I am somewhat amazed by the apathy of many in the Church towards matters of injustice and in particular the injustices with the Israel/Palestine conflict. Some respond with the supposition that this conflict has been going on for thousands of years (not true—it goes back no longer than a century): so, these Christians inquire, why should we think that we can solve it? Others suggest that we should only be involved in spiritual matters and not politics.
How might we respond?
Wow! Can we really sweep this entire issue under the carpet and assume that God will allow us to remain uninvolved since we are attending to spiritual matters? (ironically many who put forth these sentiments advocate vociferously for various political stances that take a very strong line towards this issue. So, on the one hand, they suggest that we must stay out of politics, and, on the other hand, they radically support a political position that has major irons in the political fire). Allow me to note three points in response.
First, the suggestion that this is a political issue that should not affect the Church, which should be engaged in spiritual matters, is a statement of profound misunderstanding. This conception is reflective of a modernist worldview that has greatly impacted the church’s thinking in many such ways. We have dealt with this in other essays so we will not take the space here to do so. But let it be noted that this is a highly unbiblical, secular worldview that seeks to place into separate realms, in manners that contravene Scripture, the physical and the spiritual (this is the same reasoning used by the secular scientific world that suggests that science and religion are separate spheres that do not overlap. The secular world might be able to reason this way, but the Church cannot).
Secondly, the Bible is very political. The Gospel of Mark begins, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). This opening is a highly politicized statement that confronted Rome in every regard. In 9 BC, the word gospel was used to announce the birth of Caesar Augustus: ‘a son of a god’ (Augustus’ adopted father, Julius Caesar, was proclaimed god after his death; making Augustus ‘a son of a god’). Mark instead contends that Jesus’ birth is the Gospel of ‘THE Son of THE God.’ Mark’s opening is a direct assault on the claims of the Roman emperor. And wasn’t Jesus crucified for being a King! To say that His kingdom is not of this world, also fails to understand the nature of His Kingdom; which is one in which all the kingdoms of the world will bow (Dan 2 and Dan 7). We could go on with Moses before the Pharaoh; Daniel before the Kings of Babylon; Paul before Caesar, all of whom confronted the political powers of the day on behalf of the people of God. Shall we now reject Martin Luther King Jr as someone who transcended his spiritual responsibilities? Or what about William Wilberforce? Was not their political engagement the means by which these men, and countless others, demonstrated their witness to the world. That is, they attended to spiritual matters precisely by confronting the political powers.
Martin Luther King said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”
Thirdly, this is a Church issue, in which Christians, who are caught on both sides, are suffering greatly—especially as a result of the occupation of Palestine. I have argue in These Brothers of Mine that in the Gospel of Matthew the phrases ‘brothers of mine’ and ‘least of these’ are used always for followers of Jesus—indeed the phrase ‘Least of these’ in Matthew without exception refers to disciples (Matt: 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14; 5:19; 11:11) and ‘brothers of mine’ throughout Matthew always indicates followers of Christ (5:22-24, 47; 7:3-5; 12:48-50; 18:15, 21, 35; 23:8; 28:10). From this I believe that we should conclude that Jesus is affirming that whatever we do to Christians we do to Him. And if we do not meet the needs of the Church, then we are not meeting the needs of Christ! It is at this point that I don’t think that Christians have you seen the force of what Jesus is saying. The point is that when Jesus returns, according to Matthew’s account, He will separate the sheep from the goats and the primary factor as to which side we are on is how we treat the body of Christ (this of course does not mean that our treatment of unbelievers is irrelevant; only that our primary responsibility is towards the body of Christ).
This is a fundamental principle in Scripture. For example, in 1 John we see the reiteration throughout the letter that we must love ‘one another’ (1 John 3:10, 11, 14, 16, 23—throughout this section John clearly has the Church in view). This point also corresponds with the message of Revelation. For, in Revelation one of the major themes is that the dragon wages war against God (Rev 12-13; esp 13:6). He does so, not by fighting God, for that would be futile, but by attacking God’s children (Rev 13:6)! And, in Revelation, God’s children are not the race of ethnic Jews, but they are the followers of Jesus. Hence, Rev 12 says that the dragon pursued the “offspring of the woman”, who are then defined as those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:17).
So then we must decide if we are to be involved in what is indeed an issue with political implications. To do so in favor of justice and the Christians who are suffering is to side with Christ. To not do so, or to advocate for the oppressor, is to side with the dragon. We have no choice here!
Furthermore, it is also a Church issue because the Church has been involved in politics! Evangelical Christians and their view that Israel is the chosen people of God whom we must bless at all costs (see my posts ‘Do we bless Israel unquestioningly’ and ‘Loving Israel means to hold them to standards of Justice’), have influenced greatly US foreign policy on this matter. That is, we have been involved in politics by supporting Israel unquestioningly and by affecting US foreign policy in the Middle East. US tax payers have given over $100 billion to the state of Israel. We are largely funding this conflict. The nature of a democracy is such that the ultimate responsibilities for the nation’s actions lie with the people. As a result we are engaged politically and we are supporting the injustices against the Palestinians, some of whom are Christians. Now, we have rightly condemned the Palestinians when they commit crimes against Israel. But why don’t we condemn Israel when they commit atrocities against humanity? Because we are not to be engaged in political matters but only spiritual matters? I am not sure that I would encourage anyone to espouse such a notion.
Therefore, we must stand up for our brothers and sisters in Christ and care for them. Period. Always. To not do so is to deny the Gospel. To not stand up for our brothers and sisters in Christ is to stand opposed to Jesus. For whatever we do to His followers we do to Him.
To say that we cannot bother ourselves with politics is both naïve and in this instance dangerous.