When young Christians graduate from high school, move away from home and start attending college, they oftentimes stop attending church. They no longer live with their parents and as a result, can sleep in on Sunday mornings for the first time in their lives.
Their parents are not around to roust them from their beds, corral them into the car and drive them to the church with their sleepy foreheads leaning against the car window.
Sometimes, young Christians who stop attending church during college will return to Sunday services once they are married and have children of their own, whom they drag to church, just like their parents before them.
But other students who stop attending church in college never return to Sunday services even after they have children. They may consider themselves religious or “spiritual,” but they stop participating in worship services organized by a local church. They, and their children, are lost to the faith.
In an effort to stop young people from falling away from religious practice, Evangelical Protestants in the United States and Great Britain support campus ministries that help college students maintain emotional and spiritual ties to faith they practiced as children.
The premier campus ministry in the United States is called Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.
Its counterpart in the United Kingdom is called Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF).
Both of these organizations are part of a larger network of organizations called International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Not only do these organizations help young Evangelicals maintain ties to their faith; they actively promote the Christian faith to the un-churched.
As part of their work, both Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and UCCF maintain publishing houses that produce books geared toward college-age students. Some of these books are explicitly evangelical, written with an effort to embolden and arouse the faith of their college-age readers.
Others are marketed as more scholarly texts, sold in an effort to portray the Christian faith as intellectually coherent and worthy of commitment from sophisticated young scholars and their professors.
In the U.S., this publishing house is called InterVarsity Press. In the UK, it is called Inter-Varsity Press. As the similarity of the two names of these houses indicates, there is a substantial amount of overlap between the two institutions. These publishing houses are, on a staff level, organizationally separate, with each house publishing its own catalogue of books, but both houses sell books published by the other entity from across the pond.
People from the United States who visit the website Inter-Varsity Press in the United Kingdom are asked at the top of their screen if they want to visit the website of the publishing house’s counterpart in the U.S. (“Are you looking for IVP USA?” a teaser at the top of the website asks.)
On one webpage, InterVarsity (UK) states that the “titles published by the UK and USA publishers are somewhat different, though some are joint publications.”
In light of these facts, there is reason to speak of the two houses as a single entity, at least on a functional level, even if they are organizationally separate, have different staffs, and publish distinct catalogues of books. When it comes to marketing and sales, the two institutions work in an orchestrated manner.
IVP’s Hobbling Dialect of Contempt for Israel
Unfortunately, the message they offer is not always one of Christian love, but one of contempt. In addition to sharing the English language, the IVP publishing houses share a troubling dialect of anti-Judaism and anti-Zionism.
The IVP conglomerate has published four books that to varying degrees promote anti-Judaism (contempt for the Jewish faith) and/or a distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict that portrays Israel in an unduly harsh light.
These books are by three different authors, Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, Garth Hewitt and Dale Hanson Bourke.
One of the IVP conglomerate’s most popular authors is Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, a vicar from Church of England.
IVP Great Britain has published two of Sizer’s books, both of them attacks on Christian Zionism and by extension, Israel. The first book is Christian Zionism: The Road Map to Armageddon? published in 2004.
The second book is Zion’s Christian Soldiers: The Bible Israel and the Church, published in 2007.
These books attribute great power and influence to Christian Zionists in the United States and effectively portray them as having the power of veto over the peace process, as if groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, do not have a role to play in the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
In his second book, Sizer describes Christian Zionism as a “formidable and dangerous movement” that is “leading the West, and the church with it, into a confrontation with Islam.”
So much for Rev. Dr. Sizer’s skills as a geopolitical analyst. Events of the past few years indicate that Sizer’s concern over Christian Zionism was misplaced. ISIS is chopping people’s heads off and setting people on fire not because of Christian Zionism, but because of its own ideology that seeks a confrontation with the West.
At points in his writings and speech, Rev. Sizer descends into the hobbling dialect of anti-Judaism. For example, on page 27 of Zion’s Christian Soldiers, he reports that Jesus and his followers read the Hebrew Scriptures “with Christian eyes.”
This is bad scholarship, because as Brad H. Young, Author of Jesus the Jewish Theologian (Baker Academic, 1995) reminds us Jesus “worshipped in a synagogue … celebrated the Passover … ate kosher food and offered prayers in the temple in Jerusalem.” Consequently, “Jesus must be understood as a Jewish theologian,” Young reports. It should also be noted that Jesus’ early followers were also Jews.
The idea that Jesus and his followers read the Hebrew Scriptures through “Christian eyes” is simply nonsense that strips Christianity from its Jewish roots.
Sizer’s sloppiness and anti-Judaic tendencies have not gone unnoticed. In November 2009, The Review of Biblical Literature published a review of Zion’s Christian Soldiers by Faydra Shapiro who summarizes her view of the text as follows:
Zion’s Christian Soldiers never pretends to be the work of objective scholarship and should not be thought of as such. The author has a very strong opinion that is anti-Israel and highly critical of Christians (or presumably anyone) who support Zionism. Sizer’s passionate anti-Zionism and anti-Judaism give this work a great deal of energy, yet they harm any scholarly aspirations this book might have.
It is a pretty damning assessment applicable to Sizer’s career as an anti-Israel activist. Sizer, who has been an important organizer of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conferences held in Bethlehem every even numbered year, has denounced Christian Zionism at conferences held in Jakarta and Iran where other speakers included well-known Holocaust deniers and promoters of antisemitism.
The Anglican Church silenced Sizer after he posted a link on Facebook to an article that promoted the notion that Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, was responsible for the attack against the United States that took place on Sept. 11, 2001 and resulted in the deaths of approximately 3,000 people.
What happened to Sizer may seem like a harsh punishment for just a single Facebook posting, but the Bishop’s decision comes after Sizer has engaged in a persistent and systematic campaign to demonize Israel and its supporters in the United States. An Anglican vicar cannot speak at a conference attended by Holocaust deniers and antisemites without bringing shame onto the church he serves.
After his trips to Jakarta and Iran, the Facebook link and the subsequent controversy it aroused turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Bishop also instructed Sizer not to post anything on his social media accounts for the next six months and to refrain from ever speaking publicly about the Arab-Israeli conflict ever again.
Rev. Dr. Sizer has promised to resign from his post as an Anglican vicar if he violates these conditions. Sizer’s Bishop also extracted an apology from Sizer in which he stated that he never thought that Israel was responsible for the 9/11 attack.
His denial is not all that believable because in his 2007 book, Zion’s Christian Soldiers, Sizer encouraged his readers to check out a website that blamed Israel for the attacks. If Sizer never believed the conspiracy theory blaming Israel for 9/11, then why did he encourage his readers to view a website that promoted the theory?
One simply has to wonder how it is that IVP’s American affiliate can bring itself to market a British-produced text that promotes an antisemitic conspiracy theory about 9/11 to college students in the United States. Is that how IVP demonstrates the intellectual coherence of the Christian faith?
It gets worse. Zion’s Christian Soldiers has been translated into Farsi, the language spoken in Iran, a theocratic dictatorship.
The IVP conglomerate has brought shame on itself by publishing and marketing this text, which in the Iranian context, will have the un-Christian impact of promoting hostility toward Israel’s Christian supporters in the U.S. and toward Israel itself.
This is simply outrageous. IVP staffers (and their overseers) on both sides of the Atlantic should be ashamed of themselves.
The IVP affiliate in America also produces and distributes a book by Garth Hewitt, an Evangelical musician from England (and founder of the Amos Trust) who endorsed both of Sizer’s books.
Hewitt’s 2014 book, Occupied Territories: The Revolution of Love from Bethlehem to the Ends of the Earth (published by IVP-USA) is like Sizer’s work, a study in anti-Judaism.
Hewitt’s book, which is also available in the UK, uses the modern state of Israel as a negative backdrop to highlight his putatively Christian message of peace and justice, which he calls “Bethlehem Theology.”
This should come as no surprise. Hewitt’s sources, who are mentioned in the acknowledgements at the front of the book, read like a who’s who of Palestinian Christian anti-Zionism: Naim Ateek, Sami Awad, Mitri Raheb, Zoughbi Zoughbi and Mazin Qumsiyeh.
Security Barrier Lies
The centerpiece of Hewitt’s anti-Judaic gambit is the false assertion, repeated multiple times in his book, that Bethlehem is completely surrounded by a wall or security barrier.
On page 11, Hewitt writes “Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall that reaches twenty-five feet high. And yet once behind that wall you find that God is already present there—already present everywhere there are the oppressed or forgotten.”
Then, on page 43 Hewitt describes himself “standing by the separation wall, which surrounds most of Bethlehem…” (Not true.)
Later, on page 48, Hewitt quotes Sami Awad who says “At the moment Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall…”
In the context of Hewitt’s book, the repetition of this falsehood serves an ugly theological purpose – portray the Jewish state as an obstacle to Jesus’ birth and to the revolution it embodies.
The text, which also talks about the Hindu mistreatment of the Dalits, many of whom have embraced Christianity, says nothing at all about the impact of radical Islam on Christians, Jews, moderate Muslims or women in the Middle East. In Hewitt’s text, Israel is invoked as a symbol of oppression, not just in the Middle East, but throughout the world. Israel’s genocidal adversaries are given a pass.
No context is provided as to why Israel built the security barrier, no mention is made of Hamas suicide bombers or to antisemitic incitement that runs rampant in Palestinian society.
Hewitt’s refusal to address sources of injustice and suffering in Palestinian society is particularly evident in the fourth chapter of his book. This chapter, titled “Time for Action,” describes Operation Cast Lead as a “terrible attack on Gaza.” He continues:
It was a brutal massacre: 1,385 Palestinians killed and 5,300 injured, compared to 9 Israelis killed (plus 4 by friendly fire) and around 100 soldiers injured. The injustice was such that I felt we could no longer stand on the sidelines, trying to be evenhanded.
Here, Hewitt focuses his attention exclusively on the consequences of the fighting suffered by the Palestinians. He ignores the cause of the fighting altogether. In Hewitt’s view the side with more casualties is more innocent of sin than the side with fewer casualties.
Such a juvenile formula gives Hewitt’s college-age readers license to ignore altogether the role Hamas played in provoking the conflict. In the six-month cease fire prior to Operation Cast Lead, several dozen rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
And during this ceasefire, Hamas was digging at least one tunnel (probably more) into Israel, a clear violation of the spirit, if not the letter of a truce. It should also be noted that after Israel destroyed the tunnel and killed a Hamas gunman in the process, Hamas spent the next several weeks launching rockets into Israel on a daily basis, terrorizing hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, whose fear and suffering Hewitt largely ignores.
What Hewitt and others in the Evangelical peacemaking community need to learn is that one cannot bring peace to a conflict that one will not describe honestly. But with Hewitt, it’s not about peacemaking. It’s about propagandizing on behalf of the Palestinians.
He does this by promoting a “Kairos Document” released by Palestinian Christians in 2009.
The Kairos Document has been denounced by the Central Conference of American Rabbis as supersessionist and antisemitic, but that does not stop Hewitt from promoting the text, which depicts Palestinian terrorism as “legal resistance,” as a legitimate peacemaking document. (For more about the Kairos Document, go here.)
If the IVP conglomerate were truly interested in educating its target audience, it would provide college-age students with the intellectual tools to analyze and assess the Kairos Document, not promote the work of an author who relays its propaganda, without challenge to his readers.
Dale Hanson Bourke
The fourth book produced and promoted by the IVP conglomerate is by Dale Hanson Bourke, who to her credit, is not nearly as hostile to Israel as Rev. Dr. Sizer. Despite her lack of animosity, her book, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers (published by IVP US in 2013), promotes an inaccurate view of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Here are four books – all produced by the same publishing conglomerate – that undermine Israel’s legitimacy as the Jewish state.
What exactly do folks at IVP in the United States and England think they are doing?