Black pastors encourage African American churches to defend Israel, not 'side with the devil'

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Two African American faith leaders say despite the perception of some that the black Church has been silent in defense of Israel amid its war with Hamas, they and other black pastors are refuting claims that Israel is a racist, apartheid state.

In an op-ed for The Christian Post, Pastor Michael A. Stevens argued that the black Church has been largely silent on Hamas' Oct. 7 massacre against Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,400 people, a majority of whom were civilians, including over 30 Americans. 

Since Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes and a ground invasion of northern Gaza in a bid to eliminate Hamas, a terror group that has controlled Gaza since 2007, the Hamas-run health authorities say over 10,000 people have been killed, sparking pro-Palestinian protests and international calls for a ceasefire. 

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"Unfortunately, many African American pastors and leaders have a mixed level of apathy and resistance toward Israel as well as empathy for the Palestinian struggle, often making a comparison to the civil rights era," Stevens wrote. "To add, some consider the African American community to be the most anti-Semitic group in America today."

Pastor Dumisani Washington, the founder and CEO of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (ISBI), told CP that he agrees with Stevens that most African American pastors and leaders liken the conflict between Israel and Palestine to the Civil Rights Movement, seeing the former as an oppressor. 

Another faith leader, Bishop Patrick L. Wooden Sr., senior pastor of Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh, North Carolina, told CP that he's also witnessed this comparison. Wooden said he doesn't equate the plight of the Palestinians to the Civil Rights Movement.

Wooden, who preaches to a congregation of around 3,000 people, said he wants his members to know that his church "unequivocally" stands in support of the nation of Israel. One way the bishop said he preaches this message is through his sermons. 

"I feel like it's my duty to push back so that the people, God-loving people, won't all of the sudden side with the devil," the faith leader said, "or draw a moral equivalence."

Reflecting on Israel's recent history, the bishop noted that in 2005, Israel removed 9,000 of its citizens who were living in Gaza when it withdrew from the Gaza Strip, saying this was an example of the country's commitment to maintaining peace in the region.

Washington agreed with Stevens' assessment that not all African Americans view Israel as an oppressor, noting that black leaders such as the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for defending Israel's right to exist. 

"We have a long history like no other ethnic group in this country that goes back over a century of our connection with Israel and the Jewish people," Washington told CP. "But many people aren't aware of it." 

Likewise, Wooden highlighted how Jewish Americans marched beside African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement and played a part in advocating for the rights of black citizens. 

"There were people of every stripe who stood with us and challenged America to live up to its creed," the bishop said, adding that "Israel is not trying to eradicate anyone." 

"It is trying to defend itself," Wooden added, contending that it's wrong for anyone to frame Israel as morally equivalent to Hamas.

Some religious leaders have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, while others have voiced their support for Israel's bid to eliminate Hamas.

One of the reasons some members of the African American community identify with the Palestinians is because they see it as a battle against racism and apartheid, according to Washington.

The pastor lamented that the view has been allowed to take root due to the way information about Israel is presented to the black community and its leaders.

"Pro-Israel organizations will engage the black community but not effectively empower the black community," Washington, who formerly served as the diversity outreach coordinator for the over 10-million member Christians United for Israel, said. 

Regarding the messaging, the pastor told CP that what's often lacking is a condemnation of the anti-Semitism from groups like Black Lives Matter and the Black Hebrew Israelites.

He asserted that refusing to address certain viewpoints, such as the belief that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, does the black community more harm than good. 

Washington contends that it's necessary to "empower" black faith leaders with the message that their community needs to hear, one that addresses the issues unique to the African American community. 

"The Black Hebrew Israelites don't impact white pastors the way they do black pastors," he explained. "We're not racially dividing the body, but if we're not honest about the fact that certain messages affect certain people in certain ways, then we're not being honest." 

Through IBSI, the organization Washington founded in 2013, the pastor works to strengthen relationships between the African American community and the Jewish people via education and advocacy. The organization receives financial support from Christian and Jewish communities and through influential donors such as Dr. Bob Shillman of the Shillman Foundation. 

Last year, IBSI started a program called the PEACE Initiative, which stands for Plan for Education, Advocacy and Community Engagement. One program recruits young black men and women and takes them on a nine-month trip to Israel and Africa, while another takes black faith leaders on a similar journey. 

Regarding the role of the Church in addressing tension between the Jewish and African American communities, Washington said that the Church also has a responsibility to address biblical illiteracy. 

The pastor stated that he has seen multiple Christian influences calling for a "ceasefire" on social media, claiming that it's what Jesus would want while also framing Israel as morally culpable for the ongoing violence. 

"So, the fact that Christians would condemn Israel for trying to defend its people and try to use the Bible to do so, what the Church can do is teach the Bible," he said. 

On Thursday, a group of Black Christian leaders took out a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for a ceasefire, Religion News Service reported. 

"A ceasefire is our minimum demand … as moral faith leaders from the African American tradition who signed on to this letter," California pastor and anti-gun advocate Rev. Michael McBride told the outlet. "At some point, bombs and the fighting has to cease and move to a solution that is one of mutual coexistence, peace, and justice for all in the region."

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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