Cruz, Conservatism & Christianity
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) September 12, 2014
Ross Douthat says what needs saying, and needs saying over and over until it sinks in among Christian conservatives that it’s wrong to care more about loyalty to Israel and to movement conservatism than it is about the fate of their brothers and sisters in the faith who are facing extermination. Excerpt:
Some of the leaders of the Middle East’s Christians have made choices that merit criticism; some of them harbor attitudes toward their Jewish neighbors that merit condemnation. But Israel is a rich, well-defended, nuclear-armed nation-state; its supporters, and especially its American Christian supporters, can afford to allow a population that’s none of the above to organize to save itself from outright extinction without also demanding applause for Israeli policy as the price of sympathy and support.
If Cruz felt that he couldn’t in good conscience address an audience of persecuted Arab Christians without including a florid, “no greater ally” preamble about Israel, he could have withdrawn from the event. The fact that he preferred to do it this way instead says a lot — none of it good — about his priorities and instincts.
The fact that he was widely lauded [on the Right — Rod.] says a lot about why, if 2,000 years of Christian history in the Middle East ends in blood and ash and exile, the American right no less than the left and center will deserve a share of responsibility for that fate.
I am not used to believing that the choice in geopolitical matters is fidelity to the state of Israel or fidelity to the Church in the Middle East. I believe you can have both, and in most instances should. I always have. It has been my experience that if you scratch someone who is vehemently anti-Israel, you find a Jew hater. Jew hatred has been one of the great sins of the Christian church throughout its history, and must always repent of it. Read the transcript of Cruz’s brief remarks. Ted Cruz was absolutely right to say, “If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ” — and the room applauded that! But if you read everything he said, he keeps pushing the political point about Israel, goading these people into a reaction. He knew exactly what he was doing.
When someone like Ted Cruz, son of a fundamentalist Christian pastor, has the unspeakable arrogance to go into this group of Orthodox, Catholic, and Coptic Christians who are facing the martyrdom of their entire communities and expect them to recite the gospel of American neoconservatism — that is, not simply to denounce anti-Semitism, which the people in that audience were willing to do, but to affirm the goodness of the state of Israel, even if doing so would put their own lives in danger once they return home — he forces the rest of us Christians to make a choice. Which is more important to them: the fate of Israel, or the fate of the Church?
Again, I support the right of the state of Israel to exist, and the right of the ancient Christian churches of the Middle East to exist. But if circumstances force us to make a choice, Christians must ordinarily choose the Church, just as I would expect Jewish Americans in most circumstances to choose Israel, and would not for a second hold that against them. If you will not be for your own people, what kind of person are you?
That choice implies a second choice: which is more important to conservative American Christians, their Christianity, or their conservatism?
If that is the choice, I know which side I am on. And if that makes me anathema to American movement conservatism, I’ll wear that badge with honor.
UPDATE: +1 to Seth Mandel at Commentary for reminding us that there are Jews who have been helping persecuted Christians (remember my blog in praise of Ronald S. Lauder for that), and to David Benkof of the Times of Israel for saying that he would have booed Ted Cruz too. Excerpt:
Of course it’s always good when people praise our People, our Nation, and our Land. I do it all the time. But this specific event existed to garner attention to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East – and hijacking that cause to promote Israel is just as bad as exploiting the world’s disgust for ISIS to attack Hamas.
The persecution and murder of Christians is an affront to good people everywhere. Communities of Christians numbering in the hundreds of thousands in places like Lebanon and Iraq have been decimated. Huge numbers of Christians have become refugees. ISIS is a constant, terrifying threat.
Folks, if there is ever a “V’im ani l’atzmi mah ani?” moment (“If I am only for myself, what am I?”) this is it. As a people that suffered terribly during the last century from persecutions in tsarist Russia, Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Arab lands (among other places), we cannot focus only on our own problems – important as they are.
So for Cruz to ignore the agenda of the gathering and harp on a pet issue of his – knowing that it would resound beyond his immediate audience – was shameful. Politicians simply don’t lecture anti-Obamacare rallies about capital punishment. If I were there, I probably would have booed, too.
Jews, of all people, should understand that morality requires juggling devotion to many challenges at once – some close to home, some more distant. Let’s stop our knee-jerk cheering for anyone who says something nice about Israel and look at the broader context. Because there are non-Jews suffering who need our help, too.
And if not now, when?
Jews and Christians are not against each other here, and should not be against each other. Ted Cruz inserted his own political agenda where there was none and need not have been one.
UPDATE.2: This is true. Do not forget:
The Cruz event was clarifying. We now know he will troll victims of genocide. And we know who will defend and praise him for it.
— Michael B Dougherty (@michaelbd) September 14, 2014
MBD publishes tweets from a senior editor at The Weekly Standard:
The journey from “I feel bad for them ” to “They are just like ISIS” in 4 tweets. pic.twitter.com/EjQrvBu1JY
— Michael B Dougherty (@michaelbd) September 14, 2014