'Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.
As the recent conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Territories fades from the news (thanks to the ADHD of U.S. media that moves onto another topic for superficial coverage), a group of conservative evangelicals took a trip to Israel to show their "solidarity" with Israel. Called "Christians in Solidarity with Israel," it was organized by the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). Those traveling included Richard Land (who used to serve as the top politico for the Southern Baptist Convention), Christian radio businessman Richard Bott, author Kay Arthur, and NRB CEO Jerry Johnson.
Solidarity! But with what?
... killing around 1,500 innocent civilians?Over the past two months, Hamas militants in Gaza and political and military leaders in Israel have committed horrible and misguided acts of violence. The violence on both sides must be condemned. But to travel to show "solidarity" with one side is to show acceptance of that side's violence. In this case, the U.S. evangelical leaders chose to support the side responsible for the most violence. While more than 2,000 people in Gaza were killed - most of them innocent civilians - only 65 Israeli soldiers and 5 Israeli civilians were killed. Even if one believes an Israeli military action was necessary, the effort was excessive and indiscriminate. The attacks by Israel violated United Nations principles and may have included war crimes.
... killing several hundred children?
... wounding several thousand innocent civilians?
... displacing more than 500,000 people from their homes?
... violating international human rights laws?
But, hey, let's join hands and sing "solidarity forever." And let's pretend the wet feeling is just sweat on our hands. If we close our eyes long enough maybe the so-called "holy land" will be nothing but rubble so we don't have to be bothered by the sight of those killed.
Traveling to the region to learn firsthand remains important and needed. However, to go to only hear one side and to root for that side during a conflict is to join the violence. Why not an a study trip - instead of "solidarity" trip - to meet with Israelis and Palestinians. The group went to meet with Israeli political leaders but should have also heard the other side. They especially should have crossed over to visit with Palestinian Christians, who have encouraged Christians to come on pilgrimages.
Tony Perkins, a partisan Republican activist who leads the Family Research Council, afterward mentioned meeting with the major of Jerusalem during the trip and thinking about the biblical verse to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem."
"During our meeting with the mayor of Jerusalem, we read Psalms 122:6," Perkins said in a press release. "This Scripture took on a deeper meaning sitting with the mayor of Jerusalem knowing that he was leading the city we have been instructed by God to pray for. We prayed for him and then walked outside on the terrace overlooking the entire city. Psalm 122 does not have an expiration date."
While Perkins condemned the "[e]vil that "[t]housands of missiles are raining down on Israel," he offered no criticism of the evil of Israel targeting and killing children and other civilians. The "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" rhetoric is often used by conservative evangelicals to justify their unquestioning support of the modern state of Israel. Yet, they apparently fail to recognize that Israel's political and military leaders are often some of the forces preventing the peace of Jerusalem.
Even if one assumes the modern, secular state of Israel is actually a reincarnation of the biblical nation of Israel, that does not mean we must blindly support Israel. After all, much of the rhetoric of the Old Testament prophets is condemnation of Israel for its sins. Israel was even invaded and defeated by foreign nations because of the country's disobedience. So, Israel can be wrong and in such times must be condemned. To do otherwise is to act like the false prophets that Jeremiah criticized.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.
Even if the modern, secular state of Israel is God's chosen nation, that does not mean the attacks on children in Gaza were morally right. Even if the current ceasefire holds, we cannot declare Israel's oppression of the occupied territories to be "peace." We must not stand in solidarity with evil and call it "peace."
Azar Ajaj, an Israeli Baptist, also pointed to the Psalm 122 passage in comments to me last month in Turkey. However, he focused his thoughts on the verse by noting the responsibility of churches to be instruments of peace. Thus, he urged Christians to pray for churches in the Middle East - as opposed to the political and military focus of Perkins.
Azar Ajaj Emphasizes the Church's Role in Promoting Peace in Israel from EthicsDaily on Vimeo.
Anne Graham Lotz said she went on the NRB trip to show the importance of the nation of Israel.
"I came at a time like this because it is a time like this to show that I stand by Israel," she said. "I believe that she is God's special place, God's special people. He put his name on this city. And I feel in the world there's a different perspective."
God's special people also live on the other side of the border, which is also God's special place. We must not allow our political alliances to trump our biblical mandates.
Lotz noted before she left that her daughter had an app on her phone that beeped whenever Hamas fired a rocket into Israel. But Lotz made her daughter turn it off because it beeped too much while they were at the beach. Why such a one-sided app? Why not an app that noted each time either side struck the other? If we only hear about the Hamas rockets we may make faulty judgments based on incomplete information.
Sadly, one conservative group took the argument even further. The so-called "Christian Coalition" put out a statement earlier this month declaring, "A Note to the Media - Count Bombs Rather than Bodies." It is true that Hamas has fired many rockets into Israel and that should be condemned. But people - or what the "Christian" Coalition dismissed as "bodies" - must always count for more! By the "Christian" Coalition's "logic," dropping 100 small bombs that do not even destroy a house would be worse than dropping one atomic bomb that wipes out a whole city.
If an atheist group put out such a statement, I would be repulsed enough. But the dehumanizing of Palestinians came from a group that claims to follow the gospel that clearly says God loves all people. What in God's name have we become?
Treating war like a game - like the insensitive creators of a pro-Israel game app did recently - is not a true Christian response. Our calling is to cross borders to be in solidarity with those on both sides of the conflict, to be in solidarity with the people (especially those suffering) and not the political and military leaders causing the violence. And our calling is to add our voices to those of Jeremiah in condemning the false prophets.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?