Some American churches and Christian organizations are unwittingly supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, even though it infringes on the Christian precedent of separation of Church and State.
The BDS movement aims to discourage foreign investment and corporate involvement in Israel, isolate the Jewish state diplomatically, and undermine Israel’s legitimacy in the international arena.
In 2004, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) voted to divest from companies doing business with Israel.
The PCUSA were soon joined by other Protestant faith traditions. In 2016, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), convened and overwhelmingly approved two resolutions; calling on the U.S. government to “end all financial and military aid to Israel.”
In addition, studies confirm that “the anti-Zionist BDS campaign has encouraged anti-Semitism and intimidation of Jewish students on campuses in America and Europe…”
On the other hand, according to theologians like Martin Luther, we are all citizens of two kingdoms. One is the kingdom of this world. Christian citizenship will advance the cause of movements that strengthen the guarantees of order and law while maintaining the separation of church and state.
Commenting on the BDS movement, the Reverend Nabil Nour, Vice President of the LCMS, said:
“As a Christian, I have the freedom to speak and opine about any foreign policy or social issue. That is my God-given right as a citizen of the United States. However, when it comes to the Church of Jesus Christ that is another matter. The Church as such does not have a specific foreign policy for the United States. Our mission and ministry and message is to proclaim the sweet and precious gospel of Jesus Christ…”
Also, John Calvin believed in the separation of church and state. Calvin said that the church preaches the gospel, informs the conscience biblically, and makes disciples while “The state rules the church’s environs, maintaining domestic tranquility so that the church can execute a mission to evangelize and make disciples of all citizens. By fostering the maturity of its Christian flock, the church nurtures the state by producing model citizens…”
“Luther was especially skeptical about the specific political advice which the clergy might give in such international questions. He felt that they tended to add mostly pomp and ceremony and little expert information and opinion to such international consultations…”
Indeed, the Israeli Jewish-Arab Muslim conflict is a complicated issue that no church body should intervene in. The Guardian published a report on the BDS movement that suggests the Palestinian cause has suffered because the movement shifts the resolution of the conflict from a two-state solution based on negotiation to older and deeper questions like the legitimacy of Zionism, that is, the very existence of Israel.
The Guardian states:
“BDS has challenged the two-state consensus of the international community (…) leaving the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and refugees unaddressed.”
Bassem Eid, the founder of Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, asserts:
“The BDS campaign is completely contradictory to the Palestinian cause. We will never build peace this way. It has been catastrophic. The Palestinian people want prosperity, and BDS is about a totally different agenda. It is the agenda of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iran.”
Churches should resist the temptation to join in this destructive, anti-Semitic movement, and should be wary of those who seek to involve the church in overtly political issues and focus instead on sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Hesham Shehab
Salam Christian Fellowship, Lombard, IL