Olive Branch Press, 2022, Donald E. Wagner
By Ron Dart
The title of this timely, autobiographical and not-to-be-missed book tends to confront the reader with a challenge. There is a predictable tendency to think of “Glory to God in the Highest” and, for those interested in the Jews, the Bible and Christian sacred sites in Israel, “Journeys (often selective) to the Holy Land.” But, Wagner will not allow us such a luxury or indulgence—we are invited, in fact, to visit the lowest, some of the most structurally oppressed in Israel that is often seen by the naïve as the Holy Land. How, though, did Wagner come to the telling and challenging conclusions he did? Such is the pith and core of this finely told and textured book.
Glory to God in the Lowest is a tale told in 6 compelling sections: 1) Beginnings, 2) Moving on Up While Downwardly Mobile, 3) Journeys to the Unholy Land, 4) Doctor, My Eyes Have Seen the Pain, 5) Palestine is Still the Issue and 6) Liberating Your Mind: Zionism, Christian Zionism and Resistance. Each of the chapters tells, in a needful manner, the nature of Wagner’s journey from American conservative evangelical beginnings (none of us decides on our thrownness) with its uncritical, almost hagiographical attitude to Israel, to a seeing of the injustices in the USA, to connecting American racial issues with the situation of the Palestinians in Israel. Wagner has made many a trip to Israel, met and worked with many Palestinians, published a few books on the issue, lectured widely on the American-Israeli Zionist connection, worked with organizations that deal with the troubling and persistent dilemma, and tells a different resistance story in Glory to God in the Lowest.
Each of the chapters, section by section, unpacks both Wagner’s political faith journey as theological vision turns more in a prophetic direction from a passive and conformist one both within how he understands his origins in the USA and the relationship of the USA (and the many Christians within it) to Judaism and Israel. How does one dare to critique Israel, the opposition often using the language of anti-Semitism, when done? Wagner is acutely aware that many religious and secular Jews are opposed to Zionism but many Jews and Christians genuflect to the Zionist ideology. How does one break the spell of Jewish and Christian Zionism, Wagner more, rightly so, concerned with the latter rather than the former (although the two are inextricably intertwined)?
Sections 1-2 in Glory to God in the Lowest prepare the reader (given Wagner’s unfolding journey) for sections 3-6 with their decided focus on certain types of Christianity that merge interpretations of the Bible with pro-Zionist and pro-Israeli conclusions. The final section sums up the need for a “Liberating Your Mind” countercultural approach to the issue. And, not to miss, of course, are the many family photographs at the end of the book, “Endnotes” worthy of a slow internalizing.
Glory to God in the Lowest is an imperative read for those interested in how the mind can be imprisoned by a limited read and application of the Bible to the (Un)Holy Land—if an awakening is needed, if liberation is the goal, then Wagner’s personal yet searching insights in this book are an antidote to a worrisome slumber that breeds much injustice and distorts the meaning of peace.