Kevin Miller, co-writer of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, must have a thing for controversial projects. His latest work, With God On Our Side, is a foray into the heated Israeli-Palestinian debate.
In my view, much of what is published on this topic is both heavily biased (for one side or the other) and/or overly vitriolic. I once asked a Christian friend whom I trust and who has traveled extensively in the Muslim world if there was any “fair and balanced” news source/blog on this topic. He was not aware of one. Part of the problem is that each side tends to question the other side’s “indisputable facts”, which makes the subject even more daunting for those of us who have never lived there and don’t have a Ph.D. on the history of the dispute(s).
Nevertheless, as Christians, it seems we should exemplify honest and charitable dialogue, even when we disagree. With God On Our Side is a remarkably informative and redemptive documentary which, while critical of modern day Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and even more critical of a strand of Christian Zionism which offers unflinching support for the Jewish state regardless of its actions, doesn’t stop there. It seeks to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation between the two quarreling peoples and also raise awareness among American Christians of the plight of Palestinian Christians. This latter aspect is what I found most encouraging. Because regardless of one’s view of the nation of Israel, its history and/or its actions, we should agree that Palestinian Christians are squeezed by Muslim groups in their own country, by Israeli strictures designed (at least ostensibly) to ward off acts of terrorism, but which disadvantageously impact all Palestinians, and by a lack of support from the United States. In fact, the documentary helpfully quotes Christian Zionist leader John Hagee making that very point.
Secondly, I think even careful dispensationalists should agree that one’s view of Israel’s role in end-times prophecy should not make the Jewish state immune to criticism. Even in the hay day of the Davidic kingdom, Israel was not beyond receiving severe discipline from God (e.g., 2 Sam. 24). And most would agree that the first Advent of Christ signified a new era in redemptive history in which the kingdom of God is now advancing invisibly through the gospel gaining adherents from every tribe, language, people, and nation. God’s kingdom is thus not within the bounds of any geopolitical nation-state. I would hope that even dispensationalists would be careful in speaking of the Jews as “God’s chosen people”. No Christian I know disputes the uniqueness of the Israeli race (Jacob and his posterity) in biblical history, but apart from individual faith in Christ, every Jew will face the eternal wrath of God (Acts 2:21; Acts 4:12; I Tim. 2:5). The same applies to members of every other race. Surely, as Christians, we should agree on that.
Lastly, we should remember that social justice, while a good thing, should never be elevated above the gospel — the one gospel which both Jews and Palestinians need (and which unites with an irrevocable bond those from both ethnicities who have embraced it) — and the one gospel whose implications would lead to peace and reconciliation.
Perhaps my favorite character in the documentary was Palestinian Christian Salim Munayer. Though I don’t know him besides what’s in the documentary, I was encourage by his winsome humility, grace, balance, and desire to see reconciliation and peace between the two peoples. I wish the film had included an interview with an ethnically Jewish Christian living in Israel to go alongside the commentary from Munayer. It would have likewise been good (and in line with the redemptive, peace-seeking spirit of the film) to hear the Israeli perspective (from local Jews) on some of the subject matter discussed (like the ongoing settlements and the wall of separation). But I suppose there is only so much that can fit in an 82 minute documentary.
Here’s a short presentation of Munayer explaining the importance of embracing an approach that is pro-Jew and pro-Palestinian as well as the theological problems that invariably arise when we only embrace one at the expense of the other:
And here’s the official trailer:
I’ve heard that the July 2010 issue of Christianity Today includes a review of With God On Our Side, giving it four out of five stars. When the review becomes available, I’ll link to it.
Update: In this 2004 sermon on Rom. 11:25-32, pastor John Piper (a proponent of the historic premillennial view) makes extended remarks on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East. Whether you agree with that eschatology or not, his observations and logic are well worth considering.