Jump directly to the Content

News&Reporting

16 Evangelical Alliances Call for Gaza Ceasefire, Condemn Hamas

Statement issued by regional and national fellowships seeking “a just peace” goes biblically deeper than similar humanitarian pleas.
|
العربيةFrançais简体中文한국어繁體中文русскийУкраїнська
16 Evangelical Alliances Call for Gaza Ceasefire, Condemn Hamas
Image: Anadolu Agency / Contributor / Getty
Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza

As civilian casualties mount in Gaza in collateral damage from the Israeli-Hamas war, 16 evangelical alliances and fellowships are calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

But their November 1 statement of lament, repentance, and condemnation aims deeper.

“We call on the Church and people of faith to increase and intensify just peacemaking in the region which promotes restorative justice in the region, and to do so while demonstrating empathy and humility,” the group stated. “Peace can only be achieved when the cycles of violence are broken and when perpetrators and victims are set free from their sinful desire for vengeance.”

Signed by World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) regional associations in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, endorsements included representative bodies from Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kurdistan, Nepal, Qatar, South Africa, and Sri Lanka, as well as an Arabic-speaking alliance in Europe.

Recognizing their “incomplete” understanding of geopolitical complexity and God’s eschatological purposes, the statement lamented the tragic loss of life, repented of insufficient support for peacemaking, and denounced the global community for failing to “ensure respect” of international humanitarian law.

But the joint call, posted by WEA affiliates in India and Latin America, was also clearer in areas where other Christian statements on the war have been accused of falling short.

The alliances condemned all forms of antisemitism, called on Hamas to release all hostages, and repudiated as “deplorable and despicable” the “largest killing of Jewish civilians on a single day since the Holocaust.”

Yet it also states that “Israel, in pursuit of Hamas, has caused more civilian deaths.” And it situated the violence within a “decades-long” conflict in which, “without ensuring justice, equality, and flourishing to all in the Holy Land, no people group will achieve security.”

This message, many believed, is why other statements have fallen short.

“We joined in this effort to bring attention to the varying perspectives within the global evangelical community,” said Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, a charter member of the WEA. “Primarily for a comprehensive understanding, but also to promote peace, there is a need to present diverse viewpoints other than the ones that normally get labeled as ‘the evangelical position.’”

The South Africa alliance said it did not want to repeat the sins of its past.

“At the height of the Apartheid government, the evangelical voice in the world was largely nonexistent, or at best sought to take a neutral posture in the face of our suffering,” said Moss Nthla, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa. “It was our view that a similar thing was happening with Israel’s war on Gaza.”

The Kenya alliance sought a clear condemnation of atrocities against Israel’s citizens. It also noted the greater number of deaths among Palestinians, and asserted that Hamas had “perfected” the use of human shields.

But fellow evangelicals are among those suffering in Gaza, noted the alliance in appealing to all for a “humanitarian mindset.”

“We raise our voice to the international community: Do not ignore the plight of suffering civilians,” said Nelson Makanda, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya. “This is our Christian duty.”

The statement joined a recent flurry of international calls to stop fighting.

“Ceasefire, ceasefire. Brothers and sisters, stop!” stated Pope Francis. “War is always a defeat, always.”

The World Council of Churches and Churches for Middle East Peace also endorsed a ceasefire. The Anglican communion, however, disagreed internally over its language.

Following the deaths caused by an Israeli airstrike next to St. Porphyrius Orthodox Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby joined the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

Citing Matthew 25:35—I was hungry and you gave me food—the clerics insisted on the delivery of vital supplies to relief agencies, including its own.

“Even in the face of ceaseless military demands to evacuate our charitable institutions and houses of worship,” it stated, “we will not abandon this Christian mission.”

Welby’s Church of England, however, issued a slightly different statement.

Citing Isaiah 2:4—They shall not learn war anymore—it affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense as it called for immediate humanitarian “pauses.”

Semantics matter in international diplomacy, and such wording has divided the United Nations. After failing four times at the 15-member security council—once from a United States veto, once from Russia-China—the general assembly approved a third word in its nonbinding call for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.” The measure passed by a vote of 120–14.

The United Kingdom was among 45 abstentions. Canada’s amendment to denounce Hamas was defeated. The United States voted against the resolution, backing a “pause” but saying a ceasefire is not appropriate “at this time.”

Israel was sharply critical that Hamas was not condemned.

“Why are the humanitarian needs of Gazans … the sole issue you are focused on?” asked its UN ambassador.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, noted the UN resolution came just as Israel was ready to begin its ground campaign.

“Moving into Gaza,” he stated, “[is] creating backlash from the sympathizers of the Palestinians in the United Nations, and around the world.”

The Philos Project stated a ceasefire is the “wrong solution.”

“It is not possible to negotiate peace with a party that rejects it in principle,” it stated, citing article 13 of the Hamas Charter. “Hamas will continue their violent cycle of attacking Israel, Israel retaliating in self-defense, Palestinians dying, and the world blaming Israel. Eradicating Hamas is the only path toward a two-state solution, and a cease-fire only perpetuates the bloodshed.”

Hamas admits as much.

“The Al-Aqsa Flood is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth, because we have the determination, the resolve, and the capabilities to fight,” stated Ghazi Hamad, member of the political bureau. “Will we have to pay a price? Yes, and we are ready to pay it.”

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined others in quoting Scripture.

“There is a time for peace and a time for war. This is a time for war—a war for our common future,” he stated, referencing Ecclesiastes 3:8. “It is a time for everyone to decide where they stand.”

The joint evangelical statement’s sole direct biblical reference was to a wayward prophet.

“We humbly seek God’s guidance as we pray for the Middle East,” it stated, “so that we do not become desensitized like Jonah and disconnected from God’s plans to reconcile all people to Himself.”

The impetus came from outside the Arab world—led by alliances in South Africa and Kenya—stated Jack Sara, general secretary of the Middle East and North Africa Evangelical Alliance. He said the alliances wanted to “clear their name and testimony” in front of a global audience.

But they also wanted a global endorsement.

Seeking consensus within the WEA, Sara said the body’s official support was hinged on the agreement of its Israeli alliance.

“The WEA has been working with the national alliances in the region to get agreement on a common statement to follow the initial one we put out,” said Janet Epp Buckingham, the WEA’s director of global advocacy, “but this has proved very challenging.”

Danny Kopp, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Israel, said there is “much to agree with” in the statement. But he could not affix his signature.

"I wholeheartedly agree that first and foremost we are called to be peacemakers, and that a joint statement would send a powerful message,” he said. “But what do the signatories to this statement mean by ‘peace’?”

He cited Jeremiah 6:14—They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.

Kopp criticized the statement for three reasons.

First, it makes no allowance for Israel to defend itself. Second, it blames Israel for the deaths of civilians Hamas uses as human shields. And third, it holds Israel responsible for a disproportionate casualty rate it could not avoid, he said.

Israel has no “blanket license” to kill, he said. But it has a duty to use “violent force.” Had the joint initiative addressed these concerns, he would have been willing to participate.

“The statement as formulated now, however, is the opposite of the pursuit of peace,” said Kopp. “It is a pacifist surrender to mass murder that is neither moral nor Christian.”

However interpreted, the casualties are rising.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees stated that an immediate humanitarian ceasefire is now a “matter of life and death.” Nearly 1.5 million people are displaced, one-third of hospitals are not functioning, and water wells and desalination plants in the strip’s south have almost stopped completely due to lack of fuel. Agency head Philippe Lazzarini accused Israel of inflicting “collective punishment” on Gaza citizens, stating that the “handful of convoys” allowed to enter will not alleviate the needs of two million people.

A ceasefire has been endorsed by humanitarian organizations such as Caritas, Christian Aid, Mennonite Central Committee, and Oxfam. World Vision “urges all parties to urgently ensure the delivery of essential aid,” while Samaritan’s Purse stated that “at this time, humanitarian access to Gaza is not possible,” but “stands ready” to help and offered assistance to authorities in Israel.

Yet however much aid is necessary in both countries, the evangelical alliances’ joint statement closed by widening readers’ attention to global issues elsewhere. It specifically reminded about armed struggle and its aftermath in Sudan, Azerbaijan-Armenia, Yemen, Ukraine-Russia, and Myanmar.

It called for prayers for “peace, justice, healing, and reconciliation.”

“Military escalation and the bombing of civilians can never facilitate peace,” said Lal. “There is the peace of the graveyard—but is that the direction we should go?”

Figuring out peace is hard, said the Indian evangelical leader, and harder for some because of historical issues. But the joint statement seeks to “transcend” a focus simply on Middle Eastern and Western perspectives, seeking a nuance that includes cultural and regional consideration.

“Evangelicals from Africa and Asia have shown that they understand the conflict and have the ability to engage in an empathizing manner in pursuit of peace,” said Lal. “I think that is very valuable.”

[ This article is also available in العربية Français 简体中文 한국어 繁體中文 русский, and Українська. ]

March
Support Our Work

Subscribe to CT for less than $4.25/month

Read These Next

close