December 11, 2017

Voices from Jerusalem & Beyond

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, making an important shift in U.S. policy that has previously left the status of that holy city up to the terms of a future peace agreement by Israeli and Palestinians leaders. Many conservative Christian leaders in the U.S. praised Trump's move.

But I'm more cautious because I'm listening to other voices - Christians who live in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Christians in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Egypt and other parts of the holy land spoke out strongly against Trump's move. Shouldn't Christians in the U.S. listen to the voices of Christians in the holy land, rather than just echo the decree of a U.S. politician? If you are willing to listen, here are some:


* Yohanna Katanacho, academic dean at Nazareth Evangelical College and professor of biblical studies at Bethlehem Bible College, is a Baptist theologian I've met through the Baptist World Alliance (in above photo). He was born in Jerusalem and lives in Nazareth - and he opposes the move by Trump. Katanacho wrote: " I don't believe that the recent decision of moving the embassy is compatible with the blessing of Micah, which is rooted in his vision for promoting peace and justice to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem to the rest of the world. I hope that Trump will further reflect on the issue of Jerusalem and seek to be a true messenger of blessing to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to all those who love Jerusalem."

* Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem, noted that "the Christmas story starts with an imperial decree" and called Trump's address "another such imperial decree." Raheb added: "And yet we do not believe in the power of Caesar but in the power of Christ, born in Bethlehem under occupation and crucified in Jerusalem by Roman authorities. Most of Caesars brought only bloodshed, destruction, and animosity to Jerusalem because they were not able to realize 'what makes for peace.' No decree will deter us from working for a just peace in Jerusalem."

* A group of 13 patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem penned a joint statement arguing the move "will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division." They added in their letter to Trump before his announcement: "Christmas is upon us soon. It is a feast of peace. The Angels have sung in our sky: Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to the people of good will. In this coming Christmas, we plea for Jerusalem not to be deprived from peace, we ask you Mr. President to help us listen to the song of the angels."

* Botrus Mansour, a Baptist leader in Nazareth, called Trump's move "a bad idea" that will hurt the Palestinian people. Mansour added: "Jesus makes it clear that specific places of worship are not important but rather that people matter. ... When the Psalmist asks us to 'pray for the peace of Jerusalem,' it involves acting to preserve the human dignity of everyone living there."

* Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Church in Egypt, protested Trump's move by cancelling a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that was to occur later in December.

Those of us who follow Christ in the U.S. should take pause and listen to our Christian brothers and sisters in the holy land. To praise the political move by our president without listening to these voices from across the ocean is nothing short of colonialism. The Bible teaches us to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." The first step toward that is to listen.

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