(Photo: The Christian Post / Sonny Hong)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Cor 5:17-19, NIV).
I write today from Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Christian faith and the region where 2 other world faiths were established. A region so gifted yet at the same time, a region over which we cry and mourn deeply because of the violence and wars that tear nations and people apart.
In the past twenty years Arab Christians have been killed, raped, abducted and tortured. Their children have also been killed, raped, abducted and tortured.
This is despite the fact that Arab Christians have been present in the Arab world for two thousand years. They have worked for the well-being of the societies in which they find themselves and have sought to live peaceably with their neighbors. They simply ask to be allowed to live in peace and practice their faith, while allowing their neighbors to practice theirs.
It is a mistake to think that restricting the freedom of some will guarantee more stability within a society. Stability and prosperity do not come from oppression and violence; power that is secured by aggression and imprisonment of minority voices is shaky and unstable power. Christians who enjoy freedom in the Middle East will be better able to contribute to a society in which Muslims and Jews will also thrive and prosper.
I have listened to the painful stories of Palestinians who themselves or members of their family or community have been victims of violence.
It is also true many Jewish people have been killed, injured or traumatized as a result of violent attacks. This week, I met with an Israeli woman, whose husband, an emergency room doctor and her daughter the night before her wedding were killed by a suicide bomber.
In addition, we are sadly reminded of the tens of thousands of Muslims in this Middle East region who have also lost their lives.
The suffering, grief and despair of Christians, Muslims or Jews are an affront to humanity. Their suffering, grief and despair are an affront to God.
Focusing my remarks on the current reality of the Israeli - Palestinian relationship: Let me say very clearly, that while Christians in both Israel and Palestine have the freedom of worship there are still some significant injustices that need corrective action. Evangelical Christians have dwelled in this land for many years and yet their churches do not have official recognition by the State. It is beyond time, that this recognition should be granted.
I call upon the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authorities to grant this recognition. This is not only a call for justice and democracy but it will also create a more stable context. Evangelical Christians in this region make a contribution to building a prosperous and thriving community. Treating them as third class citizens does not empower them to reach such a shared goal or even remain in the land.
Let me further add, it is important to note that evangelical Christians around the world have different views on how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved. Much of this conflict comes in our understanding of eschatology as it relates to the land and the future of the Jewish people.
I have discussed this topic with many leaders and theologians around the world and have come to the conclusion that we are not going be united in one position. We as evangelicals have many core beliefs in common but eschatology is not one of them. For the sake of Christian unity, for the sake of the Gospel and for God's sake can we agree to disagree in grace filled Christ honoring way.
While there is no one definite answer on eschatology we do have very clear directives from our Lord to follow.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus visits his hometown and announces the coming reign of God as a time of good news for the poor, release of the captives, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed. The words are familiar to most Christians. But what we often forget is that in the narrative, the crowd turns against Jesus precisely at the point when he suggests that such freedom is for all people – that food, healing and freedom aren't to be restricted to a select few – God has intended, from the very beginning, thatchers such blessings be for all of creation.
It is in working together, in finding practices for peace within our own traditions, in learning to serve that we can become bearers of this peace and of these blessings. It is a clear command that we love our neighbor.
I applaud all efforts that are working towards a sustainable peace in this land. A place where all people can feel safe and secure. A place there is justice for all. A place where everyone, Christians, Muslims and Jews can live in peace and flourish.
As evangelical Christians, it is our prayer that God continue to give wisdom to leaders for collaboration and peaceful coexistence between peoples of all faiths, and we pledge our support for seeking ways of peace and freedom for all. May God empower us through the work of his Spirit to be his ambassadors of peace and reconciliation.