*Editorial Note 1: Dr. MaryKate Morse is one of the most significant and integrated Christian leaders I have ever had the privilege of being mentored by. I consider it a great honor to have been under her formational influence for the last several years in the Doctor of Ministry in Leadership & Spiritual Formation cohort she facilitates through Portland Seminary. When MaryKate speaks, I find myself listening intently, desiring to be rooted in Christ with the full-hearted conviction she lives out on a daily basis. Thus, when Dr. Morse emailed me a few days ago, letting me know that she had been working on a piece for the last several months lamenting the spiraling, unconscionable violence in Gaza, I knew it was time once again for me to listen.
My prayer for you is that you will do the same, asking the Spirit to illumine the truth you are to respond to in this moment.
A tangible, imminent opportunity to lament in solidarity with Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem during this Advent season is found at the conclusion of MaryKate’s piece. ~CK
I am a pacifist by spiritual conviction, but I also come from a military family, and I respect the mission of warriors, our military brothers and sisters. Several years ago, I was invited to attend the 50th National Security Seminar of the War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, located just 28 miles from the fields of the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Casualties are estimated at 50,000 in a three-day war with 7,058 killed and one civilian accidentally shot, Jennie Wade. She was making bread in her kitchen. She is remembered and honored to this day.
As a guest at the War College, I sat in on lectures and small group discussions. It was very interesting to me as a pacifist. Though I was raised in the military, experiencing it from the inside of the highest-level training institution was eye-opening. The students had trained for a year and represented all the military branches, a diverse group of men and women who were upper echelon officers. These were the future leaders of the military. I experienced these persons as intelligent, disciplined, mission-driven leaders who talked about and aspired to the highest levels of character. They saw themselves as guardians of peace, deterrents to war.
I kept my peace out of respect, and listened attentively. However, during the final discussion on the last day, I brought up a concern about a term used occasionally during the seminar:
Doesn’t the word ‘collateral damage’ create an unhealthy moral distance between a military attack and innocent persons killed? Wouldn’t it be better to say ‘civilians killed’ rather than lump them in with buildings damaged? Wouldn’t it be more honoring for the tragic loss of their lives and wouldn’t it serve as a deterrent to an excess of loss?
There was an uncomfortable silence, and my question was the only one not addressed.
Today, I am asking the same question:
When does the term “collateral damage” become a shield for slaughter no matter the military’s righteous intentions?
Christ came in the flesh for all, and chose a non-violent response to suffering. The Church is always at its worst when it chooses violence or silence as a response, rather than love. (1/2) Click To Tweet
The Israeli-Hamas war begs an answer to this question. This question was catapulted into global view with the invasion by Hamas into Israeli territory on October 7th in which they indiscriminately killed at least 1200 people and took 240 captives including the elderly, children, and women.
An unconscionable slaughter of innocents.
Since then, the Israelis have counter-attacked with relentless bombing, killing at least 23,000 people, with up to 8,000 missing under rubble, 3 times the number killed at Gettysburg. 70% of the deaths are women and children. Nowhere in the world have more children been killed in battle. The news as of the day I write this, December 16th, is that 9,700 children are known killed.
An unconscionable slaughter of innocents.
For us Christians, the collateral damage of a war between two groups is not about being pro-Israelis or pro-Palestinian. For us it’s about “Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more” (Matthew 2:17-18). If we took 10,000 children, put them in a stadium, and dropped a bomb on them, killing all, we would be horrified. We would build memorials, say their names, and weep and weep without end.
This horrific loss of life of innocent people on both sides is almost beyond comprehension.
And I am aware that saying anything for or against the war, whether pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, might lead to instant social death, a different kind of killing. So unfortunately, there is often a silence on the part of the church. No one wants to be perceived as anti-Semitic. No one wants to appear to condone the violence of Hamas.
Some try to explain what might be the underlying causes for Palestinian rage and violence. There are good reasons for sure. And we compassionately seek to understand why Israel is unwavering on protecting her land and people.
However, for us Christians in the Church worldwide, during this Advent season especially, it is not our mission to defend Israel or Palestine, but to acknowledge that human beings are suffering on a scale unimaginable.
Christ came in the flesh for all, and chose a non-violent response to suffering. The Church is always at its worst when it chooses violence or silence as a response, rather than love. We cannot mask the unconscionable slaughter of innocents with the language of inevitable ‘collateral damage.’
I simply want to say this: When Christ followers are more known for their arguments, then for their compassionate responses, we have lost our way. During this Christmas season, be like Rachel and lament deeply the deaths of these little ones who are no more, all the lost children. During this Christmas season give generously to organizations that provide aid to suffering children everywhere. And pray.
May God have mercy on us all.
MaryKate Morse, PhD, is professor of Leadership and Spiritual Formation at Portland Seminary. Currently, she is the Lead Mentor for the Doctor of Ministry in Leadership & Spiritual Formation. Raised in the Air Force, MaryKate lived in various states and overseas. With family, she lived in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru doing ministry and social projects with the Aymará Indians. MaryKate completed her doctorate at Gonzaga University where she studied the characteristics of renewal leadership as modeled by Jesus. After her doctorate she planted two churches and served in various administrative positions at the university, including Executive Dean of Portland Seminary most recently. She is a spiritual director and leadership mentor and coach, conference and retreat speaker, and author including Lifelong Leadership: Woven Together through Mentoring Communities, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence, and A Guidebook to Prayer. MaryKate is married to Randy and has three adult children and five grandchildren. She enjoys being with family, hiking, reading, exploring new places, and playing with her puppy, Tess.
*Editorial Note 2: On the first Sunday of Advent, Rev. Munther Isaac, a Evangelical Lutheran Pastor in Bethlehem, Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College, and the Leader of Christ at the Checkpoint, posted this Tweet, which immediately went viral with its haunting image of the Christ child in the rubble:
Rev. Isaac is a voice shouting for peace in a land that is under great violence. As the urgent necessity for a ceasefire grows by the day, a wide group of Christian justice and advocacy organizations have united together to support Rev. Isaac’s work, and the Palestinian Christian population throughout Gaza, the West Bank, and the rest of Israel/Palestine. Colleagues of mine at Global Immersion, a fantastic peacemaking organization, have helped to organize a simulcast from Bethlehem this Saturday, December 23rd, at 6pm in Bethlehem (11am EST / 8am PST). Entitled “Christ in the Rubble: A Liturgy of Lament (Live from Bethlehem),” Rev. Munther Isaac will deliver a sermon as a part of a larger liturgy that seeks to call on God for mercy, peace, and a lasting ceasefire for generations throughout Israel.
Please consider joining your voice, and your witness, in solidarity with this important Advent service. I am praying for a profound time, and lasting change, to spring forth from the rubble as we sit with Christ in the Palestinian dirt of his birth.
Join the simulcast at any of the social media channels of the organizations listed below. ~CK