Palestinian Christians are a forgotten people. They are the Christians in the world that other Christians have almost completely forgotten or don’t even acknowledge exist.
The recent conflict in the Middle East makes this glaringly clear.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Middle East as part of an educational experience through the McAfee School of Theology.
The travel experience was under the nonprofit organization METS: Middle Eastern Travel Seminar. It was a three-week experience with fellow seminary students as well as lay people in business, education and other professional fields.
The goal of the seminar was to visit the Middle East and have a shared experience and dialogue as we encountered these biblical places together for the first time.
We visited Jerusalem and learned from an Arabic Christian organization named Sabeel. Sabeel is an Arabic word meaning “the way.”
Sabeel promotes Palestinian liberation from Israeli occupation through the auspices of a peaceful two-state solution.
Particularly important to their efforts is making Westerners aware that support for Israel based on dubious forms of biblical interpretation is not only irresponsible, but it also places Palestinian Christians at risk and contributes to their marginalization in Israeli society.
This is a point I have never forgotten. There are actually Arab Christians, Palestinian Christians, who confess the same Lord and Savior as I do.
They share the same Eucharist table and profess the same creeds. But because they are Palestinian and not Jewish, they are subject to persecution, occupation and disenfranchisement.
More troubling than this realization was the epiphany that my support for Israel was actually contributing to the oppression of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Yes, as a Christian, I am a part of Jewish heritage, but my faith is shared more by Palestinian Christians than by those who administer the secular State of Israel.
I traveled through the West Bank, which is occupied Israeli territory where many Palestinians live. I visited Bethlehem and spoke with a group of Palestinian Christians; they gather on a weekly basis to practice their faith. Their stories were stirring, troubling, convicting.
Palestinian Christians have the same fate as Palestinian Muslims. They are denied basic human rights of self-determination. They are denied proper medical attention because all the good hospitals are in Israel proper. They are denied economic success because Palestinian territories are not able to trade with Israel proper. They are living in areas of economic poverty, 50 percent unemployment, and surrounded by a giant concrete wall that does little to foster solidarity.
I realized that in my unreserved support for Israel, I was neglecting my Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ.
I was valuing real estate more than people. I was valuing a version of Zionism more than a version of Christ’s global redemptive activities.
When Christians support Israel without reserve, without knowing the geopolitical issues at hand, without attempting to understand the issues through a larger lens than is offered by Fox News or CNN, they run the risk of perpetuating the oppression of fellow followers of Jesus, followers of the Christ that are gladly thrown under the bus with our Western phobia of Arabs in general.
What we should remember about the common table, the Eucharist of Jesus, is that it is not to be politicized.
It is not to favor one group over another for any reason, even one we think is biblical. Rather, we are to “Eucharitize” the world. At the table of Jesus, there is no preference. Even Judas is accepted.
Our theology of the Christian faith should lead us to visions of the end of the world that are Christ-shaped.
Any bizarre and infatuated comfort with end-time scenarios that is not expressly consistent with the ministry of Jesus needs to be revised.
And despite our Western propensity to categorize all people in Israel and Palestine as either Arab Muslims or Israeli Jews, we Christians need to remember and support those who are a minority group in the holy land: Palestinian Christians.
So I plead with you and for our Palestinian family. As all attention is focused on the Middle East, we must remember those who share our faith.
We must not support theological claims that will make us culpable of persecuting the very people who are looking for the same risen Christ to finally redeem their land.
Nathan Napier is pastor of Christian education at First Church of the Nazarene in Cleveland, Tenn.
A bi-vocational minister for over 20 years, Napier currently serves as a lay minister at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, and his current research focuses on faith, culture and ethnography as pastoral practice.