I’ve just returned from Bethlehem where I attended the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference convened by Bethlehem Bible College, The Holy Land Trust, Musalaha, Bethlehem Lutheran Christmas Church, and others. The theme of the fifth annual conference was “Jesus Christ at the Center.” It was my fifth trip to the Holy Land, yet it was my first time attending this gathering. I’m glad I went. I’m grateful to have been with my Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters to feel with them, support them, stand with them, say by presence that “we care”, be inspired by them, be convicted by them, and to be taught by them.
Christian presence in the Holy Land is diminishing for several reasons, and is now less than 1% of the population of Israel and Palestine with around 250,000 Christians, of which 200K are in Israel and 50K are in the West Bank and Gaza–Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. Of this small population, even smaller are the evangelicals numbering around 3,000-5,000.
Palestinian Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and worthy of our solidarity and support from Christians in the West. More than that, they are worthy of our admiration and we can look to them as teachers for our own discipleship, and a great source of hope for the Holy Land.
In key ways, Palestinian Christian peacemakers represent the best chance for peace in the world’s most complicated conflict, which is fraught with great suffering and global implications. Palestinian Christians are also a brilliant, bright-shining example of what Christianity actually is and that to which Jesus calls us. They call to mind the spiritual depth of the African American church, or any other minority people whose discipleship to Christ under the heel demonstrates most graphically and clearly the hope of Jesus’ gospel and the demands of his teaching.
Among the most radical and powerful of Jesus’ teachings is “Love your enemy”. In few other places is this harder to do than in the Holy Land if you’re a Palestinian Christian. And yet they strive to do it, and model Jesus in their efforts. It is true as they continue to pray, forgive, work for justice and peace, and espouse non-violence
We must support our Christian sisters and brothers in the Holy Land. As a Bible people, we must take seriously Hebrews 13.3 “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Our Palestinian brothers and sisters are suffering, and it’s been made worse in recent months because of political developments in our own country.
And if we care about their survival as the contemporary body of Christ in the land of the Bible, the inheritors of Christian witness that extends back 2000 years, we also have to support the flourishing of all the people who live there today. Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians. Each has their own deep and historical connections to the Holy Land, each deserve to live in security, justice and peace.
Three things to do:
1) Learn. Here’s a short article to start with.
2) Pray. Pray for yes, the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122), and also for justice throughout the Holy Land for all those who live there: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Pray that God would sustain the strength of Palestinian Christian peacemakers and amplify their influence and voice.
3) Join me and Todd Deatherage as we lead our next Telos Group/Coracle pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March 30 – April 8 of 2019. If you would like more information or are interested in going with us, please click here.