I’m sure many of us as individuals and churches will be praying for the situation in Israel and Gaza this weekend.
It is one thing to express my opinions, “Christian” or otherwise, as I sit in my living room safely, thousands of miles away from a crisis situation in another part of the world. I don’t deny that people in my circumstances might have something worthwhile to say, but my ability to contribute to the conversation with the kind of insight that comes from being intimately involved in the situation will be limited.
On the other hand, the following statement from Bethlehem Bible College in Israel contains an clear sense of credibility. You may or may not agree with its precise wording, but it would be hard to argue that you or I have a better view of the circumstances upon which the statement comments.
First, a little information about Bethlehem Bible College. This is from their website:
Bethlehem Bible College is a Christian college located in Bethlehem, the very site where Jesus was born. Located within the territory of the West Bank, the local community is highly impacted by today’s political unrest and conflict.
It is from the very epicenter of Christianity, that the Christian community is slowly decreasing. Before 1948 the Christian community was roughly 8% of the community in the Holy Land. Today, the Christian population is a less than 1.5% of the Palestinian community, as many Christians are emigrating from the difficult political situation to better opportunities for education, work, and their families abroad.
Bethlehem Bible College was founded in 1979 by local Arabs, to offer high-quality theological education and train Christian leaders for service in the local church and the local community. It aims to strengthen and revive the Christian church and support the local Christians in the Holy land, in order to combat this growing Christian exodus.
And now here is their perspective on the current situation in Israel and Gaza, entitled, “A statement by Bethlehem Bible College regarding the current crisis in Gaza,” issued July 25, 2014.
We at Bethlehem Bible College consistently called for a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. We always sought a nonviolent resolution to the conflict. “All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally”, stated the Christ at the Checkpoint manifesto. We also believe that as long as the occupation of Palestinian territory and the siege of Gaza remain, the conflict will continue to escalate. To quote the manifesto again, “for Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict”.
As Christians committed to nonviolence, we do not and cannot endorse Hamas’ ideology. However, we believe that the people of Gaza have the right to live in freedom and dignity. This means that the siege over Gaza should be lifted and the borders should be open. The people of Gaza need a chance to live.
We oppose Hamas launching rockets at Israeli town and cities. At the same time, we are shocked by the unproportional and inhuman response by the Israeli military and the disregard of civilian life and specially innocent women and children.
We are grieved by the mounting hate, bigotry and racism in our communities today, and the consequent violence. We are specially grieved when Christians are contributing to the culture of hatred and division, rather than allowing Christ to use them as instruments of peace and reconciliation.
In the face of this, we affirm – using the words of our own Dr. Yohanna Katanacho:
We are against killing children and innocent people. We support love not hatred, justice not oppression, equality not bigotry, peaceful solutions not military solutions. Violence will only beget wars, it will bring more pain and destruction for all the nations of the region. Peacemaking rooted in justice is the best path forward. Therefore, we commit ourselves to spread a culture of love, peace, and justice in the face of violence, hatred, and oppression.
We call on all the friends of Bethlehem Bible College to pray for an immediate ceasefire, followed by serious efforts to address the root of the problem not the symptoms. We pray comfort for the bereaved families. We specially pray for the Christians of Gaza, who although are currently under bombardment, yet they are offering shelter and support for the displaced and wounded. We finally call for you to pray for all those – Palestinians, Israelis and internationals – who are committed to spreading a culture of love, peace, and justice in the face of violence, hatred, and oppression.
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Note: Pray for the Shepherd Society – a ministry of Bethlehem Bible College – as we contemplate practical ways to minister and walk along the destitute and displaced in Gaza. We will soon share with you how you can help us respond to the huge needs.
A statement by Bethlehem Bible College’s board of directors, president, deans, faculty, staff and students – and the local committee of Christ at the Checkpoint.
The statement is co-authored by members of a local committee in partnership with BBC, called Christ at the Checkpoint. This is a biennial conference held in the Holy Land that brings together Christians from around the world “to pray, worship, learn and discuss together the responsibility and role of the church in helping resolve the conflict and bringing peace, justice and equality to the Holy Land through following the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.” The most recent conference was held in March.
Here is their ten-point Manifesto:
- The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
- Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.
- Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.
- The Church in the land of the Holy One, has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost. It must be empowered to continue to be light and salt in the region, if there is to be hope in the midst of conflict.
- Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
- All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally.
- Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity to self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.
- There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Any solution must respect the equity and rights of Israel and Palestinian communities.
- For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.
- Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love. Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
- Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the Gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.
- Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.
This is obviously a complex and controversial situation. In my own personal political views, I stand with Israel in this battle and think Hamas has acted provocatively and shamefully, as the terrorist organization it is. Both the people of Gaza and Israel have suffered greatly as a result. However, I detest violence and take my stand ultimately as a follower of Jesus in refuting violent means as a long term solution. I find the statement and manifesto above to be clear in stating a Jesus-shaped way. If they could be combined with sustained, creative, and imaginative leadership and action in working for peace and justice, perhaps we could find hope.
As I write this, I read that Israel agreed to extend the truce another 24 hours, but Hamas is not agreeing. Kyrie eleison.