Christians bear historic responsibility for the current catastrophe in Israel/Palestine, due to the destructive legacy of anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and imperialism. Alongside Jewish and Palestinian leaders working for peace, Christians must do our part to end the violence.
So many people are grieving. In the past week, over 3700 people have been killed in Israel and Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the months prior in 2023. As I write this, Israel is telling 1.1 million people in the northern part of Gaza to evacuate as it retaliates against Hamas’s October 7th horrific attacks on civilians. The UN and human rights groups say such a large-scale evacuation will be impossible and as Palestinians yet again flee their homes, a humanitarian crisis is deepening. Meanwhile, hostages taken from Israel remain in Gaza, alongside millions of Palestinians who await the threats of ground invasion.
I am terrified about what will come next. As we grieve the horrific loss of life of both Israelis and Palestinians, we all are responsible to stop an imminent genocide in the Gaza Strip. That is why today I am marching to the White House and Congress in a protest led by Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow to call for a ceasefire now.
As a Christian pastor, I am called to this stance as someone who believes in a God of peace and justice for all people. I am also called to it because I recognize that the deeper roots of the violence lie in thousands of years of Christian anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and imperial control that laid the foundation for the present.
Throughout the medieval period, Christian powers in Western Europe invaded the Middle East in religious wars against Islam and to access trade routes to Asia. Meanwhile, Christian rulers made it unsafe for Jews to live in their domains, from Spain to Russia and beyond. Pogroms and daily indignities threatened life for Jews across the world. This horrific violence played on in catastrophic proportions in the Holocaust.
Many Christians have supported Israel’s policies because of a sense of responsibility for anti-semitism and the Holocaust. And yet Christian support for a Jewish state, even prior to 1948, has always come with self-interest. For Christian Zionists, unquestioning support for the state of Israel is motivated by dangerous theology. The belief is that Jews are to return to biblical Israel in order to usher in the second coming of Christ. This not only implies the erasure of Palestinians, but also ultimately, the conversion of Jews to Christ.
With strong support on the religious right, Christian Zionism holds a major sway over U.S. policy. Christians United for Israel is the largest pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., and sees no future for Palestinians. As Jonathan Brenneman and Aidan Orly wrote in Truthout in 2021, the forced displacement of Palestinians is funded by the millions of dollars sent yearly to Israel by Christian Zionists. This fuels attacks on Israelis too, as groups like Hamas respond through violence against civilians.
The present day Christian Zionist lobby is a contemporary version of a much older dynamic that planted the seeds for the current catastrophe. Prior to World War II, French and British imperialists supported the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East in order to advance their own economic interests. They wanted a “buffer” state that would be friendly to Europe and hostile to its neighbors. This geopolitical calculation was not about Jewish safety but about dominance of the region for their own gain. Lo and behold, many leading Christian Zionists today have strong ties to the oil industry. A dangerous theological vision and the economic greed of Christian elite goes hand in hand.
Unquestioning Christian support in the West for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories has not made Jews safer and will not. Rather than take seriously the well-being of Jews, this support continues to treat Jews as buffers in a larger geopolitical game. It places Jews in a constant position of precarity such that they must directly absorb the violence that is the fruits of occupation. Meanwhile Christian Zionists live in privilege and safety far from risk. It is cruel and unfair. We saw that precarity play out this past week in Israel with devastating consequences.
Such dynamics have shaped the present, but they don’t have to shape the future. I stand with my Jewish colleagues today who demand that Jewish grief not be weaponized to support more mass death.
As Christians, we must stand alongside both Jews and Palestinians in mourning lost lives. We must recognize our own historic responsibility for all of this horror. True repair of the past means demanding a true just peace. Right now, that means calling for a ceasefire, de-escalation, the return of hostages, a solution that addresses apartheid policies and occupation, and refusing to send more weapons that will fuel the violence.
We must raise our voices as Christians to say no to the Christian Zionist lobby. We must work to end anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and imperialism on all fronts. I want my Palestinian friends to have access to life and dignity in their native homeland. I want my Jewish friends to live in safety anywhere and everywhere that they should choose. A military solution will not create this reality. We must act – before a genocide unfolds before our eyes and with our tax dollars.
It’s past time for Christians to do our part to end the system of violence. We must indeed take responsibility for the past, to make a world that is safe for Palestinians and Jews alike. That is the world I want and that my faith calls me into. Does yours?
Rev. Margaret Ernst is a United Church of Christ pastor in Pennsylvania, U.S.A.