A Framework, Not a Roadmap" Christians Can Foster Peace, Justice, and Freedom in the Middle East
The Political Dilemmas of Arab Christianity by Alan F. H. Wisdom
What can we do to help Christians and others in the Middle East? Too often the debates in churches and society are exercises in finger-pointing. Pro-Palestinian advocates blame Israel. Pro-Israel advocates blame the Arabs. Is there a constructive way forward, not only for Israelis and Palestinians but also for all Middle Eastern peoples who suffer oppression and violence?
This is the challenge that Alan Wisdom addresses in the May/June issue of Theology Matters. Following on his survey of biblical teachings in the March/April issue, now he grapples with how we apply these teachings in the messy situation we face today. As Alan recounts the region’s history, we see how modernity came as a shock to the Middle East. People who boasted proud and ancient civilizations felt vulnerable in the face of innovations backed by the superior military, economic, and technological prowess of the West. There have been two main responses: nationalism, seeking to build up centralized authoritarian states to restore national glory, and Islamism, aiming to reconnect societies to their religious roots by making shariʻa the law of the land.
Both of these responses have so far disappointed the hopes that have been invested in them. Many Middle Eastern nations have found themselves submerged under corrupt and repressive regimes, trapped in economic stagnation, and embroiled in disastrous wars. The Middle East, by global standards, is a middle income area; however, human rights monitors classify it as the least free region of the world. The situation is particularly desperate for Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities.
Alan does not claim to possess a roadmap to Middle East peace, justice, and freedom. He admits that U.S. Christians have limited influence in the situation. But Alan does outline a series of “points of ready consensus” that might provide a framework for using that influence prudently in accord with our Christian convictions. He also notes several “unresolved questions” on which U.S. Christians would not agree, and on which we must await further experience. I invite you to weigh his analysis and see if you find it helpful. May/Jun 2013 Theology Matters
Lands of Promise and Conflict: The Middle East in Biblical Context by Alan F. H. Wisdom.
Wisdom carefully examines what Scripture says and does not say in both the Old Testament and New Testament about the nation of Israel. God called Israel his own "treasured possession" and he vowed that he would curse those who curse Israel and bless those who blessed Israel. Furthermore, God promised that through Abraham and his descendants all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This historical review informs our thinking today about how Christians should understand Israel's role today in the Middle East. By following the theme of God's call and promises to Israel through the whole of Scripture, we understand God's faithfulness, his promises, his discipline, his planned future for us and Israel today and most importantly, how Christ is the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham. Mar/Apr 2013 Theology Matters p. 1
Stretching Scripture Too Far: Apocalyptic Prophecy As Mideast Policy Guide by Alan. F. H. Wisdom
"Christians Look to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as God's authoritative revelation of his purposes for humankind. But these sacred texts, written originally for Jewish and Christian audiences thousand of years ago, do not give detailed instructions for church or U.S. policy in the 21st century. They do not identify which governments should be supported and which should be opposed. They do not tell us which peace proposals should be advanced and which should be rejected. These are questions that today's Christians must decide prudently, as the Holy Spirit enables them to asses current situations and apply biblical principles to them. " Wisdom looks at some of the apocalyptic prophecies of some Christians who hold a high view of Scripture yet are stretching Scripture too far concerning unfolding events in the Middle East today. Mar/Apr 2013 Theology Matters p. 12
Two Views of Marriage by Alan F. H. Wisdom is a study guide helping readers compare the Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage with the Minority Report of the Committee. Both reports were received by the 2010 General Assembly and sent to the presbyteries to study. The committee report represents a liberal, progressive view of marriage while the Minority Report of the Committee presents a biblical view of marriage.
The progressive committee report presents “biblical passages mainly as reflecting the opinions of the human authors or the prevailing practices of their cultures,” writes Wisdom. The minority report rests on the foundation of Scripture saying, “In matters of faith and practice, the church turns to Scripture to hear the testimony of the Holy Spirit, so that we might follow the Word of God incarnate in our changing world.” This article is an important guide to use in understanding the two positions that are being argued in the church.
Wisdom contrasts the two reports on:
- View of Scripture
- God’s Design in Creation?
- Does Marriage Have Anything to Do with Sex?
- Is Marriage the Norm for Sexual Expression?
- What the Confessions Say About Marriage
- The Book of Order on Marriage
- Definition or Description?
- Authoritative Interpretations on Marriage
- Is Conscience Bound by Biblical and Confessional Teachings?
- Two Equal Positions?
- Local Option on Marriage?
- Mutual Forbearance or Mutual Accountability?
- Marriage As Pastoral Care?
- Is It Discrimination to Say Some Relationship Aren’t Marriage?
- Must the Church Conform Its Doctrine to State Law and Social trends?
- What Would It Take to Change the Church’s Definition of Marriage?
Each section guides readers through a comparison of the two reports and then has discussion questions for further reflection. Mar/Apr 2012 Theology Matters, p. 1
Is Marriage Worth Defending? Part II by Alan F. H. Wisdom, vice president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD). The full paper is available on the IRD web site www.theird.org. Reprinted with permission from IRD.
"The modern era has profoundly altered marital patterns. Several trends have shifted the emphasis within marriage and the relationships between the married couple and the rest of society. In most cases, these trends have tended to weaken the marital bond." Wisdom then explores two of these trends: locating "the substance of marriage within the subjective feelings of the spouses...two people who love each other" and seeing marriage merely as a legal contract where individuals "set the terms of their contract however they please." Wisdom looks at how these two trends have weakened marriage so that today 39.7 percent of children are born out of wedlock. Divorce and cohabitation have had devastating effects on adults and children. Wisdom offers several options to consider and concludes that strengthening marriage is the church's call so that men and women might experience God's blessing and society might prosper. Mar/Apr 2010 Theology Matters, p. 1. Footnotes; Figure1; Figure 2; Figure 3; Figure 4; Figure 5
Is Marriage Worth Defending? Part 1 by Alan Wisdom, vice president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD). The full paper is available on the IRD web site: www.theird.org. Reprinted with permission from IRD.
Marriage is under assault today. Alan Wisdom describes the state of marriage: "By many measures, marriage has weakened in our society over the past two generations. Fewer people marry. More people divorce. Increasing numbers of people move through a series of sexual relationships without ever forming a lasting marriage…Now pro-homosexuality advocates are seeking to radically redefine the institution, reducing it to a relationship between any ‘two people who love each other.’"
How to Read the PUP Report: Picking Up the Rhetorical Clues to What's Important by Alan Wisdom
Wisdom critiques the PUP report. Nov/Dec 2005 Theology Matters p.11
A Crushing Disappointment: The Proposed PCUSA Policy Statement on 'Living Faithfully with Families in Transition" by Alan Wisdom. Wisdom critiques the "Families in Transition" paper that was sent to the 2003 General Assembly. It was approved by the Assembly. Mar/Apr 2003 Theology Matters p. 12
Let Marriage Be Held in Honor by Alan F. H. Wisdom
Wisdom responds to the cultural question of how would same-gender marriage harm heterosexual marriage. He examines the biblical, confessional, and historic reasons why the church and state cannot condone same-gender marriage without destroying marriage. "Ultimately, the choice is between Christian marriage as God's gold standard--or no standard at all." Mar/Apr 2002 Theology Matters p. 1
The World Council of Churches: Time for Jubilee? by Alan F. H. Wisdom, Director of Presbyterian Action for Faith and Freedom, an arm of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Washington DC. Wisdom does a thorough analysis of the World Council of Churches from their Eighth Assembly of the WCC in December, 1998 back to their establishment in 1948. Wisdom looks at a Noble Vision; A New "Common Understanding and Vision"; Diverted into Political Crusades; Threats to World Peace; Global Poverty; Racial Injustice; Sex Discrimination; Environmental Degradation; Threats to Indigenous Cultures; the Next Political Crusade? Where the Crusades Fail; Two Opposing Options for Change; The Perils of Macro-Ecumenism; The Promise of Reaffirming Christ; The Responsibility of Presbyterians; Means of Influence. Nov/Dec 1998 Theology Matters p. 1