The unfolding crisis in Gaza forces me to put to paper something that I have been wrestling with over the last month, though honestly, a period of years. As someone who grew up reading the Left Behind series almost as religiously as I read my Bible, I understand how Evangelical Christians are viewing the move of the American Embassy from Gaza to Jerusalem. For Evangelical Christians – and maybe others, I don’t know – Trump’s declaration feels like a moral and spiritual victory in the context of end times theology (eschatology for our seasoned, church folks). But for everyone else, literally everyone else, this move is nothing more than the exertion of political power over a vulnerable group of people who have increasingly lost rights to their land over more than a half of a century by any means necessary.
For many Evangelical Christians, the loss of land for Palestinians and all that it comes with, is a godly thing. The way that scripture is interpreted here sets Jerusalem up as a Holy City that must be protected in perpetuity and the Jewish people as an entity that have human rights that far surpass the human rights of Palestinians. And because Palestinians are by and large Muslim, though there are many Christian Palestinians, the sense of othering is even more entrenched. As far as this line of thinking is concerned, the fact that the Palestinians are of a different faith and of a darker hue, they have no rights that should be protected. After all, or so the argument goes, the unfolding events are nothing more than the plan of God being instituted on earth.
Or is it?
Are we marching on towards the end times as we know it or are Christians, deceived by our colonizing government who could care less about any of this, trying to make something happen? Are we trying to hasten the Lord’s return, thinking that all of these things will trigger the rapture and usher in the great tribulation, in effect forcing Jesus off His throne and into the Mount of Olives where He will effectively declare the end regardless of how many people die in the process?
On Monday, 62 Palestinians died. And last time I checked, more than 1,000 people were injured. I can only imagine, that many more will be hurt and killed, too over the coming days, weeks and months, – especially when we consider all that Israel has done to its Palestinian residents over the last 70. Is this the price we pay for the fulfillment of the Kin-dom of God? Or are we reading the scriptures wrong?
For many Christians, not just Evangelicals, eternity is the most important thing in life. We spend our entire life times, blow through thousands of dollars in school loans (at least that is my story) so that we can be trained to preach and minister the Gospel and keep people from burning in hell. And in all of that
teaching indoctrination, we never concern ourselves with how people are experiencing hell on earth. Many could care less about how much people are struggling in poverty, are being crushed and destroyed by living in a police state, or are wasting away in prisons who are more concerned about making a profit than people’s wellbeing. Our theology, by and large, does not have an analysis on structures of inequity that marginalize people based on the color of their skin, their religion, their sexual orientation, or any other point of difference, mostly because we don’t care. If it doesn’t have to do with eternity, we turn a blind eye to it.
And yet, this is so contrary to how Jesus lived. Most of the work that He did on earth was directly tied to how people were experiencing it. Yes, He preached about eternity and He also preached about the here and now, condemning religious elites and the government for the ways in which they trampled the face of the marginalized among them. As a result, we see this Jesus who we base our entire end times theology off of:
– Raise the dead
– Heal the sick and infirm
– Feed multitudes of people with literal, physical bread
– Provide wine to wedding guests (ya’ll know they got drunk)
– Free people from literal bondage as a result of mass incarceration
– Make sure His own mother was cared for as He lay dying
Don’t you see. The fulfillment of the kin-dom of God is not some far off place that we go to after we die. It is right here. Right now. If Jesus was so concerned about addressing the limitations and systems that crippled people’s lives, shouldn’t we be just as concerned?How can we call ourselves His disciples and not care about how people are experiencing hell on earth?
It is sickening to only concern ourselves with people’s souls and their eternal resting place, and not care for them enough to keep them safe, well fed, clothed, and in their right minds. To only care about eternity and ignore their physical realities starts to feel exactly what Jesus condemned the religious leaders in his day for. And in His day, the religious leaders were not so much as concerned about where people were going as they were about setting up barriers to keep some people outside of the kin-dom and to let other people in. Is this what we are practicing as a community of God? Are we practicing the art of exclusion, and creating standards for entry into eternal paradise that based on Jesus’ social location, he couldn’t even meet.
Yet, if Christians are honest, and I beg for us to be honest, many don’t care. Many only care about people who accept Jesus, and if people don’t accept Jesus, whatever happens to them is of no consequence. However, because much of the world is not Christian and is outside of the West, such an analysis smells more like an excuse to colonize folks who don’t have the same skin color and the same faith as the colonizing folks. Even those with the same faith, who have a different skin, are subject to violence. It has never been about religion, and more about using religion as an excuse to dominate others.
And then when bad things happen, such as the shooting of protesters in Gaza on Monday, the theology that we have been so accustomed to does not give space for us to mourn, critique, and flat out resist the chaos. Even if there is some sympathy for lost lives, ultimately, this form of theology suggests that the departed have gotten what they deserved because they did not align with the ‘plans and purposes of God.’
But let us not get it twisted: what is happening in Gaza is not God’s plan. The relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem is not a nod towards the rapture, and God is not even the least bit pleased that people are losing their lives and their homelands in God’s name. Let us call this what this is: the work of two governments (the U.S. and Israel) who are hiding behind religion to justify its lust for power and resources.
There is no point in the Gospels or the Epistles, where I see this type of behavior sanctioned. Let’s not hang our theological hats of Revelation (or Daniel or Ezekiel), because we don’t see the Spirit advocating for believers to try to force Jesus’ return; we see the Spirit advocating for believers to point the world to it. We are to show those who are trapped in systems of injustice that the kin-dom of God is about justice, love and peace, effectively encouraging them that the suffering that they endure will not last forever. And we are to show world powers, such as the U.S. and Israel, that they – just like Rome – will not last forever, and that Jesus Himself is Lord. They. Are. Not.
What are we willing to do to hold our government accountable for the ways in which they are making an already hostile situation even more precarious? How do we as a body, and there is a lot of us to do this, resist and challenge the ways that our government continues to gallivant like colonizers throughout the world and even within our own country? In our theological practice, will Christians begin to side with the oppressed, such as the Palestinian people, or will Christians hang on to the words of LaHaye and Jenkins, no matter who dies in the process?