by Noah Summers
Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris’ discredited testimony at the recent Episcopal Church General Convention and her subsequent apology have highlighted a troubling, long-standing issue in Jewish-Christian relations: antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments in Christian churches.
While Bishop Suffragan Harris and Bishop Alan Gates now appear to understand the damage that Bishop Harris’ actions have caused, it comes as no surprise that such actions were countenanced in the first place.
While Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has talked about the Jewish roots of Christianity, the Episcopal Church under his leadership signed an anti-Israel Atlanta Summit document, which was produced by a summit co-hosted by the Palestinian Authority and the Carter Center. Bishop Curry subsequently “added the Episcopal Church’s name” to another multi-denominational statement — one giving cover to Hamas on Gaza’s border violence.
Given the willingness of Bishop Curry to give his church’s stamp of approval to documents clearly composed of Palestinian propaganda posing as “peacemaking,” it comes as no surprise that Bishop Harris felt at liberty to disseminate what respected, prominent Jewish organizations have described as a blood libel.
Christians willing to uproot antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments in their churches can either continue to deal with these problems on a sporadic, case-by-case basis, or they can embrace a Christian scriptural imperative to unearth and uproot the cause of these antisemitic and anti-Israel words and actions that are growing in US churches, across denominations.
In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Numbers recounts how Israel’s enemy, King Balak, summoned the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam was prevented from cursing Israel after an encounter between him, his donkey, and the angel of the Lord with a sword. Balak was king of the Moabites and had one goal: to kill the Israelites and prevent them from possessing their promised land. Balaam instead enraged Balak by blessing Israel and prophesying the coming of a messiah who would fight and destroy Israel’s enemies.
Thus, the doctrine of Balaam — advising, strategizing with, or otherwise assisting Israel’s enemies to Israel’s detriment, even if paying lip service to blessing Israel — was born. Modern-day “Balaks” are plentiful, and have found many “Balaams” willing to be their pawns in a scheme of fighting against Israel and the Jewish people in word and deed.
During her speech at the House of Bishops, Bishop Suffragan Harris was simply following in a long line of people throughout history who have called themselves “Christians” while embracing this doctrine and spirit of Balaam. Some professing “Christians” and non-Christians have gone so far as to become modern-day “Balaks” and operate in what could be termed the “spirit of Balak.” These are enemies of Israel with similar motivations and goals to the ancient King Balak.
So what did Jesus — a Jewish man born under Roman occupation in Judea — think of this doctrine of Balaam and whether it had any place among his Jewish disciples and in his Christian churches?
One does not have to guess, because the answer is clearly laid out in the New Testament book Revelations.
Revelations 2:14 addressed the issue head-on as it festered in one of the churches: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” Revelations 2:16 contains this profoundly serious and sobering warning: “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
This passage clearly demonstrates that Christianity offers no cover for those who embrace the doctrine of Balaam. Jesus was not fooled by their behavior and instructed in very serious terms that these individuals must not be tolerated within his churches.
So what is the answer to antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments in Christian churches? It is rooting-out adherents of the doctrine of Balaam.
Why have antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments flourished and grown in many churches? Because Christians have either been ignorant of or refused to address the issue as instructed by their scriptures.
Noah Summers is a specialist on Middle East affairs and American foreign policy.