(OPINION) Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a renewed escalation of geo-political tensions in the Middle East. At the time of this article’s publication, at least 227 people in Gaza (including at least 61 children) have been killed by hundreds of missiles fired via Israeli airstrikes. On the other hand, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel (most of them intercepted) – killing 12 people in Israel (including 2 children). According to the United Nations, more than 2,500 Palestinians are now without homes and more than 38,000 are considered internally displaced.
As a theologically conservative (but politically nomadic) evangelical, the evangelical response to this conflict has been incredibly disillusioning. Over the past few days, I’ve seen a barrage of #StandWithIsrael social media posts by conservative evangelicals and a flood of #StandWithPalestine posts by more progressive Christians.
So should evangelical Christians #StandWithIsrael? Or must we #StandWithPalestine?
Truth be told – if we, as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, think about political theology from a “binary choice” perspective, we are already losing. As Christians, when it comes to framing our political theology, there are never just two options. God’s beauty and majesty (as captured by Scriptural wisdom) are deep and wide enough to always give us another option!
As Dr. Tony Evans often says, “Jesus didn’t come to take sides. He came to take over!”
Given that our ultimate citizenship is in Christ’s kingdom (that is already but not yet fully here), and given that our churches are local embassies of Christ’s kingdom that point to the full establishment of his kingdom upon his return, here are four ways I’d like to see fellow evangelicals respond to the Israel-Palestine conflict:
1) Instead of standing with human governments and authorities, stand with the Church
As the Church, our job is not to think and act like the State. Our job is to think and act like the Church. When we think and act like the State by buying into its temporal agendas, we lose sight of our kingdom citizenship and its eternal agenda – the redemption and restoration of all of creation from sin. When we start to blindly co-opt the temporal, fallen agendas of human governments (whether it’s the U.S. government, the Israeli government, the Hamas-backed Gaza authorities or the Palestinian National Authority), instead of staying faithful to the kingdom agenda that Christ purchased for us on the cross with his precious blood, we lose our saltiness by becoming political pawns for these fallen human governments.
The sad reality is that we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are caught up on both sides of this conflict. So instead of blindly posting #StandWithIsrael or #StandWithPalestine, consider praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ who are losing their lives, livelihoods and homes in both Israel and Palestine. For Christians to say, “I stand with Israel” or “I stand with Palestine” is to also say, “I don’t stand with my brothers and sisters in Christ on the other side.”
2) Instead of standing with governments, stand with the poor and oppressed
A big part of thinking and acting like the Church is to always care for the poor and oppressed – regardless of what side of the geo-political battlelines they’re on. Loving our neighbor and loving our enemies demands that we seek out and move towards the victims of this conflict and the victims of historic systemic oppression in Israel and Palestine. Similarly, a big part of advocating for the poor and oppressed is to invest the time in listening and learning from their perspectives. I’ll be the first to admit – even though I have a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and a master’s degree in Political Management, and even though I enjoy watching Mossad thrillers on Netflix, I have much more to learn about the historical context for this conflict. So I’ll be investing time in research hours this summer to read, listen and learn from the unique perspectives of the poor, oppressed and marginalized in Israel – regardless of whether they’re Christian, Muslim or Jewish.
Government authorities are always going to be more concerned with preserving earthly power and getting re-elected over caring for the poor and oppressed. When we as Christians blindly hitch ourselves to any human government (without any regard for the people they oppress), we’re neglecting the poor and oppressed – while also doing great harm to our public witness.
3) Instead of standing for earthly ideologies, stand for the Gospel
Scripture clearly commands us:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
When we prioritize any earthly ideology or -ism (whether it’s Capitalism, Socialism or Zionism) over the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we’re doing great harm to our public witness. Make no mistake – unequivocal evangelical support for the U.S./Israeli government and its mistakes will do great harm to our credibility with our Arab and Muslim neighbors. After all, how could these neighbors possibly receive the Gospel proclaimed in word by evangelicals, who in deed, turn a blind eye to human rights violations against their fellow Arabs and Muslims?