My favorite hotel in all the world is the Walled Off in Bethlehem. Designed by Banksy, the anonymous British artist, it overlooks the Separation Wall. In bricks and mortar Banksy demonstrates how art can become an act of defiance against Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid. Tuesday this week, 29th August, was the anniversary of the assassination of Naji Al-Ali, the Palestinian political cartoonist and writer who drew the iconic image of the 10-year-old child Handala, which you often find drawn on the Apartheid Wall dividing the illegal Israeli colonies from the Palestinian ghettos. Appropriately therefore this week’s Kumi Now reflection, is entitled, ‘Art as Resistance’.
“Too often the Palestinian tragedy is portrayed as a humanitarian crisis rather than one that has to do with identity and self-determination. They believe art is a luxury that Palestinians cannot afford. That, instead, what they need is bread to eat, to fill their stomach, so they can think and live another day. But people “shall not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). Art and culture instead feed the soul and allow it to thrive. It gives people the strength to refuse being on the receiving end, perceived as victims. It allows people to become actors instead of spectators. It gives them the long breath necessary to resist. For wherever there is occupation, there will be resistance. The question therefore is not whether to resist, but how to resist.”
That is what I would like us to reflect upon briefly now “how to resist evil”. We will find answers in our Epistle reading from Romans 12:9-21. Four ways:
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12).
What does it mean to be ‘faithful in prayer”? What does it mean to be faithful to a partner, to a friend, to anyone? As we say in the marriage service, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…” That is what being faithful in prayer means as well – sharing everything with the Lord. In Paul’s letter to Timothy he instructs us in particular:
“First of all pray for kings and all others who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceful life.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
Pray for are our leaders who serve us, who bring law and order, peace and security – or at least they should do. Notice the benefit of praying for leaders: God’s will is that we enjoy quiet and peaceful lives. We are to pray for leaders. Jesus says we must also pray for our enemies. “Pray for those who hurt you and despitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44). Pray for the Israeli Prime minister, for the Israeli government. Pray for the senior commanders of the Israeli military. Pray for Western leaders who defend them. Pray for the United Nations. Pray for the International Court of Justice. Pray for the leaders of Sabeel. We resist evil first by prayer because we serve a God of Justice.
We resist evil by praying for our enemies that they will repent and turn away from evil. We pray too that we will not become like them. So first – pray.
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19-20).
You have God’s word on that. God will repay. God is a God of justice. That is why we must trust the God of justice to bring justice. But trusting God is not intended to lead to resignation or passivity. The Apostle Paul instructed the Philippians,
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ… stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign that they will be destroyed, and that you will be saved – and that by God.”(Philippians 1:27-29)
“Whatever happens” did you notice that? Irrespective of your circumstances, trust God to guide you, to motivate you, to give you wisdom, to use you to resist evil, together with other believers – through united, collective action. That is why collective action is so powerful because when we work together, we encourage one another – we give courage and strength.That is why I am delighted to be involved with a team of colleagues around the world planning the 2024 international Sabeel conference which will resist evil by challenging apartheid and religious extremism – antisemitism, islamophobia and Christaphobia. We trust God to inspire us, to give us wisdom and use our collective action to resist evil and further his kingdom. So we pray and we trust God.
Live at Peace
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18) Notice Paul says, “if it is possible”. The Bible is both realistic and practical here. “as far as it depends on you” means, “as far as it is possible for you, live at peace with everybody.” The verse therefore acknowledges the fact that sometimes it is not possible to live at peace with some people. Have you ever met somebody that, no matter how hard you try, they could not or would not be appeased or reconciled. Recently someone who claims to be a Christian, published an article alleging that I tried to divert church funds to Hamas in Gaza. It is untrue and defamatory. I obtained signed statements from my church leaders denying the allegation. I sent copies to the author but he refused to withdraw his article. I want to live at peace with the guy and I continue to pray for him. The Bible says, “If it is possible.” And sometimes, maybe for you right now, it is not possible for you either. If somebody abused your partner, or your children, you wouldn’t be at peace with them. If they stole your property or demolished your home, I don’t think God would expect you to be at peace with them. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18).
So what does it mean to “live at peace”? It means that peace not fear, peace not resentment, peace not anger, should be our default position, our default response when peace is absent. It means doing whatever we can to bring about peace. Psalm 34:14 says “Seek peace and pursue it”. We must seek peace first with God, then peace with our partner, with our children, peace in our family, with the work colleagues, in our church, in our community, and above all with our enemies. So pray, trust God and seek peace.
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)
So how do we overcome evil? By constructive, proactive, redemptive, non-violent action – for example, through BDS – boycotts, divestment and sanctions. Sabeel is part of the Kairos Movement which brings together Church leaders and Christians from many different denominations around the world. The Kairos Palestine Document says this about resistance,
“We say that our option as Christians in the face of the Israeli occupation is to resist. Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian. But it is resistance with love as its logic. It is thus a creative resistance for it must find human ways that engage the humanity of the enemy.” (Kairos Palestine Document 4.2.3.)
We seek peace with our enemies not only by praying for them, but by loving them, by seeking their best interests – because this is the only way we will ever win them and be reconciled.
Resistance is not only a right and a duty but a constructive way to love our enemies. No wonder Zionists are desperate for governments to ban BDS because they know that non-violence is a powerful and just weapon against injustice. They know that if non-violent resistance brought an end to apartheid in South Africa, it can bring an end to apartheid in Palestine. Inshallah.
I am committed to defeating apartheid because I care for the souls of Jewish Israelis as much as I care for the rights of Palestinian sisters and brothers. Zionism manifested in apartheid is destroying the soul of Jewish people just as much as it is destroying the future of the Palestinians. And if opposing racism leads to spurious accusations of antisemitism, so be it. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the sons of God.” (Matthew 5:18). I really don’t care what Zionists call me, or indeed what the Church of England calls me. I only care what God calls me. I want to be a peacemaker not a widow maker. I want to live my life in such a way that Satan wakes up in the morning and cries out, “Oh no, here comes Sizer… here comes Sabeel… Here comes Kairos…” Four ways we can resist evil – based on our Epistle reading: Pray, trust God, seek peace and resist evil.
Four ways we can overcome evil with good.
Do you remember the film, “High Noon” starring Gary Cooper? Gary Cooper is the sheriff of a small town in the Wild West. A gang of four outlaw brothers had earlier terrorized the town. The sheriff had brought them to justice and sent them to prison. In prison they vowed that when they got out they would kill the sheriff. The movie focuses on one particular day. The sheriff has just married the beautiful Grace Kelly. She happens to be a devout Quaker utterly opposed to all violence. The sheriff resigns from law enforcement and the couple are about to leave town on their honeymoon. He is going to start a new life as a rancher. Suddenly word comes that the outlaw brothers have been released from prison and are due to arrive that very day on the noon train. Everybody urges the couple to get out of town quickly. They ride away, but the sheriff is troubled. Finally, he turns the wagon around and heads back to town, much to the consternation of his bride. He cannot run away from his old enemies. He pins the badge back on his shirt. He tries to round up a posse. It’s a Sunday morning and everyone is in church. The sheriff interrupts the service, explains the emergency, and asks the men of the congregation to help him form a posse. Several people stand up and respond. One of them says, “We’d like to help you, Sheriff, but we’re not trained gunmen. That’s what we hire sheriffs for.” Then another says, “You know, Sheriff, we Christians don’t believe in violence.” Still another says, “Sheriff, you’re a brave man but it would probably have been wiser if you had not come back to town.” The Sheriff turns and walks out in disgust. In the background you hear Tex Ritter singing the theme song-“I do not know what fate awaits me; I only know I must be brave, and I must face the man who hates me, or lie a coward, a craven coward, or lie a coward in my grave.”
In case you haven’t seen the movie, I’m not going to tell you how it turns out. But I can tell you how history will turn out. Because I’ve read the book. We know what this world will be like when Christ returns – because we are told about it in the Book of Revelation chapters 21-22.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).
And in the new Jerusalem, we are told, there will be:
“… the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2)
This is my vision of the future – there will ultimately be healing among the nations. And this is my motivation in the present knowing our labour, however costly or painful, will not be in vain. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”