All posts by Dr. Charlie Self

History and Hope: Renewing the American Promise Part One: Foundations

As the fireworks fade, it is fitting we reflect on America’s founding and future. For the theologically inclined, you will not find any traces of chosen nation status or manifest destiny in this essay. Biblically, there is one chosen nation/people: ancient Israel liberated under Moses and the expanded Israel of the Church established by Messiah Jesus. (See Exodus 19:6 and I Peter 2:9-10). We can, however, reflectively see the hand of divine providence in the affairs of nations. If we were to tour the globe and speak with Christians of all classes, cultures, and communities, we would hear stories of grace and discipline, amazing miracles from God and serious consequences of human rebellion.

America is a unique historical experiment in virtue-based liberty, sharing much in common with other nations, but bringing unique ideas and interventions to our world. In a spirit of gratitude and humility, here are some moments of blessing and tragedy that will help us pray and prepare for a preferred future.

Blessing: In 1620, the passengers of the Mayflower disembarked and discovered an indigenous man who spoke English and knew the Christian faith – his name was Squanto. His story of captivity, Christian instruction, and return to his land over a 15-year period is a drama all by itself. His skills enabled these pilgrims to survive and there was peace for half a century.

Tragedy: Alas, a year earlier (1619) in the Virginia colony, the first African slaves were brought ashore, beginning 246 years of chattel slavery on the North American continent. The need for strong labor to cultivate tobacco overtook any notions of justice and equality. Ironically, it will be several Virginians (Jefferson, Madison, Washington) that composed the finest writings on human liberty and best governance practices!

Blessing: In the 17th century, several colonies were sanctuaries for religious freedom, welcoming people of all backgrounds. Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams for the expressed purpose of freedom of conscience and faith. Maryland, established by Lord Baltimore, was a haven for Catholics – and all others. Delaware had settlers from Scandinavia, Germany, Wales, and other locales. William Penn’s “Noble Experiment” establishing a sanctuary for Quakers and people of all faiths, was a special moment of divine blessing. Penn’s treaty with the indigenous tribes was the only one not broken by White settlers!

Blessing: Before the American Revolution, there were a series of religious revivals in the 1740s called the First Great Awakening that saw almost an eighth of the colonial population experience conversion. These moments of religious enthusiasm also stated a century of new missionary and social justice movements that would influence many important causes in the 19th and 20th century. Abolition of slavery, universal education, child labor reforms, women’s suffrage, and many other noble causes arose from deeply religious people joining with other people of conscience.

Blessing and tragedy: The Founders of our nation and Framers of our Constitution were a brilliant, idealistic, and wise group of leaders. They created an unprecedented government rooted in freedom of conscience, individual liberty, decentralized governance, and rights bestowed by God and protected by the Bill of Rights. Extraordinary work! But. In the interests of forming an improved national government for a fledgling nation, the Framers failed to inaugurate a plan for emancipation of the slaves. All but a few of these great thinkers knew in their hearts that slavery was unjust, and this failure harmed the integrity of the American vision.

As we will see in Part Two, it will take a Civil War to end slavery, and a century later, Civil Rights to end discrimination based on race. This does not invalidate the greatness of the American experiment, but it reveals the hardness of the human heart and the need for divine mercy. As we look at the second half of our kaleidoscopic history, we will notice more moments of blessings and judgment, all of which are designed to move us toward humility, holy love, and dedication to the common good.

Sanity about the Middle East: A Historical Overview, Part Two

The modern State of Israel was born out of two great movements: 1) the deep desire of Jews throughout history to have a homeland with Jerusalem at the center; and 2) the aftermath of the Holocaust as over six million Jews were systematically murdered during World War II. Form the first reports of the Shoah in 1941 and 1942, to the liberation of the concentration and extermination camps in 1944-1945, the world found it impossible to believe that such dehumanization and mechanized mass murder could happen. General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, ordered filming and written accounts to be made, and he predicted there would be later denials of this evil.

By 1947 Great Britain could no longer justify restricting Jewish emigration to their ancient homeland and turned over control of its mandate to the newly formed United Nations. During the war, England and all the Allies closed their doors to Jews seeking to escape the Nazi genocide. At Evian in 1938 and again in Bermuda in 1943, antisemitism won the day, even after clear reports of the atrocities.

On November 27, 1947, the United Nations voted Resolution 181) to partition the British Mandate into two areas: a small Jewish enclave where populations were mostly Jewish, and a larger Arab land. The Jewish Zionist groups accepted the small size and difficult borders. The Arab nations and populations did not. The Mufti (Islamic leader) of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El-Husseini, promptly declared jihad and the surrounding Arab nations (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, declared their opposition. The Mufti had been a close ally of Hitler, and he approved of the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared her independence as a nation, again accepting the UN boundaries. Israel also asked for all peaceful Arabs within her nation to stay in their homes and not take up arms. Alas, the Mufti and the nations around her all called for war.

A truce was declared in 1949. In the next 18 years, a variety of movements, resolutions, and organizations emerged among the Arab opponents of Israel, all saying, “NO!” to Israel’s existence and calling for all her people to be thrown into the sea. Please note, from 1949-1967 Egypt ruled in the Gaza, Syria possessed the Golan Heights, and Jordan ruled Jerusalem and what is called the West Bank. The 400-500,000Arab refugees from the 1948 conflict were NOT welcomed into the Arab nations – they were left on impoverished refugee camps, a perfect place for radicalizing the generations of haters.

The Palestine Liberation Organization and its military branch, Fatah, was established in the 1960s with a charter for the destruction of Israel. It is only at this moment that a “Palestinian national identify” was manufactured by the PLO with KGB support. While many Arabs had lived for generations in this land, they all identified with one of the cultures or nations surrounding them.

Since 1949, there have been numerous opportunities for peace:

  • In 1967, Israel defeats her much larger enemies and gains control of the Golan Heights, Gaza, The Sinai, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), and Jerusalem.  These gains came from Israel defeating her foes on the battlefield, not a plan of genocide or expulsion.
  • In 1973, Israel was invaded and came close to losing her battle with Egyptian forces in the Yom Kippur War.
  • In 1978, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign the Camp David Accords, bringing peace between Egypt and Israel, full diplomatic recognition, and a framework for the future. Egypt receives the Sinai Peninsula back and leaves Gaza for a future Palestinian State.

From 1978 to the 2000s, numerous peace plans have been generated, with Israel willing to give back up to 93% of the territories gained in 1967 and even share a Jerusalem capital. Every time these accords are sabotaged by Arab leaders refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The late Yasser Arafat, head of the PLO, would smile for Western cameras, then reassure Arab audiences that Israel’s destruction was still the goal.

In 2005, Israel removed all her Jewish citizens from Gaza and gave control over to the Palestinian Authority, leaving a beautiful land, flourishing businesses, and hope for the future. Alas, in 2006, Gazans, fed up with the corruption of the PA, voted in Hamas, a terrorist organization devoted to Israel’s destruction. Hamas turned Gaza into a fortress, with their military hiding behind civilians. 

There is much more to share here, but this historical overview helps the thoughtful person realize that there can be no new Palestinian State and no lasting peace until Arab leaders recognize Israel, commit to diplomacy and trade, and renounce violence.

The apocalyptic ambitions of Shiite-rule Iran, the rapacious economic goals of China, and Russia’s ever-present interest in power all make this region volatile. Add to these empires the scores of Islamic radical movements, and generations of Arabs raised on anti-Jewish propaganda (including Holocaust denial), and we have a potent mix for eternal conflict.

This is the history ignored by current protestors, who chant slogans for Israel’s destruction and Jewish extermination. In the next post, I will assess the current situation and prospects for peace. Israel is far from perfect, but no other nation has held out her hand in peace so often, only to see it slapped away. Israel has no genocidal policies, and she will make peace when her enemies stop their killing.

Sanity about the Middle East: A Historical Overview, Part One

Over the last two decades, I have spoken and written extensively on the conflicts in the Middle East, especially between the State of Israel and her enemies. The horrors of October 7, 2023, and the subsequent explosions of antisemitism around the world and in the USA demand a response that is thoughtful and offers solutions for peace.

There have always been haters of Jews and of Israel…even some self-loathing anti-Zionist Jews. And there have been courageous Arab leaders willing to make peace. Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco are enjoying the economic and social benefits of peace, with Saudi Arabia and others quietly moving toward peace with Israel. Formal peace agreements and frameworks for a new Palestinian State have been presented from 1978 (Camp David I) all the way to 2015. Each time the world hopes, and each time the Palestinian leaders and Islamic radicals change the terms and declare a new “Intifada” or “Jihad.”

What makes current antisemitism so heinous is the complete delegitimizing of the Israel as a nation. We are not talking disputes over borders, capitals, or military forces. This new generation of protestors is siding with radicals and declaring that the entire history of Israel since 1948 is nothing but a “White Settler Colony” or an imposition of the West committing “genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

In this essay and the one next week, I will offer historical facts and frameworks of hope that are contrary to the deluded crowds shooting, “From the River to the Sea Palestine will be free.” The same evil forces animating the Holocaust are at work again and must be opposed. Here are some important facts giving context for current events:

  • The Jewish people have resided in Jerusalem and this region for over 3000 years.
  • “Palestine” was an artificial creation of the Roman Empire after they defeated the Jews in a second rebellion in 135 AD. The Romans deliberately named the region (trying to erase Judea and Samaria) after the Philistines, the enemies of Israel who settled in Gaza and came from Crete.
  • From the second century all the way to the 19th century, this land has had a succession of empires, while always having a Jewish population. The Crusades briefly brought Christian rulers (1099-1178), but after 1291 and until 1917, it was ruled by the Seljuk Turks and then the Ottoman Empire.
  • In response to persecution in both Europe and other regions, Zionist movements (religious and secular, conservative and liberal) arose in the mid- and late-19th century, calling on Jewish people and their sympathizers to create a safe homeland in the Middle East. From the 1850s to the early 1900s, many Jewish groupie legally purchased land for farms and villages from local landowners and began to transform deserts and swamplands and create lively places like Haifa and Tel Aviv. There were some instances of violence, but they were few.
  • In the wake of World War I (1914-1918), calls for accelerating a homeland increased, with British and international support between 1917 and 1923. Various Zionist groups were open to enclaves within the Transjordan Kingdom, or semi-autonomy under Great Britain, or a small nation with good relationships with Arab neighbors.
  • But along with increasing desire for this well-deserved homeland, the 1920s saw the rise of Arab nationalism and jihadism, the birth of the Muslim Brotherhood, and radical leaders calling for an end to colonialism. No Arabist movement wanted any kind of increased Jewish presence and violence toward peaceful, legal Jewish communities increased.

Next week we will continue the narrative from World War II to the present. It is vital that honest people see that Jewish longings for peace and safety in their ancient homeland are legitimate biblically, historically, and affirmed by international law.  As we will see, the idea that the modern state of Israel is a genocidal imposition is an outrageous projection of the jihadists’ desire to eliminate Israel.

One more topic must be touched on. There are anti-Israeli protestors claiming they only oppose Israeli policy but are not anti-Jewish. This is a lie for 99% of the agitators. Israelis themselves live in a contentious, pluralistic democracy. The only place where a rainbow flag flies safely in the whole region is in Israel! Israel has over two million Arab citizens; the current Palestinian leader insist that their future state will be, “Jew-free”. The PLO, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad all have charters calling for Israel’s destruction.  Disagreeing with Israeli policy is fine, denying the legitimacy of a nation created in the shadow of the Holocaust is evil.

Hopeful Realism for 2024, Part 2

As we look ahead to 2024 and beyond, I hope that all of us can be hopeful and realistic so that we can achieve more than we thought possible, and we can weather the unexpected with grace. Here are some more observations for the year ahead:

Realism: Social media will continue captivating and ensnaring far too many people, draining creativity and energy.

Hope: May we spend more time with family and friends, learn to use a fountain pen, read printed books, and enjoy the outdoors without a phone in hand.

Hopeful realism: May we see more reflections than reactions and more conversations over mere condemnations.

Realism: Jews and Christians will continue facing severe persecution globally, with little notice from non-religious leaders or neighbors.

Hope: People of conscience will realize that each of us must desire and protect for others the liberties we expect for ourselves.

Hopeful realism: Many will consider becoming Christians or renewing their faith as they recognize the cohesiveness and compassion of Jesus. And many Christians will appreciate the Jewish roots of our faith for the first time.

Realism: The American and global economy will continue struggling as significant adjustments take place due to poor planning, risky investments, and changes in labor and production.

Hope: We will see some improvements in interest rates and job growth, due to normal developments and the results of the political desires of investors.

Hopeful realism: As local and state governments face realities, some will wisely tighten their belts and thoughtfully allocate resources, while removing barriers to business expansion.

And finally, your humble author believes that we are on the cusp of a spiritual awakening that will overflow into neighborhoods and nations as people not only have religious encounters in church, but kindly and thoughtfully serve their families, colleagues, and friends as a thank you to the grace of God. For such love in action, some will face persecution. But the pressures of opponents will only increase their fortitude, and once again, we will see the goodness of God on display.

May we all be hopeful realists, with greater expectations of what God can do, sober awareness of our own shortcomings, and a willingness to extend ourselves to others.

Hopeful Realism for 2024, Part 1

Every new year begins with forecasts and predictions for the coming months. Some of these are thoughtful prognostications rooted in good research and reflection. Other are subjective guesses, offered as clickbait in a fantastical or fatalistic spirit. In this essay, I want to offer some pithy statements to stimulate thoughtfulness and ethical action. In a world awash with extremes, I hope these will encourage hearts and empower creativity.

Realism: We will continue seeing President Trump hounded by his enemies and his supporters labeled as extremists.

Hope: Both parties will offer alternatives to the current and previous administrations.

Hopeful realism: Perhaps we can debate important issues like the budget, immigration, foreign policy, and a balanced view of the environment.

Realism: Gender anarchists will continue advocating for unsafe procedures on minors and insist that identity is purely subjective.

Hope: Thoughtful people are waking up to the destructive narcissism and big pharma influences on impressionable young people.

Hopeful realism: Permitting adults (on their dime) to modify and express their identity is part of a free society. At the same time, parents must retain final authority in caring for their children.

Realism: Israel will be criticized regardless of her military or political actions by intersectional radicals that think she is an oppressor of Palestinians.

Hope: Thoughtful folks will see that Israel wants peace with her neighbors. This is only possible with a new generation of Arab leaders willing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people.

Hopeful realism: Israel will win the current conflict and will establish security measures, allow aid to flow, and attempt to welcome a peaceful solution for both Gaza and the West Bank.

Realism: Colleges and universities will face further reckonings concerning true freedom of ideas and speech.

Hope: Educational leaders will restore the true exchange of ideas and not allow agitators to veto presentations.

Hopeful realism: We will continue seeing older institutions refuse to change their ways while new, entrepreneurial ones find success.

We will continue exploring the future in the next essay. Here is some food for thought as we step forward this year. Let’s reject fatalism (“Nothing will change…”) and fantasy (Everything will be wonderful…”)  and choose faith, hope, and love as our dispositions and discover a future filled with unexpected delights, inexplicable challenges, and increasing wisdom.