Sunday, March 17, 2019

Isaac AND Ishmael

—descendants of AbrahamChildren of God’s promise—

3 March 2019 - Second Sunday of Lent

Today is the second Sunday of Lent.  Lent is a time of individual and community introspection.  Today’s first and second readings are the lens through, which I reflected on the atrocity that took place in New Zealand this past week.  The shootings in the Mosques in Quebec and New Zealand and the shootings in synagogues, African American churches, and the attacks on the members of these communities demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures and of the Christian message and mission.  Unfortunately, white power terrorists find support in a distorted view of Christianity and of Scripture embodied in the Christian Identity Movement. 

The first reading from the book of Genesis describes God’s covenant with Abraham, who as yet, has no biological children.   Abraham has left his home in Ur in Chaldea and has done all God has asked of him.  Our reading opens at the point where Abraham says to God and I’m paraphrasing, “I’ve done all you’ve asked.  I don’t have an heir.  What’s in it for me?”  Then God promises Abraham that his descendant’s will be as numerous as the stars.  The deal is sealed with the ritual of sacrificial animals.

Unfortunately, nominal Christians and white supremacists stop here.  Many think they hold claim to the only “blessed-by-God” religious heritage.  They believe today’s reading confirms that belief.  They forget or ignore that God made a promise to both of Abraham’s sons.  If we read a little further in Genesis, we find that God also made a promise to Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar.  In Genesis 21, we find Hagar in the desert, dying of thirst she and baby Ishmael are crying.  Hagar fears they both will die,
17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’  19Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. 20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
In Genesis 25:12-17, we find that Ishmael, who lived to the age of 137, also had 12 sons, who became the patriarchs of 12 tribes.
This signifies that not only the children of Isaac but also the children of Ishmael—as descendants of Abraham—are children of God’s promise, children of the covenant.  So too, as long as they act with justice and love, the religions founded by these two houses are expressions of walking humbly with God.  This brings me to an alarming movement that claims to be Christian.

In Britain and her offspring, Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, the message of the Christ has been distorted by a small but growing minority, known as the Christian Identity Movement.  The Christian Identity movement has its origins in British or Anglo-Israelism of the nineteenth century.  From 1940s thru 1965 The British-Israel Association of Greater Vancouver published a stream of literature that nurtured what was to become the key doctrine of the Christian Identity Movement, the belief that the Jews are the offspring of the devil[1].  There are three key beliefs held by all the various groups of the Christian Identity Movement hold:

  1. 1.     white “Aryans” are descendants of the biblical tribes of Israel and they are put on earth to do God’s work.  Jews are unconnected to the Israelites because Satan and Eve are the parents of Cain and Jews are the descendants of Cain
    2.     Non-whites or “mud people” were created before Adam and Eve and have no souls (not created in the image of God)
    3.     the world is on the verge of the final apocalyptic struggle between good and evil and white “Aryans” must go to war with the Jewish conspiracy and its allies so that the world can be redeemed.
In the U.S. and Canada, followers of this movement also believe that they are chosen by God to fight the forces of evil during Armageddon and contend that they will be the last line of defence to save the white race and/or Christian America from the soon-to occur race war.[2]

Movements such as these misconstrue passages such as, today’s second reading.  For example, we heard “18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.”  The phrase “enemies of the cross of Christ” is not speaking of Jews, Muslims or non-believers.  Rather, it is speaking of anyone whose “god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things” that is, those who seek by any shameful means, power, prestige and creature comforts.  Conversely, to be a friend of the Cross is, no matter the cost, to follow the Great Commandments of Jesus Christ, 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and 31You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (RSVP Mark 12:30-31)

The Christian Identity movement is a challenge and an opportunity for all who are Christian in deed as well in name.  Susan DeCamp writes in her article[3] “The more we learn about groups like Christian Identity, the more effective we can be as community leaders in responding to extremism, and in creating positive, pro-active and inclusive alternatives.”
I would add that any of the “positive, pro-active and inclusive alternatives” need to be based on the scriptural traditions as found in the Hebrew and New Testament. The recurring themes in scripture are: we are to love God; that God loves justice; and, we are to love what belongs to God─ all humanity, all creation belongs to God. As Christians we need to study the Word of God as a whole, so that we can avoid deifying our own heresies. We need to ensure that we interpret culture through a lens based in scripture instead of trying to interpret scripture through a lens based in cultural bias.

Lastly and more immediately, in today’s bulletin there is a link to a website where we can send prayers and words of love to our fellow children of God, who are Muslim.  Please take the opportunity to show that we join in imitating the love God holds for all of the descendants of Abraham and Hagar and of Abraham and Sarah.   This Lent, let us make commitments to faithfully live the gospel and to work diligently to replace our blind spots, prejudices and preconceptions with love and compassion.

Please share your thoughts.

[1] Barkun, Michael. Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. (Revised edition) Chapel Hill: Univ of North Carolina Pr, 1997. 51.
[2] Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Christian Identity Movement: Right-Wing Terrorism Matters." Last modified 1989. Accessed February 5, 2013., p.6
[3] DeCamp, Susan. "Churches Respond to Christian Identity." Impact no. 36 (January 1, 1996): 7-10. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 13, 2013).