Merry Christmas from the Killjoy Prophets! We love the holidays as much as anyone. Sure, we don’t love the rampant consumerism or the fruit cake, but we love giving gifts, baking, singing Handel’s Messiah, reading the Magnificat with family, and feasting with friends. We even love mixing it up occasionally with our toxic uncle whose political views we find troubling. Sometimes we just down an extra drink and let him ramble on, sometimes we go to another room, but sometimes you just have to throw down and have a good discussion to create space for other opinions. In the end we can sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and remember why the Prince of Peace came to bring justice to the oppressed and create shalom! But what if our uncle hands out Christmas cards that say, “Israel is for Jews only, NO PALESTINIANS!” Should we intervene or should we continue to dismiss him and his harmful actions by saying, “that’s just my toxic uncle, you know how it is!”
While the world focused its fleeting attention on Israel’s recent military invasion of Gaza, the “low level” violence in the West Bank continued largely un-reported on by Western news sources as it has since 1967. This occupation seems to have no solution as it has been a contested area for so long. Rarely do Christians in Palestine get any attention in the media — strange, seeing how Jesus was born in the little town of Bethlehem. Here are seven things that pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, Dr. Mitri Raheb, says you probably never knew about Palestine. The unease in Bethlehem today seems eerily similar to the context in which Jesus was born.
It was this Jesus that modeled and calls us to empathy, not apathy. Things are calm at our family gatherings because we’re so good at pretending to get along. But we Christians also have our own toxic relatives. This Christmas we need to talk about one of them: Christians United For Israel (CUFI), an extremely powerful and influential pro-Israel lobby that condones the displacement of Palestinians.
“You are either a Christian or an anti-Semite. Bottom line, if you are not for Israel and the Jewish people, you either are biblically ignorant or you’re not a Christian.” –Charisma Magazine
“The U.S., U.K., and Dutch governments are helping to fund a conference called ‘Christ at the Checkpoint,’ which attempts to sway Evangelical Christian opinion against Israel and whose themes have anti-Semitic undertones, according to a new report issued by the Jerusalem-based watchdog group NGO Monitor.” –CUFI Talking Points
In 2006, John Hagee along with George Morrison, Stephen Strang, Gary Bauer and Jerry Falwell formed CUFI, whose purpose is to “provide a national organization through which every pro-Israel organization and ministry can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters of biblical issues.” Hagee began his public advocacy of Israel in 1981 and began organizing A Night to Honor Israel events every year since then. At the 2007 event alone, John Hagee raised $8 million for Israel. CUFI was envisioned to be a Christian version of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). He has a dozen regional directors and a network of evangelical activists who can be reached within 24 hours to lobby. The board of directors includes Benny Hinn and Jack Hayford. It also organizes nights to celebrate Israel in major cities. In July of 2006, it brought together 3400 Christian Zionists for a conference and a lobbying effort which entailed 2880 meetings with members of Congress. The 2007 meeting drew 4,000 delegates and featured John McCain, a presidential candidate. At this meeting, Senator Joe Lieberman described Hagee as a “man of God” and compared him to Moses. CUFI’s mantra: “The Bible Belt is Israel’s Safety Belt.” According to CUFI, all nations, including Arab ones, are required to pray for Israel. Among the items on their platform are the messages that: 1) Palestinians have no claims to land; 2) Israel should not be pressured to give land for peace; and 3) Jerusalem belongs to Israel.
Journalist Max Blumenthal went on an inside investigation of CUFI that was quickly shut down, but not before capturing footage of hundreds of people including politicians rallying to support CUFI and its co-founder, John Hagee.Those of us who identify as progressive Christians often like to disavow our connections with our more “conservative” sisters and brothers. It may seem easy for us to cast off those who have been influenced by CUFI’s messages, but these are not just some people who we can simply ignore. CUFI’s messages have been adopted by many of our families, friends, and neighbors. By taking a position of apathy toward the plight of Palestinians, and refusing to challenge those (like CUFI) who promote injustice, we become a party to that very injustice.
Let’s give Bethlehem, the land of Jesus’ birth, a gift this year. Let’s resolve in 2015 to speak truth to power, to an organization with a membership quickly approaching two million with the capacity to raise millions of dollars to run advertisements nationwide as they did on July 31 and August 1 this summer. The ad ran in the NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, etc. Standing on the sideline and shaking our heads as CUFI supports the destruction of Palestinian communities is unacceptable, and for that we must repent. Palestinian Christians have discerned it is time for change and asked for our help. We as Christians who love justice and seek shalom owe this to ALL Palestinians regardless of their faith. Let’s begin a movement to speak strongly to CUFI. This stand will take courage, but the world, especially the Christians in Bethlehem: ask if you have faith in the face of empire.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) campaign is a good one and one that we should support, but as Christians we have perhaps an even more strategic role to play: what James Cone calls creative discipleship. What does that look like exactly? We aren’t sure, but we know we can’t do this alone. In 2015 we can live out the reconciliation that the Hebrew prophets envisioned, a return of keeping an eye on YHWH’s shalom while focusing on the orphan, the foreigner, and the widow: our Palestinian sisters and brothers. The prophecy about Jesus, the suffering “rebel,” is also prophecy fulfilled by a suffering Bethlehem today:
Who would have believed what we just heard?
When was the Lord’s power revealed through him?
He sprouted up like a twig before God,
like a root out of parched soil;
he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention,
no special appearance that we should want to follow him.He was despised and rejected by people,
one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;
people hid their faces from him;
he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.
But he lifted up our illnesses,
he carried our pain;
even though we thought he was being punished,
attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.
He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds,
crushed because of our sins;
he endured punishment that made us well;
because of his wounds we have been healed.
All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.
He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth.
He was led away after an unjust trial—
but who even cared?
Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living;
because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.
They intended to bury him with criminals,
but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb,because he had committed no violent deeds,
nor had he spoken deceitfully.
Though the Lord desired to crush him and make him ill,
once restitution is made,
he will see descendants and enjoy long life,
and the Lord’s purpose will be accomplished through him.
Having suffered, he will reflect on his work,
he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done.
“My servant will acquit many,
for he carried their sins.
So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes,
he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful,
because he willingly submitted to death
and was numbered with the rebels,
when he lifted up the sin of many
and intervened on behalf of the rebels.