Havurah posed the following urgent questions to four individuals—three Jewish, one (Galen Peterson) gentile. All four have been involved in dialoguing with those whose positions on crucial issues sometimes differ greatly from their own, especially regarding Israel and the Middle East. Here are the questions; Havurah welcomes your feedback on their responses ([email protected] or facebook.com/HavurahMag).
How should we be involved with other believers in Jesus who disagree with us or have an opposing agenda? Is there a take-away value from being involved in this way?
As followers of the Messiah, we are in relationship with every other individual who follows him. This is a spiritual reality, unveiled at the cross as a new creation imperative for all of God’s people. The meaning of Messiah’s body is a corporate life in which all are brought together in unity so as to express, in this world, the living reality of God’s love for the world. Involvement with other believers is not optional, it is mandatory. Our relationship is one of blood and is therefore unconditional. We must be involved with one another regardless of differences and even opposing agendas. Ultimately, the agenda that’s definitive is the love of Messiah that constrains us to love one another. All other agendas are secondary and, regardless of how heartfelt or important we may consider them to be, to allow them to hinder or derail relationship with one another is a great evil. I realize this is a radical view, nonetheless, I am convinced it is the only possible biblical view. Given the context of intractable conflict in Israel/Palestine, living out this commitment is not simple. However, to not do so would deny both the beauty and power of the gospel of Yeshua. He came to those who did not receive him. By refusing or making fellowship conditional, we deprive ourselves of the richness of the body of Christ, especially in terms of how we understand scripture. We also are deprived of the joy of walking together as brothers and sisters in Messiah if we limit involvement with one another.
Differing and opposing points of view among followers of Jesus is nothing new. You don’t have to read very far into the story of the early Church to see that disagreements happen (e.g., the council at Jerusalem), and sometimes we need to accept that we will not always agree to travel down the same road together, as was the case for Paul and Barnabas. But the Bible is quite clear that "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18). And as it relates to our brothers and sisters who have organized the Christ at the Checkpoint conference on the premise of challenging Evangelicals "to help resolve the conflicts in Israel-Palestine by engaging with the teachings of Jesus," my hope is that there would be room for us to find points of constructive agreement and understanding on this issue in the midst of our differing theological and political perspectives.
Christians have a mandate toward active engagement with others, whether it is reaching out to unbelievers with the Gospel or seeking out a fellow believer when there is some kind of dispute between the two of you as Jesus taught in Matthew 5:24. This latter mandate especially has relevance in the present-day dispute between Jewish and Palestinian believers. There needs to be an environment for such issues to be addressed. So Christians with a heart for Israel must be engaged in the public exchange of ideas. Conferences provide an opportunity for people with an opposing view to hear your position on a topic, and God can use that. But the problem with public conferences is the issue of authority. Christian leaders can lend credence to groups with opposing views just by attaching their name to the event. And this opens the door to manipulation, such as drafting resolutions bearing the name of the conference without regard to dissenting voices. It has been my experience working in the Israeli-Palestinian context that direct contact with others in less formal settings can often be more beneficial, like one-on-one conversations in which you build a relationship and confront issues privately in a considerate way.
We are told to love our enemies, and Yeshua said "blessed are the peace-makers". That means we have no alternative but to meet with, hear the concerns of, and pray with those who are our brothers and sisters in the Messiah, even though we are divided politically and socially. Otherwise we allow ourselves to become factionalised, and squeezed into the pattern of the world. If Yeshua truly reconciles us to God in one new humanity, we have to live out and model his reconciling love in obedience to him.
We are also vying for the hearts and minds of Western evangelicals on these issues. How do you seek to encourage evangelical Christians to support the issues that are front and center for you (Israel, Palestinians, justice, etc.) in a balanced way that does not neglect concern for the other side?
We encourage evangelical Christians to keep an open heart to all of the peoples of this region regardless of race or religion. We challenge them to intentionally expose themselves to the stories, situations, and views of both sides, to become good listeners, and not be quick to volunteer their own views of the conflict. More specifically, we encourage evangelicals to seek out what God is doing in the midst of the intractable Israel/Palestinian conflict. For those who take the time to look carefully, it is evident that God is working on both sides and between the two communities. There are injustices perpetrated by both sides. No one is innocent and all are victims. The situation is complex and does not yield itself to easy categorization. To maintain a biblical stance in the midst of injustice, insecurity, fear, and conflict requires courage and a willingness to be vulnerable enough to embrace the pain of all sides and yet remain rooted in the cross.
As a follower of Jesus from a Jewish background who has a very strong connection to the historical narrative of the Jewish people, I believe that the Jewish people deserve the right, by God’s divine grace, and by the declaration of the international community in 1947, to live and govern in the land that they have a 3500 year historical connection to. At the same time, I think people who share that conviction need to understand that the Jewish people aren’t the only ones who have a historical and personal connection to that land; so do many Arabs whose families have lived for generations in the territory that is now Israel or currently occupied by Israel. We cannot ignore or desensitize ourselves to the hardships or the issues that arise for either the Jews or Arabs who live in the crossfire of the spiritual and geopolitical conflicts unfolding there by simply conveying that it is a conflict that won’t get resolved until Jesus returns. While that is true, as it is with every conflict in this world, we must remember that we have a responsibility to advocate for peace and justice in the meantime, and sometimes that necessitates questioning policies and practices within both governments that appear to create unnecessary hardships for people or exasperates the conflict, as well as bringing attention to fallacies and half-truths that whitewash a particular side within the conflict. If anything, I would suggest that followers of Jesus come at this issue with a lot more humility and a lot less hubris, and not neglect to actively support the believers living there who are engaged in proclaiming and living out the Good News in both word and deed, as faith in Jesus remains the only eternal solution to the people in that region, as it is with the people in any region of our world.
Balance is an elusive term when it comes to human beings. We all have our biases and convictions. And we live in a world that is dominated by advocacy. Our American political system today is all about advocating for your position exclusively, and this often results in stalemates. The same is true in the Israeli-Palestinian context where you usually hear positions supporting one side alone. And even declarations to the contrary, like being "Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine" are rarely true in reality. It can be a mantra that veils actual intentions, like we have witnessed in the past few years. Some might say that the solution to conferences that advocate for one side is to sponsor equivalent events advocating for the "other side." I have found that the most balanced thing we can do is to talk about Jesus and what he has done for all of us, regardless of the forum, because the only hope for peace and reconciliation in this world is through the reconciliation we have with God through the transforming power of the cross.
My presentation at "Christ at the Checkpoint" is a plea for Israelis, Palestinians and all believers to become involved in process of reconciliation. My paper, presentation and powerpoint are available on my website. There I map out the nature of the conflict and how I as a Messianic Jew see my responsibility. It will be different for each person, depending on their role, involvement and understanding of the conflict.
I would ask believers to pray for, care for and do all they can to seek the peace and welfare of both Israeli and Palestinian.
(The following question also appeared in the print edition of Havurah)
Some in the Messianic Jewish community have reacted negatively to the involvement of other Jewish believers in such conferences as "Christ at the Checkpoint". How do you respond to such reactions and still encourage unity among believers?
There have been two "Christ at the Checkpoint" conferences thus far. The first was attended by one Messianic Jew and the second had five Messianic attendees who had permission from the Israeli military to attend the conference. My husband and I were two of the five. Our reasons for attending the conference were two-fold. First, we wanted to see and hear for ourselves before we came to any conclusions or adopted any positions about the conference and its content. Second, we had been personally invited by our Palestinian brothers with whom we already were in relationship. To refuse their invitation would have been to reject their hospitality and to cause them to be wounded.
Prior to and following the conference reactions from within the Messianic community were exceptionally strong. For us, it was a matter of following the clear teaching of the scripture that we are one body, albeit at times disjointed and even fragmented. Facing the censure of the community was not pleasant as strong public statements were made condemning the conference and those from the Messianic community who attended. We chose not to relate or respond to any of the accusations and vilifying comments. On an individual, personal level, we were able to explain the reasons for our attendance and could speak knowledgably about the tone and content of the conference. We highlighted the blessing that comes in walking together regardless of our differences.
First of all, I would like to believe that Jewish followers of Jesus can humble themselves enough to think that we can actually learn from people who don’t see the world or God’s Word exactly the way we see it, but yet be confident enough to share what God has revealed to us no matter what context we step foot in. To me, this is following the example of Jesus and is in alignment with his teaching to be in the world but not of it.
Sometimes we are called to step foot into the "lion’s den" and trust that God will use us to reveal more of who he is and what he’s up to, to those around us. Completely disengaging from others that we don’t see eye-to-eye with paves the way to further polarization on the issues and potentially very destructive outcomes. Constructive and lasting change most often occurs in the context of loving relationships—not through public statements demonizing or decrying the other—and I applaud those within the Jewish believing community who have attempted to build conciliatory bridges with our brothers and sisters who are in or closely associated with the Palestinian Christian community. My hope is that they would do the same with us.
Emotions are easily aroused when you have protracted disputes marked by inflammatory rhetoric and disagreements at every turn. Leaders need to hear the voice of people from their own community, for there is a collective sense of wisdom in the body of Christ. But there is also a need for trust when a godly man or woman believes with conviction that God is calling him or her to a certain action. They deserve a measure of grace in that regard. Whether or not God would call them to return for a subsequent participation is a separate issue.
Clearly there is a price to pay when it comes to peace and reconciliation. After all, Jesus paid the ultimate price as "the mediator of the New Covenant" (Heb. 12:24).
Yeshua prayed for those who made themselves his enemies, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do". We have to love our enemies and forgive them, whether they are Jewish, Palestinian or whatever. Surely the surpassing love of Yeshua should bring us into reconciliation, forgiveness and restoration of relationships. Of course we have to respect one another’s views, and agree to disagree where we have not yet reached agreement. But this should not mean we stigmatize those with different views.
I would add that I hope that the Messianic movement has the maturity to engage with the real issues of justice, peace and conflict resolution in the light of the Messiah’s reconciling love and God’s faithfulness to his people Israel, rather than personalize and politicize the activity of those on both sides who are seeking reconciliation. I have discovered that we in the Messianic movement still have a lot to learn.
Lisa Loden cofounded Messianic congregation Beit Asaph in Netanya and serves as Head of the Department of Leadership Development and Forgiveness Studies at Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary.
Justin Kron is the founding director of eXperience Israel, a young adult spiritual pilgrimage program of Chosen People Ministries. Justin serves on the leadership advisory council of the North Shore campus of Willow Creek Community Church in Northfield, IL and coordinates the Kesher Forum, an inter-denominational learning community on topics related to the Jewish roots of Christianity and Jewish-Christian relations.
Galen Peterson is the Executive Director of American Remnant Mission. ARM’s ministry goal is "to lead Jewish people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus the Messiah through evangelism and discipleship, and equipping Christians to witness to their Jewish neighbors."
Richard Harvey is a Senior Researcher with Jews for Jesus. He was previously Academic Dean at All Nations College, UK, and past President of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance. His PhD dissertation has been published as Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach (Authentic Media, 2009).