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.

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

Jesus Taught Love for Enemies

In the Sermon the Mount Jesus made a revolutionary pronouncement. Rather than hate your enemy, “love your enemies and pray for those who harass you” (Matthew 5:44).

Love for enemy for Jesus is grounded in the belief that all of us, friend and foe alike, are children of God who “makes his sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and unrighteous” (Mathew 5:45b). In Luke’s version Jesus says, “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36). Therefore, we too should be kind and compassionate to everyone, even those we consider to be our enemies

Jesus further instructs, “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete” (Matthew 5:43-48). This is the Common English Bible translation. Other versions translate this verse as “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible say that the Greek word used commonly means “finished, complete, pure, holy”. We recognize that God loves us. God loves others, too. When we also love others, including our enemies, we complete the circle. A kind of perfection. 

A Blog Site for Discussion

This blog site is established to discuss matters presented on our website, Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now. Our posts will supplement ideas considered under the various topics with particular reference to practical application. We will also offer referrals to other sources of information. Your comments are invited.