Jesus: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
I had an interesting conversation with some Palestinian Christians not too long ago. Rebekah and I were visiting Bethlehem along with participants in a graduate level seminar. There were preachers, grad students, professors and a few spouses – like me – along for the ride.
My perspective, as always, is one of the open spirit: observer, listener, student, and journalist. I was there to learn, to gain fresh perspective, to ask questions, and to have my eyes opened. And boy did I!
We drove into Bethlehem through a gap in the wall. We visited the Church of the Nativity, walked the streets, talked with some merchants, and went to a Christian college where local Palestinian believers learn more about following Jesus as ministers.
The most interesting nugget I picked up from our visit was this observation by one of the Palestinian Christian leaders: “Our biggest threat is not from Israel,” he said. “It’s not the Jews who scare us so much as American Evangelicals.”
“Our biggest threat is not from Israel,” he said. “It’s not the Jews who scare us so much as American Evangelicals.”
Fear? Fear of other Christians? We talked about this some more and I thought about the tragically skewed view of “covenant” that is held by those who see Christianity as interchangeable with American Nationalism. As if God’s Covenant with Abraham amounts to a kind of manifest destiny mandate 21st-Century American Christians can cash in. “Take it!” their God declares, “it’s all yours.”
And we all know what happens to the people who get in the way when we begin to believe we have the right to take what we like, and especially when we promote the lie that God has given us more “favor” because we’re just that special.
Remember the Heart of the Gospel?
Many American Evangelicals carry this romanticized notion of “God’s Chosen People.” “We support Israel no matter what…” is not only a political plank but it stands outside of Christ’s call for love, justice, and reconciliation; Christ’s peace, kindness, grace, goodness, light, and “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
I couldn’t help but remember my conversation in Bethlehem this week when I watched the news and noted the relationship between the demands of the Evangelical Right, Trump’s relocation of the U.S. Embassy, the consequent protests, and then Israel’s heavy-handed brutal response to a people trapped in their Ghetto behind a wall.
I can connect the dots, and there is a lot of blood on the hands of those American Christians who continue to give my Palestinian friend good reason to fear.
I cannot understand how the Christian Nationalism that is eating away at the heart of the Evangelical Right can in any way pretend to have anything to do with following Jesus, and living as disciples of the humble, peaceful, merciful man who walked the hills of Galilee and who calls us to be his hands and feet in this world.
“For I am gentle,” Jesus says “and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
And so must we be – DEREK