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UM Missionary Denies Gospel Message In Favor Of Pro-Palestinian, Anti-Israeli Politics

Jerusalem-Based UM Missionary Prefers Politics to Evangelism
Erik Nelson and Mark Tooley
URL: http://www.ird-renew.org/About/About.cfm?ID=187&c=5

August 23, 2001

Sandra Olewine, a United Methodist missionary in Jerusalem, describes her experience of a recent bombing: "I felt a 'thump', as if the air compressed around me. My immediate thought was that there had been an explosion. Not long after I reached the office, the sirens began."

She was referring to a recent suicide attack by Palestinians affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in which at least 15 civilians were killed at a Jerusalem pizzeria. Olewine laments this latest act of terror. But unfortunately she exploits it as an opportunity to repeat her political critique of Israel and her unabashed political support for the Palestinian cause.

Christian missionaries are called to proclaim Jesus Christ in the midst of such strife. But United Methodist missionaries like Olewine, with support from the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) for which they work, prefer to posture as polemicists against Israeli policies.

After the Palestinian terror attack, Israeli soldiers seized Orient House and other offices of the Palestinian National Authority in East Jerusalem. Although distressed about the Palestinian assault on innocent civilians, Olewine seems to be more worked up about the Israeli occupation of a Palestinian office building. In a recent commentary on the GBGM web site, she writes, "Orient House is the symbol of Palestinian aspirations for East Jerusalem as their capital. Seizing this building, sealing it and raising an Israeli flag over it is tantamount to declaring that Israel has again conquered or occupied Jerusalem." She asks, "Could there be a more provocative act by the Israelis than this one?"

Predictably, Olewine exclusively blames the Israelis for provoking Palestinian acts of terror. She simplistically believes the violence will end if Israel would simply accede to all Palestinian demands. That Israel may have understandable reasons for not wanting to surrender, and that Palestinians resentments may not be extinguished even if Israel were to surrender, does not occur to her.

Olewine calls demands for Arafat to arrest members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the groups responsible for the pizzeria terror attack, "an almost absurd request." She does not explain what Israel is supposed to do when attacked. To strike against Palestinian targets is unacceptable to her. But so too is Israel's request that Yasir Arafat uphold his agreements to police the territories under his control.

"In such days, we must return to the root cuse of the violence in order to break the cycle," Olewine opines. "Addressing only the symptoms ensures our continuing horror at senseless death in this region." Needless to say, Palestinian behavior seems to play no role among the "root causes" that Olewine discerns.

"The root cause of the violence of the last 11 months is the on-going Israeli occupation and control of the West Bank an Gaza," Olewine insists. "After 32 years, it must come to a stop." Olewine has been living in the Holy Land off and on since 1995. Her recollection of history in that region seems not to go much beyond that.

Palestinian attacks against Israel preceded Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 war, during which Israel successfully repulsed the attack of three neighboring Arab nations. Last year, Israeli premier Ehud Barak did offer to return nearly all of the occupied territories, an offer that Arafat rejected before approving the Palestinian uprising that has ensued until now.

Olewine portrays the Palestinians only as victims, and Israelis only as aggressors. She speaks of desperation among the Palestinians, who despairingly feel they have no choice but to resort to massacres of civilians. But she does not admit that desperation may also motivate Israel, which, surrounded by hostile peoples, of whom the Palestinians are only one, must continually contend for its survival.

Israel's military strikes against Palestinian targets, such as police stations and Palestinian Authority office buildings, have indeed killed hundreds of Palestinians, many of them innocent civilians. This is of course horrible. But Olewine declines to acknowledge that Israel has largely reacted against Palestinian violence. Instead, she declares, "Questions of who is responsible and who struck first in each individual act became almost ludicrous as innocent Palestinian and Israeli families continue to bury their families."

Olewine is also silent about hateful rhetoric by Palestinian leaders that inflames terror attacks such as the one waged against the pizzeria. Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi, an employee at the Palestinian Authority, recently commented at a mosque in Gaza, "Blessings to whoever saved a bullet to stick it in a Jew's head," and "Allah willing, this unjust state...Israel, will be erased." This kind of language could be called genocidal.

Madhi further warned, "We will not be satisfied with the mere establishment of a Palestinian state." Understandably, such a statement fuels Israeli apprehensions that even a complete surrender of all occupied territories to Yasir Arafat would only fuel further Palestinian expectations for a complete Israeli melt-down.

Not content to let his underlings animate the worst of Israeli fears, Yasser Arafat has commended a recent Palestinian suicide bomber who struck an Israeli discotheque, calling the act a "heroic martyrdom operation." According to Arafat, the bomber was a "model of manhood and sacrifice for the sake of Allah and the homeland."

Olewine looks the other way in the face of such verbiage. She bends deeply backwards to express sensitivity to the historical plight of the Palestinians. But she is not willing to be sensitive to the historical plight of the Israelis, whose own history of sufferings is hardly un-noteworthy. She offers no explanation as to why Israel should trust the Palestinian leadership. Nor does she offer any antidote to Palestinian and Arab contempt for the Jews, which is not likely to be quickly mollified by any political compromise, however generous.

The animosities in the Holy Land are not superficial. Their rage is sustained not simply by disputes over territory. Rather, their roots are fed by the poison of human hatred.

Only the Gospel offers the answer to such hatred. A Christian missionary should be uniquely equipped to address this most toxic of human sins, for which Jesus Christ is presumably the required balm. But this does not appear to be Olewine's focus. Politics has offered her a more exciting realm in which to operate.

Olewine and the other United Methodist missionaries in the Holy Land are trapped in the old mindset of liberation theology. That worldview divided the world neatly between oppressors and the oppressed, with the West and its allies lumped into the former category, and everybody else in the latter. Israel bad, Palestinians good, is liberation theology's summary of a Middle East situation that is a little more complicated than that.

In their refusal to delve a little deeper than the confines of liberation theology will allow, Olewine and other missionaries to avoid reference to the deep hatred that exists for Israel among Palestinians. Palestinian reluctance to fully admit Israel's right to exist and to disavow violence are rarely mentioned. The Palestinian Authority's lack of interest in democratic procedure and human rights for its own people is also off the table.

The Middle East is filled with dictatorships and autocracies that are often indifferent to the sufferings and rights of their own populations. In nearly all Arab nations, religious liberty is infringed or denied altogether. Christian minorities are oppressed or eliminated.

Yet when Olewine and the United Methodist missionaries, along with their parent organization and other mainline church agencies, examine the region, they find fault exclusively with Israel, the region's only functioning democracy.

Why is this? And even if Olewine's continuing flow of political commentary were more balanced and factual, is this her proper role? Is a Christian missionary called to win persons to Jesus Christ and to give quiet witness to Him? Or is a missionary supposed to become the polemical advocate for one side in a brutal political contest?

No doubt Olewine and her supporters believe she is serving Christ by serving the Palestinian cause. Other similar missionaries, also from the United Methodist Church, just as sincerely supported Nicaragua's Sandinista dictatorship 20 years ago.

When Christ declared His Kingdom was not of this world, he was not denying the importance of politics. He was warning His church, especially its leaders, not to confuse the temporal with the eternal. Olewine and her missionary colleagues should head His warning.

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