The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine stands as one of the most difficult, and most deadly, political conundrums we face as the human community. At every corner peace is stymied by tightly held absolutes. Israel absolutely devoted to defending itself against all incursions—no matter what. Palestine absolutely determined to take back land they claim was stolen from them—at any cost. The clash of these absolutes has left both sides bloody.
Contributing to the mix is the involvement of the Christian community. On the one hand Mainline Christian groups have traditionally stood with the Jewish community in America on political and social issues. Many in the Jewish community along with Mainline Protestants comprise much of the liberal arm of the Democratic Party.
But the conflict with Palestinians has created a rift between some mainline groups and Israel. In recent years, leaders within the Presbyterian Church, USA as well as other mainliners, have called for divestment from companies doing business with Israel. This tactic recalls how the world community eventually helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa.
But is the distribution of power in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict really analogous to South Africa? Many mainline Christians certainly believe so. And traditionally, liberal Christianity has reflexively taken the side of the underdog. This position is rooted in the theological notion that God is always on the side of the weak.
While actual divestment has not taken place, the mere mention of it has generated deep concern within the Jewish community. Some express feeling abandoned by their former friends.
Meanwhile, the rift between mainline Christian groups and Israel has created something of a vacuum. This vacuum has been filled by conservative evangelicals. These Christians support Israel unconditionally. A particular reading of the book of Revelation has convinced many evangelicals that in the last days those who have not sided with Israel will face the wrath of God.
Of course, the people of Israel do not fare too well in this end-time scenario either, at least for the ones who do not accept Jesus as Messiah. But many in the Jewish community are less worried about end-time events than they are about present-day violence and gladly welcome the significant support of conservative Christianity.
And so it is that Christians, both liberal and conservative, complicate the already complicated and volatile conflict between Israel and Palestine simply by taking sides. Unwittingly, and perhaps with the best of intentions, they add their own theological absolutes to the political absolutes that already make a path to peace hard to find.
I can’t help but wonder if there is not a better role for Christians to play. Rather than taking sides in this conflict, even with considerable theological justification for doing so, I wonder what would happen if Christians in America committed themselves to a third side—a side that opposed violence in any form for any reason.
Admittedly this third side would position us in the most dangerous place imaginable—standing between warring foes. But this third side would provide the Christian community an opportunity to press for peace in both directions at the same time.
Perhaps it is not without significance that all parties involved in this conflict claim a connection to the biblical character Abraham. As such we all share in a promise that one day we will be blessings on the earth. This would seem an opportune time for Abraham’s children to work together to make the promise real.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.