Written by: Chris Eden, National Director Bridges for Peace
Rev Frank Chikane is an important person in the broader Christian world and in South African politics. He is a key role player within World Council of Churches structures and is a strong voice in the Church in South Africa. As a struggle veteran and having served in the SA Government, he is a respected voice in the ANC.
Rev Chikane is vocal on the matter of Israel/Palestine and a sought-after panelist in all things anti-Israel. A charismatic speaker, he often repeats the phrase that “My God is not a tribal God,” when responding to the theological issue of the continued relevance of the land of Israel and the Jewish people in the plans of God.
While seemingly a simple phrase, when expanded upon by Rev Chikane, it takes on gigantic proportions as it nullifies the spiritual significance of the land Israel and the Jewish people. What BDS attempts to do economically and politically, this statement does spiritually. In a nutshell, it turns the physical return of the Jewish people and the re-emergence of Israel as a nation into an exclusively political transaction that, with a selective representation of history, motives, and daily reality, can easily be turned into a stick to beat Israel and all those who stand with her.
Historically this approach became known, by the now unfashionable terms, “Replacement Theology” or “Supersessionism.” Put simply, this is a belief that the rejection by most Jews of Jesus as the Messiah some 2,000 years ago and the establishment of the Church, led to the role of Israel being taken over by the Church. The Church has “replaced” or “superseded” Israel in the plans of God. Consequently, according to Replacement theology, neither the land or the Jewish people have any further spiritual or Biblical significance.
This belief emerged early in Church history and was bedded down into Church thinking as the Jews were in exile and suffering great persecution. This conclusion seemed to be substantiated by the facts. However, many within the Church have always taken a more pragmatic approach to Scripture generally and the prophecies specifically. While the circumstances of the Jews and the land of Israel seemed desperate for extended periods, these Christians through their prayers and actions, held fast to the promises for Israel in Scripture of return, restoration and redemptions for the land and people. Today what once seemed so distant, is reality and these Christians are a force that affirms Israel spiritually and assists Israel practically. They are a thorn in the flesh of the diverse pickup army that is unified, not so much in building Palestine, but in destroying Israel.
In contributing to an international webinar on 6 February to launch a documentary on the life of the Catholic Patriarch of the Holy Land, Rev Chikane ignited a fire within the Jewish world and added a sinister dimension to the division within the Christian world about Israel. Speaking about Israel he declared “I am convinced that they (the Palestinians) are dealing with the same demons we dealt with in South Africa, except in their case, the demons have invited many other demons to make their struggle much more difficult.” Later Chikane went on to say to about those who support Israel, that “that the blood of the people of Palestine will be sought from them.” Jewish columnist Melanie Phillips in an article “Leaders remain silent as Church recycles its oldest hatred” takes Rev Chikane to task for his statements, but also challenges the Church for its silence.
There were many contributions on the road to the Holocaust and other evils perpetrated on the Jewish people. Sadly, the Church as a powerful force, was an important role-player in this process. Both these statements echo the terminology of key Christian leaders who helped lay the foundation of the Church (e.g.: Bishop of Antioch John Chrysostom, St Augustine, Martin Luther) on its journey towards maturity. Their words “demonized” Jewish people, Judaism, Jewish writings and levelled the accusation of deicide (“Christ-killers”) against them. It is therefore not surprising that Rev Chikane’s words have unleashed a storm within the Jewish world, ever vigilant against signs that history is about to repeat itself to extract another terrible price from them as a people.
It is ironic that in Rev Chikane’s own back yard, the Apostolic Faith Mission, known for its sound theological foundation, that the issue of Israel is far from resolved. It is easier to “reward” an anti-Israel audience, each there with their own agenda for rejecting Israel, with these types of statements than to sit with an open Bible and full historical and modern context to sweat out a true Kingdom contribution.
Support for Israel in Africa is strong and growing. For many Christians, their harsh circumstances demand a divine response to their practical plea for God’s intervention for their most basic needs. They find authority for directing their pleas to the Almighty in the pages of the Bible and when they encounter in those same pages, God’s promises of return, restoration, and redemption for Israel, this what they expect and what they can celebrate today. They and billions of Christians around the globe are evidence that God’s plan of redemption involving Israel, clearly laid out in Genesis 12 vs 1-3, is successful.
The Church is divided over Israel and it may be timely to repeat the counsel given by the wise teacher Gamaliel, who, as the establishment debated what to do about the emerging Church in Jerusalem suggested, “for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)
Purim, commemorating the events recorded in the book of Esther, will be celebrated shortly. The name of God does not appear even once in the text. However, it is difficult to read this book without witnessing the hand of God at work throughout. Similarly, it it is almost impossible to read the many prophetic passages describing Israel’s return without seeing a powerful correlation with Israel today and likewise it is hard to explain Israel today without seeing the hand of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at work.