Fr. Kamal Farah to visit St. Paul's: Some Background

St. Paul’s members will soon be privileged to be taught more about the Bible and our faith by Fr. Kamal Farah, an Anglican priest and scholar.

photo from stthomas2israel@wordpress.com

photo from stthomas2israel@wordpress.com

Fr. Kamal’s visit comes to us through the efforts of Laurie Parrish, supported by our Adult Formation Committee.  Laurie has traveled in the Holy Land with Fr. Kamal along with Fr. Chuck Whitmore and a group of St. Paul’s parishioners. 

Fr. Kamal was born in Galilee in the village of Kefar Bar’am.  He is a Arab Israeli Anglican Christian.  Ordained to the priesthood in 1967, he served as rector of Anglican churches in North Galilee and Nazareth.  He holds the PhD in Advanced Linguistics from the Catholic University at the Sorbonne in Paris, as well as a second PhD in Church-State laws, also from the Sorbonne. He’s held a number of positions in the Anglican Church diocese headquartered in Jerusalem and served as Course Director at St. George’s College in Jerusalem, an Anglican institution which has hosted many people – including myself in the year 2000 – for studies of the lands and language and peoples of Israel and Palestine.

In May of 2000 I lived and studied at St. George’s College, located within a block or two of the Old City of Jerusalem.  During that time, I was with a group of English-speaking Christians from Europe and Australia, Asia, Great Britain, and the United States traveling throughout Israel, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Sinai learning about the history and culture of the world of the Bible and about the underlying issues that cause such pain and violence and division and continued suffering in the Middle East.

An experience like that changes perspective.  It’s possible to live your whole life as a Christian in America with little to no awareness or understanding of the world of Christians elsewhere. My observation is that many American Christians view the Holy Land and contemporary politics there through the prism of a theology known as “dispensationalism,” which is a system of biblical interpretation with origins in 19thCentury Great Britain, later popularized in United States.  My father graduated from a seminary in Dallas that was founded upon this system of biblical interpretation.  The advocates of this theological system have had great success with the promulgation of its tenets, as evident in the massive success of the “Left Behind” series of novels and related movies, and the association of the idea of “biblical prophecy” with a particular scheme which attempts to map out a timeline for the “rapture of the saints” and the end of the world.  Advocates of this system currently hold great influence over American policy toward Israel, as evidenced by their prominent roles in the recent ceremony dedicating the site of the American embassy in Jerusalem.  This move is seen by many of dispensationalist opinion as a necessary step in the preparation for the return of Jesus.

Dispensationalism's concerns with the so-called "pre-tribulation rapture of the saints" are foreign to the churches of the Middle East: Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Anglican, Lutheran. The concerns of these churches are focused, not on speculation about the “rapture” (not a biblical word) and the end of time, but on daily concerns of followers of Christ in a culture that is already fraught with tribulation.  The concerns of our Anglican sisters and brothers in Israel and the West Bank, for instance, are in worship and teaching, the running of hospitals and schools, in efforts at making peace and learning to live with and find common good with people of other faiths (Muslim and Jewish), and in trusting that Jesus is Lord and that ultimately the reign of Jesus will prevail over hatred and violence.

These sisters and brothers maintain their worship and service in a context in which many Christians are leaving the Middle East for good.  I learned more about this first-hand in 2000, and that lesson was learned again during my recent trip to Eastern Turkey and Northern Iraq.  The exodus of Christians from the Middle East is a matter of grave concern, for many reasons.

As Fr. Kamal comes to us, he represents Christianity formed and shaped in the lands of the Bible.  As a student of Scripture in the original languages, and as someone for whom the history and culture and contemporary political issues and the lands and flora and fauna and wildlife and physical geography of Israel and the West Bank are constantly present, Fr. Kamal is in a position to share with us a perspective on Christian believing that will refresh and challenge us and raise new issues for being disciples of Christ.

There’s a saying I’ve heard, and in the midst of a culture in which speculation about heaven-by-and-by is rampant at the expense of Christian discipleship in the here-and-now, it bears repeating.  “Let’s not be so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good.”

My hope and expectation is that Fr. Kamal’s presence among us will encourage us to love Jesus, love God and our neighbor, seek justice, stand for love amidst division, and to make no peace with oppression.  My hope and expectation is that Fr. Kamal’s visit will help us to realize that Jesus’ reign is not for some time to come only but for now.