Principles for Prophetic Action in the Middle East

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler


As Christians concerned about peace and justice, this time of crisis in the Middle East provides us an opportunity to return to our principles, the “springs of living waters” for people of faith:

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Broken Cisterns

My people have committed two sins: They have abandoned me, the spring of living waters, and have dug for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns ... that hold no water.                  —Jeremiah 2:13
IN THE LATE 1980s and early ’90s, Palestinians rose up against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in what became known as the First Intifada. Instead of acceding to the demands for justice by the “children of the stones,” the response was a process of talks that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

The “peace process” engaged the leadership of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization)—then weak, corrupt, exiled, and with little vision or support—in what turned out to be a worse-than-fruitless effort that led to the perpetuation of the occupation and suffering of the Palestinian people, and which made a just peace even further away.

The process was intriguing to many of us in the peace and justice community, and it successfully co-opted us, as it co-opted the Palestinian leadership, but this process entailed both the abandoning of principled positions and the adoption of the Oslo system, a broken system that could not possibly deliver what it promised.

We were treated to a new language by Israel and the U.S., which seemed at first blush to adopt our own slogans: Where Palestinians were constantly complaining of Israel’s refusal to acknowledge them—its demonization of their leadership, and trying to have Jordan or other local collaborators speak on their behalf—the new process brazenly invited the PLO itself and its leader Yasser Arafat to participate as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

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Ted Cruz Booed Off the Stage When He Touts Israel-Christian Solidarity

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who claimed “Christians have no greater ally than Israel." Photo courtesy of Senator Ted Cruz/RNS.

After he said “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was heckled off the stage at a Sept. 10 gala to raise awareness of beleaguered Mideast Christians.

Cruz, the keynote speaker at the Washington, D.C., dinner, sponsored by In Defense of Christians, a new organization spearheaded by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, prompted boos and cries of “stop it!” and “enough” and “no!” as an increasingly louder crowd told him to get off the stage.

The incident, first reported by the online news organization The Daily Caller, was captured on video by EWTN, the Catholic television network. The video shows that Cruz tried to continue speaking, but many in the audience, in a hotel ballroom, expressed anger when he included Hamas in the list of militants out to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East.

Weekly Wrap 8.29.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Photo Essay: On the Ground in Israel and Gaza
Two photographers spent the beginning of August chronicling the latest outbreak of violence for New York Times Magazine. The images tell the story of war.

2. WATCH: Jon Stewart Speaking Truth About Race
"Do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people? … Race is there and it is a constant. You're tired of hearing about it? Imagine how ****ing exhausting it is living it."

3. The Lie
"This spiritual lie has shaped our public life since the founding of our nation. We have yet to face it down, name it, and repent." Sojourners' Lisa Sharon Harper writes a guest column for Ed Stetzer's new series: "It's Time to Listen," which lifts up the voices of African-American evangelicals in light of the Michael Brown tragedy. 

4. MAP: Where Do the World Religions Live? 
Pew Research Center maps where the followers of major religions live. Fact: 1 country is home to 62 percent of unaffiliated people (and contains 19 percent of the world's total population). Guess that country.

5. That Time We Walked Out of a Church Service
"When I walked out of the church, I made a choice. I chose light over darkness. I chose truth over lies. I chose to honor my identity as beloved Kingdom woman over lukewarm, American believer."

6. WATCH: Kirk Cameron's Christian Nation Doesn't Exist
Watch the trailer to Kirk Cameron's latest film in which he apparently fill-on saves Christmas from those heathens bearing tidings of "Happy Holidays." Yes, it's a real thing.

7. MAP: How ISIS Spread Through Syria and Iraq
While the spread of ISIS seemed to surprise many in America, "the victories achieved in the past few weeks were built on months of maneuvering along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which define a region known as the cradle of civilization." The map visualizes that maneuvering. 

8. When the Holy Spirit Is Our Midwife
"… we are enlarged in the waiting; in every agonizing moment of waiting for the promise to be delivered, we are being expanded and transformed. And so we yell and fight through the pain because the Spirit in us, She’s also a warrior and She’s making us fierce, She’s making us brave."

9. Everyday Sexism in 9 Illustrations
"A new book from Taschen titled Man Meets Woman, features simple green and pink pictograms by Beijing-born, Berlin-based designer Yang Liu that examine modern gender roles. The 38-year-old uses minimalist imagery to illustrate a complex culture of gender stereotyping."

10. Treaty-ish: Obama's Proposed Climate Change Agreement Would Be Good for the Planet
"It may turn out that President Obama has simply outmaneuvered Republicans in Congress by entering an agreement that lacks the power of a treaty, but causes other countries to change their behavior—resulting in new forms of international cooperation that subsequent presidents and even Congresses will respect."

Michael Brown, Iraq, Putin, Gaza: How to Reconcile the Brokenness?

qvist /

qvist /

A soon-to-be college-bound Michael Brown is shot by Missouri police, reportedly while holding his hands above himself in surrender and while unarmed. The resulting protests turn violent, leading ultimately to police setting up barricades, complete with snipers, tear gas, and flash grenades. Local stores are decimated and scores are injured in the resulting tensions.

Not long ago, Eric Garner, another African-American man, died of suffocation while being submitted to a choke submission hold by a New York policeman.

Last year in North Carolina, a black man was shot 10 times by a policeman. And all of this is in the shadow the Trayvon Martin, whose tragic and unnecessary death, is still fresh in our minds and hearts.

As cited on the Economist website , it’s enough to elicit a grim question from Delores Jones-Brown, director of the John Jay College on Race, Crime and Justice. “People are asking,” she says, “Is it open season on us?”

Meanwhile, half a world away in Iraq, ISIS continues to wreak havoc, and the United States has resumed an airstrike campaign after a decade of military force trying to maintain a tentative peace in a fractured nation. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have reports of more Israeli and Palestinian blood spilled over the historic Gaza conflict, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to — in the words of a recent TIME Magazine article — “create problems only he can solve.” All the while, he stokes resentments between east and west not seen since the Cold War, seeking, too, to weaken the cohesive strength of NATO and to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies in Europe.

What’s happening to us?

The Nature of Joy

Annette Shaff/

Annette Shaff/

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:9-12

War is always ugly. The loss of innocent lives is never easy to swallow. And yet, as tanks open fire on the humble homes of the Gazan poor and rockets rain down on a terrified Israeli populace we are compelled to ask, “How do we keep coming back to this profane and violent place called war?” Why do we consistently and continually fail to understand the simple principles of our own faith and the faiths of those who profess a belief in God?

These simple faith principles speak of a command to love one another and to have a deep and abiding respect for all life – especially innocent life. Then, why do we fail to love justice, peace, and mercy as God commands and seem so determined to visit such violence and destruction on our world and on one another?

Similar questions arise for me in my work as a pastor who labors in organizing people of faith to contend with the tough issues that we face daily in our country. Issues like the mass incarceration of our young, the struggle for human dignity by the poor, the lack of employment opportunities for those who desire only to feed their children and raise their families, and the millions who yearn to step out from the shadows of unjust immigration laws and be recognized as cherished citizens of an open and welcoming nation. These are the tough issues that bring me and so many other clergy and people of faith from the confines of the church into the streets and homes of those whose lives are tethered closest to the pain of injustice. In each of these instances the moral challenges seems so clear but the outcomes are incongruent with the faith principles that are designed to guide our hearts and direct our actions.

War Is Abortion: Pro-Life Christians Should Care About Gaza

If there is one thing that most Christians of all denominations agree on, it is abortion. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 54% of American Catholics and 57% of Protestants/Others consider themselves “pro-life.” Every presidential election, we hear of prominent pastors raising questions about a candidate’s position on abortion. And while organizations such as Sojourners have tried to emphasize additional issues which ought to concern Christians as they go to the polls, the reality is that abortion is still a central issue for many people. This is not altogether a bad thing; since the earliest days of Christianity, the church has always had a special concern for unborn and abandoned children, taking them in and caring for them when others do not. These days, however, whether or not it is an accurate portrayal, “pro-life” Christians are more associated with picketing abortion clinics, hanging pictures of dead fetuses in public places, and gathering for the March for Life than welcoming such children into their homes.

Sayeeda Warsi, First Muslim in British Cabinet, Resigns Over 'Indefensible' Gaza Policy

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim member of a British Cabinet. Photo by Kaveh Sardari/Council on Foreign Relations.

The first Muslim to serve in a British Cabinet resigned Tuesday over her government’s “morally indefensible” policies in Gaza and its role in the Middle East peace process.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who served as senior Foreign Office minister for faith and communities, announced her decision on Twitter, saying: “With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza.”

In her resignation letter, Warsi wrote: “I believe our approach in relation to the current conflict is neither consistent with our values, specifically our commitment to the rule of law and our long history of support for International Justice.”

Labour leaders and human rights groups have criticized Britain’s Conservative government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, in recent weeks for not unequivocally condemning Israel’s handling of the Gaza crisis.

Conservative leaders expressed disappointment over Warsi’s “unnecessary” resignation on Tuesday, while Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband said Warsi had acted with “principle and integrity” in deciding to step down.

'Silence Is Betrayal:' Speaking Out for Peace

Anti-violence march Saturday Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Sakaguchi

Anti-violence march Saturday Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Sakaguchi / Sojourners

Saturday marked the third time since Israel began military operations in Gaza on July 8 that I let my voice be heard. I stood and marched alongside some 20,000 other individuals that like me have become utterly disgusted by what is unfolding in the Middle East.

A cease-fire has been struck, but as of yesterday, at least 1,800 Palestinians, most of whom are civilians, have been killed and nearly 7,000 have been wounded. Another 200,000 have been displaced in a territory whose infrastructure is now in ruins with mass power and water outages.

Despite the horrific events that have happened halfway across the world, the protest last Saturday, which took place at the White House, was a beautiful sight. Among the 20,000 protesters were Muslims, Jews, and Christians. There were blacks, whites, Arabs, Asians, and Latinos. There were women and men, both young and old, who had come from cities like Chicago, Tampa, Baltimore, and Boston. Many barriers were broken as we stood and marched in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

There were times when my heart was completely broken as I saw signs with photos of dead and mutilated bodies and others that listed the names and ages of children who had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. But in those same moments I would look across the sea of protesters draped in black, white, green, and red yelling phrases such as "Free, Free Palestine!" and "Stop the killing, stop the hate!" and I would once again become a prisoner of hope. I take refuge in the rock that is Christ Jesus. I know my God stands with those being oppressed, with those seeking justice and peace. I know my voice and prayers along with millions of others around the world will be heard.

Although I am pro-Palestine, that does not make me pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. I recognize and condemn Hamas's involvement in the failed peace talks and inability to find solutions. I also mourn equally for the loss of life on the Israeli side. However, despite the part Hamas has played in all of this I do not find Israel's actions to be justified. So I march.

Weekly Wrap 8.1.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Visualization: Casualities in the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Washington Post is keeping a regularly updated tally of the deaths in the current conflict. The stunning visualization paints a grim picture.

2. I Need Feminism Because…
A Tumblr using the hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism made the Internet rounds last week. Sojourners' writer Catherine Woodiwiss offers her take: "In a perfect world, women can choose to be whomever they want. But there is not yet a country on earth in which that is actually true. That is why we need feminism."

3. Religious Conservatives Embrace Pollution Fight
From The New York Times:"This week’s hearings on the new E.P.A. rule gave [conservatives] an opportunity to make their argument that climate change hurts the world’s poor through natural disasters, droughts and rising sea levels, and that it is part of their faith to protect the planet."

4. Wife Beating Gets a Standing Ovation in Baltimore
"… the sheer gall it takes to celebrate fans’ adoration of a man who beat his fiancee and mostly got away with it indicates the larger problem: The NFL is too big to fail."

5. The New Face of Hunger
One-sixth of Americans don't have enough food to eat. This powerful photo essay chronicles the stories in three parts of the country. Click through the gallery for the moving images.

6. New Baby Doll Is Anatomically Correct, And Moms Are Freaking Out 
"An outraged mom recently shared a photo of an anatomically correct baby doll on Facebook. I don't get it. When did it become taboo to talk about body parts with our kids?"

7. WATCH: What Would Happen if People in Poverty Received Tabloid Treatment?
A new campaign from a Canada-based service organization puts real people struggling with poverty in the place of the Kim Kardashians of the gossip-mag world. Check out the video and magazine mock-ups.

8. What's the Story of Your First Days in America?
From visiting McDonald's to questioning Southern hospitality, the fascinating series First Days documents immigrants' transition into the U.S.

9. Are You Too Proud of Your 'Natural' Lifestyle?
"While I certainly sympathize with concerns over chemicals and additives in our food, with the degradation of the environment, with the overprescribing of antibiotics and the soaring cesarean section rates, I’m keenly aware that many of the advances now freely scorned by those proudly adhering to ‘natural’ lifestyles are the very thing that make a flourishing, healthy life possible for so many people."

10. A Few Times Vandalism Did the World Some Good
While we're totally not advocating vandalism … the " … or Love the Neighbor as Thyself" response was pretty great. See all of these heroes-of-the-questionably-legal sort at the link.