Our concerns are in fact much broader than just Israel. Israel is by no means the only country in the middle east which should be the focus of our prayers and practical concerns. There are issues in Lebanon, where Christian militias have an impact upon government; in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq where it is difficult to be a Christian, as also in Egypt, Pakistan. The list, of course, extends far beyond the middle east.
Why then do we seem so concerned about Israel? It is because the impact of the troubles there is very wide-reaching. Increasingly since 9/11 the conflict in Israel/Palestine has been portrayed as between two cultures, Islam and Western democracy. It may be worth reminding ourselves that the state of Israel was formed as a secular socialist state and that the communities involved were Jewish, Christian, Muslim and secular. Where Western Christianity is seen as supporting the Israeli state it is perceived by many, not just in the Middle East, as supporting an oppressive quasi-colonial regime.
Whilst there are many who would challenge those adjectives the reality as experienced by people in Damascus, Beirut, Amman and elsewhere is that there are millions of Arabs who are living in poverty as a direct result of Israeli action in 1948 and 1967. Infringements of international law, human rights, even democracy are well documented. Critics include Jews both secular and orthodox living in Israel.
It should not be possible to ignore the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza who cannot all be terrorists. Nor ought we to be able to ignore the millions in the West Bank subject to oppressive checkpoints, the ‘Separation’ wall, economic blockade, administrative and military theft of land. Yet many there, including many of the remaining Christians believe that their voice is not heard. They are portrayed as aggressors opposed to peace yet they have repeatedly asked for peace, whilst those who oppress them are portrayed to we in the west as ‘victims’.
What does this mean for evangelical concern?
How is it possible to speak of the all embracing love of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ when Christians seem to be supporting a message of hate and mistrust. As Evangelicals we are convinced that the Gospel message requires not only that we speak it but, especially in a ‘post- Christian’ age, first that we live it. Where our actions; what we say, what we do, and what we fail to say and do; contradict the good news of Jesus Christ then it is our actions that must change, for the Gospel is eternal. If we are to reach out to the people of the Middle East it will not be by using the language or actions of hate and fear. Nations that wish to characterize themselves as ‘Christian’ had best beware of the dangers. Individuals who follow Christ, to whom the label more appropriately applies, might remind themselves of Jesus’ words recorded by Matthew; “if you did not do it to these… you did not do it to me….Depart. Do the policies, and actions of our government, do our actions and words, commend the Gospel or do they rather re-impose law as Paul warned in his writings.
For Christians, and especially those who dare to call themselves ‘Evangelical’, there is a choice: we can live the good news or we can be like the priest and the Levite and pass by pretending it’s nothing to do with us. We should rather live the good news whatever the cost so we can face our Lord on Judgement Day.