A view from the Palestinian Church

In 2020, MCC celebrates 100 years of relief, development and peace and one way we want to mark this anniversary is by sharing articles and stories from the archives. We hope that these glimpses into conversations of the past continue to inform our thinking and work today. Calling for change and for a more peaceful and just world has been foundational to MCC’s work for decades. MCC has published articles about economic justice, domestic violence, land claims, military spending, conscientious objection, peace theology, and many more.

This week, we want to share excerpts from a 2005 issue of MCC’s Peace Office Newsletter. As the title of this newsletter already promises, Christian Zionism and Peace in the Holy Land, this issue raises questions around how Christian Zionism impacts peacebuilding in Palestine and Israel.

“Christian Zionism of the premillennial dispensationalist variety,” as MCC’s Alain Epp Weaver introduces the theme, “tells a dramatic tale: the rapture of believers, the rise of the Antichrist, and Jesus’ violent, triumphant Second Coming. Within this dramatic narrative the return of the Jews to the Holy Land plays a pivotal role, and the modern State of Israel thus becomes a fact of great theological significance to Christian Zionists.”

“This issue of the Peace Office Newsletter,” Epp Weaver adds,” offers a critical analysis of Christian Zionist theology and readings of Scripture.” 

You can read the full newsletter here or get a glimpse of the complexity of this issue through excerpts from articles written by two of the contributors representing the Palestinian Church.

Palestinian Church Roots – Cedar Duaybis

“The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 is often interpreted by western Christians as fulfillment of prophecy. This view clashed painfully with the reality of our experience as Palestinian Christians and fell upon us like a thunderbolt. We were totally disoriented by our physical dispossession and displacement, by the loss of home and property, of homeland and identity, and by the negation of our history and memory. Our spiritual grounding, which we groped to hold onto, was pulled from under our feet. We were left orphaned, physically and spiritually. We felt forsaken by heaven and earth.”

A church in Gaza. (MCC photo/Mostafa Al Naffar)

“The Palestinian Arab Church has roots that go back to the times of the Apostles and to Pentecost. Our Church derives its features from the land and its culture. Arab Christianity has been shaped and conditioned by Arab civilization since the seventh century AD, but it is worth noting that Arab Christians have existed in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East for six centuries before that. They are an integral part of the Arab nation. However, Western Christianity has since had a great influence on the identity of Palestinian Christians and their relationship with Arab Muslims.

While Palestinian Christians yearn for a peaceful solution to the conflict and bravely stand up for the human and national rights of the Palestinian people, resisting oppression non-violently, Christian Zionists work hard to thwart every peace effort because it stands in the way of their theology of a violent end-time vision.”

“While the international community works to end the Israeli occupation and reconcile the two sides of the conflict, Christian Zionists encourage Israel not to give back any part of occupied Palestinian land and encourage the building and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements.”

Cedar Duaybis is a Palestinian Christian laywoman and a co-founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center.

Theological and Political implications – Alex Awad

“Christian Zionism influences its followers to be indifferent to the Biblical mandates on peace and justice. Hard-line Christian Zionists teach that peace between Israel and her neighbors could only be established by the anti-Christ, the archenemy of Christ. Consequently, religious or political leaders or organizations that endeavor to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians could be seen as a tool of the anti-Christ. Thus the more turmoil and suffering that the nations of the Middle East undergo the greater the evidence that God is carrying out his eschatological program. Eschatology for many Christian Zionists is far more important than Biblical teachings on peace and justice. Jesus told some religious teachers who derided the importance of justice:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees,
you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your
spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have
neglected the more important matters of the
law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You
should have practiced the latter, without
neglecting the former.
Matthew 23:23”

Bethlehem, West Bank. Many Palestinian Christians live in and around Bethlehem. (MCC photo/Elizabeth Kessler)

“Unlike the prophets of the Old Testament, Christian Zionists have no prophetic words of rebuke for the state of Israel when the Jewish state indulges in oppression. Christian Zionists do not call for the state of Israel to do justice. Israel confiscates Palestinian land, demolishes the homes of the poor, destroys their agricultural land and siphons off their water resources, while many Christian Zionists continue to bless Israel and sing her praises. There are Israelis today, however, like the brave prophets of ancient Israel who do not hesitate to call their compatriots to pursue justice. Jeremiah reflected that courage when he said:

O house of David, this is what the LORD says:
Administer justice every morning;
rescue from the hand of his oppressor
the one who has been robbed,
or my wrath will break out and burn like fire
because of the evil you have done—
burn with no one to quench it.
Jeremiah 21:12

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ calls all his followers to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). His teachings are often referred to as The Good News. They are God’s good news for the entire human race. Can we intentionally proclaim his teachings as good news for some but bad news for others? When the Bible is used to endorse the theft of countries and the suppression of nations, then the good news becomes bad news and the Bible is twisted into a manual for occupation.”

Alex Awad was pastor of the East Jerusalem Baptist Church and professor at the Bethlehem Bible College when this article was written.

To learn more about MCC’s work in Palestine and Israel visit our website here. To get involved, consider writing a letter to our Canadian government here encouraging our leaders to work for peace and to call for an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

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