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A Christian Statement in Light of the Protests on University Campuses and Beyond

       The conflict that led to the war in Gaza did not begin on Oct 7. Nor did it begin a little over 75 years ago with the establishment of Israel as a nation state. Rather it was 4500 years ago when Abraham had two sons–one was the child of promise; the other, the child of a bond servant. One was Isaac, the other Ishmael. According to the Hebrew Testament and tradition, Isaac was the child of promise and his descendants were God’s chosen people to be given the land.


       More than 3,000 years later, the Muslims developed their tradition and their sacred writings and claimed the first child, the son of the bond servant, is the rightful heir. Both claim divine right to the land, but both miss the point. The divine purpose for the land has expired. The land was God’s arrangement so He had a permanent place to come to His people, so they could draw others to this place as the center of the world, and so all nations and peoples could find a gracious God. This was only a provisional arrangement, however, until He came Himself.


       What is the “land” today? Jesus. Where Jesus comes to us—in His Word and in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Not some parcel of real estate but a gracious connection with the creator of that land.

       Therefore, neither the Muslims nor the Jews have a divine claim on the land. The idea that the Jews don’t have this claim runs counter to the Zionist tendencies we see among many Christians. These tendencies are due to a weird reading of the Bible that is less the Bible and more a historical one of the state of the 19th century Christian Church. It claims the Jews are God’s people and that at some point the world will see some sort of a mass conversion. It ignores the clear reading in Galatians 3 and Romans 9-11. These passages say that Christians are to be seen as the rightful descendants of Abraham, being children of the Promise, like Isaac. Nevertheless, Christians who read the Bible in this Zionist way feel an obligation to fulfill what they think is God’s will–restoring this land to the Jews.

        Rather, His will is for us as Christians to serve and protect our neighbor. This means to denounce the brutal and intentional bloodshed of innocents, no matter which side is committing it. But here, this statement finds its limit. What happens in war and national policy is not the Christian Church’s domain. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

       Instead, let us consider what is happening on our university campuses and appeal to recent history. The generation before the ones decrying Israel as an oppressor, used to say “Coexist” and “tolerate.” This was barely twenty years ago! The theological rationale behind this policy of coexistence and tolerance is completely unacceptable. The Lord says, “What has straw in common with wheat? (Jer 23:28); My glory I give to no other (Is 42:6). But practically speaking, tolerance and coexisting peacefully is the way of Christians. Without getting into the debates about the crusades, the Christian way has been to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39). This isn’t to describe national policy. These are two different kingdoms, but on the individual level, it’s what Jesus expected and what He modeled.

       Can we denounce someone else’s behavior, and still turn the other cheek? Consider the abortion issue. The pro-lifers use their divinely given, inalienable right to speak up and defend those who can’t defend themselves, but they frequently turn the other cheek when they are verbally attacked. They show strength in their conviction, but also strength in their restraint.

       The same can be done with regard to this issue, on both sides, Christian or not. A Christian’s ultimate goal ought to be that those who have rejected the Messiah–both Jews and Muslims– would be made aware that He came for them and that He loves all people and all nations.

       In the meantime, this conflict gives us an occasion to look into our own hearts and see them as the cesspools they are. It gives us an occasion to recognize our own inclination toward envy, strife and discord which, if given free reign, has the potential to become what we are seeing played out in the public square and in countless conflicts around the world. Then, when we see this, confess it and embrace the Word of forgiveness that comes because of Jesus’ perfect life and death in our place. And finally, according to divine command, love our neighbor whoever our neighbor might be–whether it’s a Jew, or a Pro-Israeli demonstrator, a Palestinian, or a Pro-Palestinian demonstrator, or even a member of Hamas or any other anti-Semitic organization.

       This statement recognizes its limitations. It can neither call for a declaration of peace between the warring countries, nor should it. But it can call for prayer for a god-pleasing end. It can call for peace or at least peaceful protests between those who take sides. It can also call, in its own small way, to both sides actively engaged in the conflict in the Middle East to end the war they are waging with the Prince of Peace and beg them to seek to discover what He has done to make peace between them and their Creator.

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