Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, former director of advocacy and outreach for World Vision U.S., is the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World.
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A Capital Offense
EVANGELICALS IN THE United States and Christians in the Middle East had vastly differing responses to President Trump’s actions on Jerusalem that sparked the explosion of violence this spring on Gaza’s border with Israel.
In the United States, 53 percent of evangelicals supported the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, according to a Brookings Institute poll, and it was greeted with unadulterated joy by prominent leaders of the Religious Right. A wide range of church leaders in the Middle East were decidedly less positive about Trump’s actions, pointing to the potential threat not only to peace in the region but also to the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.
How could an action so many U.S. Christians supported elicit such opposition from Christians across the denominational landscape of the Middle East?
There are, of course, deep divides within Christianity about the place of the Holy Land and role of the Jewish people in eschatology that in part explain the divergent reactions, but there are pragmatic reasons as well for why Middle Eastern Christians would oppose the Trump administration’s actions on Jerusalem. The U.S. government’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel—absent a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians—will certainly threaten the Christian presence in the city and increase the risk of violence, according to church leaders there, owing to the unilateral nature of the decision.
Supporters of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem might ask how this seemingly symbolic act could harm Christians (or anyone, for that matter). The Trump administration, after all, denies that the recognition of Jerusalem will have any detrimental impact on the peace process. They argue that Jerusalem has served as the physical location of Israel’s government since 1950; it makes no sense, they say, to deny the reality that the city is “in fact” Israel’s capital.
Life Inside the Gaza Blockade
MOST CHRISTIANS KNOW about Gaza from its mention in the Hebrew scriptures in the sensuous and heroic stories of Samson, corrupted by Delilah, who lured him into showing the secret of his strength (Judges 16:5). Historically a Canaanite city and then Philistine, Gaza was conquered by Joshua as a part of his conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua 10:41). For thousands of years Gaza has had a history of being destroyed and rebuilt, from the time of Alexander the Great until today.
The Gaza Strip is now a small territory to the southwest of Israel, bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, with 1.8 million people living in only 140 square miles. During my visit there earlier this year, I was overwhelmed by the place’s incredible beauty; at the same time, the lack of functional sewage treatment plants, limited electricity, and other broken infrastructure result in Gazans experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis. Beautiful and tragic.
In 1967, the Israeli military seized Gaza and remained there until 2005, when Israel unilaterally pulled out under Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement” plan. Between August and September 2005, roughly 9,000 Israeli settlers were evacuated and 21 settlements destroyed (rather than turned over to Gazans). In 2007, after Hamas took control of Gaza, Israel intensified the restriction of movement and imposed land, sea, and air blockades on the territory. The blockades have led to severe living conditions for the people there and a growing humanitarian crisis.
Forgive Us, Lord
Often we do not know how our words and actions affect and harm others. However, ignorance is not an excuse. As the body of Christ, we must be willing to look deeply at the implications of the choices we make. When those choices cause harm – intentionally or unintentionally – we must repent and ask for forgiveness.
Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith was a cry from my heart and the hearts of my coauthors as we wrestled with what it means to be the church of “Good News” in the 21st century. So many people do not see the evangelical church from that perspective. The church – rather than being Good News – is often a painful place where broken people, judgment, and criticisms prevail.
THE CRY OF the church to the world should be “Forgive us.”
At a time when the American church struggles with finding its place in the world and struggles with asserting its identity, could the church be known as the community that models confession, repentance, and the seeking of forgiveness? At this moment in history, the American church is often ridiculed or portrayed as unforgiving and ungracious. Could the church offer a counter-narrative, not of defensiveness or derision but of an authentic confession and genuine reconciliation? By examining seven different areas where the church has committed sin, we ask the church to consider the spiritual power and the theological integrity of a church that seeks forgiveness for those sins.
Our scriptures testify to the necessity of confession. Confession is central to the Christian faith. The importance of confession arises from the Christian view of sin. Sin is a reality and must be taken seriously. Evangelicals consistently begin our gospel presentation with the centrality of sin to the human experience. American evangelicals often assert that the beginning of the work of God’s forgiveness is the recognition of our need for God because of human sinfulness.
It is antithetical to the gospel when we do not confess all forms of sin—both individual and corporate. The reason evangelicals can claim to be followers of Jesus is because there has been an acknowledgement of sin and the seeking of God’s grace through Jesus Christ that leads to the forgiveness of sin.
Extremism, Terrorism, and the Attack in Norway
Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism. I had heard about the growing tensions in Scandinavia because of the increasing Muslim population and cultural shifts arising as a result. Thus, when I heard through a friend that a Norwegian school had been attacked, I assumed the attack to be a response from a Muslim terrorist group. I asked if it was al Qaeda or such other organization. My friend responded, "Probably." Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the picture of the suspect who appeared very Scandinavian with fair skin and complexion.
According to the New York Times, the attacks in Oslo killed at least 92 people and the orchestrator left behind "a detailed manifesto outlining preparations and calling for Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination." If I had read that statement out of context, I would think one was talking about the Christian Crusades of the 12th century.