Prayers4Peace: “Redefining Support: A New Perspective for Western Christians on the Crisis in Gaza” in Response to  The Evil Ideas Behind October 7

“Redefining Support: A New Perspective for Western Christians on the Crisis in Gaza” in Response to  The Evil Ideas Behind October 7

By: Beth Seversen, PhD, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow

Introduction: Response to Mike Cosper’s Christianity Today Article

Beth Seversen, Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow for Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) writes for Prayers4Peace in response to Mike Cosper’s article that appeared in Christianity Today on February 19, 2024, titled: “The Evil Ideas Behind October 7.” Cosper traces the ideologies behind the October 7th attack by Hamas, which resulted in the deaths of 1200 Israeli citizens and the abduction of some 253 hostages. He links Hamas’ horrific actions to historical ideologies like those of the Nazis, Stalin, and Mao, suggesting that Hamas’ antisemitic beliefs dehumanize Israelis and justify violence as “redemptive.” 

Cosper equates Hamas’ ideology with Palestinian nationalism and leftist anticolonialism, labeling them as evil for advocating violence against Jews. He also claims that these evil ideologies influence Palestinian evangelicals, citing examples from the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem and its pastor, Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac. 

Several evangelicals, including Ben Norquist then Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow (AWCF) at CMEP in his March 18, 2024 Religious News Service op-ed Jesus’ comfort is for all who suffer: A response to Mike Cosper and Christianity Today, have refuted Cosper’s claims. Beth Seversen argues that Cosper mislabels Palestinian evangelicals as antisemitic and misunderstands their indigenous theology and contextualized biblical interpretation. She emphasizes that their symbols and metaphors are expressions of empathy and solidarity, reflecting the Gospel’s message of God’s presence in suffering and his promise to redeem and set all things right. 

Distinguishing Combatants and Innocents

Mike Cosper’s ‘Evil Ideas Behind October 7th’ sharply criticizes Hamas’ actions and the evil ideologies behind the October 7th brutal attack on Southern Israel that killed roughly 1,200 that day and abducted 253 people from Israel. However, Cosper unjustly labels imagery of Palestinian Christians depicting the infant Jesus in a keffiyeh as antisemitic. In doing so, he misleads his readers, and shifts attention away from the indiscriminate response of the Israeli Defense Forces. Cosper falsely conflates criticism of Israeli policies with antisemitism. While the atrocities of Hamas must be condemned, the actions of Hamas do not justify violence against civilians. Combatants and innocents must be distinguished. Yes, Hamas’ reprehensible actions are indefensible, but should innocent people pay the price? 

The Real Picture in Gaza: A Humanitarian Nightmare 

Gaza is facing a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale in the 21st century. Images of civilians, including children and aid workers caught in the crossfire, underscore the urgent need for international intervention. The staggering death toll of over 34,000 Gazans and the looming threat of famine necessitates an immediate permanent ceasefire to alleviate the suffering. Only a comprehensive ceasefire will allow for the necessary aid to reach civilians in Gaza and for humanitarian workers to be able to deliver needed assistance safely. 

A Call for Empathy and Wider Reflection 

We must look beyond solely condemning Hamas and question blanket support for Israel’s actions in Gaza. It’s crucial to reassess support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza in light of Christ’s teachings on peace and the global community’s outcry. Notably, over 300,000 U.S. Jews advocate for a ceasefire, the return of hostages, and Palestinian rights signaling a shift towards a more humane approach to the conflict. The humanity of all people in Israel and the Holy Land must be respected. 

Reassessing Our Stance

It’s time to transcend biases that cloud our perception of the conflict, recognizing the shared humanity and suffering of the Palestinian people. Including the diminishing Christian minority in Gaza and the West Bank which endures alongside its Muslim neighbors despite its small size. Christians, we need to take a second look and reevaluate our unfiltered support for the state of Israel and consider the plight of Palestinian civilians, including fewer than 1,000 Christians continuing to shelter in Gaza’s churches.

The Struggle and Voice of Palestinian Christians 

Palestinian Christians across the region, embodying Christ’s teachings, advocate for a comprehensive ceasefire, the return of all hostages and those imprisoned illegally, and humanitarian aid for Gazans. They call for global church support highlighting the need for a unified stance against violence. Their depiction of Jesus amidst Gaza’s ruins is a reminder of God’s presence in places of suffering and despair, urging us to reconsider our views and insist on a ceasefire. We must hear their cry and stand in solidarity alongside them. 

Challenging Misinterpretations 

Cosper’s misinterpretations of cultural symbols, like the keffiyeh, are uninformed and damaging. Particularly when used by Palestinian pastor theologians and Christians today, the keffiyeh represents solidarity with innocent Gazans and peaceful resistance among Palestinian Christians. In addition, the keffiyeh has long been a part of Palestinian bedouin culture that predates Palestinian struggles for independence. Cosper’s slapping an antisemitic label on Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church – Bethlehem’s representation of the holy nativity is not only misinformed but uncharitable and erases the legitimate cultural significance and meaning of the symbol. 

Towards Compassionate Engagement

The image of baby Jesus wrapped in a keffiyeh amid Gaza’s rubble serves as a powerful reminder of Jesus’ presence in suffering. Immanuel – God with us. It challenges us to engage the harsh realities of the conflict with a new perspective through the lens of empathy for our fellow followers of Jesus and all of God’s creation enduring the Israel-Hamas War and occupation. This includes recognizing how Palestinian Christians like Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, lead pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church-Bethlehem, strive to translate the Gospel through contemporary images and metaphors to their younger generations and neighbors, similar to Christians and missiologists for centuries before him.

Towards Compassionate Dialogue

As Christians, we must challenge narratives marginalizing Palestinian voices, and foster empathetic, informed dialogue rooted in biblical faith and humility. This entails supporting Palestinian Christians and advocating for a just resolution to the conflict, beyond silence. 

A New Perspective: Advocating for Justice and Peace 

We must reevaluate our allegiances and hold all parties accountable for violence against civilians. Our call is clear: Advocate for an immediate permanent ceasefire, the release of hostages, swift humanitarian support for Gazans, and an end to illegal policies and practices of Hamas and Israel, including the decades-long occupation. This call to action, grounded in Christ’s teachings, fosters a dialogue rooted in empathy, theological insight, and a commitment to justice. Only then can we offer better support to those innocent Israelis and Palestinians striving for a future where peace and justice prevail in the Holy Land among the tapestry of faiths and cultures that intersect: Christian, Jewish, Messianic, and Muslim. 

A Prayer for Peace and Compassion

Heavenly Father, ‘Hallowed be Thy name,’ 

We come before You with hearts burdened by the War and suffering in Gaza. We lift up our prayers for all who are caught in the crossfire, for the innocent lives lost, and for those who endure imaginable hardships. Lord, we pray for a lasting peace, where violence ceases and Your love prevails. 

Grant us the wisdom to see beyond our biases and the courage to challenge narratives that marginalize and misrepresent. Help us embrace a perspective of empathy and compassion, reflecting the teachings of Christ. May we support our Palestinian brothers and sisters, recognizing their resilience and steadfast faith amidst adversity. 

We ask for your guidance for leaders and decision-makers.  May they pursue justice and peace with integrity and compassion. Strengthen the efforts of those advocating for a comprehensive ceasefire, the return of hostages, and humanitarian aid for those in need. Let us be instruments of Your peace, advocating for the dignity and humanity of all people in the Holy Land. 

Lord, in this time of crises, let us remember that You are Immanuel, God with us, present in the midst of suffering. May we follow the example of Jesus, who walked among the broken and brought hope to the hopeless. Unite us in our common faith in Christ our Lord, and may our actions reflect Your love and grace.  

‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.’  

We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. 


About the Author: Beth Seversen, PhD Intercultural Studies, is an Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow with Churches for Middle East Peace. Previously she was Associate Professor of Youth and Christian Ministries Studies at North Park University. Beth is currently researching Palestinian Christian Young Adult Spiritual Formation in the Context of Suffering and Violence Beth’s book Not Done Yet: Reaching and Keeping Unchurched Emerging Adults IVP Praxis, 2020) is based on her research on the spiritual and religious lives of young adult “dones” and “nones” in North America.

Please note any views or opinions contained in this devotional series are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

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