“I write to you this month (Aug 2014) in the midst of trying times – the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight over the Ukraine, continuing conflict in Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Nigeria, and the latest clash between Israel and Palestine.
Over the last few weeks we have witnessed the people of Israel and Gaza being caught up in the vortex of violence resulting in the loss of more than 1,200 lives. The casualties have mostly been of innocent civilians and more than 3,000 people maimed and injured, not to speak of the thousands who have been left destitute by the fighting.
The Holy Land is a place that inspires a degree of reverence and causes us all to take pause. For many years, the subject of Israel and Palestine has been on the agenda of the World Methodist Council. It is an issue that often stirs passions.
The Old Testament calls us to pray for peace in Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), a city sacred to three religions, but unfortunately this reverence has been shattered by the events unfolding there. I am deeply saddened by the choices made by those in positions of power and authority. I know that tears and outrage alone will not stop the conflict. We need a commitment from all on the ground to stop the violence.
I am a person who has the blood of both Jews fleeing persecution in Russia and Europe, as well as that of the indigenous people of my continent, coursing through my veins. In many instances this has helped me to be a bridge-builder, reconciler and peace-maker for the cause of Christ in my country and further afield – I have been part of ecumenical delegations to meet with religious and political leaders in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Israel and Fiji.
My ministry has always been weighted on the side of peace, justice and reconciliation, and I write not just as a passive observer to injustice and oppression, but as one whose life has been shaped on the anvil of the South African liberation struggle. I belong to a restless and impatient generation whose mantra was ‘Freedom in our Lifetime’, and it is from that deep faith perspective and clear understanding of the demands of the Gospel that I am driven to work for change.
I pray that when the modern history of Palestine and Israel is written, our children will not judge us as they read about the current conflict and ask: “Were you also complicit by your silence? Was your theology Islamophobic and dehumanising? Were you an accessory to the crimes against humanity? How could you have allowed this warfare to happen?”
I urge you to revisit the World Methodist Council’s 2011 Resolution on Israel and Palestine. Let us use every form of non-violent means at our disposal as we commit ourselves to restoring dignity, justice and peace to all God’s children.
I believe that we need to pray for peace in Jerusalem more than ever before. Matthew tells us that Jesus cried out; ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!’ (Matthew 23:37, Good News Translation)
Luke records that Jesus ‘wept over’ Jerusalem, saying: ‘If you only knew today what is needed for peace!’ (Luke 19:41-42, Good News Translation)
We must never allow war and violence to have the last word – peace and justice is possible in our lifetime, and God can guide us there.
May God comfort and strengthen those affected by war and fighting throughout the globe, the victims as well as their families, and may we be used as instruments to champion a just peace throughout this world.”
Reprinted with permission from the World Methodist Council.
Photo courtesy of Ms Christina Stanley
Bishop Ivan M. Abrahams is the fourth person and first South African to serve as General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, beginning his tenure in 2012. He wrote this message in the August 2014 issue of the First Friday Newsletter, the monthly newsletter of the World Methodist Council.