RELIGION

Mike Pence writes messages on bombs meant for Lebanon. Would Jesus do that?

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(RNS) — Mike Pence, once the vice president of the United States, signed his name on Israeli artillery shells intended to be used in an attack on Lebanon in a war that has already killed thousands of Palestinian civilians. The act of giving public support to shelling innocent people goes contrary to international covenants and is possibly a violation of U.S. law.

Despite their official support for Israel, American politicians and those in other Western countries have often spoken their minds in support of Palestinian rights once they left elected office. In Pence’s case, the restraints of being vice president curbed the extremely pro-Israel positions he expressed as governor of Indiana and later as a U.S. presidential candidate. Now that he has left public office, he has rushed to legitimize the bombing of Lebanon and Gaza.

What is more disturbing about his presence in Israel, on the 90th day of an unbalanced war against Palestinians in Gaza, is that it is not a political visit at all but stems from Pence’s twisted religious ideology.

Pence, like other Christian Zionists, is a believer in a debunked Christian theology that is welcomed by right-wing Israelis who want to establish a biblical state, rather than the secular state early Zionists envisioned. Dispensationalism — the belief that Jesus’ Second Coming is dependent on certain historical conditions, including a Jewish state in Israel, has been rejected by Palestinian evangelical Christians, who not only inhabit the Holy Land but are among the current victims of Zionism. Even the Dallas Theological Seminary, the flagship school of dispensationalism, has retracted its theological support for the concept. Its own theologians are now arguing for a progressive dispensationalism.



In the 1990s and early 2000s many young Christians wore a bracelet with the initials WWJD. The initials stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” and they were an attempt by believers to evaluate how the Lord would have reacted in the situations the faithful found themselves today. It’s almost certain Jesus would not endorse bombs aimed at killing neighbors, created in the image of God, as Pence did.

Over the Christmas season, Munther Isaac, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, imagined that Jesus, had he been born in 2023 instead of two millennia before, would have chosen the rubble of Gaza as his birthplace. The Christmas Church’s creche re-created just this scenario, placing its replica of the baby Jesus in rubble instead of a manger.

Former Vice President Mike Pence sits for an interview with the Associated Press, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Former Vice President Mike Pence sits for an interview with The Associated Press, Nov. 16, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Pence’s pro-Israel sympathies — and that of others, such as U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley — mean that instead of seeing Christ in those suffering Israel’s aerial attacks (including Arab Christians), they cling to the violence as the fulfillment of biblical foretelling of the Rapture. They presumably sleep well at night believing that they are acting in accordance with God’s will, which apparently includes war crimes.

The Israelis themselves indulge in this same biblical justification. In the early days of the war on Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose power depends on extremist Jewish activists in his government, compared the Palestinians to the Amalekites, referring to God’s command, in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Samuel, to attack a neighboring people “and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

His defense minister spoke in dehumanizing terms, calling Palestinians animals and publicly cutting off water, food, medical supplies and fuel from 2.3 million Palestinians.

All this contrasts with the world today where human rights, the law of war and international humanitarian covenants forbid such cruelty. That’s the basis of a complaint by the South African government in the International Court of Justice. South Africa, with many countries now joining in, is accusing Israel of the intent to commit genocide.



By egging Israel on despite these claims, Pence and other Christian Zionists, as well as the Jewish supremacists and racists among Netanyahu’s ministers, are manifestations of the same movement that is pushing the world away from civilized democratic order, ideologically aligned with white supremacists in the U.S. who back former President Donald Trump.

Neither Netanyahu nor Trump, of course, is religious. Both men are acting out of self-interest rather than deeply held belief. The real problem with religious enablers like Pence is that they give such anti-democratic and genocidal leaders cover to spread their ugly racist program. Is that what Jesus would do?

(Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is publisher of a Christian website, milhilard.org. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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