Post By: Christian Stackaruck, Theology Contributor
I love Israel.
I have studied, lived, and served in Israel and cannot wait to return to do so again. Further, many of my dearest friends are Israeli or are ardent supporters of Israel. Recently, reading about recent violence between Israel and Palestine in the news has reawakened years of questions and emotions that, from time to time, I succeed in laying to rest.
I used to be pro-Israel in every sense of the word. After departing Israel from half a year of study and service, I was ready to advocate for AIPAC and spread the word about the “right way” to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The theology was there too: I had the defenses of dispensational pro-Israel eschatology readings of all the important passages down pat. All in all, in my eyes, and as people told me, Israel’s incontestable land claims in the Middle East are supported by a proper understanding of three things: politics, history, and Scripture.
Though I am sure most will remain unconvinced and not share in my convictions, I hope a few may ponder my own reflections with seriousness and humility. Others will be shocked, as this post reflects much change in my thinking. For the latter, it should stand as the beginnings of an explanation for my change of heart. To be clear from the start: I believe that Israel today has a right to exist and live in peace within the Middle East. What I am appealing is that Christians step back from a full, loud, and unquestioning support of the militant actions of the state of Israel and instead advocate more moderate and permanent roads to peace for all parties involved. Though propaganda would have us believe otherwise, there is, I pray, the possibility of lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.
The doubts that changed the way I now view this important issue came in close succession and against all about politics, history, and Scripture I thought I knew so well. These I have summarized below:
1. Politics. I was blessed to enter into a new relationship with a family member who lives in a Middle East country, one that suffers much from the violence and poverty that characterizes the region. My deepest desire for this person is that he may come to know Jesus as I have. It came as a shock when the issue arose between us that I so passionately support a nation that actively oppresses his friends and family. In his eyes, and not very far off, my Christianity was dropping bombs on his home. At this moment it became clear that I could not, as a Christian, actively advocate for a political agenda that not only alienates my dear friend, but also hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims worldwide.
As an illustration of this point, I am currently writing this in Laos, one of the most firmly closed countries to the gospel. Christian missionaries are deported, Bibles are illegal, and church meetings are the quickest way to prison. As one of the few remaining entirely communist counties, the nation’s problem with Christianity is not that of religion per se, Buddhism does quite well here. The problem is that Christianity is the religion of the capitalist West! Christianity=capitalism=invasion of foreign ideology. This cannot be helped of course, but it may serve to illustrate the way Christianity can truly or falsely become associated with a political/economic system, thus creating barriers for the gospel. Though not all such “barriers” can be avoided, I believe that Christians can be more conscious of the significant barrier that actively and unquestionably supporting the violence of Israel-especially under the Christian banner-creates for the good news in our world.
2. History. This is complex, academic, and out of my league to write about at length. Merely I would say that I was always told that a sound understanding of the facts surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrates that Israel is, ultimately, victim of the violence. To put it as simply as possible: my own investigation has proved that matters are much more complicated than this. I hope that believers that actively support Israel’s militant acts may merely admit that the conflict is indeed complicated, and consequently see that it is irresponsible and unreasonable to simply take a side, as many do.
Another key component that Christians often overlook in the history of the conflict is the suffering of the Palestinian church. The deportation of Arabs from modern-day Israel caused the scattering and relocation of many Christian Arabs, most of which will never go home. As a Christian who loves my brothers and sisters in Christ I have been awakened by the suffering of the church in Palestine. I grieve the way in which they were-and are-overlooked and even opposed by their Christian family in North America.
Having once supported Israel for theological reasons, I eventually came to realize that I could hold whatever eschatology I wanted-any belief about Israel that I can fit into two Testaments of prophecy-but it does not mean I should bring this eschatology into being with my own two hands! In other words, if Christians believe that the Bible teaches that there will be a third temple, that the Jewish people belong in the Land, and that Israel must be at war with Russia before Jesus will return, why not leave such immense tasks to the God who promised them? If God wants his people in the Levant, will he not put them there? That is not my calling as a follower of Jesus, especially if it means the relocation and subsequent suffering of millions of Palestinians. There are grievous holes in the all too common thinking that, “we’d better bulldoze that Shrine on Temple Mount and put up a Jewish temple so that Jesus comes back sooner!”
Again, what I am appealing is that Christians step back from a full, loud, and unquestioning support of the militant actions of the state of Israel and instead advocate more moderate and permanent roads to peace for all parties involved. What I dream to see is the North American church take their foot off the gas toward war in the Middle East by uncritically supporting the militant actions and land claims of Israel. I dream to see more Christians standing between the warring factions, seeking inroads for peace however possible. As God’s people, with hopeful eyes we look forward to the day in which there will be “healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2). For the sake of our world, and the sake of our witness in it, may we strive to usher in such healing as we await the day in which One will come to forever establish peace in the Middle East.
For any remaining curiosity, or for further reading on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis I would point anyone and everyone to the seminal work by Dr. Gary Burge: Whose Land? Whose Promise? His recently updated book treats both the theological and historical dimensions of this issue in much fuller length and detail (and probably accuracy).
Christian Stackaruck- Chris is an evangelical writer and thinker driven by a commitment to see Evangelicals renewed and rejuvenated in their mission through helpful discussion and progressive dialogue. Chris works as a theological education consultant and writer and is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute with a BA in biblical languages. He is also currently pursuing his MA in Theology at Wheaton College Graduate School. Chris loves to read and write about Evangelical theology, world religions, ecumenism, and global missions. Chris spends most of his time in the three places he and his wife call home: Toronto, Chicago, and Northern Thailand. While not crunching theology textbooks Chris enjoys traveling with his wife, eating foreign food, and reading broadly about history and religion.