We will fight for peace, but we will do no violence.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

INTERVIEW: Salim Muyaner - A Palestinian Christian Seeks Reconciliation

In the documentary, “With God On Our Side”, there is a scene which impacted me on a very emotional level. Palestinian Christian Pastor, Salim Muyaner, was talking about his visit to a Christian church in Houston, Texas. After he spoke to the congregation several people came up to him to shake his hand. One man said to him, “I love the Jewish people! I’ve always wanted to meet a real Jew from Israel.” Salim shook the man’s hand and said, “I too love the Jewish people, but I am not a Jew, I am a Palestinian.” At those words the man yanked his hand away from Salim and without saying another word turned and walked away, leaving Salim awe struck and speechless.

This foolish response illustrates perfectly how many Christians in America are programmed to respond to the words, “Palestinian” and “Israel”.  If we can treat another brother in Christ like this, based solely on our political ideologies, then we have a very serious problem.

Like many Christians in Palestine, Salim Muyaner can trace his family lineage all the way back to the indigenous community of Christians that developed after Pentecost. Some are Jewish, some are Arabic, some are Greek, and some of them are Palestinian, but together, they are all followers of Jesus.

“Many of us are Greek Orthodox, or Byzantium Christians,” says Salim. “In recent years there has been a movement, led by both indigenous Christians in Palestine, and also the ‘Jews to Jesus’ Christians in the States, to share Christ. So there are an increasing number of people in Palestine who would label themselves as Christians, or as Messianic Jews. Approximately 8,000 from Jewish descent in recent years, have come to Christ.  Among the Palestinian Muslims right now, around 200 people have recently come to Christ in Israel and Palestine. In Galilee it’s around 100 people. There is a growing movement of Palestinian Muslims who are coming to Christ,” he says.

In fact, all over the Middle East there are a large number of people who are coming to put their faith in Christ. “Mostly in Iran,” Salim says. “About half a million, to a million – the number is disputed – but this is largely a reaction to the Islamic regime of Iran. Also in Algeria there is a big movement to the Lord. And also bigger one in Egypt, which is in reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood there.”

While these Muslims are open to embracing Jesus, not many of them are as open to the baggage that sometimes comes along with the Gospel. “We call it MBB, or Muslim Believers Background,” he says. “The American evangelical church has embraced a lot of American culture values. Because of this, many Christians (in America) are very Republican, Conservative, etc. In the last 20 years, American Christians have really hindered the Gospel. Especially some prominent evangelical leaders who have a very militant expression about Palestinian people.”

For many of these Muslims, this politicization of Christianity has driven them to avoid the name “Christian”, preferring instead to say that they are Muslims who follow Jesus, or “Isa”.

This same politicization of Christianity is where Salim’s negative experience in Houston finds its roots. Because American Christians are largely influenced more by their politics than by their Bibles, they can justify treating a fellow Christian like an outsider simply because they are Palestinian (and therefore an enemy of the Jews who are assumed to be “God’s chosen people.”)

“There is a kind of fear to criticize and challenge that premise in the media,” notes Salim. “The documentary (“With God On Our Side”) came about to alert Christians, but as you know there was a big backlash to this in certain Christian circles.”

This backlash is fueled by a dominant theology known as “Dispensationalism” which is the most commonly taught doctrine in America today. This doctrine (which only surfaced in the 1800’s under the teaching of a man named John Nelson Darby) suggests that Israel (the Jews) are separate from the Church in God’s eyes. This new teaching – which no Christian prior to the 1800’s ever believed – gave rise to Christian Zionism and propagated the idea that the Jews must rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem in order to fulfill prophecies in the New Testament.

The real problem with this theology is that it therefore pits American Christians against Palestinian Christians, which in itself should be enough for us to see how flawed it really is. At worse, following Dispensationalism to its logical conclusions involves cheering on the systematic oppression of an entire nation of people (the Palestinians) so that the Jewish Nation can dominate the land and Jesus can return to earth.

““The problem with Dispensationalism is more political than theological. It’s largely popularized by the likes of Hal Lindsay, Moody Bible College, Dallas Theological Seminary, Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” Series, and the Scofield Bible where we see an end times theology that is all about the world coming to an end. As a result, many Palestinian Christians feel they have no voice in American Evangelical Churches,” says Salim. “As you read (in a recent Charisma magazine report), different Christian groups in America have raised up to $210 million dollars to help fund secular Jewish activities that oppress Christians and Muslims in Palestine. Who are these Christians? People like John Hagee, and the Fellowship of Jews and Christians.”


Another blind spot for American Christians is that there is a genuine Palestinian Christian church in the land of Israel today, and they desperately need our support. “We are actively seeking reconciliation and actively evangelizing,” he says. “We want to be a source of blessing to our neighbors. We are seeking a ministry of reconciliation.” To that end, Salim started a ministry known as Musalaha which works towards reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians based on the Biblical principles of peace, justice, and love. The name Musalaha comes from the Arabic word for 'reconciliation'. The mission statement from their official website states:

 "Musalaha is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus. We seek to be an encouragement and facilitator of reconciliation, first among Palestinian Christians and Messianic Israelis, and then beyond to our respective communities."

Salim started Musalaha in the ‘90’s after the first Intifada against Israeli army caused a split in the believing community in Palestine. “My faith is built on the cross of Jesus and how we are called to love each other,” he says. “We cannot deny the centrality of unity in the Body. Jesus prayed that we would be one. How can you say that you love God who you don’t see, but you hate your brother and sister that you do see? In this divided land the Church of Jesus is here and is called to be peacemakers and to love our enemy. As believers in the Messiah we are called to bring people together - Jews and Palestinians together who follow Jesus, and then Muslims and Jews.”

As passionate as he is about this calling, Salim knows that the task ahead of them is much greater than they can imagine. “The gap is huge,” he admits. “How do you bring people out of hatred and mistrust? Our future depends on our relationship to our neighbors. We cannot do this. We cannot, but Jesus can. We also cannot outsource our responsibility. The body needs to embrace its calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”


One of the major reasons for the success of Musalaha is that they have brought together Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims to something called ‘The Desert Forum’. “These are opportunities for people who come from different backgrounds and faiths to neutralize the hatred and to bring people to look into each other’s eyes and see they are all created in God’s image,” he says.

These Desert Forums have allowed people from different faiths to see one another as people made in the image of God, and to develop empathy for one another as members of the human race. What’s more, whether they are Jewish or Palestinian, Christian or Muslim or Jew, they all share a feeling of being oppressed and in danger. By sharing these experiences with one another they are empowered to help one another.

“As you know, Jesus from the cross reconciled, not just individuals, but also the Greek, the Roman, the Jew, the Barbarian. Paul, in Ephesians speaks very clearly about ethnic hostility and how Jesus heals all of this from the cross,” he says. “As much as radical Islam has divided the Muslim world, it has also split the Christian world in how it reacts. We have churches, mainly evangelical, with a theology about the Jews in the end times that develops a bipolar view which sees only Jews and Christians versus everyone else who is on the side of Satan. If you try to pray for Palestinian Christians (in many churches) you will meet a challenge,” he says.


The average person is not aware of American Foreign policy in the Middle East and how it hurts people. “People (in the States) need to know that when you have negative Christian words spoken in America they are immediately spread across the Middle East. It’s not a healthy situation. As a result you find that many Middle Eastern people in general like American people for their generosity for their hospitality, but as they perceive Americans supporting Israel (which oppresses them) they are confused.”

One problem with this brand of end times biblical theology is that it breeds fear and paralyzes Christians from doing anything for their brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to live in the wrong part of the world. “The worst aspect of this is when we divorce people and nations from ethical responsibility. Many evangelical churches are not relevant in society and many young people are upset about that. We are the people of Wilbeforce,” says Salim, “but now we have withdrawn from society. We’ve lost our ability to become salt and light. People are surprised now that the church has no influence on society anymore. Ask ourselves why are there poor people? What about our system? Why isn’t the Church leading the way to solve these problems?”
The other challenge to American Christianity today is that being a Christian is much more about what you believe and not who you are. “The church lost its prophetic voice. In the bible you have the priest, the king and the prophet. Once the church lost influence in society but continued to grow in size and amass wealth, we began to fall into the seductiveness of political leaders and now they think that they will win influence. But politicians want our money but not our ethical influence,” he says. “Prophets need to speak to power but power corrupts. We’ve been mesmerized by power like someone blinded by strong light. That process creates confusion.”

As the Christian church aligns itself more with political powers, the mission becomes blurred. “We have become like the radical Muslims and the Rabbinical Jews who want to put laws in place to force people to behave in certain ways, but this is not from the heart. American society is now quite a bit divided. God is giving an opportunity to the American church to be transformational to society. That’s the direction we are called to. The solution won’t be by laws or fighting by certain laws to change society. We need to get out of our nice suburbs and into the places where the people are suffering.”
“It’s difficult to be a voice for God’s kingdom. The pressure we are under is between the empires (western Christianity and Israel and radical islam). We need to embrace the Kingdom of God. The seductiveness of western empire and fear of radical Islam will lead to escapism. We need to stay here and be a witness and to be awakened to the call upon us to present the Kingdom of God and not be overwhelmed by the pressure of the two empires,” he says.

It is a fact that not too many aware that there are Palestinian Christians. There’s no place for us in the Middle East. We are not welcome and we’ve been told that by all parties. The church here needs to be encouraged,” he admits.

“We don’t need to be flooded with money. That will spoil us. We need a wise engagement in areas where we can contribute to a better understanding of how to reach our neighbors and find an area where you can be involved with us like leadership training, youth ministry, women’s ministry, etc.

“Saying that, we are having problems with political groups from outside which are threatening to split us. There are groups (Joel Rosenburg and the United Christians for Israel) who hold conferences with thousands of people, and others that have concerns with a justice-oriented approach who want to advocate for the Palestinian Christian church but the danger is that then you become like those you advocate against,” he warns.

“We have embraced that for a long time. Historically, we were not holding on by choice, but by necessity to survive. The Anabaptist position is embraced by all Palestinian Christians. With the 2nd Intifada the church took a position against weapons and suicide bombers. Non-violent engagement is our position. Myself and others have spoken very strongly against that.
“The nonviolent position is very strong among Palestinian Christians, but we need to be careful not to fall into the victim of the battle. For example, we had a conference called “Christ At The Checkpoint” and one Christian writer came and wrote against us because Tony Campolo was a guest. We are more than just one person. Musahala has hundreds of messianic Christians and Jews involved in the reconciliation process. The Christian media in the US refuses to give us a voice there because in certain circles we are called humanistic and others want to only promote their Christian Zionist agendas,” he says.

“You cannot have justice without reconciliation. Justice is a byproduct of people sitting together and settling their grievances and if you only talk about that you won’t settle the issue. Social Justice is closer to the biblical view but we want biblical justice.”

To learn more about Musalaha and Salim Muyaner, visit

Interview by Keith Giles

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