In a little place called London Heathrow Airport, I am. Twice, I thought I saw Ed Horsley in the airport, but after looking more closely I realized I was looking at middle-aged British women with scraggly hair.
I slept uncomfortably for a few hours on the flight, watched two movies, and read Naim Ateek’s A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation. I felt a tad self-conscious reading his chapter on suicide bombing (titled Samson, the First Suicide Bomber) while on the plane. Ateek definitely picks and chooses passages out of Scripture to support his pro-Palestinian agenda. However, I am not sure that is a critique. I like how he picks and chooses passages out of Scripture. Ateek writes, “In using biblical texts, there’s always the danger of a ‘clothesline’ hermeneutic: one grabs verses from different parts of the Bible and pins them together, interpreting them to support one’s own agenda or to justify a variety of beliefs” (141). In the margins, I wrote, “You’re doing this too, Naim!”
Yet he continues, “Similarly, there is a danger in removing certain texts from their original context (whether historical, theological, or spiritual), which also detracts from the true message of scripture.” I always get skeptical when I hear authors write about “the true message of scripture” and even uncomfortable when authors arrogantly claim that they are imparting this true message. At times, Ateek proves guilty of such hubris. However, I still trust his “hermeneutical lens.” He writes about his “criteria of interpretation,” which for him is the “knowledge of God revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ” (141). When asked how he sums up the Law and the Prophets, Jesus simply said, “Love God and love others.” Jesus himself had his own criteria of interpretation when reading the Scriptures and I honestly do not think he always arrived at the “true message of scripture,” especially if we consider the true message to be the exact message intended by the author at the time. However, for Jesus, if an interpretation of scripture was not pointing to love for God and love for neighbor, then a re-interpretation would be needed. Furthermore, everything Jesus did pointed to love for God and love for neighbor so if we interpret a teaching or miracle of Jesus in a way that points away from love, we need to re-interpret that as well. Of course, we then have to ask the heavy question, “What is love for God and neighbor? How do we do it? And what is love in the first place?”
I am not sure how I would answer these questions, but I think I know how Naim Ateek would. I believe he would point to Jesus’ mission statement in Luke when he quotes Isaiah: setting the captives free, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, etc. And I like that. Ateek explains, “the Bible has been used to condone and sanction many atrocities, including slavery, polygamy, the silencing of women, war, ethnic cleansing, and many others.” These atrocities do not point to God’s love or to setting captives free. Therefore, the interpretation of scripture that supports and justifies such atrocities must be rejected if we want to align ourselves with Christ’s hermeneutical understanding of scripture.
I especially like Naim Ateek’s understanding and articulation of non-violent resistance. I have met Rev. Ateek and he certainly does not come across as a pushover. I experienced him as stern, intense, passionate and even angry. Yet he is very clear that his approach to combating injustice is thoroughly non-violent. I might even call him militantly non-violent because he has the energy of a warrior.
Ateek champions “the willingness of love to suffer and to bear pain rather than to inflict it on others” (111). However, he is not talking about being a Welcome Mat for others to walk all over. He declares, “We must endure suffering inflicted upon us by unjust governments. We bear it but we do not accept, submit, or succumb to it…This is not passive resignation. It is total surrender to the God of justice who established this world on justice and who will not let injustice have the last word.” (125)
Inspired by the non-violent resistance described in the Book of Daniel, Ateek writes, “God demands faithfulness even to the point of martyrdom rather than violent resistance or cultural accommodation” (135)
And then, boldly, Naim Ateek asserts, “God is not a god of war.” When we consider that one of the first names for the Hebrew God was Yahweh Tsevaot (God of Armies), we realize how bold Ateek’s assertion is.
But Ateek is in very good company when he writes, “We must champion and follow the deeper biblical tradition that presents the nonviolent way of God” (138). Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Jesus Christ himself championed and followed this “nonviolent way of God.” And that is exactly what Israel-Palestine needs: a Gandhi. And Rev. Naim Ateek might just be the man for the job.