Ask A Theologian – How might a Christian think about the current conflict between Hamas and Israel?
Written By Boston Avenue
How might a Christian think about the current conflict between Hamas and Israel? Here are my reflections that I hope will prompt your own.
First and foremost, this is a massive humanitarian crisis. Thousands of people have been killed, meaning tens of thousands of family members and neighbors have now experienced the nightmare of war. At the time of this writing, over a million people have been ordered to evacuate one crowded area to move to another. I believe that, in God’s eyes and heart, people are people, regardless of all the divisions humankind has imagined to demarcate “us vs. them.” And millions of people are experiencing massive, intense suffering. From a point of view of Christian faith, compassion is due to all who are suffering—also very much including our Jewish, Muslim, and Christian neighbors (reminder: there are also Christian Palestinians).
There is nothing moral or righteous about Hamas’ strategic, targeted attack on civilians, starting with those concert-goers. It was an attack of which the outcome would inevitably be more death and destruction. I don’t see how provoking more death and destruction or inviting total war can be moral. One cannot envision how the Hamas action will contribute to the betterment of the Palestinians’ insufferable living conditions.
In believing there is one God, creator of us all, and a God who creates human beings in the image of the divine, I believe the most fundamental moral codes must apply to all persons and all nations. Hostage-taking, murder, threats of public slaying—these actions are wrong. Always. Systemic oppression of one group of people by another is wrong. Always.
Self-defense is a basic right. While individuals may be pacifists, elected leaders elected to “protect and defend” cannot be. I don’t think leaders can “turn the other cheek” when that means more of their people die. But how one decides to defend is a choice that should be governed by a moral code that is neither “turn the other cheek” nor “an eye for an eye.”
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that original sin is the only empirically demonstrable Christian doctrine. By that he meant, in all places and all times, one can see the human disposition to self-interest at the expense of others, the will toward having power over others for one’s own benefit, the exaggerated and distorted sense of self that results in distorted and broken relationships. What we are seeing now is no exception.
I do not pretend to know how this crisis will or should end. I don’t know what peace or shalom or salam means for the Israelis and Palestinians. I am not in a position either to judge who threw the first punch nor how the fight could or should stop. But, in terms of how this conflict is being conducted, oppression in the name of security, hateful actions, and horrific terrorist attacks and hostage-taking will not lead to a peace worthy to be called shalom/salam.
Prayer, offering support to our neighbors, and giving to agencies offering compassionate relief are never wrong.
Here are two statements from The United Methodist Church. The first is from the Book of Resolutions (2016) and the second is from bishops in response to the current situation:
Rev. Gary Peluso-Verdend, PhD
Theologian in Residence at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, OK
President Emeritus of Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK
Our Theologian in Residence
Gary Peluso-Verdend is the President Emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK, an ecumenical seminary affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Since 1993, he served at Phillips as a program director, the dean, development executive, president, and founding director of the Center for Religion in Public Life. For five years (2000-2005), he was the director of church relations at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. Gary retired from Phillips in February 2023.
Gary is a retired ordained elder in The United Methodist Church (Northern Illinois Conference). He earned his PhD at the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1991. He attends Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa where he teaches adult church school classes frequently.
Gary serves on the board of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice and on working groups for the Braver Angels Alliance in OK and Compassionate Tulsa.
He and his wife live with their daughter in Tulsa, in the fourth (and last) house-in-need-of-updating they have owned. Gary’s three grown children and their families live in the Chicago area.
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Advice from Boston Avenue’s Theologian In Residence