Kairos Time: A U.S. Call to Action – Mark Braverman

“This is the Kairos, the moment of grace and opportunity, the favorable time in which God issues a challenge to decisive action” So reads the South Africa Kairos document titled Challenge to the Church.  In their courageous statement of 1985, a group of South African pastors, theologians and activists, black and white, inaugurated the modern kairos era. “It is the kairos or moment of truth not only for apartheid,” continues the document, “but for the Church.”
The South African document set the standard for the historic Palestine Kairos document of 2009, entitled A moment of truth: A Word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering.  Also known as “Kairos Palestine,” the document, authored by Palestinian clergy, theologians and societal leaders from across the ecumenical spectrum, sets out the situation of a brutal and worsening occupation and articulates a theology that requires nonviolent resistance to the evil of occupation — resistance “with love as its logic.” Naming the Israeli occupation a sin, it calls out to the international community, reserving its final call for the church itself: “What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in the Arab world doing? What is the Church doing?”
Like its South African predecessor, the Palestinian call has been a game-changer. It has created a moment of truth for the church, when, in the words of Robert McAfee Brown, “the issues become so clear, and the stakes so high, that the privilege of amiable disagreement must be superseded by clear cut decisions, and the choice must move from both/and to either/or.” Kairos Palestine has been commended for study by congregations and denominations worldwide and has spawned Kairos movements and documents in Asia, Europe, and the U.S.A.  Call to Action: U.S. Response to the Kairos Palestine document,  published in June 2012, is the most recent addition to this global response. Because of the central role of the U.S. government in its support for Israel and the size and power of the U.S. church, the appearance of the Kairos USA document is a significant development. Like the South African document that challenged the “church theology” that had supported the unjust actions of its own government, “Call to Action” directly asks the questions: how have U.S. Christians participated in the injustice that is causing so much suffering for Palestinians and is poisoning Israeli society, and what can the church in the U.S. do about creating real change?  The document courageously takes on key issues, including the influence of Christian Zionism, the theological meaning of the land, Christian feelings of responsibility for Jewish suffering, and the impact of Jewish institutional opposition to any perceived threat to U.S. support of Israel.
A Church Confession
Declaring the mission of the newly-formed Kairos “to mobilize the churches in the United States to respond faithfully and boldly to the situation in Israel and Palestine,” the preamble to “Call to Action” describes the background and context for its creation:
In June 2011, a group of U.S. clergy, theologians and laypersons, cognizant of our responsibility as Americans in the tragedy unfolding in Israel and Palestine, and mindful of the urgency of the situation, met to inaugurate a new movement for American Christians. We have been inspired by the prophetic church movements of southern Africa, Central and South America, Asia and Europe that have responded to the call of their Christian sisters and brothers in occupied Palestine. This is our statement of witness and confession—and our response as U.S. Christians to the Palestinian call.
“The tragic realities of Israel and Palestine today,” the document continues, “would deeply trouble Jesus and the prophets. The land in which Jesus lived and was crucified by the Roman imperial rulers is again a place of violence, inequality and suffering. Palestinians and Israelis are trapped in a spiral of violence that is destroying their humanity, squandering their resources and killing their children.”  The authors of “Call to Action” confess the tragic legacy of Christian persecution of Jews.  Having made this confession and acknowledged the right of the Jewish people to “security…free from the scourge of anti-Semitism,” the document shifts its focus to the urgent realities of the present day, stating boldly that “the State of Israel’s present course will not bring it the security it seeks nor grant the Jewish people freedom from fear.” Even though violence visited against Israel has evoked profound feelings of fear and insecurity on the part of Israelis, the document continues, “the cause of the current calamity is not the result of any historic or natural enmity between the two peoples, or the presence of deep-seated hatred directed against the Jewish people. Rather, it is the overwhelming imbalance of power, Israel’s practices of state violence, the ongoing abridgement of the human rights of the Palestinian people and the failure of the international community to hold Israel to principles of international law.”
The authors of “Call to Action” express a keen sense of responsibility as U.S. citizens for our government’s massive and unconditional support for the historic and ongoing injustice toward the Palestinians. But as Christians they are also aware of how closely intertwined our national policies are with a theology, endorsed by so many American Christians, that has been used to justify these policies.
As individuals and as church institutions, we have supported a system of control, inequality and oppression through misreading of our Holy Scriptures, flawed theology and distortions of history. We have allowed to go unchallenged theological and political ideas that have made us complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people. Instead of speaking and acting boldly, we have chosen to offer careful statements designed to avoid controversy and leave cherished relationships undisturbed.  We have forgotten the difference between a theology that supports the policies and institutional structures of oppression and a theology that, in response to history and human affairs, stands boldly with the widow, the orphan, the poor and the dispossessed.
Noting that the special relationship that has existed between the United States and Israel from the earliest days of the Jewish state “has crossed party lines and transcended political eras,” Kairos USA challenges us to reflect deeply on what this says about our own legacy as a conqueror and an occupier:
Our government’s policy toward Israel has at times reflected our own religiously-tinged identity as a privileged society blessed by God. The notion, for example, that the Jewish people have a special claim on Jerusalem and a superior right to the territory of historic Palestine over the other inhabitants of the land bears a resemblance to our historic American notion of “Manifest Destiny”—our nation as the “shining city on a hill.” As Americans and as Christians, we must carefully examine how our own deeply-rooted sense of privilege may affect our commitment to justice and equality in this and other human rights causes across the globe.
The U.S. document is a response to the Palestinian call but it bears most resemblance to its South African predecessor. In both cases, the object of the call to action is not the tyrannous system itself, but “moderating” forces that seek to disable the resistance and to preserve the unjust system, often through the appropriation of language and outright co-opting of religious and political leaders. Certainly this was true in the 1980s, with the Pretoria government’s attempted “reforms” in the form of Bantustan vassal states ruled by black political leaders co-opted by the Apartheid regime. The current U.S. commitment to a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict bears disturbing resemblance to this earlier example, with the proposed Palestinian “state” consisting of fragmented enclaves located within territory controlled militarily and economically by Israel.  Like the South African document, Kairos USA calls on American Christians, church bodies, and our own government to remember that above all, our actions and our policies must follow the prophetic instruction to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Call to Action
Kairos USA lays out specific actions for individuals, churches, and organizations:
Visit the land: “Come and see!” say the authors of Kairos Palestine, to “know the facts and the people of this land, Palestinians and Israelis alike.” Congregations and denominationally-organized visits must take care to work with Palestinians and Israelis who will introduce them to the situation on the ground and to those working for peace. When pilgrims are allowed to see the real facts of the situation, they not only “walk where Jesus walked,” they see what Jesus saw.  Witnessing the suffering and seeing the injustice, as Jesus did living under Roman occupation and the prophets in their day, Americans are called to speak out and to act.
Learn: Move beyond stereotypes, longstanding prejudices and biased reporting. There is a wealth of study materials and curricula in the form of reading materials, curricula for churches, schools and local organizations in the form of documents, videos, and speakers bureaus. A comprehensive Study Guide for the Kairos USA “Call to Action” is available at kairosusa.org.
Enrich worship and congregational life: Be proactive. Pray and preach justice and peace for Palestine and Israel. Pursue opportunities to learn and study about the situation, explore cultural and economic exchange and challenge our congregations to participate in the blessed calling of peacemaking.
Engage in theological reflection: Examine flawed biblical interpretations and theologies that have allowed injustice to continue unchallenged. Pursue open and active theological inquiry and encourage study and reflection, in order to guide our actions in striving to follow Jesus’ injunction to “interpret the present time” (Luke 12:56).
Participate in nonviolent action: Translate concern into action. Support those in Israel, the Occupied Territories and throughout the world who work for justice through peaceful means. We urge Americans to become educated about the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and to explore this and other forms of legitimate, nonviolent action and other opportunities to become actively involved.
Engage with your government: Advocate with local and national U.S. government elected representatives and officials, as Christians who are committed to justice, peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. Support political candidates who do the same.
The challenge and the hope
As Christian denominations, congregations, peace fellowships, mission networks and faith-based grassroots organizations continue their work for justice, we are witnessing an intensification of the reaction from both Jewish and Christian groups who are opposed to a change in the status quo of unconditional support of Israel. The opposition takes several forms, including:  (1) charges that the Palestinian and U.S. Kairos documents are anti-Semitic or partake of the so-called “delegitimization” of Israel, (2) calls for the abandonment of divestment, boycott and sanction campaigns as disruptive to Christian-Jewish relations and the peace process, calling instead for a reliance on “positive investment” in Palestine, negotiations, and “interfaith dialogue,” and (3) overt attempts to drive a wedge between Palestinian Christians and Christians globally but especially North Americans, falsely accusing Palestinian Christians of endorsing violence and bringing back archaic anti-Semitic tropes. We will see an escalation of these attacks in the coming years as the church-led movement to end Apartheid in our time gains momentum. As this battle is fought increasingly on theological grounds, this means that not only is justice for Palestinians being threatened, but that Christianity itself and the faithfulness of the church to the message of the Gospels is under assault.
As the movement grows to respond boldly and faithfully to the Palestinian, these voices of opposition will become louder, more strident, and more accusatory. The walls that have been built on Palestinian land to separate people from people, brother from brother and sister from sister will be built thicker and higher.  But no one can build a wall in our hearts. “Hope,” states the Kairos Palestine document, “is the capacity to see God in the midst of trouble, and to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us.” Standing before the wall in Jerusalem, we hear the Good News: that we can bring down that wall. That it will fall, that in fact it is already coming down.
Mark Braverman is a Jewish American who writes and lectures internationally on the theological and interfaith issues related to the search for peace in Israel and Palestine. He has been closely involved in the growth of the international church movement to support the cause of Palestinian rights. In 2009 he participated in the launch of the Kairos Palestine document in Bethlehem. Braverman is Program Director for Kairos USA, a movement to unify and mobilize American Christians to take a prophetic stance for a just peace in Israel and Palestine. He is the author of Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, Beaufort Books, 2011, and the forthcoming A Wall in Jerusalem:  Hope, Healing, and the Struggle for Peace in Israel and Palestine, Jericho Books, 2013.

The Wall in Abu Dis, West Bank, Palestine. Photo: Dee Poujade

2 comments to Kairos Time: A U.S. Call to Action – Mark Braverman

  • John Kleinheksel

    Thank you Mark Braverman for this summary of the challenge before the churches, followers of Jesus.
    And thank you Cynthia Holder-Rich for keeping the spotlight on a region begging for resolution of long-standing grievances.
    Thank you too, Noushin Framke, for your role in getting the message out to the churches.
    The day is coming when American followers of the Master will “get it” and the groundswell will overcome Congress and the White House with this newly discovered truth.
    The Status Quo is changing. Things don’t stay the same. Once the living root grows under the concrete sidewalk, it is the sidewalk that gives way, not the living root. JRK

  • Isaac Rubinson

    I am delighted to see Robert McAfee Brown mentioned as an authority. How he would be grieving today if he were to see how some Christians have taken such anti-Israel positions. Surely, given his position on Christian-Jewish engagement,he would find much to disagree with Braverman. The following article by Robert McAfee Brown appeared in the Christian Century, April 6, 1988, p. 338.

    The recent Palestinian demonstrations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and Israel’s handling of them, have pushed to the forefront a series of questions most American Jews and Christians would prefer not to face. Can Jews criticize the state of Israel without being perceived as disloyal? Can Christians criticize the state of Israel without being perceived as anti-Semitic? How can Jews and Christians talk creatively and honestly with one another about the state of Israel?

    We all live with these questions, though we are reluctant to discuss them openly. If we are to face them and move beyond them, Jews and Christians must be clear and honest about their expectations of each other. I want to test the waters for this discussion by setting out what I see as a number of preconditions for responsible discussion, beginning with what I think Jews have a right to expect from Christians.

    1. Christians must unequivocally affirm the right of the state of Israel to exist and prosper. What a forbidding state of affairs that such a condition need even be mentioned! Do Americans demand from Germans such an assurance when we are working on the provisions of a trade agreement? Must Denmark’s survival be made a precondition for export negotiations with the Dutch? Yet the survival of Israel is so precarious, and threatened from so many directions, that Jews are entitled to be assured that whatever Christians say is not meant to weaken Israel and make it more vulnerable to attack. This is particularly true when Christians take up the cause of the Palestinians — obviously a justice issue worth discussing.

    2. Christians must disavow Armageddon scenarios. The Christian articulators of these scenarios support Israel not because that state has an inherent right to survive but because Israel plays a central role in the apocalyptic projections of a world ruled by Christ, a world in which there will be no more Israel, no more Judaism and no more Jews. The issue is important since Armageddon theology has been affirmed not only by fringe groups but by Ronald Reagan. Jews must be assured by Christians that they are more than pawns in Christian eschatologies illicitly extracted from Ezekiel or the Book of Revelation.

    3. Christians must understand why Jews equate the state of Israel’s survival with Jewish survival. Jews would regard the destruction of the state of Israel as virtually equivalent to their own destruction — a tragedy of even vaster proportions than the Holocaust. A tragedy greater than the Holocaust? Can one imagine such a thing? Christians need to realize that every living Jew can imagine it, and can be daily threatened by its possibility. For Jews, Jewish destiny and Israel’s destiny are forever linked.

    4. Christians must understand why Jews of the diaspora are reluctant to criticize the state of Israel publicly. In the face of overwhelming tides of criticism from Israel’s enemies, Jews living elsewhere are surely entitled to think, ‘Israel needs more critics?” And when so much of the criticism is angry and false and openly anti-Semitic, it is natural for diaspora Jews to have no interest in swelling the negative chorus. They are also understandably reluctant to criticize Jews who are on the battleground when they are removed from the immediacy of physical combat.

    There are surely other things that Christians must understand to enter the debate about Israel, and Jews can state them more poignantly and compellingly than any non-Jew can. Let that topic, then, be one of the subjects of our dialogue.

    1. Christians should be able to criticize this or that political action by the state of Israel without automatically being labeled anti-Semitic. For a Christian to be a friend of Israel cannot mean giving Israel a political (or military) blank check, saying in effect: whatever you do, we will support you, or at least not oppose you. And yet it is one of the painful facts of American political life that Christians often find that political disagreement with Israel’s policies is interpreted by Jews as at best a political betrayal, at worst an instance of subtle or not-so-subtle anti-Semitism. When such Jewish voices are raised Christians have a right to hear other Jewish voices countermanding them.

    2. Jews should understand that Christian disagreement with certain political policies of the state of Israel entails a theological as well as a political judgment. I am not proposing here to theologize about the state of Israel. but about discussions of the state of Israel.

    Early in my theological work I learned from extended exposure to Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah that the worst sin is that of idolatry — giving uncritical allegiance to human constructs that can never he worthy of uncritical allegiance. And the greatest candidate for idolatry is always the nation. I learned from the Hebrew prophets that no nation — Assyria, Babylon. Egypt, Persia or Judah – – is entitled to uncritical allegiance. I learned in the Hebrew Scriptures that the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” is not only first numerically but first because the other nine flow from it. That belief has been an axiom throughout both my theological life and my political life (two entities that I am unable to separate) One reason I am sometimes perceived as overly critical of my own nation is the perennial temptation in the United States to assume that our nation enjoys God’s special favor, and that any criticism of it is unworthy and unpatriotic. Nothing has more reinforced my conviction on this score than the recent case of a lieutenant colonel, a rear admiral, a CIA chief and a president conspiring to set themselves above the law, and insisting that we citizens should let them lie to us for our own good. That is idolatry.

    If from the stance of Hebraic prophetism I have seen and continue to see idolatry in my own nation. I have seen it also in the Germany of the 1930s and 40s. and I see it today in South Africa (and in the Soviet Union, Chile and El Salvador, to name only a few other countries) The common factor in the posture of these governments is that the state is placed above criticism: one is disloyal if one criticizes it.

    The prophetic tradition issues one large No to such an attitude. And it is not part of the prophetic tradition to say that there can be criticism of all states save one, Israel. To be sure, there are widely varying degrees and kinds of idolatry in the states I have mentioned. But whenever, and by whom, the principle that the state is above criticism becomes a guiding axiom, there, especially, must criticism be made.

    I do not want to be misunderstood on this point: I am not urging people to hold a magnifying glass over the state of Israel looking for things to criticize, while applying less exacting standards elsewhere. But I am saying that in the ongoing critique we must make of all political constructs in the name of the First Commandment, it may sometimes be the case that our critique will be directed at the state of Israel.

    My point may be clarified further by emphasizing another insight from the prophetic tradition: the place where the magnifying glass should be held is always over the nation of which one is a citizen. The basic critique. the initial critique, is always self critique. I am amazed at how faithful the Hebrew Scriptures are to this fact; judgment after judgment is piled up against the various political actions of the Jewish nation. I am even more amazed that the critique is put not on the lips of the Jews’ enemies but on the lips of the Jews. most notably the prophets. And I am most amazed of all that these unf1attering descriptions are preserved hr us not in the annals of the Jews’ enemies, but in the sacred Scriptures of the Jews themselves. Those are staggering and exceedingly impressive realities, reminding us that we are not to locate the “evil empire’’ only somewhere else; we must first of all see it within ourselves. So Christians need to hear Jews say that critique of every nation, even Israel, is a part of the prophetic tradition that Jews and Christians share, not a deviation from that tradition.

    3. It follows from the prophetic tradition that Jews should speak critically of Israel’s political policies, if injustice is being done. Such a plea may sound insufferably arrogant to Jews, who scarcely need instruction from Christians on how to behave Jewishly. So let me indicate some of the things it might mean.

    First, the prophetic tradition lays upon us all — Jews as well as Christians — an imperative to speak against injustice wherever it is found, even — nay, especially — when it is found within that political configuration we most admire. It is in relation to those things we most admire that we must be especially on guard against idolatry.

    Second, it is a sign of great health that there has always been tremendous internal criticism within the state of Israel, and never more so than in recent weeks. There, if anywhere on earth, it is true that if there are two Jews arguing, there are three opinions. The vigor and sharpness of Israel’s internal debate should be a model for every state on earth, encouraging all of us to say in our own situations whatever needs to be said.

    Third, we should note that there are Jews outside of Israel who do lament certain Israeli policies and who work to change them. How they do this is their business, not mine. All honor to Elie Wiesel, who says, “When I want to criticize Israel, I go to Israel” — and who goes to Israel frequently. All honor to those who make their critique within Jewish periodicals or at Jewish gatherings. Christians need to remember that Jews pay a price for this. I once told a Jewish activist that it was painful to be accused of anti-Semitism whenever I offered even a mild criticism of some action by the state of Israel, and he replied, “You think it is painful for you, on the outside? What do you think it is like for us, on the inside?” Let us note with gratitude then that in these past weeks many Jewish voices have been raised, some for the first time, to deplore the recent beatings and killings of Palestinians.

    Fourth, there is no inherent reason why people in Israel should listen to, or take seriously, the admonitions of the goyim. What have we ever said to them in the past that has been a blessing? Consequently, when there are specific policies in the state of Israel that need challenging, the challenging words are far more likely to be heeded when they come from Jews than when they come from Christians.

    In all of our discussions about Israel, we should keep in mind the words of Howard Singer of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. “Jews,” he consoles us, “are not really as defensive as they appear. But they know that true critics, like true prophets, are those who criticize with love.”

    Love is our only valid passport into the territory of discussions about Israel. If there are occasions when we Christians feel compelled to speak critically of Israel, we must speak with love so that we do not give aid or comfort to those who seek by their criticism to bring about Israel’s demise or weaken its place in the forum of world opinion. Let not any of our words, in tone or content, bring aid and comfort to those who deny Israel’s right to exist. Let our critique of Israel spring from our love for Israel, from our desire that Israel be all that it is destined to be, both for its sake and our own, so that new meaning can continue to be given to the venerable description: “a light unto the gentiles.” Israel’s light is one we will always need.