Written by Aaron Trank, Jews for Jesus, San Francisco (Extract from an article of the same title, see further info at the end of this article)
The command for unity in the church is not bound by racial, socio-economic, or political borders. But how do we have unity with those whose ideologies are seemingly irreconcilable with our own? How can we be obedient to scripture’s instruction to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3)?
This is a hard question to answer in light of the two competing political nationalisms that hit close to home for many Jewish believers around the world, as well as for many Arab Christians throughout the Middle East: Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism.
I’ve wrestled long and hard with this topic. While I don’t claim to have the answers, I do trust that the path I’ve walked has brought me to solid footing. Let me begin by telling my story.
Affirm the Right to Self-Identify
Self-identification has always been important to me, as it has for every Jew for Jesus who has struggled for the right to identify as a Jewish person. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Messianic Jew who hasn’t had to fight for his or her identity! The labels we claim are important to our identity. Even though Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 (“there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Messiah Jesus”) is often quoted to undermine personal identity, Paul’s intent was to root our identity first and foremost in Messiah, not to erase racial, gender, national, or socio-economic distinctions. Hence, we are free to maintain our Jewish identity and culture as long as our identification doesn’t interfere with our unity with the body of Messiah.
Because of my background, it hurts my heart when people undermine the personal identity of others—even if I don’t like the way people choose to self-identify. History only moves forward: as culture develops and changes we must face these changes with honest reflection. The past cannot be undone! There are Arabs (both Christian and non-Christian) who choose to self-identify as Palestinians, just as there are Christians of Jewish origin who choose to self-identify as Messianic Jews. As a member of one minority group whose self-label is challenged by the majority, I choose to affirm the self-identification of individuals in other minority groups even when (or perhaps especially when) I don’t understand the emotional weight that their identity holds in their hearts.
You might ask, “Doesn’t affirmation of Palestinian identity promote the cause of Palestinian nationalism?” I’m not sure if it does or not! My rationale is based on principle, not on pragmatics. How can I affirm Palestinian identity while also believing in the future restoration of national Israel under the Messiah? By refusing to allow personal cognitive dissonance on this issue of the land of Israel, the Jewish people, and the Palestinian people to fuel any reductionist thinking. I hold firm to Jesus himself, knowing that he will make all things new and will reconcile all things to himself when he comes again. Until then I know that I don’t know, and that’s okay.
Affirm Israel’s Existence and God’s Heart for Justice Simultaneously
The nation of Israel never existed in a vacuum of ethnic uniformity: even when Moses led the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt they were accompanied by God-fearing gentiles. We see God’s heart for all mankind in his command to the leaders of Israel regarding how foreigners and sojourners were to be treated: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). We also see God’s heart for all mankind in the construction of the temple. Solomon grasped the greater vision and even exclaimed when the temple was dedicated: “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel … when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place …” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33).
We should care about the Palestinians living as neighbors to Israeli Jews because God cares about them. We should be concerned for their well-being because God cares. Let our love for Israel never cause us to slip into reductionist thinking! Israel has a right to exist: as a people and as a sovereign nation, but Israel will be held accountable before God for her treatment of Palestinians. We must develop thinking that affirms Israel’s existence while affirming the need for justice and equality for Palestinians.
Pray for the Church in the Middle East
Never has the Biblical command of Psalm 122:6 been more relevant: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” We’ve probably heard this passage quoted so many times that it might seem trite for me to bring it up here. But I think it is very appropriate since we must pray not only that Jerusalem would have peace from her enemies, but that Jerusalem would have peace from within. Jerusalem is a city of diversity but the diversity is so fragmented that even the Old City is broken into quarters!
It is a dishonor to the name of Messiah that this secular division across racial and geopolitical boundaries also occurs within the body of Messiah in that region. If our hearts harbor hate, then I pray for conviction. If our hearts have already been seeded with love, then I pray that those seeds will sprout.
Let me leave you with this thought. If the apostle Paul were alive today and he were writing to the churches in the Middle East, I think he would reiterate his words given to us in Ephesians 4:3-6:
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Category: Havurah Volume 17 Number 01.