Ahead of its 2013 General Assembly, The Church of Scotland published a study of the contemporary situation in the Holy Lands, “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on ‘The Promised Land.’”
Continuing its long history of engagement and presence in Israel-Palestine, the Church of Scotland’s report offers its ‘latest reflection’ on the political and humanitarian situation.
The Assembly convenes May 18 in Edinburgh.
The report considers Christian perspectives on different political and biblical understandings of the land, particularly addressing the ways that God’s ancient promises intersect with present realities.
The primary political conclusion of the text is a recognition that the “current situation is characterized by an inequality in power and therefore reconciliation can only be possible if the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza, are ended.”
The bulk of the report, however, is concerned with addressing the biblical claims that appear to support the occupation, namely the ‘widespread assumption by many Christians as well as many Jewish people that the Bible supports an essentially Jewish state of Israel.’
The text proposes three models for understanding the promise of land to Abraham and ancient Israel: as a territorial guarantee, as a land held in trust, and as a land with a universal mission.
The first two models are critiqued for being overly literalistic and insufficiently attentive to the biblical mandates for justice and care for others, and thus tending toward exclusionary politics that places Israeli interests above Palestinian rights.
The report commends a reading of the biblical promises that understands them as primarily expressed in non-geographic spaces of justice, peace, and reconciliation where all might flourish. Central to this interpretation is theology of divine care for all the nations exemplified in the book of Jonah culminating in the person, work, and teachings of Jesus Christ.
The report concludes, “Christians should not be supporting any claims by Jewish or any other people, to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to posses particular territory.”
The primary issues that must be resolved in the Holy Land are not whether one or another community has an exclusive divine right to the land, but whether or not all people living between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea are treated with justice, equality, security, and dignity under the law.
Joshua Ralston is instructor of theology at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. He is a member of the Education Committee of the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA).