Faith Matters, in the Midst of Conflict
I have recently returned from a wonderful and challenging ten days in Israel and Palestine, listening to and walking with people engulfed in a conflict that has swirled around them for decades. As I think about the ways in which faith matters for those good people, I am reminded that Paul talks about faith, hope, and love, affirming that the greatest of these is love. It may also be true, though, that love is the one which is the most difficult to sustain, in situations of conflict. In fact, it may be that, when the going gets tough, love and hope are equally at risk of falling by the wayside. In such situations, we are often pushed back to faith, which may be the channel through which the Holy Spirit flows, sustaining our hope for a better future and perhaps even enabling us to love those with whom we differ.
On Sunday ten days ago, the group with which I was traveling worshiped with the Greek Orthodox church in Beit Jala, a suburb of Bethlehem. The large church was filled, with men, women, and children of all ages. The worship service was long; we came in after it had been going for a while, and stayed for more than an hour until its completion. Much of the liturgy was sung, led by a vigorous choir but with active participation by all in the congregation. After the service, we met with the priest, who told us that attendance in the worship services has remained strong.
These are people living under the thumb of an occupation that has severely constrained their lives for nearly fifty years. They are now on the front line of an on-going border conflict, with a new wall being built which will eliminate their access to a significant piece of land owned by the people of their community. After the service, we joined a group of parishioners in walking to a place where the bulldozers were at work that Sunday morning, constructing that barrier. It was a peaceful protest, an expression of their faith that God will ultimately bring a just outcome to a difficult situation where two sets of people each claim a certain stretch of land. It surely would be hard for them to love the person driving the bulldozer, the Israeli police watching from behind the trees to make sure things did not “get out of hand”, or the authorities sending those workers there to do that work. Can the people of the village really hope for a good and fair outcome? Their faith is the context which sustains them as they wrestle with such questions.
And what is our role in all of this? Does our faith matter, in our response? We surely cannot resolve all injustices taking place around the world. But our faith does teach us that the injustice of occupation is contrary to the will of God. To the extent that we are able, we are called to challenge such injustice, or at least not to be party to supporting and helping finance it. In challenging our government’s support of these activities, we provide hope to those being harmed, a hope that includes a wish that God’s love may flow freely to encompass all who are involved in the conflict. For us, as for them, faith is the grounding from which both hope and love spring. May it be so.
Don Mead, Author