Younan, Munib and Fred Strickert, Witnessing for Peace – In Jerusalem and the World. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003. 169 pp.
Witnessing for Peace – In Jerusalem and the World is an interesting recent volume from the Lutheran Fortress press. The author is perhaps in a most unique position to speak to the issue of peace in the world as he lives in a state of constant war and tension. You see Munib Younan is a Palestinian Christian, serving as the bishop of the Lutheran Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. He is a minority among the world of Islam and a minority living under the state of Israel. He is a small voice within the city of the Temple Mount, of Haram al-Sharif, in the city of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Younan is seeking to be a servant of the prince of peace in the Holy City – seeking to be a witness for peace in a land of war. I found the topic to be of great interest and hoped to gain deeper understanding into the history and reality of the city venerated by the great monotheistic religions of the world. In this review I will first summarize the book’s three main sections, offer some analysis of the work, and then close with some concluding remarks.
Summary of the Book
The book is sectioned into three parts. Part I, Contexts, focuses on the history of the Christian faith among the Arabs of Palestine and Jerusalem as well as the personal story of Mr. Younan and his family. Part II, Martyria and Nonviolence, sets forth a philosophy of Martyria or Witness, the path of Christian ministry taken by the bishop in his efforts to promote justice through nonviolent means. The final section focuses on practical applications of living a witness for Jesus Christ in a land of high tensions both religious and political. In summarizing the book I will treat each section of the book in turn.
Part I – Contexts
I found the first part of the book to be the most helpful. The first chapter is a great reminder of the long history of the gospel in the Jerusalem. Much of this information is quite unknown to Protestant Christians who unfortunately spend very little time studying pre-reformation church history. The Christian church indeed has a rich history in Palestine with many leading early thinkers belonging to the Caesarian school and many early church leaders were Christians of Arab descent. To read that one fourth of the bishops at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 were of Arab descent was a great reminder about the ethnic and cultural composition of early Christianity. With the Latin fathers, particularly Augustine, weighing so heavily in the Protestant mind, unfortunately it can easy to over look the Eastern, Egyptian, and Arab leaders of early Christianity. The time of Constantine and the building of the great churches in the Holy land were discussed as well as the peaceful and collegial relationship between Islamic leaders and Christians throughout the early middle ages. The “Crusader Period” was discussed with its many atrocities, even highlighting Crusader against Christian violence. The Rule under the Ottoman Empire and the corresponding millet system was treated along with the formalization of Muslim-Christian relations in the Holy Land; many of these arrangements existing until this day. The chapter closes with a treatment of the events of the 21st century, a century described as “a century of European intervention and Palestinian devastation” (Younan, 15). The chapter details the events which took place surrounding the formation of the state of Israel – know simply as the catastrophe, to the Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim. The second chapter moves from a general history of Jerusalem to the specific and recent history of Younan’s own family, a family’s experience as refugees from the Israeli occupation. Additionally this chapter focuses on Younan’s call to the Christian ministry and his subsequent theological training in Finland. The first section of the book was extremely valuable as it colors Younan’s history and experience before hearing his own positions. This background helped me understand quite literally “where he was coming from” as the book unfolded.
Part II – Martyria and Nonviolence
The mid section of the book dealt with two main concepts. First, Younan’s understanding of what it means to be a witness (martyria in Greek) and secondly, the method of being such a witness in the midst of the violent and conflict ridden city of Jerusalem. Younan rightly describes a witness as one who in word and deed points others to the person of Jesus Christ. His emphasis is on word and deed, though it becomes quickly apparent that deeds will prove more important in his view. An emphasis on suffering, the way of the cross, on behalf of others is also elaborated on in this section. Nonviolent means of resisting injustice and oppression takes center stage in the section and continues throughout the book and it is clear to Younan that the Israelis are illegitimate occupiers of the land they posses. This unjust occupation must be opposed by nonviolent, prophetic calls for justice in the lands. Without justice there will be no peace; without an end to the occupation, without a right of return to the land for the refugees, there can be no just peace. This is Younan’s view—and it aligns with that of a Palestinian living under occupation.
Part III – Applications
The final section of the book demonstrates several practical applications which Younan has applied in being a martyria peace. First his identification with both Israeli and American victims of terrorism is a witness to those affected acts of by violence. Second, a touching story of his love and commitment to a convicted Palestinian terrorist living abroad shows the depth of forgiveness and the possibility for life change. Third, his call and example of participation in Theological Trialogue between Christians, Muslims and Jews is offered as a way to solve problems through moderation and understanding. Finally the book closes with his witness to both Muslims and Jews described. The book ends much like the situation in Jerusalem, with the reality of conflict unresolved. Yet there is resolve to be seen; the resolve of the bishop, to go forward in the way of Christ as he sees it; to witness for peace, nonviolently, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
In looking at the message of the book critically, one pauses before commenting on the words of a man who lives amidst such strife and who has endured great suffering. In no way am I the man that Bishop Younan is; I have not faced the realities that are everyday life in his world. Yet I did find much to comment upon in his writing. I will first commend what I found helpful in the work and then conclude the analysis with some things I found to be of deep concern.
There is much to be commended in the views expressed in this book. First, the bishop’s desire for justice is a wonderful voice which is often missing in evangelical circles. Second, he is very strong in saying that Christian witness should be in word and deed – proclamation and exemplary lives. More will be said on this in the critique, but his point of word and deed witness is stately strongly in the book. Third, he is rightly critical of certain fundamentalist strains of conservative Christian theology. Namely, the hyper dispensational premillinialism which causes some people to want to create carnage and chaos surrounding the temple mount to somehow compel a reluctant Jesus to return once “prophecy is fulfilled.” Such aggressive work to fulfill known prophecy seems absent in the Scripture; the Son comes back at the will of the Father, not due to the premeditated actions of men. Fourth, Younan’s focus on nonviolence and love as the path for Christian communities is a welcome voice in a world of war. The focus on justice, witness in word an deed, critique of theological quackery, and a emphasis on personal nonviolence are what I found to be refreshing strengths of the book. However, Younan’s views had several tremendous shortcomings in representing the Christian gospel. To these we now turn.
The critique I would offer comes in two basic categories. First is that of inconsistency in the application of some of the some aforementioned strengths. The second area of concern deals with his understanding of the gospel and an overemphasis of a perspectivalist hermeneutic which seems to elevate the historical situation above the proclamation of the gospel. I will cover each critique in turn.
The first critique is that the author seems a bit inconsistent in three areas; his view of violence, his view of justice, and his view of Christian witness as coming in word and deed. One of the contentions of the book is that the principle of justice pursued through non-violent means should be pursued. Several times I felt he was a bit inconsistent with his stated principles. First, he gives a disclosure that “violence on either side is intolerable” (Younan, 79) yet this comes at the end of a paragraph where he seems to state that Palestinian violence is understandable. He states the following:
There is a popular Arabic saying: ‘When you push the cat into the corner, it scratches.’ This is what occupation does to Palestinian people. Yes, it is true, there is violence among the Palestinians. Some people turn to violence because they are desperate, and they see no way out. Some people turn to violence because this is what they have learned from the occupiers. (Younan, 79 emphasis added).
If we are not going to justify violence on either side, then we should not present such justification. Second, the concept of justice is left a bit vague in the book with one wondering if the only “just solution” is that offered by the Palestinian. The author seemed to be rather one sided in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, I suppose this is to be expected with the author a Palestinian, but I did not expect such a one sided view in looking for a “just” solution. Finally, while the author rightly asserts that Christian witness should be word and deed, it seems most of the witness Younan offers is devoid of a verbal proclamation of the gospel. Jesus’ death for sinners, that people need to repent and believe; these are a bit absent. It seems to me that his witness is mainly deed and words of conversation. The words “repent and believe the gospel” are not found in his witness. As this is related to the second weakness I see in the book, we will turn to the issue of the gospel.
The second critique has to do with the nature of the gospel itself. It seems that Younan is primarily concerned with reconciling horizontal human relationships and a liberation theology which focuses only on sociopolitical concerns. I think these issues are very important to the gospel, but what is missing is of essence. Namely that Christ died for us, according the Scriptures, and was raised on the third day. Lost sinners must repent and believe in order to be saved. This is just absent in the book.
Additionally, Younan denies that God is in any way angry with sinners, that God will have vengeance (contrast with Rom 12:19-21). His hermeneutic leads him to reject wholesale the conquest narratives of the Old Testament, because “God would never” command Caleb and Joshua to conquer the lands and drive out the people (Younan, 94). He is a God only of “love” and would never be angry or command judgment upon a people. He even compares Joshua and Caleb to the Crusaders of the middle ages:
The Crusader movement was a perverted pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and they perverted the cross. They were colonialists who had no intention of bringing religion to this country. They are no different than Caleb and Joshua. God never told the Israelites to go and kill the women and children and chickens. They used religion to achieve political goals (Younan, 89)
I find this to be a strange understanding of the conquest narratives. It is understandable only if one is interpreting the conquest narratives as later additions by Israeli political leaders seeking to justify their actions by showing God’s judgment on others. We see this perspectival reinterpretation of the Old Testament seems to be devised to take away any divine claim to the land by the Israelis. God simply did not give the land to Israel or order the conquest under Joshua; those who took the land invented these stories to present God as having justified their political actions.
Finally, he never mentions the problem of personal sin or the solution of the cross as being in any way necessary for people. In fact, he seems to present a view where “conversion” is unnecessary and counterproductive to witnessing for peace. Overall, I found the Christian faith and witness of Younan to be courageous and compassionate. He is a man in whose shoes I have not walked so I do not want to appear too harsh in my critique. But the faith he describes is one of universalism, where Jesus and the cross are only exemplary of suffering, but not necessary for salvation, and conversion and the need for repentance and faith are conspicuously absent. I suppose that he is a peace activist with his motivation being suffering for others for the sake of Jesus. I concur that this is a good thing – I would only desire the gospel to be shared so the hearts of people might be forgiven and changed. I like his word and deed philosophy of martyria, I only wish he would preach the Biblical gospel with his words.
Shortcomings of the book aside, I would recommend this book to others for the value of seeing the historical view of a Palestinian Christian refugee. This alone is well worth the read. Additionally, seeing the situation in the Middle East through the eyes of a Palestinian is perhaps easier for those in the West when seen through the eyes of a bishop of a Christian church rather than a Muslim Imam. However, the injury which is done to the gospel and the disregard of the Scriptures, was a bit of a disappointment. Younan’s nonviolent witness is a good example for all Christians; I just wish he would share the gospel of Luther along with his passion for social justice. All that seems to be of concern for Younan is of this world; he ignores the Kingdom which is not of this age. I would like to see a witness truly in word and deed as Younan describes early in the book; a witness that not only suffers for others and speaks prophetically for justice, but a witness who also proclaims the good news of the Triune God. God the Father sent the Son who joyfully and obediently died to pay for the sins of the world. This then applied by the Holy Spirit to all who believe and who in turn witness to this saving work of God. Of course this would be unacceptable to both Muslim and Israeli in contemporary Jerusalem and would not lead to the sort of peace Younan seeks. But perhaps there is a different peace which is also to be sought, a peace with God through Christ. I shudder to even write these words, but it seems that we can forget that Jesus did not only come to bring an earthly peace (Matthew 10:34, Luke 12:51), but rather to call a people to be his own possession—eager to do what is good. This sometimes will divide, yet there is much more at stake for us all if Jesus indeed told us the truth.
 The millet system was a system of self government in civil and religious matters for the various sects and religious groups in the Holy Land.
 Whether the state has a just right to the use of force to maintain order and a just society is not the point here. Only that Christians ought to reject revenge and personal vigilantism and not force the issue of justice through personal violent reprisal.