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.”