It is time to stand with the people of Israel. It is time to stand with the people of Gaza.
Earlier this week thirty-three Harvard University student groups signed a joint letter stating that they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” triggered by the recent Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. Similarly, the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter published social media posts that supported Hamas. In the wake of the attacks pro-Palestinian marches took place in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, San Diego, and Washington D.C. The New York City chapter of Democratic Socialists of America promoted such a rally in Times Square.
As we learned more about the atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel, including the apparent decapitation of babies and toddlers, many of these groups backtracked. Several Harvard student groups have pulled their endorsement from the controversial letter. Chicago BLM has announced that they “aren’t proud of” the messages they communicated on their social media feeds. The Democratic Socialists have tried to clarify their position on Israel and Hamas, but this has not stopped several office holders from leaving the organization.
Meanwhile, evangelical Christians have lined-up firmly behind Israel. Some of them stand with Israel because they believe the Jewish people, gathered in their ancestral homeland, will play a role in biblical prophecy. Over the course of the next several months expect to see the “end-times” prophecy crowd explaining how everything happening in the Middle East right now was foretold in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, it is already happening. This approach to interpreting the Bible—it is called dispensationalism—has been around for a long time. It can easily be used to justify violence and war.
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, is a dispensationalist. In other words, he believes that “to be on the right side of Israel” is “to be on the right side of history” and “the right side of God.” He recently told Fox News that Israel has a biblical justification to “bomb Hamas back into the stone age.”
I don’t know if Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, is a dispensationalist, but he recently praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that “Israel didn’t start this war,” but “Israel will finish it.” Perkins wrote: “I Believe PM Netanyahu when he says Israel will finish it.! The Biden administration needs to stay out of the way and let Israel tend to business.”
Let’s be clear: Hamas is a terrorist group that does not value human life. The violence they have perpetrated in Israel is evil and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Much like the free world stood behind the United States in the wake of September 11, 2001, the United States must denounce these acts of terror and support Israel in this moment of suffering. So far this is happening.
At the same time, this is a time to pray for peace and the protection of all human life in this region. What does Perkins mean when he says he wants Netanyahu to “take care of business?” How does one reconcile his tweet with another tweet he published two days later arguing that “protecting life is everyone’s duty?” Or what are the implications for human life—Palestinian men, women, and children—in Jeffress’s “bomb Hamas back into the stone age” line? Dondi Costin, the president of Liberty University, is calling his community to pray for Israel. Yes, let’s pray for Israel. But who is praying for the people—let alone the Christians—of Palestine?
Americans, and especially American evangelicals, do not do well with this kind of moral complexity. They have a hard time accepting that the Christian witness in the world is never bound by geopolitical boundaries.
If the pro-Palestinian students at Harvard got anything right, it is that this war cannot be understood in a vacuum. The two million people in Gaza are living in what the Catholic Church’s Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has called an “open prison.” They are trapped by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Most of them live off of humanitarian aid and the majority are food insecure. For years the Israeli government has engaged in a form of apartheid.
While the Christian Right in the United States endorses blowing Gaza to smithereens, Palestinian Christians view the situation more Christianly. Many of them want a two-state solution in the region. They want relief from Israeli oppression. They reject all violence. They want to be treated with human dignity by both Israel and Hamas.
The pro-Palestinian left in America soft-pedals the terror unleashed in Israel by Hamas. The pro-Israel Christian Right in America, which now makes up a significant chunk of the Republican Party, fails to find any meaningful solidarity with their fellow humans and, more specifically, fellow believers in Gaza.
We must reject both approaches. As a Christian, I will do my best to pray for peace and justice and stand in solidarity with the suffering—all of them.
John Fea is Executive Editor of Current
Image: Lament, a tomb in Père-Lachaise, Diana Tri Wulandari