What's holy about the holy land?

holyland2.jpgBy Revd Dr James Walters

“Holy Land? What’s holy about this place? Everyone wants to kill each other…” This was the perceptive remark of one of the 18 LSE students who accompanied me on a visit to Israel/Palestine last week. The students were an interfaith group of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and the theme running through our visit was both the role that religion plays in the current conflicts of the region and the potential that religion may have to contribute to their resolution.

The former was evident to see in numerous examples of confrontation between adherents of the three Abrahamic faiths. We visited a Benedictine monastery that was recently subject to an anti-Christian “price tag” attack by Jewish extremists. We saw anti-Trinitarian posters put up by Muslim extremists in Nazareth. And we’ve been reminded since the death of Ariel Sharon of how his provocative visit after Friday prayers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in 2000 prompted fears that the fragile religious “cohabitation” of Jerusalem might soon be challenged and led to the Second Intifada. Such anxieties have not gone away. 

But at a grassroots level, the latter (the capacity for religion to contribute to peace) was also abundant. We met the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights and activists in an Israeli group that expresses solidarity with victims of the “price tag” attacks. We met Palestinian Christians at the Bethlehem-based Holy Land Trust who promote non-violent resistance and seek cooperation by healing the painful memories of the past. And we visited a mosque in Nazareth working hard to counter extremism and communicate the peaceful message of Islam. 

Yet by the end of the trip, I was left with the strong sense from the people we had met and from our own experience as an interfaith group, that the real hope for the future lay not just in people motivated by their own faith but in the interreligious pilgrims-map.jpgencounter itself. The culmination of our trip was a dinner organized for us by the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel attended by recent graduates from their programmes to build interfaith understanding among young people. I watched as a Muslim pro-Palestine campaigner sat next to a serviceman in the Israeli Defence Force. As food was shared, respectful conversation flowed, understanding grew, and at the end of the evening email addresses were exchanged. It can’t be said that there was full agreement but what I saw were the faint glimmers of hope for the future in a transformative human encounter. 

It made me wonder whether the questions around which we had framed our trip were to some degree wrong. Perhaps the point is not whether religion harms or heals so much as how our religious beliefs and practices can lead us to a more profound encounter with others and with the God who is at work in Christ to unite us all. In that sense, the interreligious encounter can be seen as a moment that points us beyond our own religious narrative to the God who is always beyond religion itself. 

Do we not see this in the Gospels too? There are numerous interreligious encounters that point towards previously unseen truths, beginning with the three wise men at the manger (Zoroastrians) and moving on to Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria and the Roman Centurion. And as numerous modern theologians have reminded us, Jesus did not present such people with a new religion called “Christianity” but drew all people from their different factions toward the universal truths of God and the righteousness of God’s Kingdom. 

I am not someone who is inclined to think that the “Holy Land” is holy because of particular historical events and moments. But I came home from our trip with a renewed sense of its holiness because, in spite of the conflicts which so often appear to be the primary narrative, this has for centuries been the land where people of different religions have encountered one another on a shared quest for truth and peace. As we await the outcome of John Kerry’s latest attempt to breath life into the peace process, we need to pray for all breath life into the quest for truth and peace through interreligious encounter, because they are the greatest hope for this unholy Holy Land.


Jim Walters is the Anglican Chaplain to the London School of Economics and a member of Christians on the Left

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commented 2015-03-04 04:38:39 +0000 · Flag
Not to mention the LORD showed Moses and Abraham the Holy Land.

Also whether the Magi were Zoroastrians is not really known, however, this article details why they might not be.


Why so much War?

“shared quest for truth and peace.”
The Lord Jesus Christ is the only one that will hold true. The Bible clearly calls for peace and did so first. Jesus Christ is the one and only.

“All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.” -John 10:9

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. -Romans 16:17-18

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." -Matthew 7:15

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” -1 John 4:1

Also, Jesus Christ comments

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” -Matthew 10:34

Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. -Matthew 24:4-6

because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” -Luke 1:78-79

Looking at these statements it is clear that Jesus Christ came to (among many other things) show us Shalom (Peace), be the Messiah, tell us ahead of time of war to come, and to guide us in the way of peace. Even with this peace, Jesus Christ tells us ahead of time that this will cause division and war, divided even among Family: mothers, daughters, sisters, and brothers.

Though I support peace and ceasing of native hostilities especially in the Middle East, I don’t think that will ever happen, and I believe Jesus Christ predicts this, and as a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe him.
commented 2014-03-01 10:30:33 +0000 · Flag
Revd. Walters – Of course The Lord Jesus Christ didn’t come to found a new religion called “Christianity” Followers of The Way were first called Christians in Antioch, long after the Lord rose from the dead. However He did say that He was THE way THE truth and THE life, that no man could come to the Father except through Him. He, the Lord Jesus, came to reconcile man to God through the cross, I don’t see any mention “uniting us all” or of “drawing all people toward the universal truths of God etc”

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