For the past few decades, a small group of Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have convinced a growing number of Christians outside the Middle East that Israel is the primary cause of suffering in the region. These Palestinian Christians have been assisted by a growing number of so-called peacemaking activists in the churches they have influenced.
The story told by this coalition of Palestinian Christians and western “peacemakers” is that Christians and Muslims in the Middle East got a long swimmingly because Christians were a historically tolerated minority in Muslim-majority settings. They were people of the book. Whatever problems there were between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East were rooted in Christian Zionist support for Israel, which turned Muslims against the West, the United States and Christianity.
The implication of this story was that Christians in outside the Middle East could support their co-religionists in the region by convincing their denominations to attack Israel in the name of human rights. The problem was not jihadism and its adherents, but Zionism and Jews who insisted on establishing and defending their sovereign homeland in the Middle East.
Another aspect of this campaign is an effort to de-Judaize Christianity and Jesus himself. Palestinian Christians have worked assiduously to portray Jesus as a Palestinian suffering under the lash of empire, except this time it is the Jews and not the Romans who are torturing him. As a result of these efforts, Christianity in the West is faced with a controversy that has all the makings of a church struggle with one group of Christians struggling to use the Christianity to justify a heretical submission to forces inimical to the faith itself.
“Church Struggle” is a laden word that comes from Germany in the 1930s. It describes the conflict that took place in German churches between those who objected to the rise of Nazism in German society and those who either gave Hitler a free pass or sided with him in his takeover of German civil society and his interference with church affairs, which included an attack on the Old Testament, the insertion of the Aryan Paragraph into church governance that denied Jewish converts to Christianity the right to hold church office. Hitler’s theologians also declared Hitler a prophet and stated that Jesus was an Aryan and not a Jew.
Not every Christian went a long with it. The authors of the Barmen Declaration issued in 1934 declared forcefully enough that one could not lend one’s allegiance to Hitler and be faithful to Jesus Christ at the same time.
Sadly enough, this document, which was one of the few ringing denunciations of Nazism issued by the churches, said nothing about one of Nazism’s most salient characteristics — its genocidal Jew-hatred. Because of a long tradition of Christian supersessionism and contempt for the Jewish people, many Christians who opposed Nazism did not defend the Jews like they should have.
Despite this failing, the Barmen Declaration declared clearly enough that Christian churches may not hand themselves over “to the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day” which in this case was Nazism.
Today we are confronted with an ideology of Islamic Supremacism that sadly enough, has roots in Islamic sources of authority, namely the Koran, the Hadiths and the biography of Islam’s founder, Mohammed.
One of the most salient aspects of this ideology of Muslim supremacism is supersessionist hostility toward Jews and Christians, which we see play itself out every day in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and alarmingly enough, in Europe. The violence against Copts in Egypt, Assyrians in Iraq and Syria, Jews in Israel and Yezidis in Iraq is rooted in this supremacism. As Rodney Stark reports in his text, The Triumph of Faith: Why the World is More Religious Than Ever:
Diversity is not regarded as a virtue in Muslim nations, at least not when it comes to religion. The Muslim revival has resulted in near unanimity that ‘the only acceptable religion is my religion,” as recent World Values Surveys show. It has also led to an exodus of Christians and Jews from many Muslim nations.
Today’s church struggle is between those Christians who are willing to submit to and cooperate with this ideology of Muslim supremacism and those who oppose it. That is today’s church struggle.
It is between an authentic loyalty to Christ and dhimmitude.
In Muslim-majority environments, Christians and Jews are given a choice between death, conversion, or accepting what is called dhimmi status.
Under this status, non-Muslims submit to a number of rules that place them in a position of subservience and submission and put Muslims in a position of dominance. For example, dhimmis are not allowed to criticize Islam, evangelize, nor are they allowed to defend themselves against violence perpetrated by their Muslim neighbors.
Violating these rules makes a dhimmi a legitimate target of jihadist violence.
The psychological impact of these rules is catastrophic because they ingrain feelings of fear and inferiority on the part of non-Muslims. These feelings make people unable to speak the truth about the threats the face in Muslim-majority environments. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where the Armenian Genocide cast a long shadow on the psyches Christians in the region. Christians may not want to talk about it, but they know what happens when Muslim feelings of superiority are threatened and previously subjugated people assert themselves. Even outsiders in the West become fearful of speaking about the impact of Islam on the status of non-Muslims and women in their own countries.
One way Christians in the Middle East have redirected the hostility targeted at them by the Muslim majority in the region is to embrace anti-Zionism as a political agenda, downplay the role jihadist ideology plays in Arab violence against Israel, and portray dhimmitude as an authentic expression of the Christian faith.
This heretical submission can be seen in Chrislam, or the practice of Christianity as an offshoot of Islam and not as a faith rooted in Judaism.
One proponent of Chrislam, Mazhar Mallouhi for example, downplays the centrality of baptism as a Christian sacrament, telling Muslim converts that it’s not necessary for them to go through this rite to be committed followers of Jesus. In an interview with Paul Gordon-Chandler, Mallouhi says that while he usually encourages baptism, “Of course it is not necessary, as millions of people follow my Lord without having been baptized.”
It should be noted that the Salvation Army does not baptize its members because it does not want its members to rely on what may become a “meaningless ritual” as a foundation of their faith. The Army however, does have a very public ceremony in which people are inducted into the church as they “stand under the Army flag and publicly acknowledge their salvation from sin, state their belief in the Army's doctrines and promise to live by the standards laid out in the ‘articles of war.’ They then sign a copy of these articles of war and a prayer is said asking for God's help in keeping those promises.”
That’s a very public expression of a conversion.
But Mallhouhi’s elimination the requirement of baptism — which the vast majority of Christians regards as a requirement of salvation — is something altogether different.
By denying the necessity of baptism, Mallouhi allows followers of Jesus a private path to the faith, a path that denies their Muslim neighbors with conclusive proof that they have left Islam.
Once a former Muslim is baptized they have revealed themselves to be apostates from Islam they can be punished by death. This helps explain why Mallhouhi describes himself as a “Muslim who follows Christ.”
What Malouhi has done is establish a private expression of the Christian faith as part of an effort to make peace with the powers and principalities of the world in which he lives. This is classic dhimmi behavior that denies one of the central aspects of the Christian faith – it is lived publicly — even in the face of trials and tribulations.
Such behavior is shocking, but Christians living in the United States need to be careful not to revel too heavily in the moral luck we enjoy. We have had the good fortune to live in a society where we are not forced to make the types of decisions that Christians living in Muslim-majority environments have made.
Silence about the reality of jihad and the demonization of Israel are survival strategy of oppressed Christians in Muslim-majority environments.
But this is not an example we in the West can follow with integrity. It is a heretical expression of the Christian faith.
Those of us who have the power to defend ourselves cannot allow our desire for peace and reconciliation to causes us to deny the faith we confess. We must also to remember that in some instances, expressions of reconciliation are very difficult to distinguish from gestures of submission.
We’ve all seen the picture of Pope Francis washing the feet of Muslim immigrants on Maundy Thursday in 2016. Westerners may see this as a sign of service and reconciliation, but jihadists will interpret this as a gesture of submission of dhimmitude.
Christianity is currently facing a test.
We are in what Protestant theologians have described a status confessionis, a time of special need where Christians are obligated to distinguish explicitly between truth and error and be willing to speak against this error.
As one scholar has put it, “Saying yes to God meant saying no to Hitler.”
Today, saying yes to God requires saying no to dhimmitude.
One simply cannot embrace dhimmitude and be loyal to Christ at the same time. One cannot assist in the propaganda war against the Jewish state, assist in the demonization of the Jewish people, deny the reality of jihad, and ignore the suffering caused by Muslim supremacism and claim the name of Christian at the same time.
Sadly, this is what many Christians have done.
Christians need to confront and correct this error, and soon.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.