I’ve just finished editing a book that will be coming out next spring, Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012). It’s a collection of many of the presentations from the Christ at the Checkpoint 2010 conference. Here’s the preface that I wrote for it.
This book is a work of love. The Palestinian Christians who organized the conference at which these essays were presented are motivated by their love for God, their love for Israelis, and their love for their fellow Palestinians. In March 2010 the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem brought together evangelical theologians, biblical scholars, pastors, activists, and others in an unprecedented way to discuss the situation in Palestine and Israel. Many others from various Christian traditions have reflected on these issues, as have many from the Jewish and Muslim faiths. But Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace was organized and hosted by Palestinian evangelicals. The goals of the conference were and are stated as follows.
The aim of Christ at the Checkpoint is to provide an opportunity for evangelical Christians who take the Bible seriously to prayerfully seek a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation. The conference will: 1) Empower and encourage the Palestinian church. 2) Expose the realities of the injustices in the Palestinian Territories and create awareness of the obstacles to reconciliation and peace. 3) Create a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism and an open forum for ongoing dialogue between all positions within the Evangelical theological spectrum. 4) Motivate participants to become advocates for the reconciliation work of the church in Palestine/Israel and its ramifications for the Middle East and the world.
The love in the lives of these Palestinian Christians is manifest in their courage to address these issues in public. Their prayerful work for peace, justice, and reconciliation is loving work – love not only for the people in their Middle East context but also love for the world.
This book is a work of Godly Love. The study of Godly Love is an emerging interdisciplinary field devoted to examining benevolent action in the world. Godly Love is defined as
the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence (see also Poloma and Hood 2008:4). This perceived interaction provides the framework for a scholarly investigation of the Great Commandment: love God and love neighbor as self. Godly Love is not a synonym for God’s love. It is rather an attempt to capture a process of interactions between an individual’s “vertical” relationship with God and “horizontal” relationships with other people in which benevolent service becomes an emergent property. This is not to suggest that all benevolent service necessarily requires a vertical dimension. But the Flame of Love Project is predicated on the assumption that God is a “significant other” (Pollner 1989:92) for at least some people and that perceived interactions with God play an important role in the nature and extent of their expression of compassionate love.
Several of the organizers and presenters at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference are exemplars in a theological and social scientific study of Christians engaged in high-risk peacemaking, justice seeking, and social action. These Christians certainly perceive God as a significant other who empowers them as they work for reconciliation, justice, peace, and transformation in Israel, Palestine, and beyond. I see their organization of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference as a work of Godly Love flowing through them into the world. They are followers of Christ passing through checkpoints in the West Bank, seeking to loving those who have created and who maintain the checkpoints.
Love is not always easy. Love is not sentimentality. As Sami Awad states so clearly in his presentation,
My favorite point: Engage in continuous acts of love to your oppressor. For it is not a choice we have as followers of Jesus to love the other and the enemy, but it is a commandment that we are to abide in. I will not accept any argument that says that engaging in actions of expressing God’s love to the other undermines or underestimates our goal and aspirations as Palestinians or that it makes us look as if we are weak or vulnerable. It is only in strength that you can express love.
Yohanna Katanacho’s academic presentation argues for a peaceful, rather than violent, eschatology in the Psalms and his commitment to loving enemies and peacemaking is inspiring.
I didn’t know how I could relate to the Jews. I read my Bible. Matthew says, “love your enemies” and when I was looking at that it wasn’t like multiple choice, who is my enemy? The answer was clear for me. And I didn’t know what to do. I would go in the streets and there would be Israeli soldiers stopping me and telling me, “Come and give us your ID card. We want to see it.” I would pull out my ID card and many times they would ask me to stand in a corner for one or two hours; it was humiliating. It was a way in which they provoked my anger, provoked my hatred and, and just, all the time nourished that hatred. And I go to the Bible and read again and the Spirit of God was whispering in my ears one time after the other, “Love your enemies. Love your enemies.” And eventually I gave up, I said, “Lord I can’t. I don’t know what to do. How can I love my enemy? I’m living in a context that is horrible. The hatred is being nourished all the time.” And the first thing, as if God was again whispering in my ears, God says, “Witness to them. This is the way you love them. Witness to them.” So I said okay, you know I will follow my spiritual pilgrimage. I don’t know where God is leading me but I’ll take a small step of obedience. I went to a restaurant and they had a flyer called Real Love and on the flyer was a quotation from Isaiah 53. And it was written in Hebrew as well as in English. So I decided to take that flyer, put it in my ID card, and when the soldiers ask me, “Give us your ID card,” I will pull it out and give it to them and in this way I will obey my Lord. In the sense that, you know, God said, “Witness to them.” I said, “Lord, this is what I’m doing.” So the soldiers would call me and say, “Come, give us your ID card.” I would pull my ID card, give it to them, and they would open it and say, “What is this?” And I would say, “This is how God wants me to relate to you.” I didn’t want to lie, I didn’t want to tell them this is how I feel about you because I really didn’t feel any love in my heart, but I also wanted to obey the Lord. So they would look at it and say, “Ah, this is from the Hebrew Bible.” And they would read it and then we’d have a discussion and they would let me go. Sometimes they would ask me more questions and I did that so many times to the extent that without observing my heart and mind and emotions started changing, but I didn’t pay attention. God was shaping my heart and I would walk in the same streets, seeing the same soldiers, and I would pray in my heart, “Lord, please let them stop me. Because when they stop me I can share your love with them.”
Yohanna’s experience reveals one way that interactions between divine and human love can enliven and expand benevolence in the world. Rather than choosing violence or passivity, Yohanna’s experience of God’s love and leading in his own life led him to pass that love on to his enemies even in a context of oppression. This is Christ’s love at the checkpoint. The stories, theologies, and arguments in this book written by Palestinian Christians reflect perspectives of children of God who have passed through many checkpoints and who have brought much love into the world even when the opposite could reasonably be expected of them.
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…. But love your enemies…. (Luke 6:27-28, 32-33, 35a NASB)
This book is a work of Godly Love because the Palestinian Christians who organized this conference and commissioned this book do not just love those who love them, as so many tend to do. They also seek to live lives of love that include all of those around them.
This book is a work of justice and “justice is what love looks like in public.” Justice is righteousness. Justice is holiness. Justice is right relationships with and right treatment towards other people. “Loving kindness and truth have met together; Righteousness/justice and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10 NASB). Love, truth, righteousness, justice, and peace go together. Hate, lies, unrighteousness, injustice, and violence tend to go together as well. The essays in this book are concerned about what followers of Jesus ought to think and do about issues of land, economics, and politics. Scripture is replete with references to land justice, economic justice, and political justice. Social righteousness – righteousness in society – is a continual call in Torah, from the Prophets, from Jesus, and beyond. Social righteousness is needed today in Israel and Palestine, and the Christians who have written this book – including the dispensationalists – agree that working for justice in society is a call from God to which we should respond.
This book is a work of Godly Justice. The Christians who have written this book believe that God is a just God. God is a God who desires that humans practice justice. “For what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Where people work for justice, God is at work. Where people are less oppressed, God is at work. Where resources are divided fairly, God is at work. Where land is not stolen, God is at work. Where water is shared evenly, God is at work. Where matrices of control are dismantled, God is at work.
If we experiment with the definition of Godly Love a bit we could have an inviting definition of Godly Justice, and I submit that the work in this book aspires to embody Godly Justice in the world. “The dynamic interaction between divine and human love justice that enlivens and expands benevolence peace.” In fact, the title of the book The Love That Does Justice captures well the theological understanding of a God who desires justice and who inspires people to work for justice in loving ways. The imperative to love God and love others draws us to consider what that kind of love looks likes in public, and as many of the essays in this book argue, it looks like justice.
This book is a work of peacemaking. The authors of this book do not all agree with each other on everything that is presented in this book. We are not speaking with one theological voice or one perspective on biblical studies and the land. The fact that I have edited this collection of presentations and essays does not mean that I endorse all the arguments contained herein, and there could not be one editor who could since there are contradictory positions offered. This book is a book of arguments, even arguments on different sides of these issues. But that was part of the goal of the conference, and peacemaking does not mean that we must only work with those with whom we completely agree, peacemaking is actually quite opposite from that. Peacemaking means arguing and disagreeing and working things out. This book is a work of peacemaking because it presents evangelical voices who desire justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians, yet who do not all offer the same perspectives. There are dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists, and both the dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists do not even agree among themselves. I am not a dispensationalist and I disagree with some of the theological and biblical arguments of other non-dispensationalists in this book. Yet it is crucial that the nuances of these evangelical arguments be shared if evangelicals are to participate in peacemaking and justice seeking in the land of the Holy One.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Sometimes my oldest daughter will tilt her head just so and shoot a cute look, and she looks just like her momma. I can see her momma in her when she acts that way. And that’s what Jesus said about peacemakers – people can see your ‘Father’ in you when you make peace, you’re acting like God when you’re a peacemaker. This book seeks to help make peace between not only Israelis and Palestinians, but between Christians who are at odds with each other on these most crucial issues. Peacemaking is not about avoiding conflict, it requires engaging in the most contentious of conflicts with patience, humility, and love.
This book is a work of Godly Peacemaking. According to most Christian theologies, God is a peacemaker. God loved the world by sending Jesus (John 3:16), and while we were still enemies Christ reconciled us (Romans 5:10). When people work for peace in difficult situations God is with them, for this is who God be – God works for peace in the midst of conflicts. People often ask, “Where is God?” I believe that God is in the work of the people who are working for peace in Palestine and Israel.
Continuing the experimentation with the definition of Godly Love leads me now to consider a definition of Godly Peacemaking, “The dynamic interaction between divine and human peacemaking that enlivens and expands _______.” What does Godly Peacemaking enliven and expand? When conflicted peoples who are in conflict listen to one another, hear one another, learn from one another and change their injurious behaviors in response to the needs of others, there can be greater justice in the world. Godly Peacemaking enlivens and expands justice.
The theme of the conference and this book is Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace. In conclusion, I’d like to explore some words in the title for their potential since they illumine what God is doing through this movement. For Christians, Christ is God – and God is love. It is theologically appropriate to say that Christ is love. So we could consider that Christ at the checkpoint is God at the checkpoint, Christ at the checkpoint is love at the checkpoint, Christ at the checkpoint is Godly Love at the checkpoint.
The “Checkpoint” is an intersection of Israeli fears, desires for security, and attempts to control the behavior and resources of others, with Palestinian frustrations, desires for freedom, and resistance to injustice. The checkpoint is a place of both power and disempowerment. The checkpoint is a place of competing claims and conflict. Christ at the Checkpoint is Godly Love in a place of conflict, as clearly revealed in the testimony shared by Yohanna Katanacho.
Theo-logy is God’s (theos) word (logos), the study of God, or words about God. To claim to know the way of God is audacious, yet that is what Christians claim is possible through Jesus Christ. What words we say about God and what lives we live because of God reveal our theology, and I think it is a fair claim to say that the best words about God are words that bring about justice (righteousness) and peace. And this is exactly what Godly Love looks like in a place of conflict. Godly Love – the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence (justice, peace, reconciliation). Godly Justice – the dynamic interaction between divine and human justice that enlivens and expands peace. Godly Peacemaking – the dynamic interaction between divine and human peace that enlivens and expands justice. As you read Christ at the Checkpoint I invite you to attune yourself to the possibility of experiencing Godly Love in a place of conflict and hearing words about God that bring both righteousness and peace.
. www.ChristAtTheCheckpoint.com. The conference was primarily organized by Bethlehem Bible College and all royalties from the sale of this book go to Bethlehem Bible College.
. Margaret Poloma and Matthew Lee, A Sociological Study of the Great Commandment in Pentecostalism: The Practice of Godly Love as Benevolent Service (Edwin Mellen Press, 2009), 7. For other work on Godly Love see Matthew Lee and Amos Yong, eds., The Study of Godly Love: Interdisciplinary Approaches (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, forthcoming), Margaret Poloma and Ralph W. Hood, Jr., Blood and Fire: Godly Love in a Pentecostal Emerging Church (New York: NYU Press, 2008), Margaret Poloma and John C. Green, The Assemblies of God: Godly Love and the Revitalization of American Pentecostalism (New York: NYU Press, 2010), and www.GodlyLoveProject.org. The Flame of Love Project is a collaborative effort by researchers at the University of Akron and The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, that seeks to provide the scientific and theological foundation for a new interdisciplinary field of study: the science of Godly Love. I am in the Institute Core Research Group of this study.
. Robert K. Welsh (Professor of Graduate Psychology at Azusa Pacific University in California) and I are the principal investigators in this qualitative and quantitative study, which is funded by The Flame of Love Project. We are currently writing a book about their lives and work.
. Interview with Yohanna Katanacho, March 17, 2010 in Bethlehem, Palestine. Personal files of author.
. Attributed to Cornell West.
. Michael A. Edwards and Stephen G. Post, eds., The Love That Does Justice: Spiritual Activism in Dialogue with Social Science (Stony Brook, NY: Unlimited Love Press, 2008).