was founded. That is a lie.

2) To say that Israel is a state “that wants racial purity” is a vile lie. Israel’s Arab population is 20% and growing. Arabs–many of whom are hostile to the country of which they are citizens–have a full panoply of rights that are not possessed by the entire populations of most Middle East and Muslim-majority states. They have roles in Israel as jurists, MKs, journalists, businesspeople, entertainers and so on that no Jew has had for decades in the lands from which they were expelled following World War II. Most importantly, there is no move among any but the fringiest elements of Israeli society to bring about a “racially pure” Israel, while the Palestinians have already made clear that their state, once it has been established, will be wholly Judenrein.

Oh, and using the expression “racial purity” not only expresses a Nazi-like view of the Jewish people, it is a deliberate attempt to smear Israel with the Nazi brush. Despicable.

3) “Many” is a weasel word that can mean anything. No significant figure in Israel has suggested that Arab Christians (or Muslims, for that matter) should leave Israel. This is like saying that “many” Americans believe that the Queen of England is a drug dealer because Lyndon LaRouche and his cult followers happen to think so.

4) The “conflicts in the Middle East”–Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iraq–are “more agitated” because of Zionism? Al Qaeda and other Islamist fanatics are slaughtering other Muslims in Syria because of Israel? Libya and Egypt have fallen into political chaos because of Israel? Iraq does not yet have peace, Sunnis and Shiites remain at one another throats, because of Israel? Are these people so tunnel-visioned that they are actually unaware that there are “conflicts” in the Middle East that have nothing to Israel? Or have they thrown in their lot with the conspiracy theorists of the anti-Semitic cesspools on the left and the right who think that Jews are behind everything that ails humanity?

This poster raises another disturbing question. The person whose speaking engagement at FPC-W it is meant to publicize, Gary Burge, is an evangelical anti-Zionist who teaches at Wheaton College. Does it represent his viewpoint? Does he traffic in the lies found in this poster? Does Wheaton College stand behind teaching like this?

The presence of blatant bigotry and out-and-out lies with regard to Israel is not new in the PCUSA. Gary Burge has normally at least a bit more circumspect in making his case against Israel. This poster, and the association of his name and Wheaton College with it, means that some folks have some ‘splainin’ to do.

 


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16 comments

SF has given an awfully tendentious headline to this piece, the tone of which brings to mind the infamous “Let’s put Wheaton College out of its misery” diatribe Franky Shaeffer published in his newsletter when he discovered that some Wheaton faculty members were publicly supporting the Mondale/Ferraro ticket in 1984.  Gary Burge’s position is much more nuanced that the piece insinuates.  Furthermore, whenever I check, which is pretty much daily, I find that Wheaton College actually believes in academic freedom, and has as one of its strengths a faculty who disagree profoundly with each other on many key intellectual issues.  Its current president came to his position from a significant PCA pulpit;  I doubt very much that Philip Ryken has the slightest inclination to promote a PCUSA agenda.  I have no personal interest in either defending or attacking Dr. Burge’s position, but if you wish to criticize his position, don’t use a church poster to do it — use his actual writings, and don’t try to caricature an entire institution based on either the poster or the stance of one of its professors.

[1] Posted by DuPage Anglican on 9-11-2013 at 08:38 AM · [top]

The headline raises a question. The article raises more. The poster is repugnant, and advertises a lecture by a Wheaton professor. If Burge had nothing to do with it, and doesn’t agree with what’s in it, he can say so, and I’ll gladly print his repudiation. If he stands by it, it raises real questions for Wheaton that have nothing to do with academic freedom, but everything to do with academic integrity.

[2] Posted by David Fischler on 9-11-2013 at 08:44 AM · [top]

In my discipline, I am commonly required to send biographical and other information to presenters;  it constantly amazes me how often my carefully worded material is chopped up and mangled to the point that it contradicts what I originally sent.  It’s also the case that I very rarely get to see the final copy until after the fact, and if I did chase after all the sloppiness that attends publicity for public appearances, I’d have far less time to prepare for the appearances themselves.  My initial point remains — if you want to give intelligent analysis of Gary Burge’s stance on Zionism and the Middle East, discuss his own carefully written and edited writings on the subject, which are not difficult to obtain.  Don’t use one flimsy piece of likely unreliable evidence, and certainly don’t use it to tar an entire institution by association.  Though fallible, like all institutions, and prone to all the foibles known to academia, the community of Christian individuals who make up Wheaton College care very much about integrity — come to think of it, we really do believe in the “For Christ and His Kingdom” motto, and try to stand firm for it, each in our own way.  I am sure that Dr. Burge would agree.

[3] Posted by DuPage Anglican on 9-11-2013 at 09:02 AM · [top]

RE: “if you wish to criticize his position, don’t use a church poster to do it — use his actual writings, and don’t try to caricature an entire institution based on either the poster or the stance of one of its professors.”

Hi DuPage Anglican, as is clear in the post, David didn’t desire to analyze or criticize Gary Burge’s position in this post.  He desired to criticize and analyze the nasty poster and to point out that such a poster redounds to the discredit of both the PCUSA and Wheaton College.

You may disagree that the poster redounds to those two institution’s discredit—I understand if so—but this post is not about a topic that Fischler hasn’t addressed.

[4] Posted by Sarah on 9-11-2013 at 09:24 AM · [top]

[a somewhat shrill and rather simplistic article link here—but we’re deleting the link since this post is about the event poster; please keep the blog post on topic]

[5] Posted by Going Home on 9-11-2013 at 05:45 PM · [top]

The Palestinians will NEVER agree that the Jews belong in Jerusalem or any part of Israel - they want every Jew DEAD.  So what spot on earth can the Jews show by history is theirs?  Israel.  Send the displaced Palestinians back to their Arab countries and stop stealing land from the Jews and killing Jews on a daily basis. All Christian must admit God still loves the Jews. So my question to the PCUSA and their cohorts is: Where would you put the Jews in Israel if you obeyed what the Bible says about the Jews?

[6] Posted by Josip on 9-11-2013 at 06:39 PM · [top]

Sarah: Gary Burge’s writings are relevant to this post. Why? Because David Fischler insists that Gary Burge and Wheaton College need to disavow the First Presbyterian Church’s poster. Pastor Fischler indicates that if Dr. Burge and the college don’t disavow the poster, then they share blame with the First Presbyterian Church.

Quotation 1 from Fischler: “Does Wheaton College stand behind teaching like this? . . . This poster, and the association of [Burge’s] name and Wheaton College with it, means that some folks [i.e., Burge and Wheaton] have some ‘splainin’ to do.” Quotation 2: “If Burge had nothing to do with it, and doesn’t agree with what’s in it, he can say so, and I’ll gladly print his repudiation. If he stands by it, it raises real questions for Wheaton . . . [about] academic integrity.”

DuPage Anglican’s main rebuttal is that Burge’s publicly available writings on the subject of Zionism undercut Pastor Fischler’s deduction from the poster to what it implies about Burge and Wheaton. Burge is already on the record. While Burge may be mistaken, he is not a bigot. It is a legitimate rebuttal to the charge of being responsible for or agreeing with the poster (see Quotation 2).

As for Wheaton College, I’d argue that their duties do not involve policing unaffiliated institutions such as the First Presbyterian Church of Wheaton and their conference posters, even if such reticence would earn Pastor Fischler’s contempt.

For the record, the poster is stupid for the four reasons Pastor Fischler lists. I especially like the self-congratulatory “thoughtful Christians” bit.

[7] Posted by newcollegegrad on 9-12-2013 at 02:44 PM · [top]

RE: “Sarah: Gary Burge’s writings are relevant to this post. Why? Because David Fischler insists that Gary Burge and Wheaton College need to disavow the First Presbyterian Church’s poster.”

Hi newcollegegrad—your two assertions are unconnected.

It’s a fairly simple matter for Gary Burge and/or Wheaton College to repudiate the poster without dragging in Gary Burge’s theories on zionism, dispensationalism, Israel, foreign policy matters, or any number of other matters. Burge’s “publicly available writings” have nothing at all to do with the poster.  Dr. Burge is more than welcome to repudiate the poster without David Fischler needing to wade into Dr. Burge’s interesting publicly posted ideas.  It is interesting that people seem to so urgently wish that David Fischler engage with those ideas, and it is unfortunate that Dr. Burge’s name is so intimately associated with the poster by merit of his being the speaker at the event which the poster advertises—but this post is about the poster and its content, not about Dr. Burge’s ideas.  Further comments about this will be deleted, since the thread has been clearly and repeatedly warned not to take this post off-topic. I’m sure if David Fischler wishes to engage with Dr. Burge’s various ideas he’ll create a post to do so at some other time.

RE: “As for Wheaton College, I’d argue that their duties do not involve policing unaffiliated institutions such as the First Presbyterian Church of Wheaton and their conference posters . . . “

You could well be right—but people like David Fischler will continue to raise the questions, regardless, and others among us will continue to come to our own conclusions as to whether the poster redounds to Wheaton College’s and the PCUSA’s discredit.

Obviously it’s up to the various institutions and individuals as to whether they wish to say “my goodness what an awful poster and we entirely repudiate it.”  Or if they simply wish to “leave it” and be indifferent as to whether people come to negative conclusions about such matters.

[8] Posted by Sarah on 9-12-2013 at 03:21 PM · [top]

Thanks, Sarah. It also needs to be pointed out that Burge has spoken at FPC-W on several occasions, each time on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His views are well-known there, and he knows where they as a church are coming from. If he has a problem with the poster, he needs to say so, rather than just have the world assume he does.

[9] Posted by David Fischler on 9-12-2013 at 03:27 PM · [top]

Sarah (#8), sure people can talk about whether the poster “redounds to Wheaton College’s . . . credit.” But that’s not the question posed by the headline. The headline asks whether “Wheaton College Join[s] in Slandering Israel.” The only way someone could think that’s appropriate reading of the situation is if he doesn’t understand how academic institutions like Wheaton College work. Wheaton College doesn’t “join in” whatever its professors or staff members or students happen to be doing.

My point is not about academic freedom (itself a murky and hotly debated idea). Nor is my point about whether Christian academic institutions have different sets of duties related to, and constraints on, academic freedom that allow them to oversee the outside of activities of their faculty.

My point is that this headline shows a touching naivete about the way these institutions work. It’s kind of like when a newspaper in a foreign country tries to draw connections based on not understanding the way certain institutions work in America: for example, the fact that someone wants to burn books in Florida doesn’t mean the president of the United States is “letting” him do that. But dictators in other country miss that point, because they think that whatever public displays happen in their country must be authorized by the Leader. So here, colleges don’t “join in” everything a professor does. So I would encourage revising the headline to better match the situation actually described in the post.

[10] Posted by Hitchhiker's Guide on 9-12-2013 at 04:22 PM · [top]

Of course colleges don’t necessarily endorse everything that their faculty say or do. They are also quick to condemn or disavow something that they think doesn’t reflect well on them. Both state and private schools are more than ready to take administrators and faculty to task for things that they say that doesn’t comport with the school’s message (usually something construed as racist, sexist, or “homophobic”).

[11] Posted by David Fischler on 9-12-2013 at 04:47 PM · [top]

RE: “The headline asks whether “Wheaton College Join[s] in Slandering Israel.” The only way someone could think that’s appropriate reading of the situation . . . “

The situation has not been “read” in that way.  The *question* has been asked, given the nature of the poster, the speaker in the event, and his connection with Wheaton College.

David asked some good questions to which Wheaton College is more than capable of responding, if they deem it of interest.  If not, ah well—the questions remain asked out there in cyberspace.

David’s response is good:

[Colleges] “are also quick to condemn or disavow something that they think doesn’t reflect well on them.”

[12] Posted by Sarah on 9-12-2013 at 05:46 PM · [top]

Actually, colleges are usually *not* quick to disavow what their faculty, staff, or students do, but they will do it only if there’s a big enough firestorm of controversy, which I take it is what David is trying for here (no objection to that).

But that’s just a small disagreement. What I’m really objecting to is two things. First, the headline asks a question that doesn’t make sense because it ascribes agency to Wheaton College—there is no sense in which Wheaton was “joining in” what one professor decided to do. If there was official sponsorship, sure, that’s joining in. Or even if there was a huge number of people from the college, so there was a kind of defacto sponsorship. But my point is that it misunderstands what an academic institution is to think it “joins in” everything every member of the faculty (or staff or students) decides to talk about in public. This is quite distinct from whether Wheaton should denounce the event for PR reasons or because it doesn’t redound to their credit. That’s fine. But not because Wheaton College was there, on site, “joining in,” standing around chatting it up with the other attendees.

Second, more generally, it’s an unfortunate development in our politics that we have less criticism and more calls for other people to make denunciations. I’d much rather hear David’s capable arguments for why the event is bad than David’s opinion about who should denounce the event. (The same thing happens in every presidential race, where every outrageous thing that gets said somewhere by a Democrat or Republican is supposed to be denounced by the presidential candidates.) Look, I understand doing this because it’s a standard form of argument in our culture. It’s just a tiresome one. But anyway, that’s a personal view and rather subjective. My argument that the headline is misleading is because it ascribes an agency to Wheaton College that is inconceivable given how academic institutions work.

[13] Posted by Hitchhiker's Guide on 9-12-2013 at 07:02 PM · [top]

RE: “First, the headline asks a question that doesn’t make sense . . . “

Well a number of us think the question makes good sense.  But it’s clear we just disagree about the sense and usefulness of the question. I guess that disagreement will continue.

RE: “I’d much rather hear David’s capable arguments for why the event is bad than David’s opinion about who should denounce the event.”

Except that David decided he would provide capable arguments about why the *poster* is bad [not the actual event, although the poster certainly purports to describe and promote the event!] and ask good questions about Wheaton College and the PCUSA.  So there’s plenty of criticism, and a general question as to whether there will be any denunciations at all of the poster.

It looks like things are at a standstill, and the questions will simply hang out there in cyberspace, which is not the end of the world.

[14] Posted by Sarah on 9-12-2013 at 10:28 PM · [top]

Sarah: I didn’t understand you to be an admin or Burge’s scholarship to be ruled off-topic to the thread. I’ll try abiding by your rules or those of any other admins.

Let’s set aside Dr. Burge. The interesting urgency you note may be because some of us have been students or professors at Wheaton College. When I saw the article’s title, my first reaction was, “What have we done now?” Then I read it and was generally relieved. There are many churches in the Wheaton area. FPC is a second tier church at best. I’d never even heard of it before.

Ironically, FPC’s poster is not kindly towards Wheaton or Moody or any number of Christian colleges. The poster states: “Christian Zionism evolved from prophetic ideas and beliefs about the end of time. . . . Christian Zionists in America support Israel because they believe this will accelerate the second coming of Christ. . . . [Burge] will outline how thinking Christians might respond to this dangerous situation.”

Who are those unthinking Christian Zionists the poster discusses? They may be people who own and staff publishing houses such as Tyndale House (Carol Stream,Ill.) or buy copies of their best-selling Left Behind series. People like my roommates at Wheaton who were fairly representative of the college—now missionaries and pastors. Surely, FPC would have considered the college’s last president among the unthinking offenders. He previously was an associate professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, an institution whose Christian Zionist bona fides are pretty good. It turns out that Wheaton is one of the institutions theologically and politically predisposed to believing that God’s promise of the land of the Canaanites to Abraham and his descendants is still operative.

This may cut no ice with Pastor Fischler or like-minded persons. Absent repudiation of FPC’s poster, thereby publicly humiliating a faculty member and a church, Wheaton is guilty of abetting anti-Semitism or of cowardice.

If that is your judgment, do not refrain from your criticism. Maybe you’re right. But please also use it as an opportunity to pray for the college, if you do not already. Lord knows Wheaton College needs it.

[15] Posted by newcollegegrad on 9-13-2013 at 12:55 AM · [top]

I wonder if SF is unhappy with the poster’s contents, at least in part, because it appears to set up straw men perhaps to bolster the political aspirations of those on the Christian left who really dislike the policies that the Israeli state uses to maintain security. From the poster, we get the impression that the rebuttal to “Zionism”, (not adequately described) is couched in theological terms, and once accomplished, is sufficient to advance a thinly disguised political agenda.

The poster paragraph covers an incredible amount of ground in a breathtakingly short space of verbiage. (A causes B, which causes C, which causes D, which causes E, etc.) It do

Reminds me of that scene in Monty Python’s flying circus which ends with “....and therefore…. A WITCH!!!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpMjakNhZTc

It could be that Dr. Burge is merely a Democrat who hates Israel and has no problem with throwing the weight of his theological acumen behind that position.

I realize that we are not allowed to discuss his theology on this thread, but I did watch the linked video and found the theology expressed to be quite evangelically conventional.

It’s what he does not say that probably matters more, implying that fine points of theology are behind the state of Israel’s measures to stop suicide bombers and rockets from blowing up women and children. I doubt that very many Israelis are motivated by such matters, and it is testament to the blessing of our nation’s security that Dr. Burge gets to indulge in such navel gazing from the safety of his ivory tower.

[16] Posted by Capn Jack Sparrow on 9-14-2013 at 08:32 PM · [top]

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