Magazine article The Christian Century

Bearing Witness

Magazine article The Christian Century

Bearing Witness

Article excerpt

WHILE VISITING friends in east Texas my wife saw a message on the sign of the Assemblies of God church in which she had grown up. It declared, "The Bible Says the Land Belongs to Israel." This was during the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005.

I had recently returned from a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Israel/Palestine. I had taken hundreds of pictures and had been sharing stories with various groups, such as the Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship. During the course of our phone conversation Deborah said, "You need to call the pastor and talk to him about this."

I had been to the West Bank, but this scared me. Though I may be a fourth-generation Pentecostal, born and bred in the Assemblies of God, I knew better than to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian situation in a church with that sign out front. I told her I would pray about it--a classic way out.

Deborah's call had interrupted the movie I was watching--Gandhi. I went back to watching the amazing story of Gandhi's nonviolent confrontation with the British empire in India.

The next day I realized that if Gandhi could stand against the British empire, then I could call my brother in Christ and ask to share the story of my trip to Israel. So I did. The pastor promptly invited me to come the next day and to speak at the Sunday morning service. I immediately regretted calling, because now I actually had t9 do this.

The next morning I made the two-hour drive to the church. As I walked into the foyer I was taken aback: an eight-foot-long Israeli flag was hanging on the wall. I then discovered that the pastor had just completed a yearlong study of the end times and of Israel's fight to the land. He had commented along the way that "there will never be peace until Jesus comes back."

I took my text from Luke 4. I highlighted Jesus' emphasis on Elijah's compassion for the foreign woman in Sidon and Elisha's ministry to the commander of the invading army of Syria. These stories challenged Jesus' listeners, who tried to murder him because his vision of God's mercy included outsiders and foreigners.

I said Jesus was a Jew and a Palestinian. Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. I talked about Palestinian Christians working with Israeli Christians and Israeli Jews working with Palestinian Muslims. I told them about Israelis who oppose the occupation of the West Bank and about the organization Rabbis for Human Rights. …

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