"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Church After Gaza

Once upon a time, a major Catholic theologian named Johann Baptist Metz wrote a seminal essay called “The Church after Auschwitz”. In this essay, he cited the sad, profound words of Elie Wiesel, “The thoughtful Christian knows that it was not the Jewish people that died at Auschwitz, but rather Christianity.” This judgement applies not to the religion of Jesus Christ, but to that form of Christianity that not merely turned its eyes from the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews, but actively aided and abetted that slaughter through its direct support for the Nazi regime.

At the heart of this struggle over the meaning of Christianity is the struggle over what it means to be human. We cannot be Christian unless we are first human beings. We hear much today about “not dwelling on the past” with regard to the crimes of the Bush administration, but “looking forward”. However the question raised by Metz in this essay remains, “Are we human beings really more humane when we are able successfully to forget such a horrible fact about ourselves?”

The horrible fact today is that we Christians sat and watched while thousands of innocent people were maimed and slaughtered in Gaza at the beginning of this year. Of course, the news media presented it as a battle of equals with good and evil on both sides, but does this make us less culpable? No more or less than the Germans of Hitler’s time.

Where was Jesus Christ during the Gaza slaughter? Was he standing with the Palestinians who stood fast with a courage and dignity under the missiles or did he laugh with the Israeli soldiers who mowed down civilians like cockroaches? If there is no Jesus Christ for us in Gaza, how can there be a Jesus Christ for us anywhere else?

There are magic Christians who worship a miracle maker who blesses the utopia of unending commodities. And there is a Jesus who sits trembling with a Palestinian father who waits in sickness for the missile to destroy his family. In Jesus Christ, the nearness of God is guaranteed to Christians, but to which Christianity is this promise applied? Is a Christianity that prays with its back turned to the Palestinians part of the promise or do such Christians worship something whose name none dare speak? When Jesus looks on us on the last day, will he thrust us into the same deadly isolation that we have thrust the Palestinians? Or perhaps he only cares about “religious” issues, like same sex marriage?

Unless we can see the world through Palestinian eyes, our Christianity remains dead. Unless we can see the world through the eyes of the poor, we are blind to the glory of God. We can know nothing of courage and dignity unless we recognize the strength of spirit found in the Palestinians who walked to devastated hospitals with bullets in their backs. Otherwise, how can we hear the cry of Jesus in Hebrews 5:7 “loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death”? Such a Christianity is not the religion of the crucified one, but a myth of the victors.

The attack on Gaza was an attack on everything that must be holy to us. To humiliate those whose dignity is under our protection, to kill to satiate an artificially induced bloodlust resulting from infantile racism, is to reject the Israel for whom Jesus died.

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