Diversity among Christian Palestinians
As part of working in a Christian community, one experiences the unpleasant dark side of leadership where such behavior does not represent the merciful and just spirit of Christ. Power, authority and money are areas that leaders abuse sometimes, and young emerging leaders are confronted with disappointments. This is part of life, and each one responds to it differently. Johny, Salma and myself were having lunch together when Johny asked Salma "How do you respond to injustices you faced with leaders towards you?"
It is worth noting that Salma is a Christian from a Muslim background who is married to a Christian Palestinian currently living in the West Bank. As cheesy and sentimental as her response sounded to me, it was very genuine and inspiring: “What Jesus did to my life is far greater than the injustices I faced with leaders.” I thought she was over-spiritualizing her answer, but the more she explained, the more it was evident that it was simply this.
She shared some of the harsh reactions that some leaders had towards her, and despite the hurt and shame I felt about such reactions, she shared it with grace and forgiveness. (I admit that I might not have responded as such… a part of me wants to shout). In one such example, a Christian leader's wife once expressed her disapproval of Salma's decision to convert to Christianity. She claimed that "you should not have converted because one should not change the religion they are born into." Another leader had said to her that she needed to cleanse herself from the demons in her due to her Muslim background (How could they say such horrible things?). She also recalled that the two people who had lead her to faith are no longer Christians themselves, but that doesn’t affect her commitment and love for Christ and his work in her life. She is still in touch with one of them, and she prays that he finds his faith again.
What struck me most was her legal status. In Palestine, as well as in Israel, inter-religious marriage is not recognized. Israel, however, recognizes international civil marriage and this is what she and her husband had received. Like many others who are not religious or inter-marry, they go to a nearby European country and get a civil marriage, which is then, by law, recognized in Israel. But according to the law in Palestine, they are not recognized as married. Their children are registered in the father’s Israeli ID, but she has no legal custody over them. She has no rights as a mother. She even says that when they go to a hotel in Palestine, the hotel refuses to assign them a room because they are not married, and it is illegal for the hotel to give them a room. She told me that they have entertained the idea of seeking asylum elsewhere in order for her to acquire legal custody of her children in case their circumstances change. I was very bothered by her situation and very inspired by her strength. Despite the fragility and the cost she is paying, she is still a committed Christian and hopeful that she will get her rights one day.
For me, when i see injustices, whether systematic or from leaders, I feel a deep disappointment. The system seems too large to change but it doesn’t stop me from trying and doing my part. However, when it comes from leaders in the name of Christ, I lose some of my respect for them because are not following what they preach.
Salma’s situation shows me that our community is not perfect but that doesn’t change her gratitude in the change it has made in her life. It is a struggle in our Palestinian society to cross cultural and religious divides, even between Christians, and it shifts my focus to what really matters, which is one’s own commitment and faith in Christ’s character, values and love. I was reminded by Salma today that we, as people, are broken, but we do have a hope that God can work through us. Thank you Salma for this reminder today, and I pray that you and others like you will be able to change the system and humble our community to accept diversity.