Mitt Romney, accompanied by American Jews and evangelical Christians, went to Jerusalem, stood before some 40 wealthy donors to his presidential campaign and, as reported, said, “’And as I come here and I look over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things ‘ . . . citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the ‘hand of providence.’” (“Another hiccup? Romney’s foreign trip not smooth,” By Kasie Hunt and Steve peoples, AP, July 30, 2012)
Mitt Romney compared the vitality of the Israeli and Palestinian cultures in terms of their money, not their morality. He was quoted as telling “a group of top-level donors here that Israelis’ culture had helped them become more economically successful than the Palestinians. Noting that Israel’s gross domestic product per person is about $21,000 compared with . . . the Palestinians . . . more like $10,000 per capita,” he said, ‘You notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.’” Romney was way off: in 2011, the World Bank “put the ratio at more than 15 to 1, not 2 to 1.” (“Romney provokes Palestinian outrage,” By Matt Viser, The Boston Globe, July 31, 2012)
Sadly, Mitt Romney’s hand of “profit”dence message to “top-level donors” in Israel—and in America—encourages them to remain oblivious to their participation in Israel’s continued oppression of the Palestinian people. It is not about gross domestic product, but about gross domestic persecution of the Palestinian people. New York Times’ reporters Ashley Parker and Richard A. Oppel Jr., covering Romney’s visit, got it right in stating, “In the West Bank, according to the C.I.A. World Factbook, ‘Israeli closure policies continue to disrupt labor and trade flows, industrial capacity, and basic commerce, eroding the productive capacity’ of the economy. In Gaza,” they continue, “The C.I.A. says, Israeli-imposed border closings ‘have resulted in high unemployment, elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets.’” They add, “Mr. Romney mentioned neither during his speech on Monday.” (Romney’s Trip Raises Sparks At a 2nd Stop,” July 31, 2012)
Saeb Erekat, a leading Palestinian negotiator, identified the fingerprints of Mitt Romney’s hand of pro”fit”dence. “It is a racist statement,” Erekat said, “and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.” He continued, “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.” (Ibid)
Those who look closely will also see the impression of the hand of ‘pro”fit”dence left on Israel’s sacred Western Wall. Mitt Romney, wearing “a black velvety skullcap,” handed a copy of “Psalm 121” and accompanied by “his wife, along with several of the donors, made a pilgrimage to the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.” The New York Times account continues: “The scene was more like a campaign rally than a solemn place of prayer. . . . People actually praying were pushed to the back as security officers cordoned off a space for the candidate.” (“Romney Backs Israeli Position on Facing Iran: Nuclear Goal Is Focus of Jerusalem Speech, “ By Jodi Rudoren and Ashley Parker, July 30, 2012)
Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel was about the hand of “pro”fit”dence. Donors reportedly “paid between $25,000 and $50,000 to attend,” with the “fund-raiser at the King David Hotel raising more than $1 million from about 45 donors.” Romney put it all in perspective: “I am overwhelmingly impressed with the hand of providence (italics added) whenever it chooses to apply itself, and also the greatness of the human spirit, and how individuals who reach for greatness and have purpose above themselves are able to build and accomplish things that could only be done by a species created in the image of God.” (“Romney provokes Palestinian outrage,” Ibid)
The vitality of Mitt Romney’s god is measured by the gold market, not by The Golden Rule. He is actually talking about himself, i.e., he is equating his own greatness with his wealth, and his own “reach for greatness” with becoming president. He is, in fact, a proud leader of a new “species”: the market’s super race of 1%ers! All in name of “the hand of providence” and “spirituality” and “God.” Shades of Hitler’s master race.
The presumptive Republican presidential candidate also is reported as saying, “I come to this place, therefore, with a sense of profound humility, as I look around here at great people who’ve accomplished a great thing, and also a sense of spiritual connection, acknowledging the hand of providence in establishing this place and making it a holy city.” (Ibid) It was not “the hand of providence that made “it a holy city” in Romney’s eyes, but the hand of force that drove the Palestinians from their homes and communities— and continues to cause “the sun” to “strike [them] “by day” [and] “the moon by night.” (Psalm 121: 6)
Mitt Romney promised to use the same kind of force against Iran, saying to his wealthy audience of donors “that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear capability should be America’s ‘highest national security priority,’ stressing that ‘no option should be excluded’ in the effort.” (“Romney Backs Israeli Position on Iran,” Ibid) Whatever happened to “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God?” (Matthew 5: 9) Evidently “the hand of providence” turns into a fist to attract Jewish and evangelical Christian voters during a presidential election campaign.
The 121st Psalm, given to Mitt Romney at the Western Wall, is a powerful prayer of faith in a god who will “neither slumber nor sleep” in protecting Israel—and other believers—“from all evil.” (3, 7) Such a god is a great source of strength to Jewish people, who have suffered much persecution in their history. But that persecution does not give them the right to use faith in their god to justify doing to the Palestinians the “evil” that has been done to them. A god who plays favorites with his children plays into the hands of a presidential candidate whose vision and candidacy are about the hands of “pro”fit”dence, and not the hand of a providence that embraces the sacred worth and rights of all people.
Concerning the Western Wall and “people actually praying [being] pushed back” to make room for Mitt Romney and his entourage, Jesus had a thing about people pushing other people aside. Whether a blind man calling out to him and being “sternly” told to be quiet (Luke 18: 35-43). Or parents “sternly” discouraged by disciples from bringing their children to Jesus that he might put his hands upon them and bless them (Matthew 19: 13-015). Or the multitudes that surrounded him at his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 1-11) and at many other places. To Jesus, it was about accepting people as they were, not classifying them as superior and inferior. It was about being present and responsive to human need and human aspirations. It was about the Sermon on the Mount: being unassuming, comforting, just, merciful, and peacemakers. It was about “doing to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6: 31)
Our market- gross national product-dominated world desperately needs Christians and others who are able to love their neighbors as themselves, not require their neighbors to be like themselves. Christians and others committed to empowering people, not gaining power over them. Christians and others motivated by empathy, not evangelism—or corporate greed served by political and military-driven imperialism. Christians and others whose aim is not to transform the world, but to transform themselves so that they may experience and engage and empower the world. Christians and others not only committed to providing social services to the poor and oppressed, but who also dare to confront the oppressive political, economic, legal and religious forces that marginalize people, steal their dignity, and make them troubled and poor and in need of services.
Unlike Mitt Romney’s hand of “pro”fit”dence that measures “cultural” and “spiritual” vitality in terms of money and exclusiveness, a Christian denomination’s vitality should not be measured by the number and wealth of its members, but by the inclusiveness of its number.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics, religion and pastoral care. His book, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, has just been published. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.