Christians have a revelation of Israel. What is needed is a revelation of the plight of the Palestinians. In the previous post we considered why the political theology of Christian Zionism can be used to support a terribly disturbing political militancy against the Palestinian population in the Middle East, a population that includes Palestinian Christians. This alone should give American Christians pause. Do they want to endorse a theology of brother against brother? Further, Palestinian Christians of all denominations in Palestine stand united against the theology, which they consider a “false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation” (from: The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism).
God’s call to “love, justice, and reconciliation” is, of course, central to the entire biblical narrative. It is such a huge area human responsibility – the subject of countless books and seminary courses, for example – that we cannot possibly delve into it here, in a short blog post. But let’s look at it in its most concentrated form, in the ethic of Jesus in the Gospels, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. (You may want to see the posts on Jesus’ way of reasoning as a teacher of wisdom in ancient Palestine, for I am trying to think from within that way here.) And let’s make it practical.
When Jesus called peacemakers blessed, when he emphasized turning the other cheek, when he commanded love of enemies, when he required sheathed swords of those who would follow him – Jesus was talking about self-sacrifice. That is, he was throwing down the gauntlet to us at the deepest depths of our being.
The one whom the New Testament calls the wisdom – not the theology – of God was challenging his listeners at the core of their being: What do you want to live by? he was in essence asking them. Do you want to feed off of the desires in you that can alienate, hate, make enemies, fuel violence? Or do you want to live by my gospel-shaped wisdom, by inner motivations of love and reconciliation? What interests you, an ontology of violence or an ontology of peace?
Jesus’ ethic challenges the heart because it is deeply personal and utterly practical. True, no one lives consistent with it, but those who accept Jesus at his word must make a start and keep going. Many of us today, however, have restricted the ethic of Jesus to his audiences in ancient Palestine. We keep it filed “back there,” in that historical period. After all, it might get rather uncomfortable for us if we try to live it today, as individuals and churches, toward the peoples of Palestine.
Let’s think just about Jesus’ peacemakers, or peaceworkers. Christian Zionism as a theology of war opposes this norm of the ethic of Jesus. Peacemaking is about reconciliation, and reconciliation may be the most fundamental characteristic of the gospel of Jesus. I imagine Jesus asking: What are you doing to help reconciliation move forward between the Palestinians and the Jews in the Middle East?
People go to war against enemies. I do not see how anyone who supports Christian Zionism as a war theology is not counting the Palestinians as hated enemies. I imagine Jesus asking comfortable American supporters of Christian Zionism: What did the Palestinians ever do to you? Can you pick up a gun against them? No? Then why are you in league with a theology that is on that trajectory?
Even if they were personal enemies, turning the other cheek is part of an ethic that calls its followers to eschew a traditional principle of self-defense and then to go further and love enemies. We may want to rationalize it away – it’s an exaggeration, it’s impractical, it was for another time – yet there it is in the ethic of Jesus. I imagine Jesus asking Christian Zionists: What are you doing about loving the Palestinians?
Maybe you can’t go this far, yet, on the path of self-sacrificing love. But you can make a start by choosing to stop mentally supporting a theology of war. Loving actions will eventually follow that decision. In the meantime, a huge step has been taken.
Turning from Christian Zionism is not about hurting Israel or bringing a curse on you. It is about leveling the playing field, raising the Palestinian issue on a level with Israel. The ethic of Jesus calls for showing the same kind of impartiality to friends and enemies that God shows all to all peoples everywhere in his distribution of sun and rain. With this posture we give further witness to our lives as followers of Jesus. To love one’s enemies is to express in the worst of conditions the best of the love of the Father in heaven.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer
Image of the Palestinian Sun Bird by David King (permission via Creative Commons)