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Pursuing a Faithful Witness: Christianity, Nationalism, and the Middle East

As a pastor and the executive director of an organization focused on peacebuilding in the Middle East, I have seen firsthand how the ideologies related to Christianity, nationalism, and the Middle East intersect. From teachings in Scripture to the missional mandate of the church, the Christian faith is integrally connected to the ways we engage with both nationalism and politics. Our civic engagement has profound impacts on the world. 

Christians have significant opportunities to influence both domestic and foreign policy that improve or diminish the lives of people in the United States and around the world. People everywhere have been paying close attention to the ways the church in the United States responds to the actions that occurred during the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building. Many of the pictures and videos that captured the harrowing events of that day included banners with Christian symbols such as the cross and statements saying "Jesus saves." One of the videos, shared by The New Yorker on YouTube, shows young men praying and calling on Jesus, invoking his name and thanking God for allowing them to stand up for their inalienable rights (7:50). 

Any kind of exceptionalism - privileges some over others

On that day, rioters engaged in disorder and violence and called for hateful actions such as the hanging of then Vice President Mike Pence and assaults on other elected officials. In the rioting, several people were injured, and five died. Whether one is Republican or Democrat, Christians must stand up against violent protests that threaten our democracy and the very integrity and witness of our faith in the public square.

One doesn't have to abandon all acts of patriotism to believe that God loves all of the people in the world, regardless of where they come from (John 3:16). One doesn't have to besmirch the many wonderful privileges of being an American citizen, or even a resident of this country, to acknowledge that Christ's redemptive power on the cross extends beyond borders and is made available to every individual who chooses to believe and worship him (Mark 1:15). 

The fallacy of Christian Nationalism is the idea that the United States is exceptional. Any kind of exceptionalism - be it Christian Nationalism or American Exceptionalism - privileges some over others and ultimately creates a space for the activities we saw on January 6 and other ongoing manifestations of injustice. 

What does a holistic perspective toward peacebuilding in the Middle East look like? 

How does this relate to my work at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)?  Particularly related to contentious issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we often elevate the narratives and experiences of some stories over others and some realities over others. What does a holistic perspective toward peacebuilding in the Middle East look like? In Israel and Palestine, the pursuit of a just peace means that the legitimate needs and concerns of both Palestinians and Israelis must be taken into account. Imbalances of power and human rights violations and injustices perpetrated by any side of the conflict must be addressed. The ongoing realities of the military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza cannot be ignored. 

By the beginning of March 2021, more than 3,000 evangelicals signed a statement condemning Christian Nationalism and calling the church to no longer be silent amid these realities. Christian groups led primarily by people of color like Evangelicals for Justice (E4J), the Voices Project, Freedom Road, and supported by groups like Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Christians for Social Action (CSA), Red Letter Christians (RLC), and the Network of Evangelicals for the Middle East (NEME) have scheduled a Lenten Prayer Vigil for Lament and Repentance about the ways Christian Nationalism has damaged the witness of the church. Check out their websites to learn more about how you can join the service on Friday, March 26 at noon Eastern just prior to the beginning of Holy Week.  

The belief in the dignity of every individual, is essential

My hope and prayer in our political activism and our Middle East advocacy is that our efforts promote the dignity of all people. Understanding every individual as imago Dei - made in the image of God. The belief in the dignity of every individual, be they Democrat or Republican, Palestinian or Israeli, is essential if we are going to be advocates of equality and agents of justice. As the church seeks to provide faithful witness in the public square, might the needs of others be elevated above our own.  This is my prayer: that our engagement in political action embraces the principles of equality and justice for all people - from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Middle East. 

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

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