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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

Friday, march 22, 2024: Jesus invites us to perceive a broader reality and wrestle with additional moral questions

Friday, March 22, 2024: Jesus invites us to perceive a broader reality and wrestle with additional moral questions

Much discussion of Israel/Palestine quickly descends into binary thinking; the listener is forced into making a compulsory choice between two clearly opposing views, with little room for nuance or moderation. This is true for other contexts as well, but it is a clearly visible feature of discourses surrounding Israel/Palestine.

Recently, it seems we are forced to choose between either Netanyahu or Hamas: if you make any criticism of Israel, you are charged with antisemitism and of supporting the worst aspects of Hamas terrorism; but, if you dare criticize any of Hamas’ actions, you are automatically accused of supporting genocide or, at the very least, apartheid.

Even speaking of Palestinian civilian suffering and calling for a ceasefire, the most minimal ask one can make, is resisted as a reward for terrorism, of preventing Israel from achieving its ultimately unachievable goal of “destroying the evil Hamas” and providing “oxygen” for continued Hamas intransigence. You are either “with me or against me,” we are constantly being told.

And, if you are Palestinian, you are asked if you prefer Hamas rule or continued Israeli occupation.

Tyrants in the Arab world, and elsewhere, often frame the political discourse as, “Do you support me and my regime, or do you prefer anarchy/fundamentalist extremism/foreign oppression, or whatever?”

In addition, advocates for nonviolence and peace are often presented with impossible hypotheticals: “Do you allow an evil attacker to kill you and your family, or do you use a gun to shoot them first?” or, “Do you use armed resistance against your oppressors, or do you humbly submit to tyranny, injustice, and the oppression of your people?”

Jesus was frequently confronted by Pharisees and other religious leaders attempting to entrap him with binary choices: “Should the woman caught in adultery be stoned, as Moses told us, or do you tolerate sin and debauchery?” or, “Is it proper to obey Caesar and pay the outrageously blasphemous Temple Tax, or do you refuse the tax and commit open treason against the Roman Empire?”

In all the above examples, and many more that confront us, the proper approach is to never submit to the binary framing of the issue or to accept the two choices presented as being the only available options. Jesus would often reply to his inquisitors with another question, or he would introduce a different approach or framing to the issue altogether. He would invite the audience to perceive a broader reality and wrestle with additional moral questions that must be considered, rather than simply opt for one or the other of the choices presented to him.

For us, too, I believe it is important to step back and seek additional ways of exploring or examining the issues involved whenever faced with such dilemmas. This sometimes requires creative thinking in our pursuit of alternative third paths. 

For example, it may require us to explore alternative avenues for nonviolent resistance to the occupation and oppression faced by Palestinians. It may require us to involve third-parties or pursue entirely different tactics, creatively engaging in strategic Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), direct action, and justice advocacy.

It also requires us to exercise some empathy and try to look at things from differing points of view, trying to understand rather than simply judge those others with whom we disagree. We may think they are hopelessly wrong, justifiably so, but we at least need to understand their actual perspective and why they cling to it.

In addition, when we are confronted with binary thinking, we must be constantly aware of our core beliefs and basic principles to which we adhere, that we cannot and should never compromise. We need to seek out principled options and never simply follow the path of least resistance, capitulate to popular opinions, or get swept up in the latest political or ideological fad. It also requires a degree of humility, an admission that we may not always have all the answers. And, it necessitates a belief in the ultimate sovereignty of God and in his authority over the whole universe. After all, we are not called to success or control over all things but simply obedience to the will of God.

We are responsible for our actions and how we respond to the horrors facing us, but the final result is ultimately in God’s hands. Otherwise, the burden would be overwhelming; the temptation to compromise our principles, seek short-cuts, and strive for victory at all costs would dictate our behavior, leading to dreadful results.

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