Finding a path to peace in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is perhaps one of the greatest global dilemmas facing our generation. The issue is complex, has no easy or cookie cutter solutions, and doesn’t appear to be something that will be resolved anytime soon… unless something changes.
Jesus has called us to be peacemakers in the world– something Paul went onto say was the “ministry of reconciliation” given to all of us who follow Christ. We are all born into a world that is broken and hostile in many ways, yet when we decide to follow Jesus we accept the tough job of finding creative ways to make the world a little less broken, a little less hostile, and a little more like heaven.
In the past generation, Evangelical Christianity in America had a fatal flaw: it reduced the Gospel to being an individualistic salvation transaction whereby individuals are reconciled to God. While this is wonderful, it is what is often called the “truncated Gospel” because it is only part of the Gospel.
You see, Paul said that when Jesus was on the cross he was reconciling all things to himself. If we are to be imitators of Christ and embrace the job of the “ministry of reconciliation”, we must also be a people who are busy reconciling all things to God. Yes, we must help reconcile individual people to God, but we must also help reconcile individuals and people groups to each other, as well as reconciling creation (the environment) to God as well.
Therefore, part of living out the Gospel is helping people reconcile with each other. On a small scale, this means we must be people who help reconcile two individuals to each other (such as encouraging and supporting marital reconciliation when appropriate) but must also include entire people groups who must be reconciled– such as the Israelis and the Palestinians.
While many world leaders over the years have attempted to be agents of reconciliation, we’ve never experienced any sort of lasting peace. Some just throw up their arms and say “there will never be peace” and abdicate their role in the ministry of reconciliation, while others try… with limited results.
There is a barrier to achieving peace in the Middle East. Some would also correctly say that there are many barriers– but I’m beginning to think that there is a core barrier that makes Western influence completely ineffective in achieving lasting peace, and that the barrier in question might actually be…. us.
It’s tough to look in the mirror and admit one’s faults, but I think if we can step back and remove emotion from the situation as much as possible, we’d see that we are a major barrier to there ever being legitimate peace agreements between Israel and Palestine.
You see, peace making and reconciliation is a complex process– something that’s more of an art than a science. However, there are a few basic elements that must be in place at the beginning of a process of reconciliation if such a process is to be remotely successful:
– Both (all) parties involved must come to the table willingly, and humbly.
– Both parties must become willing to admit mistakes and ask forgiveness.
– Both parties must be willing to work together (negotiate) a solution and path to reconciliation.
Unfortunately, Western influence often fails to encourage Israel to come to the table with these three foundational attitudes of peace making. When Western leaders actually attempt to, they catch major back-lash from the Christian powers that be and are labeled as “anti-Israel” for simply wanting to come to the table with all potential solutions open for discussion.
And, this is where I think one of the major barriers to peace in the Middle East is us: too much of Western Christianity holds to the theological view that we must be unwavering supporters of Israel unless we wish to face the wrath of God. Any hint of negotiation (such as sharing the land which most Evangelicals believe would be unbibical) earns a quick and public outcry against whatever leader had the audacity to even hint that sharing and living in peace could be a potential solution.
As a result, Western leaders are often less than supported in encouraging any legitimate and viable solutions to the crisis. If our leaders are to be of any use to a peace process, they must be empowered and encouraged to push Israel to negotiate (give a little and take a little) in order to find a solution which works for both sides.
Unfortunately, the errant “I stand with Israel” theology prohibits negotiations. Public voices such as John Hagee have made it clear that Christians must never support dividing (sharing) the land– there’s no room for any negotiations on the matter. Since this arm of Evangelicalism has so much political power in America, their attitude often becomes our corporate attitude and even foreign policy.
This is a barrier.
Furthermore, the attitudes that flow from this theology actually push us further away from peace. Unfortunately, the concept of “supporting Israel” has become “whatever Israel does, we must support it.” This faulty idea that whatever they do must be supported by the Christian powers has often given Israel carte blanche to engage in oppressive and unloving behaviors which go completely unchallenged.
This is abhorrent behavior that should be unilaterally condemned. Yet, Israel does things like this on a consistent basis without so much as a peep from the power holders in American Christianity. Were these Christians (the Evangelical political power holders) actually concerned with the biblical mandate to be peacemakers, there would be a host of options at our disposal to address oppressive behavior like this. We do it all the time with other nations— but not with Israel. Israel gets a free pass with their behavior.
Reconciliation in any relationship cannot happen until there has been legitimate repentance and a change of heart. Yet, we’d never dare call Israel to repent– whatever they do, so the theological praxis goes, must be supported.
Funny– “love the sinner hate the sin” gets thrown around when referencing my gay friends, but with Israel it is “love the sinner and support the sin”.
How “supporting Israel” became “we must embrace and support the sins of Israel” I’m not entirely sure– but this is a major barrier to peace in the Middle East. While I do not embrace this “pro-Israel” theology, even if such a theology were true, the attitude we are seeing does not pass biblical muster.
Case in point: in the Old Testament, clearly Israel (different from the Nation State of Israel today) was chosen by God and set apart to be a blessing to all nations as a result of God’s promise to Abraham. But did God himself blindly support everything Israel did? Certainly not– he allowed them to wander in the wilderness because of sucky attitudes, allowed them to go into captivity, and at one point he even says he divorced them. Furthermore, he sent a long line of prophets– not to tell the future– but to rebuke Israel and to tell them that he was repulsed by their religiosity because they were failing to live justly with those around them (see Amos 5). God even came in judgement in AD70 to destroy her temple.
If God can rebuke Israel for abhorrent behavior, why can’t the American Christian do so?
It seems being “pro-Israel” to God and being “pro-Israel” to an American Evangelical, look quite different.
Therefore, regardless of whether or not Israel remains a “chosen” and “separate” people by God (something I believe the New Testament rejects) even God himself historically has not blindly supported Israel’s behavior when she has rejected his ways.
I appreciate the heart and intent of the pro-Israel movement; they’re simply trying to be faithful to the scriptures as they understand them. However, when our understanding of the scriptures causes us to reject the central mandates of peacemaking and enemy love taught by Jesus, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve misunderstood the scriptures.
The peace conflict in the Middle East is in fact, one of the most pressing issues that the next generation of Jesus followers will have to deal with. If we actually want to be successful in making peace and reconciling people, we cannot continue to blindly tolerate Israeli oppression. Oppression must always be confronted with the hopes the oppressor will repent and experience a changed life– even when that is a corporate entity or an entire people group.
Let us be peacemakers. Let us reconcile individuals to God– and let us reconcile people groups to each other.
But let us first repent of being such a major barrier to peace in the Middle East. Instead, let us invite both sides to come humbly in a spirit of negotiation, encourage them to repent of the times they have harmed one another, and let us find a path to peace that respects both people groups as being bearers of the divine image of God.