Video for 19th October, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
Earlier on this week yet another atrocity unfolded in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. A hospital was bombed and hundreds of people sheltering there were killed. The recriminations followed quickly with each side blaming the other. If it was deliberate, it was unconscionable. More likely it was an accident – collateral damage as it is euphemistically referred to. An accident that wouldn’t have happened if the fighting wasn’t going on. Blame in these circumstances is almost moot.
In the midst of this awful conflict the incident has particularly tragic overtones for Anglicans because the hospital was run by the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem as part of its outreach to Gaza. I had the privilege of meeting Archbishop Hosam in happier times in May this year. He is a delightful man: gentle and kind and a Palestinian Christian. It must be doubly difficult for him having family and congregational members on both sides of the divide. These connections draw us in to the pain of the conflict. One of our clergy has had to return from Jerusalem where he was teaching at the Anglican College. Others have family in Israel. Some of the family are back in the UK. Others, Israeli residents, have been called up to fight. My colleague the Bishop of Norwich was due to zoom in to a House of Bishops meeting last week from Jerusalem, but was unable to because he needed to go to the shelter while the bombs fell.
In the relative safety of the UK the initial horror can easily fade into the background of one other news report from Ukraine or similar terrorist outrages in Nigeria, or as I write this Uganda where a honeymooning couple have been murdered by Islamic terrorists. We can be too quick to dull the horror with distraction, too easily write it off as just the way the world is, and switch channels to something more diverting. Christians, however, are called to a deeper empathy than this. Paul’s exposition of the ethical implications of the Gospel in Romans twelve asks us to, “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” He also enshrines the principle of non-retaliation, “do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
We cannot isolate ourselves from the world’s pain. In this we are walking the way of Jesus who resolutely confronted evil with non-violence and in the end overcame it, but at the cost of his earthly life. We are part of a worldwide family of Christians. Their pain and suffering is to some extent ours as well. Being part of the Anglican communion draws us together into a web of love and mutual support. In good times we can learn from one another as our different cultural standpoints help us to see our blind spots. In the awful times we stand in solidarity with them and seek to share our resources and support.
I have been praying not just for our Christian family caught up in all this, but for all the people of the region – that restraint may overcome the desire for revenge; that the violence may stop to give some breathing space for thought and reconciliation. The Christian population of the Holy Land has been devastated over the last few years. Post WW2 about 30-40% of the Palestinians would have identified as Christian. Now it is closer to 2% if that. Islamic extremism and Israeli occupation have made life so intolerable that many have emigrated to seek a safer life elsewhere. Places like the Anglican hospital in Gaza are faithful reminders that the gospel of love is for everyone. If there was ever a time when the gospel values of empathy and non-retaliation were needed it is now. I hope that the tragedy of this hospital explosion, like the cross itself, may be one of those moments when the pain leads to something creative and new, not into a further cycle of despair, retribution and hopelessness.