Reflections on ‘Christ Under the Rubble: A Vigil For Gaza’

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Reverand Munther Isaac’s cry to the world on behalf of the Palestinian people.

If there is one Palestinian the Israeli authorities might be especially loathe to see rise to international prominence, it could be Reverend Munther Isaac.  And yet his live streamed ‘Christ in the Rubble’ Christmas sermon to his congregation at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, in which he preached that if Christ were born today he would be born under the rubble, created a viral social media moment, which did just that. Articulately and compassionately advocating for justice for Palestinians in a theological register most familiar to a majority of the historically Christian states of the UK, Isaac defies every Zionist stereotype of the ‘inhuman’ and dangerous Islamist Palestinian male.

This week he has been conducting a short tour of speaking engagements in England to build support for the Palestinian cause. This included: an address in parliament to MPs, a speaking slot at the London rally for Palestine of 200,000 and several lectures in Oxford. Having been myself touched by Isaac’s Christmas message, I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to hear him speak in person at the ‘Christ Under the Rubble: A Vigil For Palestine’ service in London on Sunday. (A recording is available to watch here.)

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On arrival at the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, there were numerous keffiyehs to be spotted in the congregation of over 500, as well as the odd headscarf and turban. The event was co-organised by Sabeel-Kairos and Embrace The Middle East; Isaac is involved with both charities, as well as directing the nonprofit organisation ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’, a community of evangelical Christians who teach a life of discipleship in the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and host bi-annual conferences on the same theme.

The minister Simon Woodsman opened the service by highlighting the church’s history of support for radical social justice causes: from educating children from local slums in its basement in the 1800s to hosting Martin Luther King as a preacher in 1961, to its current day relationship with Revd Isaac, his church and the wider (overwhelmingly Muslim) Palestinian community for whom he advocates.

Revd Isaac’s address, which received a standing ovation from the congregation, was as powerful and unapologetically political as I had anticipated. His frequent mentions of ‘empire’ ‘colonisation’ and ‘apartheid’ represented a welcome change from either outright support for Israel’s campaign of terror to hand wringing ‘both-sidesism’ or stated intentions for peace, which weakly fail to identify the oppressor from the oppressed, by figures in the faith community (and outside of it.)

Revd Isaac did not shy away from calling out the failures of the Western Churches in this respect saying:

“When the churches justify a genocide or are silent, making carefully crafted statements, the Gospel is being lost. . .I am sick and tired of Church leaders who share behind closed doors we are with you but we cannot speak publicly.”

In an interview in yesterdays’s Guardian he revealed that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, cancelled plans to meet him on account of his sharing a platform with the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at Saturday’s National March for Palestine in London.

Another key theme of Revd Isaac’s sermon, relatedly, was the concept of ‘costly solidarity.’ This, he defined as standing up for what is right even where there is a high or potentially lethal personal cost, in true adherence to the example of Jesus of Nazareth. He reflected on the meaning of Ash Wednesday and the advent of Lent in the times we’re living through: saying that the world must repent from apathy, numbness to suffering and false piety. He went on:

‘Jesus did not say “I was hungry and you prayed for me and made a statement. True spirituality means the active participation in breaking every yoke of the oppressed,”

and quoted Isaiah 58:6,

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

Judging by the three tailed threading queue of audience members waiting to thank Revd Isaac at the close of the service, there were few hearts present unmoved by these fierce calls for righteous action in the face of significant opposition. 

The ending note of the vigil was sounded by Minister Woodman who pressed the congregation to engage in what he termed ‘prayerful action.’ Prayers alone are not enough, he pronounced, but through our actions we can find the beginnings of an answer to the prayers we have been praying.

I left in a mixed mood: spiritually inspired and fortified from absorbing the edifying moral impulses, whilst also grieving and troubled from bearing witness once again to the incomprehensible horrors being senselessly inflicted on the long suffering Palestinians. (I determined my next step of ‘prayerful action’, to assuage my prickling conscience for the time being, would be the writing of this blog.)

As the end of Revd Isaac’s trip to England the catastrophic situation in Gaza has reached yet another level of desperation in the IDF’s onslaught on Rafah, and the recent withdrawal of humanitarian aid from starving Gazans in the North. The moral bankruptcy on display in many faith and political leaders in the UK who still fail to call for an unconditional ceasefire, (and who Isaac accurately characterised as ‘obsessed and intoxicated by power’), is thrown into ever sharper relief.

What has also become ever clearer to an increasing number of people, in the Western sphere at least, is the gaping chasm between the development of conscience in the average person on the street, versus that of those in positions of high power. In other words: we are ruled by the very worst of us.

For those who identify with the Christian faith, perhaps it is time to lose any residual trust in any outward institutions as conduits of the gospel; but instead to draw inspiration from esoteric Christian streams like Christian Anarchism or Anthroposophy, which eschew all Godly authority except that which can be accessed directly by the individual, through personal spiritual connection with the Divine. If, as Isaac has expressed it: Gaza is the moral compass of the world- yet the global church has failed to find their bearings- perhaps it is only the Christ within human hearts that can point us to true north?

A similar paucity of ethical leadership on the issue Gaza/Palestine within the wider political milieu of the anglosphere cannot come as a surprise to any of us au fait with the Great Reset agenda, which has been laid bare since 2020 to all those with ‘eyes to see.’ As Real Left has previously argued the public-private partnership driven enclosure of all human-natural life within block-chain and SMART (tech) mediated digital-virtual reality cages, in order to transition the debt ridden Capitalist system to a rebooted global ‘data economy,’ for the sole benefit of the criminocractic elite, represents a radical continuity of every prior evil of military and colonial violence: squared.  

Those who do not understand that the Israeli developed surveillance and data gathering tech and intelligence infrastructure deployed against Palestinians, is used to surveil and suppress citizens in the UK and worldwide, have not understood enough. Given the exponential growth of the Israeli impact investing market in recent years, (in line with the global trend), its citizens are likely to discover in the near future that settler-colonialist privilege will not protect them from the same entrapment within the global elite’s neo-colonialist project of human data-farming, which represent an existential threat to all of us.

In the coming years ordinary people all over the world are likely to see our capacity to ‘sacrifice our comfort’ for the sake of fighting for our rights and freedoms sorely tested. There is no time to lose in building our courage muscles and practicing costly solidarity with the Palestinians then. And as Isaac advised when I eventually reached my turn at the front of the lengthy queue of supporters, ‘every conversation counts.’  

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