From September 21 to September 23, ABTS hosted the online Middle East Consultation 2022 entitled “Peace I Leave With You: Theories and Practices for Peace Ministry in the Middle East.” A collection of contributors gathered virtually to help us consider how the Church can be peacemakers in times of conflict. To do this, the MEC explored the topic through lenses of peace ministry across personal, group, and national dimensions. This is the second article in a 3-part MEC 2022 ABTS Blog series reflecting on the consultation’s sweeping discussion. Please note that ABTS blog posts have moved to a biweekly schedule.
Voices of Peace all Around!
Growing up in the highly volatile context of Palestine, I did not anticipate I would ever be interested in becoming a peacemaker. My childhood memories include images of shootings, curfews, and bloodshed. However, being exposed to this context charged my realization that peacemaking stands at the intersection of my Christian faith and my lived experiences. As a Christ-follower, I am situated in a position where I can contribute to theological thought concerning conflict in our region, and to do so peacefully. In this peaceless world we live in, naturally, there is always more for us to give. Some may feel we have done plenty yet have not seen tangible results; therefore, we give up and cease working toward peace. However, my faith and my hope in the propitiatory work of Christ between God and humanity lead me to acknowledge that we ought to never feel like we have done enough. For me personally, and for others, the reflections from Day 2 of MEC pointed to the “more” that we can do to walk towards the realization of peace in communities that we deeply love and appreciate.
It remains ironic that the very geographical place that embodied the message of peace through the incarnation of Jesus is now dominated by various expressions of oppression as it struggles to even keep the peace process alive. I sometimes wonder what on earth happened to the “peace on earth” part of the angelic hymn sung more than two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. From observation and painful personal experience, I can share how difficult it is to express love to the “other” while living in such a harsh context. By contrast, it is easy for seeds of hatred to take root. When God’s love is rooted in us, it compels us to love beyond the physical walls that have been built in the country where I was born. Onlookers can easily observe the physical walls, but there are also invisible spiritual walls that many people cannot perceive, or perhaps deliberately choose to overlook: walls of hatred, grudges, bitterness, and hard feelings. These walls have a far-reaching negative impact on our peoples.
Though the voices of Arab Christians have been marginalized for too long, all of them who shared in MEC 2022 agreed that we must learn how to cease thinking of ourselves as victims and we must learn to overcome any micro- or macro-aggression with God’s love. Stories of love, forgiveness, and humble sacrificial service should amplify the voices of Arab Christians as they speak against injustice and speak of God’s love.
These voices were highlighted on Day 2 of the MEC.
An important reminder from my presentation is that we should never overlook our common humanity. Ubuntu is an African term meaning “humanity”, often translated as “I am who I am because of who we are”. Palestinian Theologian Rula Mansour describes it this way:
It suggests that human beings are deeply interconnected, and are fully human only in communion with others…Because the humanity of the individual is linked to other human beings, a person seeks to be moral, compassionate and social… Thus, a person’s behavior becomes subject to thinking about its impact on the well-being of the community and on right relationships. (Mansour 2022)
Following this line of thinking, there is no lack of opportunity for us to choose to become full humans. A poignant example comes from the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) which is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost an immediate family member to the ongoing conflict. The PCFF has concluded that the process of reconciliation between people groups is a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace. In my opinion, this is a powerful example of our common humanity, where we can weep together and live in hope that tomorrow will be better. If we follow the biblical promise, then joy also will come in the morning (Psalm 30:5)
Over the past 30 years, Musalaha has been bringing groups of Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims and Christians to work together through six stages of reconciliation. Salim Munayer’s presentation reminded us that reconciliation is an obvious need in Israel and Palestine – one of the longest current conflicts in the world. The journey of reconciliation is rarely straightforward. The conflict in Israel-Palestine runs deep through history, society, and personal lives. In the Holy Land and throughout the rest of the Middle East, the reality on the ground remains very challenging. The overall scenario of a declining number of Christians in the midst
of long-standing and agonizing conflict reflects the reality of marginalization. Yet as members of the global body of Christ, we are called to wisely make our social influence all the more visible.
Rula and Rami Talib introduced us to the work of Al Shabiba Risala, which is a locally led, diverse community of peace-seekers working primarily with the emerging generation in Lebanon to strengthen social cohesion and build a more peaceful future. It is “a faith-based organization, working at an interfaith and interdenominational level, seeking to build bridges within the church and between Lebanon’s many different religious sects.” Reflecting on the desperation many Lebanese youth experience, I see so much hope through the work of this dynamic couple. It dawned on me that within our communities, everyone should participate in peace-making initiatives: everyone has a responsibility and is called to exert a conciliatory influence; no one can be excluded. We are chosen to be influencers.
Pastor Ara Badalian explained the opportunity for the church in Iraq to promote reconciliation through the gospel by serving those around them. An Iraqi Christian himself, Badalian highlighted how the church is working diligently to meet the needs of refugees. Relief teams visit displaced families from various religious and ethnic backgrounds, giving food and other relief materials. Badalian reminded us that we are called to address both the spiritual and the practical needs of others, but that we are also to wisely confront the power of injustice, solidifying our efforts across denominational, religious, and political lines.
Year after year, the role of women in the church and the community continues to be a central aspect featured in the MEC discussions. Might it warrant its own dedicated consultation? We shall see how seriously and quickly this call will be responded to. It is important that Arab Christian women have forums to nurture these kinds of peace-engaging conversations. They must be encouraged to create spaces which allow for Arab women theologians to engage with each other and with the “other”. In other words, having spaces and forums for Christian-Christian dialogue and others for Christian-Muslim and Christian-Jewish dialogue relating to peace is essential. Through the examples they exhibit, Christian women can motivate other Christian women to be wise and effective peacemakers within their communities.
I can still hear the Nazarene announcing from the top of the Mount of Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be the children of God.” Blessed are the male peacemakers, blessed are the female peacemakers, blessed are the children, the youth, and the elderly peacemakers. We all have a voice to boldly, courageously, and without hesitation share the Gospel of Peace. Bringing faith into the conversation within our context compels us to say prayers from our heart to the Prince of Peace as we honor God in everything that we do, including our irreplaceable peace-making efforts.
Grace is Lecturer in Theological Education and currently working on her PhD from the London School of Theology. She dreams to see peace in her beloved homeland and region.