Back to Top

The Holy Land Unplugged: American Christian Investment and Responsible Pilgrimage

As I write this, I am en route to the Holy Land … A place that I hold deep in my heart and that is sacred to many believers around the world. The land is holy and has such rich history and theological significance. But the “holy land” can not be understood apart from the contemporary geopolitics between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. And today, the realities on the ground continue to escalate with some of the worst violence we’ve seen in years. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) wrote about some of the details of the current situation in this February 23 statement condemning the increased violence and calling on the United States and Israel to address core issues of settlements and state violence. 

So what can American Christians do to “unplug” the mysteries and complexities of the current situation in the Holy Land? 

Pray that God Opens our Hearts and Eyes to What’s Happening in Israel and Palestine 

During my days of World Vision, we would often pray “break my heart for the things that break the heart of God.” The situation in Israel and Palestine is a tragedy. Decades of violence and loss have led to a lack of trust and a power imbalance today that manifests itself in the military occupation of the Palestinian people - the longest military control of an occupied territory in modern history. Consider using CMEP’s Prayers for Peace (P4P) Blog to hear stories from the region and to pray for people’s circumstances to change. As we pray, God also changes our hearts and opens our eyes to ways he is working in the world. 

Pay Attention to the News and What is Happening Daily in the Land We Call Holy 

Every year millions of Christians from around the world travel to Israel to see the “holy sites” while ignoring the people who live in Israel and the Palestinian territories today. One of the primary ways we can be responsible in our pilgrimages is by not ignoring current realities. Would Jesus have ignored violence and pain when he was en route to the wilderness to pray and be with God? No. Rather, he would have responded to those suffering around him. 

CMEP is one of many places that help to keep American Christians informed about what’s happening in Israel, Palestine, and the broader Middle East. Consider signing up for our weekly bulletins here.  

Don’t Use Our Theological Assumptions to Justify Political Beliefs 

Recently, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in the news for his comments about the Holy Land. Pompeo, according to The Guardian, “defended Israel’s decades-long control of Palestinian territories by claiming that the Jewish state has a biblical claim to the land and is therefore not occupying it.” Regardless of how one might read the Scriptures, the Bible should not be used to justify the military control of approximately two million Palestinians in Gaza, more than 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, and several hundred Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The Bible and Christian theological beliefs should not be weaponized to justify the oppression of any people group. 

Another example of the conflation of Christian rhetoric and political justification happened previously when Pompeo identified himself as an evangelical Christian and stated to the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) that “it is very possible President Trump is a modern-day Esther poised to defend Israel and save the Jewish people.” This is a clear example of stories from the Bible being manipulated to justify human action. 

If you are interested in understanding more about the implications of Christian theology and in better understanding the enmity of the conflict, consider reading A Land Full of God that includes dozens of short readable essays about the history, political, religious, and geographical tensions that have led to so many dynamics we see today. 

Keep a Multi-Narrative Focus 

Many conversations related to Israel and Palestine are a zero sum game. We must stand up against anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hatred toward Jews. Anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise in past years and there are horrific stories around the world of violent acts perpetrated against Jewish people. We must ardently reject anti-Semitism while also differentiating between hatred toward Jews and legitimate criticism of policies of the State of Israel. 

I fundamentally believe all Israelis and Palestinians should have self-determination, freedom, security, human dignity, and opportunities to flourish. I believe both people groups - Jews and Palestinians - have historic claims to the land that go back thousands of years. I also believe that today there is a profound power differential between Palestinians who are living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza and the Israeli state. 
American Christians must acknowledge multi-narrative perspectives - which are in no way monolithic - while not ignoring the human rights abuses and violations that are ongoing - including but not limited to the effects of the separation barrier, home demolitions, collective punishment, and other repercussions of military control imposed on the Palestinian people. 

Advocate for Better Realities in the Holy Land 

On April 20-21, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) will be hosting an advocacy summit called “Seeking Comprehensive Peace: Advocating for Human Rights in Israel and Palestine.” Consider joining us in D.C. to hear from keynote speakers for Israel, Palestine, and the United States including Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, Rev. Dr. Jack Sara, and Archbishop Elias Chacour. Participants will have the opportunity to hear stories from the region and then on Friday, April 21 to take the stories they have heard and advocate on behalf of human rights with their Congressional offices. Consider joining us for fellowship, learning, and a chance to raise your voice on Capitol Hill. 

Photo by nour tayeh on Unsplash

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.