Moderate Revenge Theology

A9 Collective
12 min readOct 16, 2023

--

Or, How Moore, French, and TGC launder extremism in the name of centrism.

In the immediate aftermath of brutal and violent attacks in Palestine and occupied-Palestine, white Evangelical leaders leapt to provide cover for revenge. While disinfo machines ramped up narratives that de-humanized and manufactured consent for bombings, moderate Christians threw their lot in with death. Chief among them was Christianity Today’s editor, Dr. Russell Moore, who treated the magazine as his own personal propaganda rag with his article, “‘Bothsidesism’ About Hamas Is a Moral Failure”.

It’s a declaration that spurs a double take for anyone in the know. Moore himself is part of the all star squad of the Both Sides Brigade, the centrists who frame every controversy in our world today as a matter of two equally opposed forces, between which they maintain the sacred center. Insofar as white Evangelicals like Russell Moore. New York Times columnist David French, and now The Gospel Coalition comprise the “all star” squad of the BSB, we’re using the word “sacred” here literally. But wouldn’t you know it — for these zealous “moderates,” only one side is sacred this time, and they sure don’t think God can be found in Palestine.

With smoke still in the air, Moore came out swinging against those dastardly both-siders who apparently have minimized the “genocidal evil” of Hamas by tut-tutting about “what the victims [of 10.7] did.” As indignant as Moore is, he doesn’t get all that specific about who these quislings actually are — aside from those who chant “From the River to The Sea,” an absolutely bog-standard call for Palestinian liberation that Moore translates into a “viewpoint…that would see Israel completely eradicated.” Moore conveniently omits the second half of the slogan: “From the river to the sea, Palestine Will Be Free” (not “Israelis will be eradicated”). Not to get too cute about it, but perhaps Moore should have heeded both sides of the slogan’s comma.

Moore makes no space for the hell innocent Gazans have been subjected to for generations.

Unsurprisingly, Moore makes no space for the hell innocent Gazans have been subjected to for generations; nothing about the way common discourse routinely demonizes the people trapped in Gaza (“human animals”) while ignoring the IDF’s long history of contempt for Palestinian life; nothing about the way that “genocidal evil” describes Zionist settlers’ policy towards Palestinians since the 1930’s. Certainly, there’s nothing about Netanyahu’s support for Hamas itself. Moore opts for the same inane approach that conservatives and liberals alike have taken: treating 10.7.23 as if it occurred in a vacuum. In his calculus, decades of Palestinian suffering aren’t an empirical fact of history, but an invention of activists. To be sure, he’ll stack bodies and share propaganda porn — but only if it’s Israeli bodies and Zionist propaganda. Erasing the historical fact of Palestinian oppression allows Moore to come to the conclusion that those who have the gall to chant pro-Palestinian slogans are ipso facto justifying “setting bodies on fire” and “reportedly beheading babies and toddlers.” (That “reportedly” constitutes Moore’s one concession to the fact that these beheadings remain debated and unverified.)

Tough shit, activists, you’re all infanticidal members of Hamas now. Better start paying your dues posthaste.

If Moore’s op-ed feels like a desperate attempt to correct his asinine philosophy, maybe it’s because he knows that, at some level, the situation in Palestine eviscerates the pretenses of his strawman both-sidesism. The newest conflagration in Palestine illustrates the late Michael Brook’s insistence that the Israel-Palestine conflict is and always has been asymmetrical. In firing rockets, killing hundreds of civilians and taking others hostage, Hamas’ 10.7.23 attack immediately elicited the full oppressive force of Israel’s security state apparatus, triggering a humanitarian disaster of ever-increasing proportions. The attack prompted Netanyahu’s government to take its decades long dehumanization of Palestinians to its logical conclusion. As he ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip, defense minister Yoav Gallant justified depriving citizens of electricity and food thusly: “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.” As we write, Israel’s countermeasures have now escalated to ordering over 1 million Palestinians to evacuate Gaza.

Hamas’s slaughtering of civilians warrants moral outrage; we in no way endorse their disregard for human life. But it also offers a miniature version of Israel’s 75 year immiseration of the Palestinians. Known as the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” the early 20th century ethnic cleansing of Palestinians created the very conditions in which groups like Hamas take root. If you’re outraged by the suggestion that the Israeli government might bear such responsibility, don’t take our word for it — take Benjamin Netanyahu’s. Speaking to Likud party members in March 2019, Netanyahu declared that “thwart[ing] the establishment of a Palestinian state” required “bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas.” Other officials in his party praised their funding of Hamas as an effort to destabilize peace. If there’s anyone who materially supports butchering Israeli settlers here, it’s Bibi and company.

While Moore opts for outright slandering opponents, David French has decided to use his own perch in the New York Times to passive-aggressively vilify those who might criticize Israel. Reminding us of his fantasy of US victory in Iraq, David French claims that the time has come for Israel to treat Hamas the way that the Iraqi army treated ISIS when American-backed troops took Mosul in 2016. What’s that? ISIS’ control of Mosul directly extended from the failures of the Iraq War? David can’t hear you; he’s too busy praising Israel as an “advanced democracy” that has the capability and moral rectitude to do Mosul 2.0 in Gaza, but this time with “a greater capacity to protect non-combatants.” As he betrays his own history of both-sidesism, French ignores the IDF’s longstanding violations of human rights, painting its troops as noble warriors, bound by rules of combat that Hamas scorns. It all tracks for white Evangelicals who suffer from eschatological myopia.

It all tracks for white Evangelicals who suffer from eschatological myopia.

Indeed, French is so committed to this fan fiction account of Israel’s military that he’s even able to fold the current siege into his narrative. Claiming that Israel “has every incentive to decrease civilian casualties,” French writes that the IDF is providing “detailed evacuation instructions” for Palestinian civilians (he has been silent in the face of the IDF attacking these same evacuation routes) . While he concedes that the siege might become “morally untenable” if citizens can’t leave the targeted areas (they can’t), war crimes remain a vague possibility instead of a present reality. And even if those war crimes come to pass . . . hey, it’s the innocents’ responsibility to flee in the right direction, or not get in the way of a bullet, or not be a nine year old who pops her head up at the wrong time. At the end of the day, all this amounts to collateral damage amidst a righteous country’s battle against evil terrorists. Sounds awfully familiar, David!

French’s rose-tinted depiction of Israel isn’t explicitly religious. Nonetheless, it’s a symptom of one core reason why the Both Sides Brigade has checked higher reasoning at the door. For over half a century, their ilk has treated the modern Israeli state as identical to the Biblical Israel of their obsessions. Never mind that 40% of modern Israel’s population identifies as “secular.” For Evangelicals rooted in a European tradition of anti-Semitism, Jewish people are mere pawns with which they can accelerate the apocalypse, not to mention living reminders of the good old days enshrined in (their interpretation of) Leviticus. Indeed, it’s no accident that pseudo-intellectual Zionists like Peter Leithart (see below) are bosom buddies with Christofascist Doug Wilson, currently hard at work transforming Moscow, Idaho into his own personal Gilead. For all their chin-stroking solemnity, the Both Sides Brigade remains profoundly horny for a racist, theocratic shithole that stones women to death for not being a virgin at the altar. The desire for analytical coherence can’t possibly compete with such urges.

For Evangelicals rooted in a European tradition of anti-Semitism, Jewish people are mere pawns with which they can accelerate the apocalypse.

The illusion of Likud-as-underdog fractures when we consider the role it has played in igniting this situation. It absolutely crumbles, though, when we consider the fact that Israel enjoys the support of Christian Zionist thinkfluencers like Moore and French. The economic, emotional, and military assistance that white Evangelicals have directed towards Israel since the 1980’s has led to the mania of the present moment, in which the chance to fulfill their eschatological fever dreams has prompted frothing at the mouth. Look no further than the enormously influential Gospel Coalition, which describes itself as “winsome and wise” in its Twitter bio. Posting a picture of an exploding building in the middle of a city, the mighty Coalition accompanied this with text likening Hamas to the Amalekites and vowing, “Yahweh vows to fight until the memory of Amalek is blotted out from under heaven.” This “winsome” Biblical allusion lies at the core of an article by our Wilsonite Peter Leithart, who declares that Jesus “sometimes defeats the violent by converting them, sometimes by destroying them.” Realizing that equating Hamas with Amelekites could be construed as genocidal, Leithart helpfully informs us that “Hamas certainly isn’t the same as the Palestinian people” and clarifies, “To compare Hamas to Amalek isn’t to justify or even suggest genocide.” But this is simply a litigation-conscious footnote, probably appended by a nervous editor, to mitigate an unmistakable call for wrath. Leithart immediately picks up a new paragraph with a heavy “Still…,” after which he continues to rationalize humans being ground to dust under divinely sanctioned bombs. The disclaimer fades, while the calls for death increase. In Leithart’s writing, life is a thing to be crushed if you are born in a certain geography. Abolitionist prophet Ruth Wilson Gilmore reminds us, “Where life is precious, life is precious.” Leithart reminds us God may want to destroy that life.

The disclaimer fades, while the calls for death increase.

That’s the Gospel Coalition for you: a drum-beating rant for war that has to include a disclaimer that it’s not pro-genocide, next to an article titled “4 Ways To Help a Depressed Mom.”

​Th​​​​​​is is how consent for the war machine is manufactured: not (simply) through the State Department, but through op-eds and roided-up homiletics, produced by the kind of tools who consider themselves “Reagan conservatives.” Coupled with their glassy-eyed apocalypticism, the Never-Trumper ethos requires them to lend a sheen of irenic moderation to what anyone in their right mind would consider an extreme position, i.e., dispossessing over 1 million Palestinians to make a point. In the final analysis, it’s the same brute dominance behind Trump’s musings about his chances of getting away with murder on Fifth Avenue. Now that it’s convenient, Moore and French want American Christians to get off on the Trumpian thrill of vengeance, while maintaining cred as “principled” traditionalists. The need to have it both ways likely motivates Moore’s bizarre claim that everyone else is being inconsistent, while he, by implication, has transcended their morass of “cultural assumptions or political ideologies.” It’s a clever tactic to win over chin-stroking patriarchs browsing a library of “Reformed classics.” One expects Moore to puppeteer C.S. Lewis’ corpse and make him say “I Stand With Israel” next.

Th​​​​​​is is how consent for the war machine is manufactured… through op-eds and roided-up homiletics.

Moore and French may do a piss-poor job at moral consistency, but their rhetorical failures underscore why moral consistency is so necessary right now. The intense emotions provoked by the war in Palestine inevitably lead many into the kind of motivated reasoning Moore deplores when he likens pro-Palestinian activists to the “false prophets” of old, who, in exchange for status, only told the kings what they wanted to hear. In that light, here are some specific points on which the present moment demands consistency — no matter who it offends or threatens.

We oppose anti-Semitism, no less than we oppose anti-Arab bigotry. We stand with all victims of authoritarian violence, irrespective of ethnicity or national background. Indeed, we recognize that Hamas, while dwarfed by the size of Israel’s army, does aspire to the authoritarianism that Israel freely exercises: an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas operates according to a rigid hierarchy that lacks the majority of Gazan support. Consistency requires us to avoid eliding these facts, whether to paint all Palestinians as homicidal monsters or to laud Hamas as the embodiment of the people’s will.

In keeping with such nuance, we recognize our responsibility to not use demonizing language, but rather humanize all the people who have suffered under such violence. We roll our eyes at irony-poisoned blather like that spouted at the “All Out For Palestine” rally, praising “the resistance [who] came in electrified hang gliders and took at least several dozen hipsters.” To be clear, such sentiments comprise a drop in the bucket, compared to an overwhelming tide of anti-Palestinian bloodthirst. But they’re wrong nonetheless. Dead Israelis aren’t a mere extension of their government, dispossessed Palestinians aren’t a mere extension of Hamas, and the whole conflict isn’t an extension of the Star Wars franchise.

We also recognize that propaganda and disinformation, of the kind that produced the public’s warped understanding of Israeli culpability, is not unique to Israel. Indeed, Zionist misinformation now competes with anti-Zionist misinformation, much of it likely funded by the Russian government — ironically, the darling of Christian nationalists who “stand with Israel.” As tempting as it may be for us to fixate on Israeli hasbara to the exclusion of other nation states’ propaganda campaigns, doing so plays into the hands of Nazis who would assimilate Israel’s actions into a metanarrative of Jewish nefariousness. Such ideologues are as ridiculous as they are evil.

Furthermore, we insist that the ultimate source of the horrors in Palestine transcends the state of Israel, as outrageous as its crimes may be. If there’s only one “right” position that deserves our allegiance, it should be the position that opposes not just the state of Israel, but all nation states. Israel’s crimes are abhorrent precisely because they are not “special.” To the contrary, they simply make explicit the goals of all nation states, since all nation states inevitably require controlling the movement of its citizens and ensuring their absolute loyalty. Furthermore, they require an expendable population of second class citizens, whose function is to define the nation’s “authentic” citizens by contrast.

This means that even socialist states like China exemplify what activist Yavor Tarinski calls “the lifeless bureaucratic body of the state,” not least when they replicate the brutal repression of Palestine within their own borders. Indeed, Tarinski goes even further, using terms especially relevant to us liberationist Christians. He observes that, while modern nation states present themselves as “desacralized,” they nonetheless depend on a “metaphysical imaginary” that replaces the old gods with one that absorbs virtually all social life into a “loveless idolatry.” What could be a more appropriate description of the motives for Israel’s statist violence? What could more aptly describe the mission of a putatively “secular” state that, like the United States itself, remains under the control of religiously enflamed demagogues?

Against this backdrop, Palestine isn’t just an offense by virtue of its supposed threat to Israel. It’s an offense because it exposes the limits of the nation state itself. It’s the home of a people whose desire for independence would require everyone, not just Israel, to reconsider why nations exist at all. Are nations really bastions of protection, the only form in which flourishing human life is possible? Or are they, in fact, obstacles to that flourishing, inspiring a toxic obsession that births generation after generation of strife? If you want an honest answer to that question, you won’t find it in the soft Christian nationalism of Moore and French, no matter how warmly they smile in the photos attached to their op ed bios.

Beneath their sophistic distinctions between “Amalekites” and Palestinians lurks a lust for sacrificing innocents.

The irony is that Moore and French, along with any white Evangelical possessed by Jerusalem syndrome, are the true descendants of the false prophets. Like most polemicists in corporate media, they treat moderate “objectivity” as a convenient strategy, a mask to abandon if and when reactionary ends justify genocidal means. Beneath their sophistic distinctions between “Amalekites” and Palestinians lurks a lust for sacrificing innocents, even Israelis, in the name of their ideology — an ideology that runs even deeper than Evangelical veneration of the Holy Land, that ultimately enshrines the nation state as such. Only in a world of states can America (and Israel) serve as paragons of “advanced democracy.” To question that orthodoxy, whether through “From The River To The Sea” or “God Damn America,” is to cross over beyond the pale, into a region where moderation doesn’t apply. Their consequent pro-IDF polemic distills the core paradox of Evangelical both-sidesism: In a world fraught with vague “divisions” and “rivalries,” we are the only ones keeping our heads above the fray. Everyone else is just a baby killer.

--

--