Giving Peace A Chance

downloadI have to admit it: I’m very, very excited about this.

Today, several key Christian leaders, including Tony Campolo, Joel Hunter, David Neff and Jim Wallis issued the following statement:

“As followers of Jesus, we the undersigned are committed to peacemaking—to which we are called by Christ.”

Nothing controversial there. It’s what follows that makes me feel very happy. The statement is about peacemaking in Israel. The statement:

  • Expresses support for the 2015 framework signed by Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany), whereby Iran agreed to reduce its capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons in exchange for an elimination of economic sanctions against Iran.
  • Calls on Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and to end its “regular declarations” to destroy the State of Israel.
  • Calls on Israel to freeze the construction of settlements in the West Bank and to ease its embargo of Gaza.

Why does this letter make me happy? Well, for once, I’m not going to spell out everything I think and have ever thought on this subject, in a tl;dr format. I want to see instead if I can get a discussion going in the comments section. So, briefly

I don’t think the statement is perfect.

I think Israel needs peace.

I think Israel needs help finding a path to peace.

I think American Christians can help.

I acknowledge the kind of Christian response I associate with the religious right, the kind that expressly sides with Israel against its foes, and strongly supports assistance (these days, military assistance) to Israel. But this help does not seem to be bringing Israel any closer to peace.

I acknowledge the kind of Christian response I tend to associate with the religious left, the kind represented by the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. I acknowledge the need for Israel to understand the extent of legitimate worldwide concern over its policies in the West Bank and its treatment of Palestinians. But this response does not seem to be bringing Israel any closer to peace.

What the Campolo-Hunter-Neff-Wallis statement seems to offer is something new. Not a statement of unqualified support for Israel primarily focused on Israeli security, or a threat to isolate Israel economically (and perhaps also, culturally and intellectually) primarily focused on punishment, but instead (1) an expression of an unqualified desire (and I think, an unlimited hope) for peace, combined with (2) the recommendation of a very limited list of baby steps each side could make towards peace.

I have no doubt that the C-H-N-W statement can be criticized on its particulars. But I LOVE that the very heart of this statement is about peace. Not security. Not punishment. Peace.

I mean, what would happen if a group of Christians loved the Jewish people so much that they wished peace for us? And if they worked directly for that? Not for giving us the means to win the war, or for punishing us for engaging in the war. Instead, as partners for peace, and brokers for peace, and cheerleaders for peace. You know. Peacemakers.

Might it look like this?

Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, But counselors of peace have joy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall My covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

I’m not the expert, I’m not the final word. I just think that Israel and Palestine could use a little of the compassion that comes from a covenant of peace. Thank you, Messrs. Campolo, Hunter, Neff and Wallis, for your joint statement. I reserve the right to find fault with it … but not today. Today, I’m just going to feel good about it. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything concerning the fate of the State of Israel that has made me feel this happy.

Readers … comment! Or else I’ll go back to writing posts too long to read!

  • Chris Eyre

    I have always had the problem in talking about Israel that while my heart goes out to the Jewish people, who have not found peace despite hopes of finding it in a new old land, it also goes out to the Palestinians, who have seen land they thought was theirs progressively taken by others. Neither side, looked at as a “side” has clean hands (far from it) but individuals are suffering on both sides, have suffered and (it seems) will continue to suffer – and that is not something which this Christian can observe without a feeling that something must be done to bring peace.

    The trouble is, I cannot see a route from here to peace any more. I can’t, for instance, see that it is now possible to have a two state solution with a separate Palestinian state, as there’s just not enough left of what used to be Palestine outside Israel to create a viable state. OK, I have to support the statement you quote, because it has some baby steps in it, but there would need to be an incredible number of baby steps to get to anything which I would consider practical and lasting. That is, by the way, “incredible” in the literal sense – I cannot believe that those steps could ever actually be taken.

    • Chris, a difficulty I have with conversations about Israel and Palestine is that every solution is untenable, and the status quo is also untenable. So, saying that x or y is impossible or impractical carries less weight than it would, if there was a possible or practical z alternative.

      There is not likely to be peace, in the way that you and I understand peace, for quite some time. If ever. The political will is not there on either side, the sense of having been wronged is too strong on each side, and there are impasses that cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of both sides (for example, how to resolve sovereignty over Jerusalem). And as is typical with Israel throughout history, the interest in Israel of outside parties and outside powers complicates matters further. Given the stalemate over the big picture, small steps seem the only way forward.

      But my point in this piece is not just the small steps, but the need for third parties to step forward with a pure interest in peace. Or, as pure as such interests come.

      • Chris Eyre

        I agree, and wish that I didn’t. I did at one time spend a while advocating for a long term UN peacekeeping mandate for the area (which would have had to include at least bits of some neighbouring countries), with the proviso that no troops from majority Christian or Islamic countries could be involved (I favoured the Chinese or perhaps the Indians as an option). But not only is it supremely unlikely you could get the UN to agree to it, but it would also go down like a lead balloon with the involved nations. My justification was that the situation keeps spreading instability elsewhere…

        Which it is still doing. Partly, as you remark, because it’s in part a proxy fight between outside interests. Now, if you could get those outside interests round a table and get them to agree that it was doing nobody any good and they should take a combined stance? But that seems unlikely as well.

        Things are not improved for me by the fact that my country’s diplomats were significantly responsible for the whole mess in the first place, so I feel some communal guilt…