Liberty is the theme for Reformation Day 2017. There are two liberating anniversaries today – 500 and 100 years ago respectively – and the message from each of them is being forgotten.
500 years ago today Martin Luther sparked the European Protestant Reformation and 100 years ago today the Balfour Declaration was finalised by the British War Cabinet in London.
The first gave spiritual, ecclesiastical, civil and religious liberty to thousands of Europeans, and the second gave civil liberty to Jews worldwide by supporting their having a homeland in their native land, modern Israel, to which they could return if they so wished.
However, each is being forgotten by an uneducated or ungrateful world. The counter-Reformation was unleashed with violence during Luther’s lifetime and succeeded in snuffing out the proto-Reformation in central, southern and eastern European states such as Bohemia, Italy, Spain and Poland, and continued with decreasing violence in the succeeding centuries. In the 20th century, one Roman Catholic writer said that the counter-Reformation had ceased because there was no longer any Reformation to counter.
Seven of the ten men in the British War Cabinet who supported the Balfour Declaration of 31/10/1917 were from an evangelical background. David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of the Wartime Coalition Government, had a personal Christian belief in facilitating a Jewish homeland. The Balfour Declaration was incorporated into the British Mandate drawn up at international post-war San Remo Conference in Italy in 1920, but it was compromised by the effect of the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement drawn up during WWI and publicised in the Guardian newspaper on 26/11/1917, but never decided in Parliament. This latter agreement betrayed Lawrence of Arabia’s sterling work among the Arabs, giving the Arabs a grievance against the British for failing to honour their wartime promise of ‘an Arab state for Arab support’ against the Ottoman Empire.
Possibly in an attempt to redress the balance, in 1922 Winston Churchill divided the British Mandate into a ‘two-state solution’ – the Jews on the west of the river Jordan and the Arabs in the larger Transjordan area to the east of the river Jordan – 23% Jewish and 77% Arab.
In order to pacify the offended Arabs, the British limited the amount of immigration into the Jewish area, known then as Palestine and today as the state of Israel. This was at the very time when hundreds of thousands of European Jews were trying to escape from persecution in Nazi Germany, but they discovered that the British would not allow them to enter Israel. They were turned away from its borders, even back to Europe from where they had fled. This led to great resentment against British foreign policy.
Such attitudes were interpreted by both Jews and Arabs as British failure to honour obligations. British foreign policy between the two world wars led to such resentment that the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, handed over the British Mandate to the United Nations in 1947, which adopted Resolution 181 that envisaged the creation of separate Jewish and Arab states. By a 2/3 majority vote of the United Nations, the modern state of Israel was sanctioned. Thus when the British withdrew on 14/5/1948, the state of Israel was re-born the same day. The next day five Arab nations attacked the new-born state of Israel. This conflict continues to the present time. The story is told in The Forsaken Promise by Hativah Films.
There is a third anniversary worth noting also. By the evening of the same day in which the British War Cabinet agreed to the Balfour Declaration in the morning, the Battle of Beersheba was the first victory in the campaign of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force to re-capture and liberate Jerusalem from hundreds of years of rule by the Ottoman Empire. The Christian liberation of Jerusalem was the first time that a Jewish-friendly power occupied the land since before Roman times.
It was a sign of the times – the liberation of Bethsheba, then Jerusalem, then the land of Palestine was a precursor and harbinger of the re-birth of the state of Israel foreshadowed in the Balfour Declaration, bookending one day exactly one hundred years ago.
The liberty with which Jesus Christ frees individuals and nations is being ignored at great personal, social and national cost. ‘If the Son of God shall make you free, you shall be free indeed’ Jn 8:36.