It’s mid-October as I am imagining myself forward in the future to November and what may be on your hearts and minds in November with All Saints Sunday (Nov 5), Thanksgiving (Nov 23), and Advent (begins Dec 3). Right now, I’m longing for Advent and thinking about how Christians shape conscience and how consciences shape how we talk.
My heart and mind are drowning in the violence and threats of violence in the Holy Land. Hamas militants burst from Gaza into southern Israel on Oct 7, killing at least 1,200, wounding more than 2,700 and taking 150 as hostages. Mere numbers trivialize the human horrors of cowering families shot in their homes and festival goers running for their lives. For people to commit such evil, they must have so dehumanized Israelis, their consciences so deadened, that they could not see their common humanity. Instead of seeing someone who could be their sister holding their infant nephew, they see only an enemy to be destroyed.
Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, "We are fighting human animals and we will act accordingly." As of this writing, Israel has responded with a siege that has cut off water, power, fuel, and food and airstrikes that have flattened whole blocks, over 500
residential buildings. Likely when you read this, many thousand Palestinians will have died.
As a follower of the Prince of Peace, I am horrified by the killing. Each life, whether Israeli or Palestinian, is created by God and precious. I am further horrified by the brainwashing to override a God-given conscience. Since its founding in 1987, Hamas has called for the destruction of Israel and has tried to teach children that any Jew is an enemy to be killed. Hamas became the elected government of Gaza in 2006, and so have spread their poison through the benign services of offices, clinics, and schools.
A sign that God has given each human being a conscience to stop us from killing each other is that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all teach that every life is valuable to God. Consciences are sharpened or blunted by language and learning and, at their best, all religions shape people to protect life.
So, I am concerned about all dehumanizing language that blunts the conscience. Calling militants “human animals” makes it seem easier to kill. Calling a Palestinian family killed by an air strike “collateral damage” makes the death of people into an abstraction. Saying, “victory by any means necessary” rationalizes cutting off power to hospitals where patients with pneumonia will die without oxygen.
Don’t hear me wrong: Israel must obviously respond. There must be consequences for such evil actions. Gaza needs new leadership somehow. But the killing of a helpless Israeli family does not justify the killing of a helpless Palestinian family. The evil acts of Hamas do not allow Israelis to discard their conscience or their moral obligations. There can be no claims to righteousness in this war, only deep sadness and humility. Humanity has fallen far, far short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
Which is why the Advent cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” is already in my throat. How much we need the Prince of Peace to rule every conscience. Jesus, who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). Jesus, who sent his disciples into Gentile country to heal the sick and cast out demons. Jesus, who confronted the powerful and comforted the weak. Jesus, who said to the criminal on the cross next to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43).
As followers of the Prince of Peace, I’m asking us to use humanizing language about others, even those we think of as “enemies,” and to teach our children the same. Our language about each other matters, whether it is talking about another political party in the United States, a family member with whom we are angry, or Hamas. While violence and evil actions need carefully considered consequences, that doesn’t mean we need to dehumanize. They are human beings, created by God and for whom Jesus died on the cross, just like you and me.