Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.Dalai Lama
There are times when words just don’t seem like enough. The more I write, the more anger, frustration, hopelessness, and helplessness pours out onto the page – this is a blog post that I’ve been doing battle with for a couple of weeks and I’ve finally decided to release it into the world, it may be a little rough around the edges but that seems somewhat fitting for the times we live in. Is it perfect? No, not by any means. Does it give any answers? No, and I’m not sure it should. What does it do? I hope that it allows people to reflect, to see the world around them, and, most importantly, encourages people to take time to listen to those who are constantly ignored, marginalised, and ostracised by the societies in which they live.
“Holding up the Bible is one thing, but opening it up and reading…you don’t read ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ and then have tear gas fired on peaceful protesters”Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
At a time when the world is suffering from the effects of the Covid19 pandemic, an even uglier and more dangerous plague has come clearly into the open. It has always been there but somehow the majority of the world was able to ignore it. At a time when everyone is suffering in the same way it appears that one more injustice has caused people to sit up and take action. The words that form the title of this blog post from Bishop Craig Loya, newly elected Bishop of Minnesota, and those quoted above from Bishop Michael Curry summon up how Christians around the world should be reacting to the injustices played out over the past couple of weeks both in the US and here in Israel and Palestine. The unjustified killing of Palestinian Iyad Hallak, a man in his 30s with autism who was shot by Israeli police officers as he ran away in fear when they shouted at him to stop, and the killing of George Floyd by American police officers kneeling on his back and starving him of life-giving oxygen are just two of many instances of injustice in these past weeks, the fact that the police in the US used a method of ‘restraint’ which is seen so often used by the Israeli security forces sent an ominous shiver through the Palestinian community, they know well the feeling of being starved of oxygen and crying out “I can’t breathe” whether that is a physical assault as this was or through oppression and occupation. Rev Dr Waltrina Middleton in her poem ‘Pentecost’ reflects this feeling of oppression, fear and trepidation in a sobering and moving statement of injustice and anger. As protestors took to the streets in mostly peaceful demonstrations throughout the US, here in Israel and Palestine, and around the globe an outpouring of solidarity, shock, and love has been evident. At the same time, we have to admit that there have been times when this outpouring has turned violent and destructive – this involves a tiny minority but must still be acknowledged. If we are to come together in support of our fellow human beings then we must do this in a way which promotes peace, enacts justice, and endures. It must not last for just the time we are enraged by acts committed in our name but must continue until equality exists for all.
Here, in Israel and Palestine we see on a daily basis the ongoing trauma and hurt caused by acts of barbarism and cruelty carried out by those who claim to be following the will or promise of God. We have seen in recent days calls from sections of the Hilltop Youth (an extremist Jewish sect) to set up illegal outposts in Area A of the West Bank (the area completely under Palestinian Authority control and until now free from illegal outposts and settlements) because “Opposing the division of the land is a fundamental belief based on the Bible. I have no moral right to give that of [sic] because the moment I do so, we lose the legitimacy of our claims,” (Times of Israel). We have seen ongoing arrests of Palestinians throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank, and we have seen attempts by certain sections of society to justify the killing of Iyad Hallak. At the same time we have seen groups of Israelis (both Arabs and Jews) gather in peaceful protest against the killing of Iyad and against the proposed annexation of more West Bank land. The cries of “I can’t breathe!” from George Floyd as he lay on the ground defenceless and crushed are echoed throughout this land – from communities crushed by a relentless military occupation to those who are arrested or even killed with little or no reason. This cry of oppression shared by the Palestinian people and people of colour, disability, or any difference throughout the world, has for the most part until now remained unanswered.
As a white, ‘privileged’, male, I have no right or wish to speak on behalf of these communities who constantly find themselves faced by brutality, oppression, hatred, and violence. Everyone should listen to their voices, they are shouting loud and clear through social media, in mainstream news, or through conversation on the streets. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag has made it easier than ever to see what these communities are saying and Christians also have the Gospel showing the liberating love of Christ for all. We must all be wary of those who purport to stand for Christian values whilst at the same time clearing peaceful protesters with tear gas or other substances just to take a photograph with a church as a backdrop and a bible held incorrectly in his hands (there are many suggestions that this may actually have been a hymn book). The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington was searing in her criticism of the President noting that “Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence…We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.” We must all look, not at the actions of a President or administration which seems bent on creating and encouraging division but on the words reflected in Micah 6 calling us all to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” It troubles me deeply that the hashtag #AllLivesMatter has begun to infiltrate social media with a very different agenda than that which one would think. The development and use of this hashtag by what seems to be largely right-wing groups and the discussions throughout social media show that they really mean “All white lives matter”, this overtaking of a call to defend peacefully a threatened part of our community cannot be allowed to be overtaken by those who would encourage violence against others.
Your Liberation Theology is utterly pointless if there is no praxis being done with it. It’s not enough to say that Jesus Christ cares about socio-political and economic liberation; you must ACT to show that he does.@c_m_crawford (Twitter)
Following the example of Christ means we must always be willing to stand up for those in situations where they are under threat of dispossession, harm, or abuse whatever walk of life they come from. That standing up does not simply mean writing more statements, books, or quotations but rather being willing to do something active. Jesus did not say blessed are those who talk about peace, rather he was very clear “blessed are the peacemakers” this is active not passive – we have to work to make peace but peace cannot be achieved without first having justice for all. So let us break this down into what being a peacemaker means:
- Being a peacemaker is about making a long-term commitment to healing, justice, and honesty. Peace does not simply happen, it requires the work of everyone nationally and internationally, it requires adherence to international law, above all it requires love of everyone.
- Being a peacemaker is about working together, it’s about taking the time to listen to what those around you are saying, not simply assuming what is being said but really taking the time to listen and understand.
- Being a peacemaker is about all of us – we must stand together, as one body in Christ.
This is what love looks like. Not being dragged into social media discussions about right and wrong but actually being willing to stand with the everyone in our communities, to be alongside them, not simply to attempt to support them with words. Don’t get me wrong, words can be important, they can start wars, or end them, but what really makes a difference when lives are under threat for whatever reason is peaceful action. So be prepared to stand up, take action, and be that peacemaker.