Pastor for Palestine, Imam for Israel?

A couple of weeks ago, before our media became pre-occupied with the crisis in Perak and the gutter politics over the last one week, The Nut Graph conducted an interview with me on the Gaza crisis and some wider thoughts on The Israeli-Palestine conflict from a Christian perspective.

Post It Notes

Notes offering support to Gaza (All pics courtesy of Sivin Kit and Eng-Jee Ong)

Some have commented to me that the title (which incidentally was chosen by the editors of The Nut Graph) made me sound anti-Israel. Then again, titles are either meant to draw you into reading the piece or serve as a summary of it. In this case, I think it’s more of the former. Nonetheless, you ought to actually read the interview to find out for yourself what I was actually trying to highlight.

I found this response to the interview on the Malaysian Bar Council’s website interesting and it inspired the title of this post – mainly because it would be interesting for me to meet an Imam speaking up for the concerns of the people/citizens of Israel.

This Time Around
– Tan Peek Guat

What, a pastor for Palestine?
Therefore, an imam for Israel?
These sound like spells!

Let us then, for one moment;
Be spell-bound.
So that no woes are found!

That all woes may be forgotten;
And be collected from their compound.
So that all squares may be made round.

Oh, how good that would sound!
When within both their lands.
No soldiers belonging to the other would be found!

Not many comments were actually found on either The Nut Graph or at the Bar Council’s website. Perhaps you might want to add to the conversation which is already now fading in the background. Here are the few that are currently there:

cruzeiro Posted: 12 Feb 09 : 12.27PM

I do not think we have to necessarily keep religion out of the discourse.

I applaud the participation of Pr Sivin in this effort for Palestine.

However, I’d beg to differ on the above statement – it is imperative that the religious connotations to this conflict, which has absolutely nothing to do with religion, be removed.

If you believe that this war has anything to do with religion, I’d choose to say that you’re ignorant of the facts – as are most who speak on the religious and anti-Jew platform.

Tom Posted: 13 Feb 09 : 11.22AM

“I believe no one is above criticism, …” “I think .. For example, in the Malaysian mass media, coverage was perceived to be very one-sided towards the Palestinian cause.”

Iraq fought with Iran and invaded Kuwait. Citizens kill one another. The main issue here is politics leading to WARS, fighting in the Middle East for centuries compounded by ownership of “the promised” land, oil money and aid money to buy weapons, now rockets and soon nuclear bombs used wrongly will wipe nations and us out of the earth’s surface! Facing this, we should never stop praying but leave whatever happens to GOD’s will, nothing religious really, shouldn’t we?

Muslims Against Sharia Posted: 17 Feb 09 : 2.24PM

Help stop perpetual crisis in the Gaza Strip:

Sign a petition for Egypt to reassert control over Gaza.

Sivin Kit Posted: 18 Feb 09 : 9.53AM

Dear Cruzeiro,

Thanks for applauding my participation.

In my interaction with people of faith, and especially in this case Muslim friends, I can see how one cannot ignore or separate how one’s understanding of religion may affect their views and participation.

I prefer us to bring it out in the open rather than suppressing it. If you read what I’ve said in context, you would have noticed that I clearly stated in that framing it as a religious or racial conflict is problematic. So, I think we are on the same page on that.

What I feel is a lot of talk which marginalizes religion from public discourse only drives uses or abuses of religion underground, and does not allow a more reflective approach to contribute more positively.

Now, I’m referring primarily on our responses and I am not offering an analysis on the reasons and rationale for war especially in this case of Gaza.

Let me add some extra thoughts which I wrote as a reply to an e-mail (with some editing)

On the alleged “Anti-Israel bias”, “Pro-Palestinian Public Relations Exercise” and Alex Awad’s Book “Through The Eyes of The Victims”:

I think there’s a difference between a book which is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause like Awad’s book and one sided propaganda by Palestinians.   To point the finger at them as masters in PR, the fingers are pointed back at Israel and USA.  The cycle of distrust in media is already present.

We must acknowledge one sided reports on both sides.  And perhaps probe deeper, what is the purpose or underlying assumptions which drive the one-sidedness.  Having said that, one must ask why do people like Awad writes the way he writes as a committed Christian  who is committed to Christ, and the Scriptures. I don’t think it’s so simple as labeling those like him as anti-Israel.  Is being critical of the church being anti-church? Is being critical of Chinese who have rigid parochial attitudes anti-Chinese? Is being critical of the myself being anti-self? (to push it further) The list goes on.  Obviously, No.

Then, it’s about raising important questions where we may be blinded because of our understandings of the role of Israel in God’s plan and purpose for the world which in many cases is part of a dispensationalist reading of the Bible – while has it’s merits – but is not the only way to read the Bible.  And I would suggest, a more Christ-centred approach is more helpful especially in these matters.

On the appeal to Old Testament “the wars initiated by Israel and occupation of the promised land of Canaan by Israel” passages, and God’s wisdom and ways.

While these passages of the Bible are difficult to explain to people.  I won’t use them as a justification of our silence in matters relating to modern day Israel.  If we hear Muslims quote certain passages of the Quran to justify making war against the Jews,  then where does that leave us?

Again, this is a matter of the choice of how we interpret the Scriptures.  I would say one needs to be consistent then with obeying the ritual laws and sacrificial laws in the Old Testament.  But we don’t, we say Christ in the book of Hebrews supercedes that and we don’t need to.  So, Can I say Christ in the sermon of the mount supercedes the use of the Old Testament to justify wars by “Blessed are the peacemakers”, and “Love your enemies”, and the refusal to allow his disciples to raise the sword?

While God’s ways are indeed higher than our ways, we don’t make excuses for that.  But the Way of Jesus is clear – and first and foremost I’m a Christ-follower not a follower of Moses!  Christ is the prince of peace, not prince of war.

On the Gospel, end-time Bible prophecies and helpful or unhelpful authors.

I won’t bang people with the Gospel.  Because when the Gospel is clearly presented, it’s power requires no banging. But I understand what is said. We have heard people comment “that the God of the Bible is a man of war and is the same ‘root god’ for the Muslims and Jews, and alleged that He is the root cause of the fighting in the Middle East”. People like this may not be that wrong to have that opinion and perception, if Christians keep on talking the way we do using texts in the OT to try to justify war. He rightly sees the connection with Muslims who do the same.  Now, I don’t agree with him, simply because Jesus said when you see me you see the Father. so for me, Jesus is the final revelation of who God is.  And when things get confused and blurred, I look to him.  He’s my supreme authority.  That is the Gospel!

As for end time prophecies, let’s be honest.  Most of the popular stuff we have gotten from the USA is problematic in their selective use of passages from Daniel, 1 Thessalonians and the book of Revelation.  Stringing passages together with world events make the Bible relevant on surface, but tragically misses the original intent and distracts us from the original message of these texts.

I believe in Biblical prophecy and God has a plan for all people – including Israel, the church, and also the Arabs … because they are also the ones whom Christ died for. God is the God of history, and indeed his ways are higher than ours.  And i think higher than the details of what many of these popular authors claim to understand in their reading of the events of the Middle East.  Even in our short lifetime, many of them have been proven wrong.  I think as Christians we have to be honest and admit that.  Then what is a better way of understanding the events of the Middle East?

I think Bible believing authors and those who have lived in the Middle East like Colin Chapman to me is one of the more helpful authors I would recommend over those like John Hagee , or Grant Jeffreys, Hal Lindsay, etc. Check out his piece, APOCALYPSE NOW IN ISRAEL/PALESTINE? (and contrast it with positions promoted by Christians United for Israel)

On “God’s higher wisdom and our best reasoning” based on Romans 11 and the book of Job.

I’d like to apply this same principle of “God’s higher wisdom and our best reasoning”  to those who claim to have the middle east end time plan sorted out and presented to the Christian church in their best-selling books.  Because, I seem to get the impression, that if one disagrees with them then we are anti-Israel or not submitting to the wisdom of God.

My sense is these authors who claim to be experts of the end-time prophecies are more like Job’s friends than Job.  So, I’m called to be like Job, I’m not going to listen to them!  I’m sticking with God.

I humbly submit that those who question these best-selling end-time authors are actually pro-God’s plan for Israel and challenging us not to make any form of nationalism our idol. And I humbly submit that Christians do not support any thinking which is against the core message of Jesus for all people, making it harder for our Christian witness worldwide, and becoming a hindrance for the Gospel.

May I say, if Christ is our centre we follow him in preferring the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the one’s imprisoned, the one who is displaced.  Did not the Old Testament say we need to love the aliens in our land? So, if Christian want to honor the Chosen status of the people of Israel than perhaps we need to be prophets who confront the Israeli Government that they are disobeying God?  And by disobeying God’s clear commandment  to take care of those in their land, they are inviting judgment!

If we really love the people of Israel, and honor God;s election of them, in the same way Apostle Paul does in the book of Romans.  Then, we need to be like Paul and break out of any ethnic-centred or nationalistic kind of thinking which is a hindrance to the Gospel.

Paul is right, but he does not excuse anyone’s disobedience … even people of Israel. I’m sure he wouldn’t for modern day Israel as a modern state too. I do think it’s important to distinguish between the people of Israel from the Israeli government and the modern state of Isreal.  Just like I would differentiate the people of Palestine, with the elected Hamas Government in Gaza.

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

And the final word, from Paul brings our focus on God in all things! A prayer, an intercession, a confession …  it’s  his sense of Mission to the people of Israel more than a blind loyalty.  He sees them clearly as they are, as we should do so today with of any modern state and government.  But his sight is even more focused on God, for the source of one’s wisdom and discernment. Amen!

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

2 Replies to “Pastor for Palestine, Imam for Israel?”

  1. I congratulate Pastor Sivin Kit’s efforts in showing compassion for the victims of war and this goes beyond the Gaza incident. I agree that the Israel-Arab/Palestinian crisis is a very complex problem.

    Rather than naively taking out the religious aspects, there are several ways to achieve a solution. A complicated problem requires a complicated analysis with a simple but profound solution.

    1. Reexamine at the simplicity of the political solution: a two-state solution simply requires that each state recognises and respects the existence of the other. All other tactics to obstruct this process reflects an indirect denial of real peace. For example, if Singapore/Indonesia refuses to recognise Malaysia as a legitimate country, why bother talking about a truce or lasting peace with them? Wiser to prepare secretly for the coming attack.

    2.The diplomatic solution is now offered by President Obama. He is likely to convince Iran and all the proxy elements of the Arab world to lay down their arms for peace. But this peace won’t hold because it is merely diplomacy laced with great rhetoric from an ambitious world leader. Read his inaugural speech:

    “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

    This means a voluntary disarmament which will eventually be a prelude to rearmament. An unclenched fist can easily become clenched with a nuclear bomb later on.

    3. Lastly on the question of who is right or wrong. I suggest to the Reverend that he seeks guidance from Jesus’s advice to judge a tree by its fruits. How many Jewish and Arab friends do we personally know from both sides of the issue.

    Finally, we should learn to see the problems of the Middle East from the perspective of a Martian who has no vested interest. Which party in this conflict is unreasonable, barbaric, illogical and religiously extremist?

    Maybe, he will say both parties are equally so. But ask him further, show him the history of this conflict which extends to Abraham’s relationship with his two sons Isaac and Ishmael and you may arrive at a truly objective view.

  2. Dear mankind,

    For there to be success, “Peace” ought to be a mutual liking and / love in men’s minds, and all ‘kind’ men would possess such a liking.

    If all men aspire to enjoy peace, then they ought to extend their hand-shakes to the other and bear no ‘ill-will’ against the opposing party.

    In fact, in the first instance, there need not be any ‘opposing’ feelings towards the other party at all.

    When men feel good and at ease with peace, then there would be peace which is as opposed to war.

    Let all warring men and women lay down their ill concocted weapons. In that manner, there would be more peace around us.

    What leads to war? First, it was the land. Men aspire to have greater control of the land around them. They want to exert their muscles and minds over others. They want to rule, and yet the do not know how to be good rulers.

    Therefore, as rulers or authoritarians, they need to know how to make others comfortable with their usurpation of others’ rights.

    Without the above knowledge and understanding, there would be war. In war-time then, they seek God’s help when they are on the verge of losing out in their dirty ‘wars’ against God’s other beings.


    Jenny Tan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *