How Should Western Christians Respond to the Confilict in the Middle East?

My purpose for writing this article is to help American Christians think through their approach to recent and ongoing events in the Middle East involving the nations of the entire region. Most recently I have been watching as western Christians post all kinds of comments, some balanced and some misguided, on social media like they are watching the world cup. What is occurring in the Middle East today is not a game. As one man, privileged to walk the streets of Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan from time to time,  I thought I might share some of the insight I have gained along the way. I am by no means an expert on the situation. I am a Christian, espousing a Biblical world view, who is beginning to understand the thoughts of the people at the street level in the Middle East. Here are some important lessons I have learned.

Americans, and Westerners in general, do not understand the Middle East. We think like Westerners, not like Easterners. As Americans in recent generations, we have no idea what it means to live in the constant threat of enemy attack. We don’t typically have stories of times when zealous warlords launched rockets into our village or when ensuing tanks destroyed our neighborhood. We don’t know what it is like to be constantly pestered by a growing arsenal controlled by neighbors who want to annihilate us. We don’t know what it is like to be a father in the cross hairs of a massive response to such pestering, trying to keep his wife and children safe. We just don’t have a grid for it. If we could just admit we don’t get it, this would be a good step 1. I am sure that this is true generally of most Americans, unless they immigrated from the Middle East, not excluding those in the highest positions of influence.

In the Middle East, your enemy is whoever is dropping bombs or launching rockets into your city, neighborhood. or village. I think this cannot be overemphasized because as Americans we just don’t get it. It does not matter who it is. If a nation, organization, or faction is threatening the livelihood of your family you will fear them, try to protect yourself, and likely learn to hate… and that’s just if you are a normal guy. Evil men feed on this sense of fear to create organizations of zealots to make sure these “injustices” do not repeat. In a sense, they become freedom fighters to all who feel they have experienced such injustices.

In the Middle East your core values are hospitality, family, loyalty, religion, and revenge stemming from a desire for justice. These are ancient values as old as Abraham himself, deeply ingrained from generation to generation. It is impossible to compartmentalize these values. Americans easily compartmentalize. Easterners rarely compartmentalize. Easterners are the most hospitable people in the world. Their sense of family is very different than ours. The Middle East has a relational world view similar to the world view of the Bible. Their community is based on religion, family, and shared suffering and victory. Westerners are individualistic. It’s easy for us to say, “I am so sorry that is happening to you” while simply going about our day unchanged emotionally. This is not the case in the Middle East. An offense or an attack on the community is an offense to everyone associated with the community.

What should Western Christians do in light of the constant conflict in the Middle East?

  • Allow the gospel to influence, yeah trump, your politics.
  • Carry out the Great Commission among all the peoples of the Middle East.
  • Take no joy in the trauma and atrocities of war “over there.”
  • Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the salvation of people of the nations that compose the Middle East. Pray for peace among all the nations of the Middle East.
  • Jesus said it this way, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love your Jewish neighbor and love your Palestinian neighbor by exercising relentless and authentic love and by serving them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the street level, the mission of Jesus Christ does not give us the option to hate one side or the other but only to love. Even if you identify an enemy, Jesus, said “love your enemies.”

  One thought on “How Should Western Christians Respond to the Confilict in the Middle East?

  1. Laura
    July 23, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Dear Pastor Brian,

    I am a Christian living and working in Jerusalem. I have lived here for many years and this year seems to be a height for hatred like I never seen before. The violence all over the land is awful. It is sickening to me to see believers in the land condoning rioting and violence. I have friendships on both sides but the hatred I see is spreading like fire and I am so grieved. Thank you for presenting a sound article and asking people to love each other. As believers we must love and pray for our enemies. I will not go into politics but I understand the arguments of both sides but still think we need to encourage both sides to love and pray for each other. It’s a hard thing to do when you have a stone, machine gun fireworks, in your hand or a gun, but if we pray God can change our hearts and heal our land.

    Like

    • July 23, 2014 at 10:14 am

      Thanks for your comment Laura. I will pray for you and your ministry and for the peace of Christ today.

      Like

  2. cnm
    July 22, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    As an American immigrant to Israel and part of the Messianic Jewish community (I’m a gentile Christians, husband Messianic Jewish), I think you article gets it… but not quite. I really appreciate the humility to acknowledge how American’s “don’t get it” and do think that’s a great starting point. I learn something new every day, and I have been in Israel 5 years. The area where I have some concerns, though, is that while we are called to love our neighbors and our enemies equally, no where does the bible speak of neutrality as being a Christ-like attribute. At some point, we have to stand for righteousness and truths of scripture, even if its uncomfortable. And in the ME this does take on a political tone that differs from many parts of the world. Part of carrying out the great commission within the Arab community is sharing the truth of Jesus’s full identity as Savior and the Jewish Messiah, for all nations, but Jewish nonetheless – and really, named Yeshua. Also that God’s word promises the land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that we as gentile nations are called to bless them. You might enjoy reading this article by Jurgen Buhler, the director of the International Christian Embassy – Jerusalem, in which he explains loving our Arab neighbors while still presenting truth, “What Would Jesus Do About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” He explains how Palestinian Christians often hold a narrative of scripture that holds historic inaccuracies, similar to that of the Samaritans.

    http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/43571-what-would-jesus-do-about-the-israel-palestinian-conflict

    Thank you for your effort! I really can see the purity of your heart in this.

    Like

    • July 22, 2014 at 11:27 pm

      cnm,

      Thanks for your comment. I will read the article. Blessings!

      Like

      • cnm
        July 25, 2014 at 12:07 am

        Looking back on what I wrote I think I sounded more harsh than I intended. It really did bless me to read and see your humility in this. After thinking on it, I was able to better pinpoint where I took a little offense. Its the part about the gospel trumping foreign policy! On the outside, I fully fully agree with you. Salvation of souls matters first and foremost, so thank you.

        I was wondering though, have you considered what FP means when you put this in context with your first point, remembering the “don’t get it” step, first? I guess I sort of see it as a theoretical issue in the States that becomes a very real issue with implications in the ME, Israel in particular. Its easy for the western church to downplay the importance of the political side, but it has real impact for those of us who live in Israel. In all vulnerability, that statement felt a little uncaring to me. Maybe a healthy rebuke to the west, but not as considerate to the us in the ME. I hope we can love our neighbors beyond our opinions on the politics, but still realize that the politics matters in a very tangible way.

        I hope the last article was a good reference for you!

        Like

      • July 25, 2014 at 10:35 am

        cnm,

        Thanks for your comments. I am grateful for people like you. I totally agree with your Romans 11 interpretation in response to jhubers. I often lead western groups through the olive trees below Tel Gezer to teach them this very point.

        I agree with you. I think my post, while well intended, felt insensitive and uncaring to people who are living the traumatic effects of this every day. I recently spoke to a mentor who reminded me, “Whenever you speak about the Middle East you lose.” I think I resonate with that a bit.

        I am also reminded that the whole world has access to my blog. My post was really intended for American Christians who erroneously believe God loves the Jews and hates Arabs. My intent was to remind my brothers and sisters in the west that the gospel and the Kingdom of God is our highest calling and that God loves all people from all nations. In that, our practical approach should be to love people by sharing the gospel.

        When I said, “allow the gospel to trump your politics,” again my point was more around the meaningless and sometimes harmful conversation in the hallways, by the watercooler, in the driveway here in America that doesn’t help or that doesn’t reflect Christ. Instead, we should do something by sharing the gospel. In that arena, I am not just talking but I am actively involved and demonstrating what I am teaching. I know you understand and that I am just rehashing and I realize I don’t get it” when it comes to what you are all experiencing right now.

        For the purpose of discipling western believers this post has been catalytic for very effective dialogue here in the west. I regret that it came across as insensitive to my friends in the east who are living a nightmare.

        Blessings sister and Shalom!

        Like

    • jhubers
      July 23, 2014 at 12:29 am

      cnn: Just a question that few have given satisfactory answers to. What are the boundaries of the land that you believe God has given the Jews? Does it include the West Bank? Jordan? And if this is the case does this mean that God is in the business of driving people off their land? How does this reflect the justice and compassion God has for all peoples? My Palestinian Christian friends often ask this as Israel continues to take more and more land, driving Palestinians off property and homes that have been theirs for generations. One Bahraini/Palestinian Christian friend puts it this way: “Does this mean that God loves Jews – even atheist Jews – more than he loves me?” Why is this so?

      Like

      • cnm
        July 24, 2014 at 11:12 pm

        I’ll preface this by first saying that I hope you are asking out of pure heart and not out of a desire to argue. Its pretty unloving to try to argue with someone who’s actually living through this, when you are not. I’m assuming the best, which is why I’m going to answer according to how I understand things. Hopefully this will help some.

        The bible says the decedents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are promised the land from the Nile river in Egypt to the Euphrates in modern day Iraq. I don’t think they have ever occupied that full territory, though. So yes, this would include the West Bank which is actually Judea and Samaria in scripture… and it would include parts of Jordan.

        According to the accounts of the Israel taking the Land in the Old Testament, yes, God was *at that time* in the business of driving people out of the Land. “Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” 2 Chron 20:7 You can also find the actual accounts in other books of the bible. How this applies under the New Covenant is too much for now, but it HAS been part of God’s character to do this during different times in history. We need to be honest about that. To deny that reality because its hard is to build an idol rather knowing the God who was and is and is to come.

        I think the sense of justice can be explained by Eze 36 starting with v. 22, which says in paraphrase that He is bringing the nation of Israel back into the land, not for Israel’s sake, but for the sake of vindicating His holy name. He is a God of covenant and He proves Himself holy by keeping His word. We need to firstly have a God centered sense of justice. A man centered sense of justice is called humanism and that’s not compatible with scripture.

        Next, in that same passage, He promises salvation to the Jewish people after their return, which Romans 11 follows up with: “Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! … For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (vs. 11-12, 15). When God blesses Israel, He does so to bless all nations. The Jewish presence in the Land also brings blessings. Sometime do some research to see how the percentage of Christians dropped dramatically in Bethlehem after it came under PA control.

        No, God doesn’t love anyone more than anyone else. But Romans 11 also explains that: “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (vs. 28-29) That’s why they are loved – not saved outside of knowing Jesus, Yeshua – but loved.

        And listen, Arab’s are more than welcome to live in Israel (and so I’m clear, Palestinians are ethnically Arabs.. they are not a separate people group). We have a large body of Israeli-Arabs who have full rights as Jewish Israelis and even Knesset representation, with the difference that they are not required to serve in the military. The article I mentioned in my first comment explains how the Samaritans lived alongside the Jewish people in Israel. Recently there has been more tension I’ve personally experienced, but it is possible to live side-by-side in peace. If we are to really talk about this historically, the Israeli-Arabs are the ones who did not leave during previous wars. They were allowed to keep their homes. Also, records show that Israelis often paid 3 times what land is worth as it was being settled in early days. As a whole, Israelis are willing to treat fairly all who are truly peace loving and desire to work together.

        You might also benefit from reading the article I posted above. I personally love the Arab people and want to see them come into God’s fullness. Anyhow, it is unusual for me to comment to this extend on these forums, but we are in volatile times. I really do hope this provides a starting point for understanding of scripture and God’s heart on this issue. Thanks for asking and thanks for reading.

        Like

  3. Ronen
    July 22, 2014 at 12:43 am

    https://www.prageruniversity.com/donate_login.php)

    Few comments:

    1 – June 2014 – 5000 Muslims died in the war in Iraq and Sirya. Do you care?
    2 – Christians are persecuted in all Arab countries. What are you doing about it?
    3 – Israelis are under attack of rockets from Hammas. Some of them are Muslims and Christians. Did you know?
    4 – What will happened to you if you have 1 state in this world and it’s the only state in this world that there is a real threat to it’s existence?
    5 – The problem of Americans that they are trying to be neutral in this conflict or go with the underdog like they are in North America or Europe instead of looking at the facts and the promise of the Bible.
    6 – Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

    Like

    • jhubers
      July 22, 2014 at 9:11 am

      While Brian himself needs to response to this, I would just note that what you have written is evidence of the kind of misunderstanding that this blog post is attempting to address. Here is why I say that:

      1 – June 2014 – 5000 Muslims died in the war in Iraq and Sirya. Do you care?

      They were fellow human beings who died. Being a pastor I’m assuming Brian does care. But do note that these are internecine battles that parallel in many ways the wars we have fought over the years in the Christian west. The deaths don’t even begin to approximate the 625,000 Christians who were killed by other Christians in the American Civil war.

      2 – Christians are persecuted in all Arab countries. What are you doing about it?

      Actually this isn’t the case in “all Arab countries.” I was the pastor of three different international churches in two Arabian Gulf states. The mission of our church has been there since the turn of the century. Thousands of Christians worship at sites that were given to the Christian community by the Omani government for worship. In Bahrain the National Evangelical Church is part of the skyline with a neon cross that lights up at night. When this church was being built in the 1960s they ran out of funds. The emir (king) of the country donated $600,000 out of his own pocket to make up the deficit. When they opened the church he had a party for the missionaries. They presented him with a beautiful presentation Bible. He gave the women a string of Bahraini pearls and the men a Rolex watch out of gratitude for what they had done as missionaries in his country.

      There has always been a mixed response to the presence of Christians in the Arab world. Sadly, the rise of the aberration known as militant Islam, which also targets other Muslims, has led to an increased pressure and attack on Christians. Depending on where it happens, this can be tribally related or tied in with the assumption that Christians have ties to America who supports Israel.

      3 – Israelis are under attack of rockets from Hammas. Some of them are Muslims and Christians. Did you know?

      Yes, and are you aware that there is a small Christian population in Gaza who are in as much danger from Israeli missiles as their Muslim neighbors. So far over 500 have died from these missiles including 100 children. Homes and hospitals have been destroyed, thousands maimed. Simple human compassion says that we should care for all the victims.

      4 – What will happened to you if you have 1 state in this world and it’s the only state in this world that there is a real threat to it’s existence?

      This is a rather odd question that seems to reflect a paranoia about something that is more imagination than reality – the kind of “red scare” paranoia that infected this country in the fifties and sixties as though Communists were going to take over the world. It’s what led to the shameful McCarthy trials of the fifties where innocent people had their reputations destroyed by what was essentially a witch hunt. There is not going to be one state in this world no matter what a small pocket of militants may say. The Muslim world itself is a highly diverse population. There is no unity among them nor one form of government. Where is this one state going to come from? And who is going to create it?

      5 – The problem of Americans that they are trying to be neutral in this conflict or go with the underdog like they are in North America or Europe instead of looking at the facts and the promise of the Bible.

      “Facts?” What facts might those be? And what “promise” are you referring to. The promise of scripture is that Jesus is coming again like a thief in the night to bring in a New Heaven and New Earth which will unite all peoples under the benevolent reign of our Father. Anyone who promotes the approximation of that Kingdom on earth – serving as agents of reconciliation and peace – is doing the will of our Father. Supporting a state that justifies the occupation and theft of other peoples’ land bolstered by a humiliating apparatus to keep it in place is not the kind of reconciliation that represents what it is Jesus came for.

      6 – Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

      And justice to come to the suffering Palestinians.

      Like

      • jhubers
        July 22, 2014 at 9:20 am

        I just realized, Ronen, that I mis-read your comment about “one state.” What you had in mind is the “one state” that Jews have. And certainly this explains why Israel responds as violently as they do to anyone who criticizes them or attacks them. But it isn’t true that this is the only place they have in the world. There are more Jews in America than there are in Israel. Wouldn’t you say that this is their home? Or don’t you want Jews to live in America? There was no Jewish state for 2,000 years. They adjusted and survived just as Christians have survived without Christendom. Sadly, the real reason why Jews feel they need a homeland is because of nearly a thousand years of persecution at the hands of Christians – horrendous persecution. The Palestinians in this case ask, rightly: “why should we have to pay for the sins of the Christian West?”

        Like

    • July 22, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Ronen,

      Thanks for your comments. I value our friendship and would like to answer you sincerely. As I read your comments I realized my perspective might be a stumbling block of offense to you. I hope to clarify a bit. I will use the gospels because I know you know these Scriptures well. You know me well enough to know my heart. Related to your comments…

      1. I did care and I do care.
      2. I understand the persecution of Christians in some Arab countries. I am praying for my brothers and sisters and I am sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with Arab’s as God gives me influence. This is no secret to you or anyone else. I believe the Prince of Peace from Isaiah is the only hope for peace in this crazy world we live in.
      3. I do understand that your cities, neighborhoods, and villages are under attack by rockets from Hamas and I am praying for your safety and for peace friend. I do understand that Hamas is composed of Muslim’s and maybe, maybe some Christians. However, I would debate as to whether these are born again Christians as illustrated in John 3 or whether they are Christian in name only because of their family of origin connection with the Orthodox church. I really do not know.
      4. This is a hypothetical scenario and I do not completely understand your meaning. I would need clarity.
      5. You are talking about American Foreign Policy. My blog post is related to Western born-again Christians and their struggle to live out the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) and the Great Command (Mt. 22:34-40 based on Sh’ma and Leviticus 19) among all the nations of the world.
      6. We are praying for the peace of Jerusalem and the entire region. I pray it is what the Lord has…

      Ronen, we (Born Again Christians) want to be like our Rabbi and we have only one, Christ Jesus. As you know, I believe he is the prophesied Messiah, the once and for all Passover lamb, and the only way to the Father. It is my primary mandate as His follower to share this message with the nations of the world to the best of my ability. It is also the best way I can love people If I truly believe their eternal destiny depends on their confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. This post is consistent with my heart as a pastor to help Christ-followers in the West live the Commission and the Command given to us by Jesus among our Jewish friends, Palestinian neighbors, Arab muslims, and others from the Middle East in a very tenuous time and in a responsible way.

      Lord willing, Next year in Jerusalem.

      Like

      • jhubers
        July 22, 2014 at 9:19 pm

        I appreciate your irenic responses, Brian. Just a note about Hamas. There are no Christians who are members of Hamas which is an organization dedicated to promoting an Islamic state. There are, however, Gazans who are Christians, including born again Christians. I met a Pentecostal
        Gazan pastor at a conference a few years ago who ministers to an evangelical congregation in Gaza. As for being “born again” or not, I believe you have to be careful making judgments. I’ve met Christians from many different backgrounds who don’t even know what the term “born again” means whose spirits are more reflective of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, more devoted to him as Lord, than those who make that claim. I believe that a judgment that we have to allow God to make.

        Like

  4. jhubers
    July 21, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Some good reflections here, Brian. Just one note that comes from my 13 years of experience living and working in three different Middle Eastern countries, as well as supervising a denominational mission program for five. The Middle East doesn’t exist as an entity allowing for generalized statements as you have done here. There are 22 nations that are usually considered to be part of the “Middle East” (which is itself a Western concoction as a convenient way to describe a part of the world within our perceptive grid). Within these nations there is a great variety of different political, economic, social, religious and psychological profiles. The small countries of the Arabian Gulf oil states, for instance, are far different from the Levant states. North African countries like Tunisia and Morocco are far different from other Arab states. In fact, the Arabic dialect spoken in the Mugrib states is almost indecipherable even to other Arabs.

    The point is, if you wish to speak about conflict in the region you need to be more specific about what countries you have in mind. Even the current conflict in Gaza is a far different situation than what is happening in Syria. Israel itself represents a unique situation given its ties to early models of western colonialism. Israel’s very presence in the region represents a bit of an aberration.

    This is not to criticize some of the basic points you are making. Just noting the importance of helping fellow Americans to have a more nuanced understanding of a complex part of the world about which (as you point out well) we know so little.

    Like

    • July 21, 2014 at 11:35 pm

      Jhubers,

      Great insight and all true. Like I said, I am not an expert in the region. Just conveying some general thoughts to help American Christians think. Thanks for your service on the field and for your helpful comment here.

      Blessings!

      Like

  5. July 21, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Dear Pastor Brian, Thank you so much for this brief enlightening article that I pray with you it will make a slight percentage of a shift in the hearts and minds of your readers. May all of us as the body of Christ follow his footsteps in demonstrating authentic Love to everyone as he set an example for us, may His spirit helps us to be Pro-People who ALL need to hear the greatest news of Hope, Peace and Salvation. Your brother in Christ, a Nazarene Arab Christian from Christ’s hometown.

    Like

    • July 21, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      Dear Rani,

      Thank you for your comment. I will pray with you and for you as you continue to serve Christ in such conflict. Blessings brother.

      Like

  6. July 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Very good and thoughtful article Pastor Brian. Even though I am not a radical dispensationalist and deny the re-establishment of the Temple and a Theocratic nation with a King ruling over the nation of Israel as taught by Scofield and Darby, I do support Israel’s existence as a nation recognizing they are not perfect people or a Government and neither is our own. However, the enemy of Israel (and by the way many of the Jewish people hate Christ and Christians), are the Arab Muslims. Seeking to destroy all of the Jews in the land of Israel is the worse human sinful activity of the two groups of people (Jews and Muslims). I have never heard Israel wishing to destroy an entire nation of people as I have heard from the Muslim side. Having said that, yes, we are to love our neighbors, and our enemies and show them the Gospel of Jesus, praying for their salvation, but at the same time, not endorsing or condoning evil as it exists. We may also speak of a “Just war” concept, and if so, then Israel is justified in their efforts to stop all of the attacks against them by declaring war and engaging in such, even to the point of winning the conflict. The continuation of all of this hatred as we know, was predicted by our Lord from the beginning of the two distinct peoples living in the Middle East. It is sad, destabilizing for the entire region and yes, even the world at large. My concerns are that Christians, Westerners, and others around the world, do not take a stand against the attacks against Israel, but rather, attack Israel if they seek to protect their nation and their people. That to me is just illogical, which we recognize comes about by the fallen nature of man, who cannot think logically or correctly due to the blindness existing and not have the Holy Spirit to give them guidance and wisdom. Blessings to you my brother. Let us look up for our redemption draws closer each day!

    Like

    • C.P.
      July 21, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      Weird that you haven’t heard Israelis want to destroy another nation. Just a few decades ago the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir said that the Palestinian nation doesn’t even exist. That’s even worse, because they don’t even give a nation its own right to define itself! This sentence is being used so much in Israel recently. Unfortunately, it only it loses to the sentence “death to Arabs” and “a good Arab is adeadt Arab”. Please refer to the most used slogens in pro-Israel demonstrations. Also you might want to check what the Israeli MPs and minosters are saying these days.
      So, if you think that Israel is defending itself, think again.

      A Christian Palestinian.

      Like

      • July 21, 2014 at 5:57 pm

        C.P., Thank you for your perspective. Your perspective is an illustration of what I mean in my post when I say, “In the Middle East, your enemy is whoever is dropping bombs or launching rockets into your city, neighborhood. or village.” The same kind of argument can be formed by Israelis against those who launch rockets into their cities, towns, and villages. My point is to help American Christians understand this predicament and our responsibilities.

        Like

    • July 21, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      Dear Transformational Truths,

      The point of my post is not to help Americans with their foreign policy position (although that would be another great post) but instead to help American Christians live the mission of Jesus amongst both Jews and Arab Muslims in light of the on going conflict. Thanks for your comment. Always welcome…

      Like

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