Four Points Toward Peace in the Middle East
I've written a lot on Palestine and Gaza in recent years. Any of us who travel (or read) know that peace in the world can't be separated from peace in Israel -- peace for Jews, and peace for Muslim and Christian Palestinians. There is probably no single issue more important to helping Muslims and Christians and Jews live in peace world-wide than resolving the crisis of peace in Israel.
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Not long ago I posted this song about the conflict:
In the coming months, I hope that more and more of us -- especially those of us from evangelical backgrounds -- will start speaking out on this subject, addressing four key issues with courage, passion, and persistence:
1. The equal rights of both Jewish and Palestinian people to security, equity, and prosperity, and the equal responsibilities of both groups to seek, not just good for "their own," but the common good of all.
2. The need to confront the terrible, deadly, distorted, yet popular theologies associated with Christian Zionism and deterministic dispensationalism. These systems of belief -- so common among my fellow evangelical Christians -- too often lead people to act as if Jewish people have God-given rights but Palestinians do not. They use a discredited hermeneutic (way of interpreting the Bible) to imply that God shows favoritism -- that God is concerned for justice for one group of people and not for others. They create bigotry and prejudice against Muslims in general ... and in particular against Palestinians, many of whom are Muslim but many of whom are Christian too. These doctrinal formulations often use a bogus end-of-the-world scenario to create a kind of death-wish for World War III, which -- unless it is confronted more robustly by the rest of us -- could too easily create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you hold to a deterministic-dispensationalist or Zionist theology, I sincerely hope you will rethink your view. I grew up with these views as well, and have become thoroughly convinced that they are not only biblically unfaithful but also, in too many cases, morally and ethically harmful. I know that rethinking these things can make your life more difficult -- friends, church members, and even family members may reject you, for example. But think back to the 1950s and 1960s: Wasn't it necessary for many Christians to have the courage to differ when racism was acceptable and even justified in most American churches? Wouldn't you want to have the same moral courage today you would have wanted to have back then?
If you are unwilling to reconsider your commitment to deterministic-dispensationalist or Zionist theology, I hope you will at least try to avoid extremist tendencies by your colleagues who share these beliefs, so you can be faithful to the scriptures that tell us God is not a respecter of persons, that God shows no partiality (try James 2, for example), that God cares about "the least of these," and that love never rejoices in evil. If you are open and willing to rethink your views, here are three books I'd encourage you to read:
The longstanding atrocity of anti-Semitism of Christian history is a horrible atrocity that must be faced and repented of, and Christian Zionists should be applauded for wanting to turn the page on the anti-Semitism that was tragically common in church history. But we must remember that the cure to an old bigotry is not a new bigotry: It is a realization that God is creator of all people, that all people equally bear the image of God, and that the prosperity, equity, and security of some cannot be purchased at the expense of others.
3. The need to see and name injustice wherever it appears -- in our allies as well as in our enemies -- and to oppose injustice wherever it occurs. A case could be made that injustices committed by our allies hurt our national interests more than injustices committed by enemies ... which means that we, as individuals and as religious and political participants, must call for an end to land theft being suffered by Palestinians, just as we must call for an end to all forms of violence and terrorism being perpetrated against Jewish people in Israel.
4. The need to face the same injustices in our own history in the U.S. (or wherever we live). For example, the treatment of Palestinians in Israel bears many similarities to the treatment of Native Americans and racial minorities in the U.S. (right up until today) ... both forms of bigotry have been theologically "justified" using lots of Bible quotations, and both require a change in theology -- and a change in heart -- so they can be healed.