Christians and a Land Called Holy: How We Can Foster Justice, Peace, and Hope
van Gorder, Andrew Christian, Journal of Church and State
Christians and a Land Called Holy: How We Can Foster Justice, Peace, and Hope. By Charles P. Lutz and Robert O. Smith. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2006. 168pp. $15.00 paper.
While many North Americans are consuming religious novels and self-help books, Charles P. Lutz and Robert O. Smith have written a book about a very timely topic. Christians and a Land Called Holy: How Can We Foster Justice, Peace and Hope ambitiously tackles an important subject that merits everyone's careful consideration. The structure of the book consists of the two authors alternating chapters, sometimes making the presentation redundant and uneven. The book concludes with a "personal reflection" by Ronald D. Witherup. If the idea of this appendix was to offer a Catholic perspective to the topic it might have been helpful to also provide a Jewish, Muslim, or Orthodox Christian perspective.
This book's strength comes from its raising a series of important questions. Lutz and Smith encourage American Christians to think about the specific contemporary context of Israeli-Palestinian tensions through the lens of social justice. Concerns include such vital issues as the equitable distribution of water resources. Given the book's title, Lutz begins by addressing the problematic notion of a "Holy Land." I don't share Lutz's emphatic enthusiasms when he states: "So it should be clear: this land has special hold on the intellect and emotions of Christian believers." Perhaps, the idea this is a "Holy Land" may actually be part of the problem and both Lutz and Smith are right in asserting there is no New Testament basis for any notion that this part of the world is more sacred than anywhere else. Lutz states it was in Israel that "God had chosen the Jews as the bearers of God's Messiah," presumably offering a supercessionist rationale for the region' s importance. Smith attacks such supercessionist ideas as "unbridled universality" in the next chapter illustrating the breadth of views shared by many Christians on how to approach Judaism.
Both authors are sincere and dedicated. They openly describe their own feelings of guilt as German-American Lutherans and are refreshingly forthright about Luther's anti-Jewish rhetoric. The authors are honest in their bias reflected in Smith's description of Christianity in decidedly Eurocentric terms: "Today most North American Christians are more likely to identify their faith traditions with European locales than with Palestine"-not taking into account African-American, Latin-American, and Asian Christians living within these borders. Smith and Lutz offer solutions rooted in a "Christian logic" of needing to work as peacemakers. Although it was welcome to read Smith's call to support the Christian community in Israel and Palestine, it troubled me that more attention was not given to the distinctive needs of Armenian or Coptic Orthodox Christians in the region. Lutz calls for an active "global Christian presence" consisting of "international Christians" who are, in effect (from a Muslim and Jewish perspective), Christian missionaries. Lutz calls these missionaries to be "leaven" who are needed to "lead the way" in promoting peace. Smith quotes the command of Acts 1:8 to witness to those living in the region. Both authors argue Christians should take responsibility to mediate peace and cite the precedent of St. Francis. Is this mediating role being requested by Muslims or Jews? Can it be assumed that all Jews, Christians, and Muslims are intent on seeking peace? Can outsiders assume this "key role" of mediation without bringing their own agenda into the equation? These questions are not addressed.
The description of the historical facts of Jewish-Christian-Muslim tensions in the Middle East can be easily contested. A political analysis of American foreign policy, for example, fails to detail the important role of British, Russian, United Nations, or European Union's diplomatic efforts in Middle East peace process. …