COMMAnts from the Conference Minister
“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!’” (Luke 19:41-2a, NRSVUE)
Since October 7, we have watched in horror as violence has been heaped upon violence in Israel and Gaza, killing and injuring thousands of Israelis and Palestinians. A brutal attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians in southern Israel led to Israel’s declaration of war, announcing it would “dismantle Gaza” and eradicate Hamas. Day by day, the death toll rises, unspeakable grief deepens on all sides, and an alarming humanitarian crisis worsens in Gaza. Peace seems a very distant and unlikely prospect in what we often refer to as “the holy land.”
There is much to be said about the broader, historic socio-political realities in Israel and Palestine that have long laid the groundwork for tension and unrest: the occupation of Palestine and its inherent injustice, uncritical and extraordinary financial support of Israel’s military by the U.S., and generations of trauma and loss that accompany and profoundly impact both the Jewish and Palestinian people.
But today, in this space, I want to concentrate instead on how our Christian faith informs us in this moment and should shape our response.
- Every human being is precious. The acts & language of war often demonize and de-humanize one side or the other. We hear the media and others refer to people in this conflict as “animals” or “barbarians”. But our sacred texts tell us that all are precious to God. Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims and Christians, all bear the image of God. We can and should condemn sinful acts of senseless, unspeakable violence that extinguish human life. But we should resist the temptation to characterize either Israelis or Palestinians as something less than human or without any inherent dignity or worth. None deserve to endure such death and suffering. All are promised the fullness of life.
- A just peace is our persistent calling. In 1985 the 15th General Synod adopted a pronouncement declaring the United Church of Christ a “Just Peace Church.” In doing so, it stood in opposition to the institution of war, and echoed what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” The pronouncement read in part: “Just Peace is grounded in hope. Shalom is the vision that pulls all creation toward a time when weapons are swept off the earth and all creatures lie down together without fear; where all have their own fig tree and dwell secure from want. As Christians, we offer this conviction to the world: Peace is possible.” Even as we watch war’s devastation unfold in Israel-Palestine and despair of the consequences, as a faithful people we maintain that peace is possible, and we are called to do our part to build a sustainable peace where justice is also present.
- Lament is holy. The Psalms and the Book of Job in particular remind us that lament – the outpouring of grief and anger and despair – is a spiritual act acceptable to God. The devastation and violence we’re witnessing in Israel and Gaza appropriately elicit profound and complex feelings. We should be unafraid to take the full range of our emotions to a God who will receive them and carry them on our behalf. Lament is a form of prayer. Our fervent prayers are a faithful response to the horrors multiplying in Israel-Palestine.
- Love of neighbor is our mandate. When Jesus was asked which law was the greatest, he responded: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Mathew 22:37-40) Love – not hate – is our greatest purpose as people of faith. War is the ultimate tool and consequence of hate; love is the path toward peace. We’re called to express and make concrete the love of God to our neighbor. Our neighbor includes our siblings in places we may never travel, in situations we could never imagine. Our hearts must be filled with love and compassion for all who are suffering, grieving, held hostage, fleeing from their homes, weary from injustice and increasingly without hope in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. Love must be our resounding response to hatred, war and violence.
May our faith instruct and guide us as we witness the ravages and unbearable losses of war in Israel and Palestine and pray without ceasing for the possibility of peace.
With you on the journey,
Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Minnesota Conference UCC
O God who authors perfect peace, whose message and mandate are persevering love, see the tears flow from the eyes of those who grieve and crumble under the weight of war in Israel and Gaza and Ukraine and Sudan and all places torn by unrest. Guide the feet of decision-makers down the pathways of peace. Bring healing and hope to all those hurting and angry and fearful. Cure our warring madness, and make us instead bearers of a more excellent and faithful way. For we will continue to insist that peace is indeed possible, with every lament we lift. Amen.
- Read about the response of Global Ministries (UCC & Disciples of Christ) to the Israel-Gaza war, take action to advocate for peace, and read the constantly updated statements of our Global Ministries partners in the region.
- Learn about the UCC’s historic presence and work with partners in Israel-Palestine, projects we support, and mission co-workers who serve there on our behalf.
- Read resolutions passed by the Minnesota Conference UCC about Israel-Palestine.
- Read General Synod resolutions of the UCC regarding Israel-Palestine.
- The hospital in Gaza City where an explosion killed hundreds of people on Tuesday night was an established partner of the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ. Learn more about Al-Ahli Hospital and its ministry of care and healing.