Noted ecumenical scholar Dr. Lamin Sanneh and local Christian leaders Dr. Salim Y. Muyaner and the Rev. Evan Thomas spoke about and modeled reconciliation through the Gospel to GAFCON pilgrims on Wednesday, June 25.
Muyaner is the founder of Musalaha, a ministry of reconciliation which strives to bring together Palestinian Christians and Israeli Messianic Jews. Founded in 1990, Musalaha builds relationships among Palestinian and Israeli followers of Jesus through desert retreats, reconciliation workshops and other activities.
Muyaner and Thomas made it clear just how difficult reconciliation is between Israelis and Palestinians. “The realities of the situation in the Middle East is that Israelis and Palestinians are living as it were in a very small house as a very large and very dysfunctional family,” said Thomas.
Palestinian Christians are in a particularly hard position, said Muyaner. As Palestinians, they are seen as the “other” by Israelis. As Christians, they are outside of the mainstream of the larger Palestinian community. Living as a Christian in this region means dealing with immediate questions that few other believers have to face. “What would Jesus do if he had to go through an army checkpoint daily?” asked Muyaner.
Thomas agreed. He spoke of the temptation to “erect a dividing wall” between fellow Christians in cultural conflict. He related his own thoughts as Israel erected a barrier between his home and the Palestinian territories. Thomas said he initially rejoiced. There had been 13 terrorist attacks in his town in the last year. When the barrier was erected, the attacks ended. “Another part of me was seriously disturbed. Now our peoples were truly divided,” he added.
Both Thomas and Muyaner pointed to the cross of Jesus Christ as the only possible basis for reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian followers of Jesus. Not only did Jesus die to reconcile all people to God, but also to reconcile people to each other. Thomas quoted 1 John 4:20. “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar.”
In Christ, “The need of Palestinians for justice will be met and the need of Jews for hope will be met,” said Muyaner.
Sanneh, the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity and professor of history at Yale Divinity School, suggested to pilgrims that destructive conflicts between Christians and Muslims are something that the world could do without.
Sanneh discussed the connection between language and religious belief. “There is nothing that God wants to say to us that is so profound, so elevated that it cannot be expressed in normal, everyday language to ordinary people.”
He also spoke in support of GAFCON. “GAFCON I am absolutely convinced… is part of the wave of the future. You in this community have a tremendous responsibility to link with movements that are also taking place in Europe and America. GAFCON will then create a family of God that transcends nationality and language.”