23 January 2007

Speaking Ethically No. 7

By Rod Benson

November 2006

In July and August scenes of destruction, despair and death filled our TV screens as conflict between Israel and Lebanon escalated into war. Hundreds died, most in Lebanon and almost all civilians. Israel also inflicted massive infrastructure damage to southern Lebanon, while Hezbollah terrorized northern Israelis with multiple daily missile strikes.

Israel claimed its legitimate right to self-defence, and Hezbollah retaliated in the name of religion. Meanwhile the U.S. government linked the conflict to the so-called “war on terror,” and implicitly implicated Syria or Iran. In my opinion, Hezbollah terrorism must cease, but so must the disproportionate Israeli aggression in this and similar conflicts.

Aside from the tragedy of preventable suffering and death, and ethical questions about war, another issue concerns thoughtful Christians. Some well-meaning Christians identify military conflicts in the Middle East with the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the return of Christ – which in turn is exploited by foreign policy-makers and political Zionism.

Such fears and hopes are fed by fundamentalist websites, dispensationalist authors such as Tim LaHaye, and other neo-conservatives on the extremist fringe of the American Christian Right. RaptureReady.com, for example, posts an index estimating the imminence of the “rapture” on the basis of selected world events.

But the recent war in Lebanon, or Jews fighting Arabs anywhere, or even modern Israel’s political existence, has little to do with biblical prophecy. Christians should resist putting a theological or eschatological overlay on Middle East politics and wars. In particular, evangelism based on this theme is misguided and inevitably discredits both messenger and message.

Our emphasis should be on “leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming Day of God” (2 Peter 3:11-12). We can pray for peace, lobby our politicians to exert appropriate diplomatic pressure on the players, and send aid where it is most needed.

Baptist World Aid Australia is continuing to assist refugees and displaced persons in Lebanon, and preparing to meet immediate and longterm needs, and they desperately need our help. I urge you to do something to promote justice and peace today.

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.

Recommended websites:

Baptist World Aid Australia (click “Middle East crisis”):

George Marsden, “The sword of the Lord”:

Andrew Cameron & Tracy Nodder, “Justice and hate”:

The Rapture Index:

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