Why do I say that I am an unashamed Palestinian Evangelical? Because there are those who would try to put shame upon me for either of these identities, whether by demeaning the word "Palestinian" or the word "Evangelical." In this article, as with others, I will attempt to examine both parts of our identity as Christian Palestinian Evangelicals. As always, I want to build bridges of understanding between my community and my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. And spoiler alert – I am also going to invite you to join us at our upcoming Christ at the Checkpoint conference this spring.
We are not ashamed to be Palestinian
We are not ashamed that we are Palestinian, even if our existence is an eschatological annoyance to some. We are not ashamed that we are Palestinian, even as some of our brethren try to deny our history, our identity or our "nakba;" the trauma that we collectively experienced in 1948 and continue to experience to this day. We've heard the lies that our land had no people living in it; but the ruins of our villages and the ancient olive trees we tended for centuries testify otherwise. Some of our families can trace our lines here as far back as such lines can be traced. Whether one day we were called Jordanian or another day Assyrian, doesn't change the fact that for a very long time those who lived in this land were called Palestinian—whether Muslim, Christian or Jew.
We are well-aware of the dispensationalist theories of the 1800's that paved the way for the modern belief that any criticism of the modern state of Israel will result in a curse from God. From such a theology, we might conclude that our resistance to our devastation means that we also are cursed. And yet, we are not ashamed of our own unique history here, or our voice – which we dare to bring to the proverbial table with our global family. And despite extensive teaching to the contrary, I am not ashamed to admit that I cannot find anything in the Bible that compels me to stand politically and financially with any nation-state, regardless of its ethics or actions. Perhaps God's treatment of ancient Israel, carefully chronicled throughout the Hebrew scriptures itself offers the best case in point. It seems to me that in these matters, we Evangelicals have been somewhat naive and even superstitious.
We Palestinian believers are very aware that our existence throws a wrench into the tightly-organized theologies of some of our brethren overseas—and yet we are not ashamed of our existence. Like every other people, we can only trust that our presence and identity in our particular corner of the world is not an accident but part of His divine purpose.
I am not ashamed to be Palestinian, even when it has become an all-too-common experience that some people will react awkwardly once they discover this fact. I am not ashamed to be Palestinian, even when I am told to my face that my people are a block in the way of God's plan, and that we should leave our homeland to make room for the Jews.
I suspect sometimes that some of my brethren would prefer us all to be Muslim. It would make their politics and theology much tidier. But I am not ashamed to stand in behalf of all my Palestinian brethren before the courts of the evangelical world in the west and remind them of John 3:16. As I asked my readers in a previous article, if they believe that this land belongs only to the Jews, then what is their good news for the Palestinian people?
We are not ashamed to be Evangelical
I am proud of my evangelical faith which declares that Jesus is the only Savior. I believe that the gospel is actually that—good news. But I also believe that when we isolate Jesus' teaching on mercy and justice from His salvation, our gospel becomes less that He intended. And it is not a Gnostic gospel that we preach—one that assigns all blessing to the realm of spirit alone—but is good news for the nitty-gritty reality of life on this earth. Jesus was not ashamed to bring genuine compassion to those on the margins and to alleviate the suffering of those deemed unworthy. His message to them was not merely that they would fly away to heaven someday, but that He came to give us life and that in abundance (John 10:10).
Palestinian Evangelicals are doing our best to present the gospel of Christ to our nation. We believe that one of the first hallmarks of discipleship is love for both our own community and for our enemies. To this end, we are involved in many efforts to build bridges of reconciliation across religious, national and political barriers. We seek righteous relationship with Jews; both Messianic and otherwise. It's not always easy for us (or them) but we will not give up. We have lived side by side with our Muslim neighbors for long time and I would be lying if I said we did not have challenges in that area as well. And yet, our calling is to reach out to all with God's love. Because of Christ, we are mandated to press on through all relational challenges. And so, we continue unashamed, despite the bad name that Evangelicals have in this land because of the politics of Evangelicals in other parts of the world.
By the grace of God, I am a Palestinian Evangelical and I am not ashamed of the identity God has given me or the gospel that has been entrusted to me.
An invitation to Christ at the Checkpoint
For those who have a love and concern for Palestine and Israel, I invite you to visit us. Please, spend time with people on both sides and listen to their stories and their pain. And if you want to learn more about the issues here, I especially want to invite you to our upcoming Christ at the Checkpoint conference in which we will explore what it means to follow Jesus with integrity in the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Come, hear another perspective. Come, meet evangelical brothers and sisters from the Holy Land and around the world who love Jesus and want to see Him at the center of everything we do. Come, and let us find courageous and unashamed love for Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews alike. And let us together break off all shame and seek justice and righteousness for His namesake.
Rev. Dr. Jack Y. Sara is an Evangelical Leader in the Holy Land, after serving as senior pastor for the Jerusalem Alliance Church in Jerusalem, he assumed the leadership of Bethlehem Bible College, an Evangelical institution that trains people for Christian ministry. Dr. Jack serves as advisors for some important Evangelical institutions including consultancy for the World Evangelical Alliance for the Middle East & North Africa.