Having a Palestinian Christian speak at my church earlier this week caused me to revisit my old views once again. Growing up in the Evangelical/Fundamentalist church, I was led to believe that Jesus was going to come to Earth again in a cloud of glory, take all of his people home to be with him and melt down the world. The state of Israel – and its relationship to its heathen neighbors – was key to this apocalyptic event.
To us, Israel was the chosen nation. Although most every Jew now rejects Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, at this future date, 144,000 (give or take a few) of them will magically accept him as the incarnate YWHW.
This was, as ridiculous as it may seem, how we viewed the world. We weren’t trying to be offensive or cloistered from the world and reality. We figured it was the real reality. We thought we were following the Word of God. So if we were offensive, well, so was Jesus, right? Right? right?
Immediately after high school, I worked for a conservative Evangelical Christian school. Much of what I was taught about the Bible – including our end-times theology – was reinforced and given academic clothes at this school. But it was also there, while working my first days for a paycheck, that I first encountered a real, live Palestinian Christian.
I didn’t think he was an enemy. Nor that his existence was in God’s way – at least not initially. But when he told us that Zionism (the belief that the land of Israel belongs solely to the Jews) is false prophecy, I just thought he was just wrong. I couldn’t grasp the idea that there were other ways of taking the Bible seriously that didn’t coincide with my views.* When he shared that his people and he are living as refugees throughout the Arab and Muslim world, I thought that wasn’t such a bad thing. After all, the important thing is that Jerusalem and the ancient promised land of the Bible was finally back into the hands of God’s chosen people.
It would be another ten years before I really started considering other theological views. It would be some time after that the evils of mass displacement would really sink in. It would be some time after that wherein I felt burdened by the plight of Palestinians as a result of Zionism, as well as the plight of Arabs as a result of fear-mongering and shallow American jingoism. As I was slowly able to distance myself from my old worldviews and to see the resulting hardships that we Evangelicals pass on and exacerbate to those outside of our bubble, I end up apologizing quite a bit. And trying to forcibly change my friends’ and family members’ views on some of these subjects. Much to their chagrin.
All of this goes to say, it takes time to make a change in people’s hearts – especially if they’re convinced that their worldview is fundamentally correct. It takes a while to foster trust, to share not only our stories, but the stories of others who are likewise affected. It takes villages. It takes miles. It takes a lot to humble ourselves and hear what others are really trying to say. So why am I surprised, since I – of all people – am still learning?
*Whether that’s as a result of teen-aged narcissism or fundamentalist thinking, I’m not sure that there’s much of a difference, to be honest. Fundamentalism is, at its heart, a willingness to subject yourself to an extremely self-centered view of the world. The difference is that teenagers tend to think that they’re self-defined (although their viewpoints are at the least informed by their cultural and familial contexts) and largely buck against authority. Fundamentalists are told what and how to believe and act and fall in line accordingly. There are figures who are trusted with immense and otherworldly authority in their sphere – it’s just that those figures have to be within their sphere. Everybody else is treated with suspicion. So in that way, Fundamentalists are anti-authoritarian.