Lack of NAE stance on Israel-Hezbollah clash is 'grave disappointment,' Baptist says

DALLAS (BP)--A Baptist advocate for Jewish evangelism has protested the National Association of Evangelicals’ refusal to take a stand in support of Israel in defending itself from an estimated 4,000 rocket attacks by Hezbollah Muslim guerrillas.

Jim Sibley, director of Criswell College’s Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies in Dallas, expressed “grave disappointment” over the NAE stance in a letter Sibley wrote the association’s president, Ted Haggard, Aug. 17.

“I am writing to urge you to reconsider,” Sibley wrote.

Haggard, according to an Associated Press story Aug. 11, stated that no pro-Israel stance would be taken by the National Association of Evangelicals because of the possibility that evangelicals in the Middle East could face a Muslim backlash.

Sibley, in his letter to Haggard, stated his concerns in four paragraphs:

“There are actually two issues that make it appropriate and even imperative to address this conflict. One is the callous disregard for the lives of non-combatants on the part of Hezbollah in this conflict. Hezbollah is not only firing thousands of ballistic missiles randomly into cities and villages of Israel, killing and maiming thousands, but it is deliberately using civilians as shields for their activities, in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions. In contrast, Israel is taking every possible measure to minimize the deaths of non-combatants in this conflict.

“The second issue is the difference in motivation,” Sibley wrote. “Hezbollah is motivated by hatred and anti-Semitism, as the presidents of Iran and Syria have made crystal clear. Israel is acting in self-defense. One of the greatest obstacles to Jewish evangelism is the historic silence of the Church (especially the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran churches) in the face of Hitler’s murderous rampage. As Evangelicals, we have argued that Evangelicals were not silent, and in fact, that many shared the fate of the Jewish people in their attempts to hide and help them. Now, you are acting like the very ones from whom we have tried to distance ourselves.

“Please do not misunderstand: Israel is a fallible government and makes mistakes,” Sibley noted. “I am not arguing for carte blanche approval for all of the actions of the State of Israel. But silence or indecision in this instance is unconscionable.

“In the Bible, the prophets, especially Zechariah and Isaiah, speak often about the future judgment on the nations. Scripture makes it clear that the basis of that judgment will be their concern for the welfare of the Jewish people. Will God require less of Church leaders?” Sibley concluded.

Haggard, in the AP article, was quoted as saying that the NAE’s “silence [over the Israel-Hezbollah clash] is not a rejection of Israel or even a hesitation about Israel. Our silence is to try to protect people."

“There's a rapidly growing evangelical population in virtually every Islamic country. Much of it is underground in the countries that are more radicalized, and many of the Christians survive based on their neighbors just ignoring the fact that they don't go to mosque," Haggard said.

In addition to his role as NAE president, Haggard is pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Sibley, in an e-mail to Baptist Press, countered Haggard’s view: “The silence of the NAE is a guilty silence. The motivation may be sincere, but it is seriously misguided. We, as Evangelicals, must be the voice for these Christians in Muslim countries who cannot speak. Our silence in this matter not only does not protect them, but it calls us to be less than Christian.”

Sibley is a former Southern Baptist representative to Israel and former coordinator of Jewish ministries for the SBC’s North American Mission Board.

An NAE spokesperson stated in an e-mail to Baptist Press Aug. 17, “We are currently in the process of having the official NAE statement approved by the Board of Directors. There are 170 members of our BOD and so we should have a response in two to three weeks.”

The Israeli-Hezbollah clash has claimed an estimated 800 lives in Lebanon and 155 in Israeli, according to official counts reported by the AP on Aug. 15. An estimated 1 million Lebanese, or one-fourth of the populace, were displaced in the conflict, along with 500,000 Israelis, according to the AP report.

The AP’s Aug. 11 article centering on the idea that evangelicals have been “notably quiet” over the Israel-Hezbollah clash reported that Focus on the Family founder James Dobson had issued a statement on the crisis Aug. 11.

Dobson voiced agony over “the terrible loss of life in Lebanon,” but noted, “There is no doubt who the aggressors are in this current conflict” in which “Israel itself appears to be threatened with annihilation.”

Dobson’s full statement follows:

"As one who takes both modern history and the Bible seriously, it is difficult for me not to be moved by the bellicose threats and the panorama of violence now being observed daily in the Middle East. Nor am I alone in this regard. There are millions of Christians who love Israel and deeply regret the hatred that is being expressed toward this holy land and its people.

"At the same time, my heart aches to hear of the terrible loss of life in Lebanon and of people, especially the women and children, who are innocent victims caught in the middle between Hezbollah's aggression and Israel's response. I recently received a message from dear Christian friends in Beirut who poured their hearts out to us, describing what they called, 'this demonic anger and war.' Having heard from other close contacts in southern Lebanon, our Beirut friends conveyed that, 'Hezbollah is setting their missiles next to the [Christian] church where they are all staying and sending rockets from there [into Israel], then leaving. So the Israelis are hitting their area [in return] very hard.' Heartbreaking scenes like these are happening daily in Lebanon, and we are very concerned for our Lebanese friends and other innocent victims of this war.

"Such personal tragedies and death raining down also occur constantly in Israel, and we hear from families and friends there, too. There is no doubt who the aggressors are in this current conflict, and we understand that Israel itself appears to be threatened with annihilation. The radical left in Western nations, including many Americans, purport to defend the weak against the strong. Yet there sits little Israel with its five million beleaguered Jews, surrounded by 500 million Muslims whose leaders are determined to drive it into the sea. Those who hate this covenant land are aided and abetted by politicians representing two billion Russians, Chinese and Europeans who won't lift a finger to save the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

"Yet we are reminded of the Biblical skirmish between little David and the mighty Goliath,” Dobson noted. “With God's intervention, the shepherd boy needed only one smooth stone and a sling to bring the Philistine crashing down. It is our prayer that Jehovah will once again give His people a miracle on the battlefield. While we are praying without ceasing for the innocent victims in Lebanon, we stand firmly with Israel and the Jews, and, with countless others around the world, we are praying for 'the peace of Jerusalem' (Psalm 122:6)."

A ceasefire brokered by the United Nations began taking hold Aug. 14 for the region in southern Lebanon from which Hezbollah guerrillas have been launching their rockets into northern Israel.

The conflict began July 12 when Hezbollah guerrillas crossed into Israel, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed several others. That prompted a massive Israeli response, with Israeli aircraft and artillery destroying key components of Lebanon’s infrastructure, including bridges, roads and portions of the Beirut airport. Hezbollah’s chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said at the time that his group would continue to attack Israel despite the Israeli response, and it had launched nearly 4,000 rockets into Israel until the ceasefire.

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