For The Someday Book

Book Review: I Am a Palestinian Christian

Posted on: November 5, 2011

I Am a Palestinian Christian by Mitri Raheb, Fortress Press, 1995, 164 pp.

This is the first in a series of books I am reading in preparation for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this January and February. (I fully expect to blog the experience, so you’ll be hearing more. It’s a journey for pastors called the Macedonian Ministries program, sponsored by the Cousins Foundation.)

I have had a compassionate heart for the plight of the Palestinian people since I first learned their story about ten years ago, when I was involved with the Friends of Sabeel North America Conference in Boston. The stories of displacement, disenfranchisement and discrimination are appalling. I expected Raheb’s book to confirm this perspective, to add to my knowledge about this injustice, and tell again the story of how it has all unfolded. While I Am a Palestinian Christian did share again the Palestinian perspective, it also did much more.

Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian Christian (a Lutheran pastor) who explains how being a Christian who lives and hails from the site of Jesus’ life and death makes a difference in his perspective as a Christian. He also explains why it should make a difference to Christians that he and other Palestinians like him maintain a presence in the region.

A kind of symbiosis exists between the land of Palestine and Christian Palestinians. Each has influenced and imprinted the other deeply. … The fate of the Christians is bound up with the fate of their holy sites. The fact that Christian Palestinians have refused to abandon these holy sites despite massive  pressure demonstrates that the holy sites are almost meaningless to them if there is not a Christian community living and worshiping there. The stones of the church need the living stones, but we living stones need a space and a locality in which to live and to celebrate. (4)

I had never considered the importance of a living Christian community native to the sites in the Holy Land. Something indeed would be lost if the holy sites and cathedrals were all maintained only by European Christians, and worship every Sunday was populated only with tourists and pilgrims. The true church is the “living stones” who live out the kingdom of God week in and week out in their community. What a loss if those communities were lost in Jesus’ own homeland.

The first half of the book describes the life, theology and political circumstances of the Palestinian Christian community. He talks about Arab Christians as a minority in Palestine, and the role they play in negotiations between Muslims and Jews. He talks about the modern history of the Holy Land, the injustice of the Occupation, the hardships of increased settlements and security, and the need for a two-state solution.  Raheb notes the unique relationship between religion and politics in the Middle East, especially the Holy Land, where the two cannot peacefully and justly separated. He puts forth an outline of a contextual theology for Arab Christians, which includes the above intertwining of religion and politics, ecumenism, an emphasis on incarnation, attention to the poor, the sacredness of the land, and more.

The second half of the book offers biblical interpretation from the perspective of Palestinian Christians. Raheb begins with a list of principles for biblical interpretation in the Palestinian Christian community, moving beyond allegory but avoiding ahistoricism and fundamentalism. He then offers perspectives on the Exodus, the promise of land, Jonah, the love of enemies in the Sermon on the Mount and more. Most interesting to me was his chapter on “Election.” He writes:

Election, correctly understood, is therefore a promise to the weak, encouragement to the discouraged, and consolation to the desperate. But election can easily become “claim,” and a statement of faith can then turn into a dangerous ideology. This occurs especially when a person, a religion, or a people becomes strong, secure or rich. It is alarming to have a promise turn into a claim. … Election is not a special privilege. It is much more a call to service, above all a service “to the other.”

If we believe ourselves to all be God’s chosen ones, we have no claim to special authority or privilege (or land)—we have only mission in God’s name.

Raheb’s book is an excellent introduction to the history, impact and theology of Palestinian Christianity. Raheb himself is an astute and authentic writer, whose perspective claims both personal and intellectual authority. There is nothing heavy-handed or politically charged in the book. He just speaks his truth, and that truth is powerful.

 

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1 Response to "Book Review: I Am a Palestinian Christian"

[…] and well at Diyar, the Palestinian Christian organization founded by Dr. Mitri Raheb, author of I Am a Palestinian Christian and pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. We met with Dr. Raheb for an hour, and […]

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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