Make Jerusalem an International City

President Trump’s announcement of an intent to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is an opportunity to consider alternatives for this renowned city. A more creative new approach would be to elevate a unified Jerusalem to the status of an international city with sovereignty by both Israel and Palestine.  It would indeed be the capital for both nations.  The Israeli Knesset is already there.  Palestine would construct a new capitol building.  It would be both-and, a win-win situation.

In a unified Jerusalem residents would have equal right to vote and elect a city council.  Recognizing a dual constituency, there could be two mayors, one Jewish, one Palestinian (drawing on the experience of Israel with its two chief rabbis).  Each mayor would have a veto on local legislation.  They could share a common reception area with the hope that propinquity would enhance cooperation.

The municipal police department with both Jewish and Palestinian officers would perform ordinary police functions together, and they would be in a position to deal with any militants aiming to disrupt the public order.

As a further step to promote harmony and cooperation, there could be a citywide council of neighborhoods to bring residents together and allow them to work cooperatively on mutual concerns.  This would create opportunities for communication between Israelis and Palestinians, between persons of different economic classes and stations in life.  They would offer hospitality to one another. They would seek unity out of diversity.  Together they would promote achievement of a glorious city, a New Jerusalem that provides for the well-being of all.

Abrahamic Hospitality: A Key for Peace with Israel and Palestine

In considering how to achieve peace in the Holy Land, we should look back to the example of Abraham (Ibrahim), a common spiritual ancestor of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Qur’an tell how three strangers appeared at Abraham’s tent. He offered them shelter, food, and drink. They turned out to be angels in disguise who told him that his wife Sarah, childless in old age, would bare a son, endowed with knowledge, leading to a great nation (Genesis 18:1-15; Qur’an 51:24-27). The New Testament summarizes this experience in a single verse: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:2). The Holy Scriptures of all three faiths have numerous passages calling for hospitality to strangers, sojourners, aliens.

This concept of hospitality can be a key to achieving peace for Israel and Palestine.

To begin with Israelis and Palestinians can grant hospitality to one another by giving mutual recognition that each side is entitled to have a safe, secure, peaceable, viable state in a territory where they are the predominant population. Already Israeli is a multicultural state with 25 percent non-Jewish population. Palestine too could be a multicultural state with Jews and other minorities making up a portion of the population.

The most common proposal for creation of a Palestinian State is to recognize that 70 to 80 percent of the inhabitants of Israeli settlements are concentrated relatively near the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank.  Therefore, a land swap could occur with Israel annexing this territory in exchange for a similar amount of territory elsewhere that it would cede to the new Palestinian state.

This process can be eased by halting expansion of existing settlements and not initiating new ones. Nonetheless in this arrangement a number of settlements would remain within Palestine. Rather than evicting the residents and tearing down the settlements, as occurred in Gaza, these inhabitants should be allowed to remain if they choose. This would make Palestine multicultural as Israel is.

In the name of hospitaity the settlers who remain could be offered full citizenship in Palestine with voting rights, other civil rights, and representation in the Palestinian governing body. Short of that they could be given the status of permanent residents (an offer Israel made to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem after annexing that territory).  An alternative would allow the Israeli settlers to become dual citizens of Palestine, where they are living, and Israel, from which they have come.

Hospitality of this sort is embodied in The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (1948). The new state would become a homeland, “open for Jewish migration and for the ingathering of Exiles.”  But at the same time it would “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants,” “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” and “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.” And so it is that in Israel today non-Jewish citizens have full citizenship, including the right to vote, form political parties, gain representation in the Knesset, serve as judges, hold other political offices, and be employed for government jobs.

Nevertheless, some human rights observers indicate that some practices which are discriminatory against Arab citizens occur in Israel. To the extent that these claims are valid, elimination of all vestiges of discrimination can be another focus of hospitality. In a spirit of reciprocity the new multicultural Palestine should avoid all forms of discrimination against its Jewish inhabitants.

As to Jerusalem a new approach would be to transform Jerusalem into a unified, international city with sovereignty by both Israel and Palestine.  It would the capital for both nations.  The Israeli Knesset is already there.  Palestine would construct a new capitol building.

In a unified Jerusalem all residents would have equal right to vote and elect a city council. They would offer hospitality to one another. Recognizing a dual constituency, there could be two mayors, one Jewish, one Palestinian (as Israel has two chief rabbis).  Each mayor would have a veto on local legislation.  They could share a common reception area with the hope that propinquity would enhance cooperation.

There could be a council of neighborhoods, drawing together representatives from all sections of the city. They would seek unity out of diversity.  Together they would promote achievement of a glorious city, a New Jerusalem that provides for the well-being of all.

Because of the history of animosity stretching over decades it would be useful to create a broad-based truth and reconciliation commission, drawing on the experience of South Africa and commissions in 32 other nations. This process could enhance the offering of mutual Abrahamic hospitality between the two peoples.

Howard W. Hallman is a United Methodist layperson who lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. He is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now (2016). Bio at https://livingingodskingdom.org/howardhallman/ 

 

Learning Acceptance from the Early Church

The 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, upon recommendation of the Council of Bishops, created a Commission on the Way Forward with an assignment “to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.”  This Commission could benefit from studying the experience of the early Christian Church as it moved from its Jewish origins to include Gentiles. This is laid out in the Acts of the Apostles.

To begin with the early church had the example of Jesus who associated with persons who Pharisees considered unclean: tax collectors, women of questionable character, Samaritans, and other “sinners”. He healed a child of a Gentile official and a servant of a centurion from the occupying Roman army.

In the early church the first recorded occurrence of granting acceptance to Gentiles happened when Philip encountered a eunuch, treasurer for the Ethiopian queen, riding in a chariot on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. The eunuch was reading aloud a selection from the prophet Isaiah about a sheep being led to slaughter [Isaiah 53:7-8]. He invited Philip to get into the chariot and explain the passage. Starting with that section, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus. As they came to some water, the eunuch asked to be baptized. Philip consented and baptized him with no questions about his sexual status (Acts 8:26-40).

In the next occurrence an angel came to Cornelius, a centurion living in Caesarea, a pious Gentile who gave generously to those in need among the Jewish people and prayed to God constantly. The angel told Cornelius to summon Simon Peter (Acts 10:1-8).

But before Cornelius’ emissaries arrived, Peter had vision of a sheet being lowered to earth with all kinds of four-legged animals, reptiles, and wild birds. A voice told him, “Kill and eat.” Peter declined, explaining, “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice insisted, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” This led Peter to accept Cornelius’ invitation (Acts 8:9-23)

In Caesarea Peter found that Cornelius had assembled a gathering of family and friends. Peter told them that it was forbidden for a Jew to associate with outsiders but that God had told him he should never call a person impure or unclean. He told them, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group over another” (Acts 10:24-35).

Peter proceeded to preach about Jesus Christ, proclaiming, “He is Lord of all!” To the astonishment of the circumcised believers who came with Peter, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word, and they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:36-48).

This didn’t sit well with circumcised believers in Jerusalem, who criticized Peter for entering the home of the uncircumcised and eating with them. But when Peter told them of his vision and his experience in Caesarea, they calmed down and praised God for enabling Gentiles to change their hearts and lives (Acts 11:1-18).

Paul after his conversion on the road to Damascus became a missionary to Gentiles with considerable success. Although a former Pharisee, he didn’t insist that Gentile converts undergo circumcision and adopt other strictures of Mosaic law. But other Pharisee believers insisted that they should.

This led to a major meeting in Jerusalem attended by Paul, Barnabas (a fellow missionary), the apostles, and elders. Paul described “the signs and wonders God did among the Gentiles.”  Peter insisted that God “made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires through faith.” James declared that “we shouldn’t make trouble for Gentiles who turn to God.” At his suggestion the council unanimously adopted a letter which demonstrated acceptance by telling Gentiles that the only burden placed on them would be avoidance of sexual immorality (though undefined) and idolatry (Acts 15:1-29).

The Commission on the Way Forward can review this experience and consider lessons applicable for today. To me it teaches that we should welcome all persons, including those who differ from the majority because of race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, immigrant status, and other characteristics, and not discriminate against any of them. We should apply what Peter discovered: “God doesn’t show partiality to one group of persons over another” (Acts 10:34).

Howard W. Hallman is a United Methodist layperson. He is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now (2016). Bio at https://livingingodskingdom.org/howardhallman/  @LivinginGodsKingdom

Biblical Perspectives on Refugees and Immigrants

President Trump’s ban on certain refugees and immigrants has raised this concern to a high level of public consciousness. Our discussion can be informed by considering biblical perspectives on this issue.

In the Bible individuals and groups become refugees and immigrants for a variety of reasons: their own misconduct, desire for better living conditions, adverse circumstance such as drought and famine, fleeing from tyranny. And the Bible tells about persons who receive strangers and meet their needs. In these varied situations the most common response to refugees and immigrants can be summarized in one word: kindness.

The first refugees in the Bible were Adam and Eve. The LORD God expelled them from the Garden of Eden because they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Nevertheless, he allowed them to farm fertile land outside the garden (Genesis 3:1-24).

The next refugee was their son Cain, who out of jealousy killed his younger brother Abel. Thereupon the LORD condemned Cain to become a roaming nomad. But when Cain expressed concern for his life, the LORD, showing compassion, put a sign on him so that no one would assault him and allowed him to settle in the land of Nod, east of Eden (Genesis 4:1-16).

The three founding patriarchs of the Hebrew people—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—were each an immigrant at one or more times in their lives.

Abram, son of Terah, was born in Ur. The family moved to Haran. From there Abram took his family to Canaan, a journey of approximately 450 miles (Genesis 12:1-9). Later when famine struck the land, they migrated temporarily to Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20). Upon return Abram made a covenant with the LORD and became known as Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8).

In a story told both in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Qur’an, one day three strangers appeared at Abraham’s tent. He offered them shelter, food, and drink. They turned out to be angels in disguise. They told Abraham that his wife Sarah, childless in old age, would bare a son (Genesis 18:1-15; Qur’an 4.36-37; 11:70-73).

Two of the strangers went next to Sodom to the home of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Lot took them in, fed them, and protected them from men of Sodom, who wanted to gang rape them. The angels warned Lot to flee Sodom before the Lord destroyed the city with fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:1-23; Qur’an 11.76-81).

The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament summarizes this experience in a single verse: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

Abraham’s son Isaac married Rebekah, who gave birth to twins, Esau and Jacob. Famine struck the land and Isaac’s family migrated to Gerar in the land of the Philistines to find fertile fields and then moved to Beer-sheba (Genesis 26:1-5, 23-25).

Esau was born first, but through trickery Jacob acquired his birthright (Genesis 25:18-7-34). Disguising himself as Esau, Jacob obtained Isaac’s blessing (Genesis 27:1-29). To escape Esau’s wrath Jacob migrated to his mother’s brother Laban in Haran (Genesis 27: 41-28:9) There Jacob acquired two wives and eleven sons. After many years he decided to return to the land of his ancestors. He sent word ahead to Esau, who came out to meet him with 400 men. But instead of attacking, Esau greeted Jacob enthusiastically. Jacob exclaimed, “Truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor” (Genesis 32:1-33:10).

Jacob wasn’t done traveling. Drought and famine came again to Canaan. So Jacob’s family migrated to Egypt. They were preceded by Jacob’s son Joseph who his brothers had sold into slavery. In Egypt Joseph became a close adviser to the pharaoh because of his ability to interpret dreams. In this manner Joseph foresaw the need to store grain during seven years of bounteous crops that would proceed seven years of drought. Jacob’s household came and settled in the land of Goshen (Genesis 41:1-47:12).

In these various ways migration was a common practice for the Hebrew people under the patriarchs.

After a while a new pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph came to power in Egypt and enslaved the Israelites. Four centuries later Moses emerged as their leader and led them out of Egypt.  In a mass migration that took forty years they reached Canaan, the Promised Land.

Several times along the way Moses had to remind his people, “Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, for you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Also translated “sojourner”, “stranger”, “foreigner”, “resident alien”. He also instructed them, “Any immigrant who lives among you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens” (Leviticus 19:34).

Thereafter the Israelites were told to care for widows, orphans, the poor, and immigrants. For instance, allow them to glean for grain, to pick up fallen grapes and olives (Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 24:20-21). The prophet Zechariah warned the people, “Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor” (Zechariah 7:10).

Jesus picked up this message in his Allegory of the Last Judgment. When the nations appear before the Son of Man for judgment, the place of honor goes to those who have served “the least of these”. They include those who have welcomed strangers along with those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, and visited prisoners (Matthew 25: 31-46).

And the Qur’an advises, “Be kind to parents, and the near kinsman, and to orphans, and to the needy, and to the neighbor who is of kin, and to the neighbor who is a stranger, and to the companion at your side, and to the traveler” (Qur’an 4.36).

And we should remember that Jesus himself was a refugee as a baby. After magi told King Herod that they were seeking the newborn king of the Jews, Herod ordered death for all boys two years old and younger. Warned in a dream, Jesus’ parents took him to Egypt to escape from Herod. They stayed there until Herod died and then went to Galilee and settled in Nazareth (Matthew 2:1-23). Matthew provides no details about their stay in Egypt, but we can imagine that somebody took them in and provided shelter, food, and clothing. Jesus took his first steps and said his first words as a child refugee. He arrived in Nazareth as an immigrant.

In these many ways the Bible counsels us to welcome refugees and immigrants and care for them.

Howard W. Hallman is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now, available from Amazon.

Kingdom of God in Metaphor

Jesus used metaphors to describe the Kingdom of God, or in Matthew’s term the Kingdom of Heaven. As he told his disciples, the kingdom of heaven is like:

  • Seed planted in good soil, yielding abundant crop.
  • Grain remaining after the weeds are destroyed.
  • Tiny mustard seed that grows into a large plant and provides a nesting place for birds.
  • Yeast that leavens the loaf.
  • Treasure hidden in a field purchased at a great price.
  • Very precious pearl acquired by selling all other possessions to be able to buy it.
  • Good fish in a net separated from the bad ones (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-50).

And so God’s kingdom is valuable to us as the habitation of our daily life.

Howard W. Hallman is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now, available from Amazon.

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Loving Your Enemies

Martin Luther King, Jr. offered advice  on “Loving Your Enemies” in a sermon was first given at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in November 1957 during the bus boycott. He later revised it  when he was in a Georgia jail. Responding to the question “how do we love our enemies?”, King stated:

“First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.

“Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.

“Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding….Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.” (Strength to Love. Harper & Row, 1963. pp. 35-36).

Howard W. Hallman is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now, available from Amazon.

Mary’s Praise and Social Concerns

Living in God’s kingdom here and now has both spiritual and earthly dimensions. The latter deals especially with social justice. Both of these are found in Mary’s response when Elizabeth told her, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Mary replied, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….The mighty one has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Of God she said, “His mercy is for those who fear him.” For those who don’t:

  • He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
  • He has brought down the powerful from their thrones.
  • He has lifted up the lowly.
  • He has filled the hungry with good things.
  • He has sent the rich away empty.

Mary concludes that God “has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy.” Luke 2:39-55.

Howard W. Hallman is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now, available from Amazon.