An Editorial Note on the War in Gaza
In 2020, Rev. Dr. Esau McCaulley wrote a five-word sentence in Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope that has arrested our attention for the last few years. Speaking about the contextual need for wise, discerning, place-based location within our theological work, Dr. McCaulley remarked, “All theology is socially located.” By this, he meant that it is impossible – let alone deeply unwise – to divorce the development of a theological perspective from the context where it was first rooted in its inception. Equally critically, the author of a theological perspective shapes and frames what we consider from the place where they are located themselves. In other words, worldview shapes reality, and truth is interpreted from the perspective by which one stands.
As Missio Alliance, whenever a global issue arises within the Church worldwide, whether it be a scandal, theological controversy, or worldwide news item, we wrestle with wondering whether we should comment on this latest . In the instantaneous rush to platform a perspective that envelops the social media landscape of our day, what is our role as Missio Alliance to cultivate brave spaces for hard conversations to take place? How do we separate the need for a take – often rushed, frequently ill-thought out – with the at times concurrent need for thoughtful, prophetic witness, particularly in the midst of systemic injustice, brutal violence, and the frightening possibility that we are witnessing the erasure of a people group in real time?
All this to say, what we have witnessed over the past few weeks in Israel, and subsequently in Gaza, is horrific, devastating, and historic, all in the most gut-wrenching sense of each word. Brutal war has broken out, and it feels like we are forced to choose a side. As followers of Jesus, we embrace the way of peace and non-violence in the face of global empire, seeking to emulate the path that our Suffering Servant willingly walked. How do we do so in light of the violent attack by Hamas on Israeli soil, killing over 1,400 Israeli citizens who were largely celebrating the end of the Festival of Sukkot? How do we do so in light of the spiraling, brutal response by the Israeli military since October 7th, with at least 8,800 Palestinians killed, including 3,650 minors as of November 1st?
Our answer: We don’t know, but listening deeply and holding vigil beneath the binary perspectives we are offered is a place to begin. We must do something, and empathetic listening is always a great place to start.
In this vein, our National Director, Lisa Rodriguez-Watson, has written a reflection on how this war has hit home in a deeply personal way for herself, and her own local faith community where she pastors, Christ City Church in Washington D.C.
We asked two friends, Jer Swigart and Jon Huckins, co-founders of Global Immersion, an incredible peace-making organization that has been intimately involved in on the ground relationships with Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers alike for over 12 years, if we could share their initial personal reactions to the unfolding conflict over the past few weeks. Jer and Jon contain a wealth of wisdom between them, and we know you will be challenged by their humble, yet prophetic perspective.
We reached out to Rich Villodas, a Leading Voice for our Writing Collective, and Lead Pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York, one of the more emotionally-healthy, multiracial church communities in one of the most ethnically diverse zip codes in America, if he would share his Pastoral Word on the Israel & Gaza Conflict, written to his own local community, with our wider, national audience.
All have graciously offered their voices in the collective hope that their reflections would create an imperfect but helpful pathway forward for the work of restorative justice and holistic peace in your own community, where you are actually rooted, and more deeply, throughout Israel and Gaza in these coming days.
We as a team at Missio Alliance are praying for you as you navigate this violence within your own hearts, and step into the prophetic work of justice and peace-making that God is asking you to carry.
May the peace of Christ guide us all in these dark days.
~ Missio Alliance Team
Reflection from Lisa Watson-Rodriguez, National Director of Missio Alliance
Close detail of the Path to Peace Wall mural on the actual wall separating Gaza from Israel. (Photo: Lisa Rodriguez-Watson)
As I scroll the devastating headlines and images in my news feed of what has been happening in Israel, Palestine, and Gaza over the past few weeks, I feel an overwhelming sense of grief. Having traveled to Israel and Palestine a few years ago, my mind is drawn back to the peacemakers I met in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and near the Gaza border. Thankfully, I no longer have the convenience of unfamiliarity. The streets I walked and people I met afford me no such ease. Sharing meals with and learning from Israeli Jews, Palestinian Muslims, and Palestinian Christians has deeply shaped me. I carry their faces and places with me as I sit with my warm cup of tea reading heartbreaking stories of violence from thousands of miles away.
At the Gaza border there is a beautiful mosaic mural on the separation wall that stands as a prophetic witness of hope in the midst of an intractable conflict. The Path to Peace wall mural holds the desires and creative expression of visitors from all over the world, and its name beckons me to wonder what the pathways to peace are in this moment. As the National Director of Missio Alliance, I more specifically ask myself what is the role of the American church in this complex and crucial moment? While there are no simple answers for a pathway to peace, there are some practical initial steps. We listen to, learn from, and follow the leadership of Christians in the region who work towards peace, and we call for a ceasefire to put an end to the horrific death toll.
Visitors to the Path to Peach wall mural are invited to prayerfully reflect on a message of peace they would like to leave on a colorful stone. Participants are then asked to tangibly engage in the work of peace through decorating their own stone, which grows the mural further. (Photo: Lisa Rodriguez-Watson)
Though the greatest impacts of the war are felt in Gaza, Palestine, and Israel, I am thrust into the complexity of it here in my own congregation. I pastor Palestinian Christians from the West Bank whose families have been cultivating peace for generations in the midst of crushing oppression. My church is also home to Israeli Christians who also long for and work towards peace both in the Middle East and here in our own community. I listen to and learn from them. I hold space for their hopes and fears, and for their grief and loss. In the absence of a simple solution, together we live honestly and bravely into the hope of the gospel, that reminds us that sorrow and death are real, that justice and peace are costly – even as they are worth all that they require. The resurrection of Christ means that some day there will be an end to all war because Jesus has completed his redeeming work for all of humanity. Because that day feels especially far off right now, we groan with all of creation, and wait with hope for what we do not yet have (Romans 8:18-28). In the absence of a simple solution, together we live honestly and bravely into the hope of the gospel, that reminds us that sorrow and death are real, that justice and peace are costly, even as they are worth all that they require. Click To Tweet
Reflections from Jer Swigart, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Global Immersion
Jer Swigart made it home to Spokane safely, deeply aware that many Palestinian and Israeli friends did not. (Photo: Jer Swigart)
Last night, I made it home from Israel to the embrace of my family.
My US folk are out and safe. My Palestinian and Israeli friends are not. Most can’t. Many won’t. I’m both glad to be home and brokenhearted to have left. It’s an uncomfortable privilege to experience and hold both truths at once.
I’m broken by what I have witnessed.
So much is shattering there. This is what happens when untended to trauma and unchecked power collide.
What will make things worse is our tendency to reinforce our premature conclusions about who is to blame. This will only accelerate the violence between us and between them.
As a global family we need to do the hard work of understanding the pain of another. Of understanding our contribution to that pain. If we’re going to invest our energy, it’s best spent in softening our certainty. In begging forgiveness and committing to the work of repair. To reaching for the hand of our others, irritants, and enemies rather than power.
My sense is that in this work and way of life, we’ll not only be found by God, but we’ll find ourselves and we’ll find our joy. Perhaps this is something of what Paul spoke of in Philippians 2?
What I have witnessed has only deepened my resolve to undo the weaponizing of American Christianity that has made this current violence inevitable and so extraordinarily lethal.
I will need to find my head and heart in these next few days as I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally weary…and will welcome the public and private conversations that will soon emerge. Feel free to reach out.
My Global Immersion team is actively working on our strategy to get you connected to the peacemakers who are embedded within this war. Stories of hope, resilience, cooperation, interdependence, co-resistance, and restoration will not make mainstream media, so we will amplify their stories and connect you to them and their work.
For now, pray for our beloved relatives who are experiencing an unspeakable level of terror.
Pray that we all would have the courage to break cycles of violence by transforming into the kinds of people (and congregations) who put on display a cross-wearing rather than cross-wielding faith. As a global family we need to do the hard work of understanding the pain of another. Of understanding our contribution to that pain. If we’re going to invest our energy, it’s best spent in softening our certainty. Click To Tweet
Jer Swigart snapped this picture while in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as violence began. (Photo: Jer Swigart)
This morning, I awoke to news of thousands of innocent lives, some personal friends, prematurely extinguished.
I’m heartbroken by the violence of Hamas. I understand and grieve the violence done that generated such an ideology.
I’m heartbroken by the violence of Israel’s militarized occupation. I understand and grieve the violence suffered that generated such an ideology.
Neither ideology will disappear through violence…they will only grow in fervor.
There is a third violence that few are talking about. One that is much closer to home. It’s the ideological violence that has already emerged from Christian leaders in print and spoken word. It’s the theology that will pour from the pulpits of many American churches today.
It will sound like unequivocal support for revenge and rejoicing in the bloodshed of innocents. It will point to the fight for control of a hilltop in Jerusalem as the beginning of the long-awaited Armageddon.
Many on this day will be guided to interpret the brutality in Gaza and Israel as a prerequisite for the expedited return of Jesus…as though our violence is honoring to God.
Many will be emboldened to continue in their race from pro-human to pro-power…as though our accumulation of power is pleasing to God.
I understand and grieve this ideology as it was what I was socialized into. Yet unlike the previous two ideologies, violence did not generate this third one. Power did. Violence simply sustains it.
Less than a week ago, I stood in silence in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I stood there while bombs burst in the air above me. At no other time in my life has it become clearer that the way of Jesus is the radical way of enemy love through selfless sacrifice.
I snapped the picture above to capture what felt like this next conversion.
May God forgive us for baptizing political power, militarized violence, and revenge as Christian.
May God, in your mercy, protect those who will suffer terror today because of our misguided worship.
May God be patient with us as we seek a faith that is worth our lives and repent of a religion that costs the lives of many. I’m heartbroken by the violence of Hamas. I’m heartbroken by the violence of Israel’s militarized occupation. I understand the violence suffered that generated both ideologies. Neither ideology will disappear through violence. Click To Tweet
Reflection from Jon Huckins, Co-Founder & Program Specialist of Global Immersion
The incredible woman that Jon Huckins’ daughter Ruby is referring to in the reflection below. (Video: The Guardian)
As I was making early morning coffee, I heard Ruby’s feet running down the stairs. She stormed into the kitchen, “Dad, there’s hope in the world!! Did you hear the story of the 85 yr old Israeli who was released by Hamas?” Before I could answer she kept going, “For years, she and her husband have built relationships with Gazans and shuttled then to Israeli hospitals when they needed care. Before she was released, she turned back to the member of Hamas who had held her captive, grabbed his hand, looked into his eye and said ‘Shalom.’ Which means peace.”
I just smiled and said, “Yes, there is hope, Ru.”
The prophetic power of enemy-love undoes our binary ideologies and categories. It reminds us of our shared humanity and gives us the hope that another world is possible.
And, more importantly for me, this small act of love offered my 13 year old a picture of a world beyond the wars that divide us. Thanks for your witness, Yocheved Lifshitz. And so SO many others living in the region who model this love everyday but never make our headlines.
P.S. We need a ceasefire immediately. No matter your political preference, that is our only chance at saving human life and deescalating what could be (and already is) a catastrophic moment in human history. Call your congress person. Leverage your platforms. Pray like crazy. The prophetic power of enemy-love undoes our binary ideologies and categories. It reminds us of our shared humanity and gives us the hope that another world is possible. Click To Tweet
Reflection from Rich Villodas, Lead Pastor of New Life Fellowship NYC
Pastor Rich Villodas and New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York released the pastoral statement below. (Photo: New Life Fellowship NYC)
On Sunday, I offered a pastoral word to my congregation around Israel and Gaza. These words — addressed to a specific group of people in Queens — don’t capture everything that needs to be said, but I hope it can serve as a good starting point for followers of Jesus.
I wanted to take a moment to offer a pastoral reflection in light of the ongoing events in Israel and Gaza. Many of you, if not all of you, are aware of the pain and suffering of many in that region. An unfathomable number of Jews and Palestinians have been killed. The most recent numbers report that, in the last two weeks, at least 1400 Jews have been killed by Hamas, and 3,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israel.
The amount of bloodshed is devastating as is the ongoing loss of life in places like Sudan and around the world.
To be part of New Life Fellowship is to recognize the complexity of these matters, especially for our very diverse congregation. There are significant differences of opinion in our church about many issues, and this is no different.
So then, how do we respond? I want to offer some guidance for our community around a few words:
First, we are called to pray. To pray for others is an act of love. It’s an act of compassion. We are called to pray for those who have suffered. To pray for those who are in mourning. To pray for those who would seek to harm others – for Jesus teaches us to pray for enemies. We are to pray for those in leadership around our world. Let’s pray for our political leaders to work for a ceasefire. Our first task is to pray.
Second, we are called to grieve. In the face of loss, it’s very easy to get distracted. And sometimes we need some distraction because of the overwhelming nature of grief. But to lament is to name the pain in our hearts and our world, offering it to God, and inviting God to fill us with a different way of showing up in the world for peace. To grieve is also an act of love.
Third, we must be humble in our judgments. In these moments, it’s easy to simplify matters into two categories: Good and evil. Angels and demons. Righteous and unrighteous. These judgments lead to all kinds of division in our relationships.
We must confess that things are far more complex than we think. And we must recognize the important biblical categories of sin and evil. This is not to excuse, justify, or create false equivalencies, but to start the conversation fully understanding the power of sin in our world.
Much evil has been done by Hamas. The brutalizing of Jewish people – some of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ – is abhorrent. Their acts must be condemned.
The killing of Palestinians is also abhorrent. As people who believe that sin is real and pervasive, we must name the oppressive history and current injustice that Palestinians – some of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ – have had to endure under the power of the state of Israel. Two things can be true at one time. Evil has been done to Jewish men, women, and children, and evil has been done to Palestinian men, women, and children.
Fourth, we are called to discern. War always creates conditions for deception. Truth gets twisted. Lies abound. Narratives become self-serving. In these moments – as challenging as it is – we must be on guard against the rapid spread of disinformation through the media. We must be prayerful, curious, and cognizant that Powers and Principalities are at work through many institutions, seeking to deceive and divide.
Fifth, as Christians, we must remember our allegiance is to Jesus. We don’t blindly support any nation, whether it be America, Israel, or otherwise. We pray for these countries, and all others, but our citizenship and allegiance is to Jesus and the way of his kingdom. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of Israel. In him, a new humanity is established, and the entire world becomes the holy land. That means that every human being and every part of our world is deemed sacred in Christ.
Finally, we are called in our own lives to work for peace. There have been reports in the past week of targeted hate crimes against those perceived to be Arab or Muslim. And there is the ongoing reality of antisemitism. Working for peace can be as simple as checking in with Jewish and Muslim neighbors or contributing to humanitarian organizations serving this area of the world. As followers of Jesus, we are called to join our lives to all who suffer, no matter their religion. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said, “The Church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.”
May we be people who order our lives after Jesus as we pray and work for peace. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of Israel. In him, a new humanity is established, and the entire world becomes the holy land. That means that every human being and every part of our world is deemed sacred in Christ. Click To Tweet
Lisa Rodriguez-Watson, for nearly two decades, has served as an urban church planter, collegiate minister, seminary professor, international missionary and community development practitioner. Her heart to see people reconciled to God and to one another has led her to invest her life, family and ministry in places and people that have often been looked over by the world. Lisa served as co-founder of a grassroots organization in Memphis, TN that was committed to mobilizing Christians to love their undocumented neighbors, and consider an appropriate Christian response to our nation’s immigration crisis. In addition to her role as National Director of Missio Alliance, she serves as Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Equipping at Christ City Church. Educated at Florida International University and Golden Gate Seminary, she now lives in Washington, DC where she is a mom to 3 fantastic children, Nathan, Elias, and Annelies, and a wife to her best friend Matthew, who serves as Pastor of Teaching and Outreach at Christ City Church.
Dr. Jer Swigart is the co-founder of Global Immersion. He seeks to learn, love, and lead in ways that disarm violence, bridge difference, and awaken imaginations to restorative possibilities. He focuses on leadership formation, particularly with leaders and teams who have become disillusioned by the incongruence between the values of western Christianity and those of Jesus. In addition to his participation in local and national justice and reconciliation commissions, Jer is a North American contributing member of the Reconcilers Together Alliance, a Pepperdine Cross Sector Leadership Fellow, and a Senior Fellow of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute. He holds an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives from Portland Seminary. As the co-author of Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World, a speaker, facilitator, and consultant, he often reflects on the intersection of faith, leadership, and conflict transformation. Jer and his family live in the Pacific Northwest, USA.
Jon Huckins is a Program Specialist of the Journey Home cohort with Global Immersion, and originally co-founded the organization with Jer Swigart. He writes for numerous publications and is a contributing author to multiple books. Jon has written three books; his latest being, Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World, co-authored with Jer Swigart. He has a master degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Theology and Christian Ethics and is a PhD candidate in Christian Ethics at Vrije University in Amsterdam. His dissertation is focused on building a post-evangelical political ethic that is shaped by those on the underside of power. Jon finds great joy in hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain and now guides “vision quest” type journey’s for men seeking wholeness related to identity, vocation and leadership. He lives in the Borderlands of San Diego/Tijuana with his wife, Jan, three daughters (Ruby, Rosie & Lou) and one son (Hank) where they co-lead a house church in their neighborhood. He loves surfing, golfing and exploring the world.
Rich Villodas is the Brooklyn-born lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-five countries represented in Elmhurst, Queens. Rich graduated with a BA in pastoral ministry and theology from Nyack College. He went on to complete his Master of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary. He enjoys reading widely, and preaching and writing on contemplative spirituality, justice-related issues, and the art of preaching. He’s been married to Rosie since 2006 and they have two beautiful children, Karis and Nathan. Rich has authored The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus, released in 2020, and Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World, released in 2022.