The Status Quo in Israel-Palestine ain’t good: Part 3: Our “failed” strategy for engaging evangelicals

The Status Quo in Israel-Palestine ain’t good: Part 3: Our “failed” strategy for engaging evangelicals June 14, 2022

When I first became aware of what was transpiring in Israel and Palestine, and in particular the injustices that were a part of daily life for Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories, I began to suspect that the evangelical convictions with which I was raised played a huge role in perpetuating this conflict.

As I have come to learn, this is true far more than I wish to admit.

Shortly after I began learning about the injustices that the Palestinians faced,[1] I sensed a prophetic call to bring awareness to the evangelical community regarding the conflict and what a path towards peace might look like.

The question, however, was:

How do we engage evangelicals in a conversation regarding the injustices daily confronting the Palestinians living under the strong arm of the Israeli military and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza?

The problem we faced was not only that evangelicals largely accepted the popular narrative regarding life on the ground in Israel and Palestine, but many embraced an understanding of the Bible that both feeds and reinforces that narrative.

I knew from the start that in order to effectively alter the narrative within the evangelical community we would need to engage them in smaller group discussions and even personal conversations.

Large gatherings would feel more like propaganda. People needed to hear and learn, but they also needed to have a safe space to process.

I also knew that we would need to be prepared to have the theological conversations that often accompany this issue.

“But aren’t the Jewish people God’s chosen race?”

“Didn’t God give the land to the Jewish people?”

“Didn’t God tell the Israelites to drive out the wicked Canaanites?”

“Aren’t Palestinians the modern equivalent to the ancient Canaanites?

This is why I wrote my book These Brothers on Mine. I wanted to provide a biblical and theological foundation for engaging evangelicals with regard to the issues on the ground in Israel/Palestine. My book was intended to address the theological questions so that we could then address the issues of justice.

NB: I address many of these questions in my book, but a brief note here seems fitting. One of the many problems with equating the conquest of the land in the book of Joshua with the modern-day Israeli-Palestinian conflict—in addition to the fact that it represents a poor reading of Joshua, is that some of the Palestinians are Christians. Equating them, let alone the rest of the population, with the Canaanites is highly problematic.

The problem, however, was that we also needed to find a way to inform the evangelical community regarding the larger geopolitical situation and the multitude of injustices that daily confront the Palestinian people and to do so in a way in which they would listen.

Engaging evangelicals

Our first problem was that we were seldom, if ever, able to even gain a hearing with a large gathering of evangelicals.

NB: I am primarily addressing older evangelicals. It is much easier to address younger evangelicals who are both willing to listen to the issues of justice and who carry less baggage when it comes to the popular narrative that has become a staple of older evangelicals. That is, the younger the evangelical the less likely they are to hold to the conviction that Israel is God’s chosen people and that they are merely defending themselves against Palestinian terrorists.  

Too many pastors and churches are unwilling to engage their communities in the conversation—unless that conversation reinforces the Zionist agenda.

For years, I thought it was understandable that pastors and churches did not want to address this issue. After all, there are too many other issues that need the attention of our churches. Why risk losing half your congregation over this one?

Now, however, I have come to believe that this is not a legitimate excuse. For one, many of these pastors are not addressing other issues either! Secondly, some of these churches continue to give a platform for those espousing the Zionist agenda.

Addressing Evangelical leaders

It seemed that our best strategy was to influence evangelical leaders. The idea was that if we could equip the leaders, perhaps we could engage the broader evangelical community.

They could take the message back to their communities. They could tell their stories. Perhaps people would listen to those whom they trusted.

So, we hosted conferences and seminars in which Israelis and Palestinians told their stories. We supported and joined with organizations that sought to bring key evangelical leaders into the land so that they could see what life was like for Israelis and Palestinians for themselves. They could witness the injustices.

NB: it is one thing to hear about injustices, but when it stares you in the face it changes you.

This approach offered us signs of hope. Many leaders were personally transformed by their experiences. They came back from the conferences, the seminars, and especially their trips to the land, more aware of the realities on the ground and ready to make a difference in their churches. And some did!

Two problems

However, we ran into two problems.

Many of these evangelical leaders were either unable or unwilling to engage their communities on this issue.

Some of these leaders did not even try to bring this conversation to their communities. They either knew in advance or found out the moment they even brought up the issue, that the only conversations that were going to be permitted in their communities were ones that reinforced the Zionist agenda: namely, that the Jewish people are God’s chosen people and that God has brought them back to the land that He promised them, and that Israel continues to face an existential threat against Palestinian terrorism.

NB: It should be noted that these propositions can be affirmed, while at the same time affirming the human dignity of the Palestinians. It doesn’t have to be an either-or.

Other leaders tried to engage their communities but received the wrath of elder boards and leaders within their communities.

In the end, it was quite rare for evangelical churches to engage in the conversation. The older the community, the less likely they were to engage.

Not only did we not make a significant inroad in many of these churches, but now we had disillusioned pastors to care for.

to be continued . . .

 

 

[1] I do not intend to deny that Israelis encounter injustices also. The differences, however, are significant. For one, Israelis do not face the same sort of daily struggles as the Palestinians living under occupation do. Secondly, Israel is the stronger nation in this conflict. As a result, they assert more control when it comes to the daily life of those in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Sure, Israel faces an existential threat. This does not justify the oppression of an entire people—certainly not to the level that Israel currently imposes on the Palestinians.


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