Friday, August 1, 2014

Why Christians Should Not Take Sides In The War In Gaza

(AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
Yesterday on Facebook I shared a link to an article entitled, "Christians Should Not Take Sides in Israel-Palestine Conflict but Promote Reconciliation, Ministry Director Suggests." The founder and director of Musalaha Ministry of Reconciliation, Salim J. Munayer, states in this article,

“Christians around the world can help promote reconciliation by remembering and encouraging us to remember the central figure of our faith, Jesus. We need to focus on His example as a peacemaker, as He called us to be at peace with God and each other. Instead of taking sides in our conflict, as many outside voices do, Christians should play the role of a bridge, and call us to follow Jesus' example, and His teachings.”
Even a simple and fundamental principle such as the one articulated by Dr. Munayer seems radical and even provocative to many of my fellow American evangelicals today. One of my friends responded to the above-referenced article with the question, "Israel is fighting a war against Hamas...a known terrorist organization. How are we to not take sides?" This question represents a common and sincere sentiment held by many Christians today. The following thoughts are taken from my brief response to the question and represent a preliminary and exploratory attempt at thinking through how “Christian” responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be developed.

I understand how conservatives take a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on their conservatism and progressives take a side based on their progressivism but I do not yet see how a Christian takes a side in the conflict based on their commitment to Christ, the furtherance of His kingdom, a dedication to His Great Commission, and the Church’s embodiment of love and peace.

The standard responses I observe among my fellow American evangelicals are reactionary and reflexive, rooted primarily in political ideologies rather than responses which have been formulated after wrestling with the issue both theologically and politically. When I say "politically," I am referring to political perspectives derived from Christ, the Gospel, and the values of the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17) rather than the political paradigms of the secular American empire.

For example, have we, as Christians, embraced our calling to live as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)? Have we applied our peacemaking efforts to Israel and Gaza? After giving it our best shot over a protracted period of time, have we determined that all our peacemaking efforts have been exhausted? Have we worked this conflict through the rigors of Just War theories (for those who claim to adhere to Just War theory) and concluded that now is the time for Christians to support this just war? Have we concluded that Christians, as ambassadors of Christ, are representing Christ best by choosing to support the Israeli government and their efforts to kill and blow up Hamas along with any civilians who happen to be nearby? Does this war represent our best efforts to love others and, as Dr. Munayer exhorted, play the role of a bridge by promoting reconciliation? Do we possess the biblical and theological underpinnings to support this conclusion? I do not see these sorts of efforts being attempted within American evangelicalism.

For those who do point to theological reasons for their support of Israel it is usually based on a faulty understanding of who "Israel" is according to Scripture together with highly questionable doctrines regarding future end-times scenarios. As I have written elsewhere, “Biblical Israel is comprised of all individuals who are in Christ. These disciples of Christ are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. It is the welfare of this Israel that ought to cause Christians to become passionately zealous rather than the modern secular nation-state called Israel. According to the New Testament, one is a Jew inwardly. Their heart has been circumcised. ‘It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.’ This ‘Israel’ is very different from the state of Israel.” All of God's promises to Israel have been fulfilled through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

Even for those Christians who believe our nation's blessings are somehow tied to the way we treat the modern, secular state called "Israel," why would this belief necessarily cause them to support Israel's war against Hamas along with all repercussions this has for Palestinian civilians? Isn’t it God who will bless Israel and curse Hamas? Why would Christians in America need to "help" God along with this by funding Israel's military and cheering on their efforts kill Gazans and blow their stuff up (which is what the job of the military is)?

Conservative Christians say Israel has been wronged so they support their efforts to defend themselves and go kill Hamas. Progressive Christians say, no, it's the Palestinians who have been wronged so they make excuses for why Hamas is shooting missiles into Israel and hiding weapons in schools and hospitals. Are there no other options for us? Do we not have options which avoid compromising our calling to embody love and peacemaking and our commitment to proclaiming the Gospel to all nations and people-groups?

I believe there are options available to us other than choosing sides in a war according to terms set by non-Christians who have no concern for Christ and his kingdom. There may be no easy answers to the war in Gaza but Christians must put forth the effort to prayerfully and biblically consider ways to manifest Christ and His kingdom rather than reflexively reacting according to the interests of any one partisan group.

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