As some of you know, about two weeks ago, I returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or what is currently known as Palestine and Israel. While it was incredibly powerful to walk the shores of the Galilee and gaze across the hills of Bethlehem, just as Jesus would have, my pilgrimage quickly became rooted on searching for the face of God in that land today, rather than focusing on where God had been.
At first, this appeared to be a daunting task. It was hard to not be constantly angry hearing stories of 12 year old children being taken from their families and arrested in the middle of night, witnessing great inequality between the Palestinian refugee camps and Jewish settlements, and seeing the border walls separating people from their families, places of work, and places of worship. It was even more frustrating coming to the realization that not many people knew the truth of the violations of human rights and international law occurring daily, and even fewer people in power seem to care. Yet despite the heartbreaking realities I witnessed in life under occupation, I saw God everywhere I went.
I saw God in the union of Arabs and Jews joining together in peacemaking efforts. I saw God in the determination of our bus driver, Tarek, to not move from and relinquish his family’s property to a government not his own. I saw God in the nonviolent resistance Palestinians continue each day by waking up and traveling to work in the midst of constant dehumanization and obstacles. I experienced God in sharing food with a Muslim family in the rain, all of us waiting for the bus in Jerusalem. I saw God in the stubborn planting of trees by a Palestinian family on their farm despite the loss each time they are cut down. I heard God in the voices of Palestinian children singing, We Shall Overcome. These were my verbs of faith.
God also spoke to me urgently, calling me to do what I could as an American to work for peace in the occupied territories.
Let’s return to James 2:14-18.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
When human beings are being denied their very right to exist in their homes, there can be no neutrality.
Silence is complacency.
Ignoring the oppressed acknowledges the power of the oppressors.
Thoughts and prayers are not a Christ-like remedy to human suffering.
You must have faith, and your faith should be made known through your works.
I believe this is the core of what it means to be a Christian. I believe that being a Christian comes with the responsibility of political action. I believe that we cannot stand by and witness injustice, recline on a prayer, and call ourselves Christians.
Jesus' whole ministry was defined by action. We are here today because Jesus raised hell, and a lot of people didn't like it. One of my favorite sites we visited was the Temple Mount, where Jesus flipped the tables of the merchants and the money changers.
While there were constant opportunities to get angry and pick sides, I remember the words of retired Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour, who I was given amazing opportunity to meet and hear speak. In his book, Blood Brothers, he wrote:
“You who live in the United States, if you are pro-Israel, on behalf of the Palestinian children, I call unto you: Give further friendship to Israel. They need your friendship. But stop interpreting that friendship as an automatic antipathy against me, the Palestinian who is paying the bill for what others have done against my beloved Jewish brothers and sisters in the Holocaust and elsewhere. And if you have been enlightened enough to take the side of the Palestinians - oh bless your hearts - take our side, because for once you will be on the right side, right? But if taking our side would mean to become one-sided against my Jewish brothers and sisters, back up. We do not need such friendship. We need one more common friend. We do not need one more enemy.”
This was a common theme echoed through Palestinian speakers and in literature I read to prepare for my trip. We must not be divisive, because more than anything, Christ taught peace. It is important to be intentional with our activism, because living a life through Jesus requires peace and love, just as it requires controversy and courage. We are called to a careful balance of faith, works, and intention.
As Christians, we must serve our enemies, love our neighbors, demand legislative action, and fight for systemic change. Religion is not intrinsic to politics, but politics is intrinsic to religion.
I believe this applies to all situations of injustice on a local to global scale.
I urge you to take advantage of our first amendment rights that we are so fortunate to have; I urge you to boycott, petition, and speak out about injustice wherever you may see it and hold the world accountable, because Our God is not one of quiet struggle, but of justice, righteousness, and radical love.
Written and delivered by Ally Savage at Heart of the Rockies Christian Church on Youth Sunday 2019. Ally participated in a People-to-People pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine.