Religious Extremism in Christianity and Dealing with the Stranger-Part 1January 22, 2020
A Christian response to the challenges of modern Middle Eastern history – Part 1January 22, 2020
Religious Extremism in Christianity and Dealing with the Stranger-Part 2
Relationship with the Stranger in Christianity
The book of the Christians has two big parts which are the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the testaments there are various approaches towards the stranger. Sometimes, the stranger is under the curse of God and some passages call not to have sympathy on the alien and his children, they even call to kill the strangers, old, children and women (Deuteronomy 7: 1-6). The sons of Israel adopted this approach when Joshua conquered Jericho and killed everyone in the city men, women, children and the elderly (Joshua 6: 21). At that time, they considered the stranger who is different in his religion or culture a disease or an epidemic that should be gotten rid of.
And this has been the conduct of some extreme Christians throughout history. They fought those who were different from them in religion and culture, and distorted the image of Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace who established a church that welcomes all people and languages in complete equality, and considers every stranger as someone close whom God loves, and to whom the church wishes to demonstrate complete love and respect. In other words, the voice that hates strangers was not the only voice in Christianity or its religious passages. In the Old Testament, there were other voices like the book of Jonah that confirmed that God’s mercy is inclusive to all humans, including all people, even those in Nineveh, who previously were considered as the enemies of the sons of Israel.
In the New Testament era, the first followers of Christ were Jews, who had been the custodians and teachers of what we now call the Old Testament. Jesus Christ, and His followers demonstrated that with His coming, a new era had begun.
Christ and his followers adopted the way of love instead of the way of war, especially with the enemy who is different from us religiously and culturally. Christ has become the model that Christians follow in their dealings with the stranger. Instead of focusing negatively on the alien who does not belong to us, the question has become: who is the neighbor that I need to look after? And Christianity’s answer is that every human is my neighbour regardless of their background.
So the New Testament does not consider the alien in a negative way. Interestingly, it demonstrates that the heroes of faith of the Old Testament era were, in fact, themselves aliens while they were on earth for a passing visit. It tells about these heroes in the book of Hebrews; all these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11: 13). Abraham and Sarah were aliens; they left Mesopotamia and came to the land of Canaan, and were then aliens living in Egypt for a season. Jacob was an alien in Haran for many years when he escaped from his brother Esau who wanted to kill him. Joseph was a stranger in Egypt, and Moses was a stranger in the land of Midian. The children of Israel were aliens in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10: 18-19). Ruth, the Moabite was a stranger in Bethlehem but because of God’s favor, the king and prophet David came from her lineage (Ruth 4: 22). Daniel lived as a stranger in Babylon. These are all good examples of people of faith, yet they were all living like strangers.
The New Testament describes Jesus as a stranger (Matthew 25: 35, 38) who needs shelter, clothes, food, drink and social and medical care. And the New Testament addresses Christians as aliens in this life. The apostle Peter says: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” ( 1 Peter 2: 11) The apostle Peter also goes on to say, “So you must live in reverent fear … during your time here as “temporary residents” (1 Peter 1: 17).
The apostle Paul in the New Testament also gives instruction to care for strangers, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)And John, the apostle teaches Christian leaders saying, “Dear friend, you are being faithful to God when you care for the traveling teachers who pass through, even though they are strangers to you … please continue providing for such teachers in a manner that pleases God.” 3 John vs 5-6. Paul further instructs, “A church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home …” 1 Timothy 3:2. And, “A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life … he must enjoy having guests in his home …Titus 1:7-8. The writer of the book of Hebrews instructs, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it!” Hebrews 13:2. The prophet Abraham hosted angels (see Genesis 18); and Lot hosted two angels (see Genesis 19:1-3). Manoah, the father of Samson, wanted to host someone who visited him and his wife, without realising the stranger was the angel of the Lord (see Judges 13:2-16). Not only does the New Testament address showing kindness to the stranger who is part of one’s own nationality and religion, but it also describes the importance of maintaining a loving attitude towards all strangers regardless of their ethnic and religious background. There are three examples in the New Testament which show us how we should love, honour and respect the stranger. They are the story of the Samaritan woman, the story of the good Samaritan and the story of Cornelius and Peter. These stories will help us form a clear Christian image concerning our relationship with the alien, particularly in view of the increase of religious and political extremism in the Middle East. Let us start with the incident where Jesus ministered to the Samaritan woman.
The Samaritan woman (John 4: 1-30)
For first century Jews, the Samaritan woman was a stranger. This was because of her gender, ethnicity, her history, and her religion. There were so many barriers between Christ, the Jewish man, and the Samaritan woman. Yet Jesus teaches us to build bridges with those who are different to us. First of all, Jesus encountered the gender barrier, as the culture of bias against women prevailed in the first century. Some even considered that speaking with a woman was a waste of time that should rather be used in studying the Torah. No wonder that the disciples were surprised when they returned from buying provisions and found Jesus speaking to a Samaritan woman (John 4: 27). At that time, many opposed the education of women, and considered the woman an alien in the world of men. Contrary to these voices, Jesus did not underestimate this woman; on the contrary he honored and esteemed her. The Christianity of Christ continually builds bridges in the way of supporting women as it honors women and makes them equal to men in everything. The Samaritan woman became a leader who led her village to Christ. Women in the New Testament were the first to teach about the coming of e Christ. The New Testament honors the Virgin Mary who was pregnant with him. Women were the first to testify about the resurrection of Christ.
Secondly, the Samaritan woman was considered a stranger because of her ethnicity and history. Perhaps it is fitting to add that the Samaritans and the Jews were enemies. The history of the relationship between them is filled with verbal battles as well as political and religious wars. The roots of the enmity started between the Samaritans and the Jewish people when the kingdom of Solomon was divided. Jeroboam rebelled against Rehoboam son of Solomon. Jeroboam built Schem and refused to worship the Lord because he was the God of the temple of Jerusalem (1 Kings 12: 21-33). Afterwards Omri built the city of Samaria following the sin of Jeroboam who made Israel sin (1 Kings 16: 21-28). God was angry with his people who refused to worship Him as the One True God The Assyrians came and destroyed the kingdom of Israel and its capital Samaria in 722 B.C. They also made five other people groups dwell in the land. Through intermarriage, the lineage of Jacob got mixed with the lineage of the Gentiles, which led Ezra and Nehemiah to exclude the Samaritans from taking part in building the temple (Ezra 4: 1-5; Ezra 9: 1-15). The temple of Jerusalem did not represent the Samaritans, so no wonder they decided to build their own temple in Gerizim in the year 400 B.C. There was some tension then between the two peoples, i.e. the Jews and the Samaritans, and John Hercanus, the ruler of Judea destroyed the temple of Gerizim built in the second century B.C. The Samaritans then got angry and put some defiled bones in the temple in Jerusalem. So the Jews considered the word “Samaritan” equal to the devil (John 8: 48); while the Samaritans considered that the Jews were from the lineage of the devil. They knew that the devil had deceived Eve who later gave birth to Cain, and they thought the Jews came from Cain’s lineage. So there was enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews, and between the people of Christ and the people of Samaria. One day, two disciples of Christ suggested that fire should be called down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village, but Christ the Lord rebuked them (Luke 9: 51-56). Christ, the Lord wanted to teach his disciples how to love their enemies and how to minister to this ethnically strange woman in a way full of love. He did not let the events of the past determine the decisions of today but he chose to look at this Samaritan woman through the eyes of divine love.
Thirdly, the woman was a stranger in terms of her convictions and beliefs. She had previously been married five times, and she was now living with a man who was not her husband. She believed that the Holy Mountain was in Samaria not in Jerusalem. Conflict over holy places continues in our country to the present time. Every now and then violence erupts causing conflict or attacks at one of the religious sites, especially at Al-Aaqsa mosque which is built on the location of the temple according to the belief of many Jewish people in the twenty first century. The Christianity of Christ is different in its approach as it is willing to interact with people of other religions and cultures in a respectful and loving way, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman.  Jesus does not compromise the truth but he emphasizes the nature of God which is love. The nature of the worshiper becomes like the nature of the God who he worships. If we worship a tribal or denominational or angry god, we will become like him. However, if we serve the true God, who is full of justice, mercy and love, we will become like him. We will then interact with others in a divine manner full of love. Those who hate those who love Him act like beasts, and those who love those who love Him act like humans, but those who truly love without hypocrisy those who hate and do harm to them, act in the same manner as Jesus who said “Love your enemies and bless those who curse you” (Matthew 5: 44). The Christianity of Christ fights against stereotypes, and this is what we will see in the story of the good Samaritan.
The good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37)
Through the story of the good Samaritan Jesus offers a different educational approach as he makes the enemy the hero of the story. Let me retell this story using a contemporary context. At Aroma coffee shop in Western Jerusalem, Victor, a messianic Jew, met with Ariel, a Jewish settler. Ariel despised the beliefs of Victor and wanted to belittle his attitude and faith by expressing his hatred. So he asked him about the way to achieve eternal life. Victor answered: “What does the law of Moses teach us? Does it not speak about loving God and loving our neighbours,” indicating or hinting that a Jewish settler does not usually deal in a loving with a messianic Jew. Ariel wanted to justify himself, so he asked, “Who is my neighbor? ” Victor answered him by narrating this story: a Jewish man was driving his car from Jerusalem to Jericho. His car got stuck in a Palestinian demonstration against the settlers. Stones and bullets were fired in the air and tear gas spread everywhere. This meant that the driver was in a dangerous position especially after having his car hit by stones. The driver had to stop as he was injured and bleeding, and his car was damaged. He left the car to escape but he soon collapsed and became unconscious. The demonstration ended and everyone left the area without noticing the driver in the valley behind the hill. On the same day, a Jewish settler travelled to Jerusalem to pray. He saw the injured person but chose not to help him as he was in a hurry and afraid.
Then the car of a prominent Jewish teacher passed by on his way to give a sermon about the law. The teacher of the law saw the injured man and stopped. He got out of his car, saw the bleeding and unconscious man, but he decided to return to his car and continue his journey to give his lecture. Finally, a Palestinian Muslim who was driving a green plate car as opposed to a yellow plate number that is registered to be driven in Israel, passed by. The Palestinian stopped, picked up the injured man and took him quickly to the hospital despite security risks. He spent the night with the injured settler, bought food for him and paid, out of his own pocket, to cover all his costs. Then he left his cellular number and informed the hospital that he was willing to help with everything that would be needed to treat the injured person, and to call for a car to take him home after his recovery. Victor then asked Ariel, “Who dealt with the injured person as a neighbor?” This story is not easy to the ears of a Jewish person. Perhaps it is also not easy to narrate this story to a Palestinian in Bethlehem when one of the characters of the story is a Jewish settler. It is also not easy to tell this story to a Jewish settler in Qiryat Arba (a Jewish settlement) when the hero of the story is a Palestinian Muslim from Hebron. This is exactly what Christ did in this story, he challenged the stereotype that dominates the thoughts of people when they deal with someone they consider a stranger and an enemy.
We learn from this story that God is not only the God of Israel but He is the God of the universe. When we love God we love all his creation and we acknowledge that our neighbor, every human, is created in the image of God. Christ, the Lord in His parable explains that a traveler was caught in the hands of robbers and that they took his clothes, beat him, and injured him so badly that he could not speak, so it was difficult to know his ethnicity or identity from his garments, but there was no doubt that he was a human being. Is his humanity alone sufficient reason to help him in his difficult circumstances? Is his humanity sufficient to show him love and respect? Offering mercy to the needy, particularly if they are a stranger is a real expression of our sincere love for God, and the translation of this love in a practical way. Now, let us dialogue with the last story before offering concluding remarks.
Cornelius and Peter (Acts 10: 1- 33)
Peter is a Jewish man but Cornelius was not a Jew. Peter lived under Roman occupation and Cornelius was the leader of a Roman military regiment. In other words, there are religious, cultural and political differences between Peter and Cornelius. Because of these differences, it would be difficult for them to be together unless God builds a bridge between them. This is exactly what we see in this story. The nation of Cornelius took advantage of Peter’s nation, dominated their land and stole their riches. The people of Peter considered the people of Cornelius as defiled. Peter says: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Acts 10: 28. After Peter was convinced that God chose to bless the circumcised Jews and the uncircumcised Gentiles, he shared his faith with the Gentiles. He dared to break with the traditions that he was raised with and he challenged the religious convictions that he grew up with because he saw the light of Christianity and acknowledged that every human is my neighbor, is my brother, my sister, my father, my mother regardless of their language, culture or beliefs. It is sufficient that they are humans created in the image of God. This gives me hope to think of a better future not only for me but also for every person around me.
In light of the examples shared above, Christians are committed to hosting strangers and helping those in need from Christians to every other human being regardless of their ethnic and religious background. This applies to helping refugees from disaster-inflicted countries, and to helping all refugees and the needy regardless of whether they are Jews or Arabs, Christians or Muslim. I would like to emphasize some lessons that we can glean from the presentations above. First as Christians, we cannot claim to be ethnically superior to the Muslims or Jews.
We cannot say that we are more honorable or noble than you, our religion is free of blood and your religion spreads bloodshed everywhere it goes. This claim does not only overlook Christian history, that contains much bloodshed, but also overlooks many from amongst religious Muslims, Jews and other beliefs who are merciful and peacemakers. Perhaps we, as Christians, need to beware of the mentality of the Pharisee who compares his self-evaluated righteousness with the obvious sin of others. In so doing he does not see the blackness of his own heart. As for the tax collector, he showed he had the right estimation of himself when he said: “Lord, have mercy on me; I am a sinner.” (Luke 18: 13). This claim is not for the individual only but for all Christ’s followers, so together we say to those of other religions, “We have sinned against you, and ask for your forgiveness and God’s mercy. We humble ourselves to bless you instead of boasting that we are better than you.”
Second, insularity, confinement and exclusion have led many of us to the mentality of the sword and getting rid of the other. However, the core of Christianity is found in the communication and in the theology of incarnation, as God became human to incarnate mercy and love and justice to us. The Christianity of Christ is an incarnate Christianity that communicates with the Samaritan woman, that challenges and breaks stereotypes and takes risks to reach out to Cornelius, and in so doing reveals divine surprises. The Christian approach is not a continual boycotting of those around us whether they were Muslims or Jews. We have to fight against injustice with love, conversation and peacemaking, and we have to search for every path that spreads justice out of the logic of love and humility, not out of the perspective of personal or ethnic interest.
Third, the pages above need to alert us to the fact that the Bible is a double-edged sword. It can be a knife in the hand of the devil, slaughtering us and causing the blood of our youth to be spilled, or it can be a balm in the hand of God that heals and offers mercy free of extremism or radicalism. The devil read the Bible and quoted it when he tempted Christ in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11), and the Pharisees read it but did not understand it for they allowed vengeance saying, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth” (Matthew 5: 38) The Ethiopian eunuch read the book of Isaiah and did not understand it without the guidance of Philip (Acts 8: 26-40). We have to read the Bible as disciples of Jesus. The true disciple of Jesus is known for his or her love and mercy, and he or she is not like the teachers of the law who hated Jesus and the Samaritans and lacked mercy. The Bible says: “ Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4: 7). Love is the way to salvation in both the Old and the New Testaments because there is one method for salvation in both testaments which is faith outworked by love. Faith without love is dead. The Samaritan loved the injured Jewish person so he approached him and had compassion on him; he bandaged his injuries with his clothes, poured out of his oil and wine, and made him ride on his donkey while walking by him. He cared for him and paid out of his own money to ensure the well-being of the injured. However, the teacher of the law was known for his extremism, fanaticism and exclusion. His problem was not a lack of information because he knew the commandment of love (Deuteronomy 6: 5, Leviticus 19: 18), and perhaps he even reiterated it twice a day. His problem was a lack of walking in love, and not practicing the verses that speak about it
He read the text in a way that separated him from the needy, the poor, the alien, the suffering and the robbed. His dualism separated his religious life from his daily living in society, especially with those who were different from him. The teacher of the law read his holy book in a way that excluded other people. Christ wanted to remove the veil from the eyes of this teacher of the law and give him the true lens for reading the word of God. It is the lens of practical love not theoretical love. We have to read the Bible and then live what we have read by loving God and our neighbors in our thoughts and with our deeds, in the same way Christ has shown us. The lens of love surpasses political and ethnic barriers, and the lens of extremism.
Here I conclude with what one of the Eastern Catholic patriarchs said:
Without doubt, extremism in all its forms- in the name of God or religion or nationalism or denomination of land or race or language or in the name of civil or cultural or social belonging- is the first enemy to the dialogue. The difference is vast between a believer and an extremist: The believer is used by God, but the extremist uses God; the believer worships God but the extremist worships himself, falsely thinking he is worshiping God; the believer listens to God’s words but the extremist distorts it; the believer gets elevated to the level of God and His love, but the extremists lowers God to his level; the believer fears God but the extremist continually threatens others; the believer honors God but the extremist dishonors him; the believer works according to God’s will, but the extremist puts his will in the place of others; the believer is a blessing to humanity but the extremist is a curse for humanity. Extremism in all its forms is one way of denying God and humans together. In the extremist, the energy of faith and love is replaced by energies of hatred and fighting, thinking that they are performing an act of worship to God when he attacks those who are different to him in religion or race or identity or color or heritage. Whilst in the believer it is transformed to energies of encounter, partnership and building.
 The theocratic vision of Joshua at that time was not only a religious vision but was also a cultural vision. It has sought to establish a culture that prevails over all other cultures However, the Christian vision is multi-cultural as it is committed to divine steadfast values and at the same time celebrates cultural plurality and cultural equality. This way, humans will praise God in all tongues and all knees will bow to him. For more information on the book of Joshua and the Christian response to it, please see:
Richard Hess, Joshua (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1996).
 The topic of the Samaritan woman and her concern with the holy geography is important to the Palestinian context. For more information, see Yohanna Katanacho, the Gospel of John with New Eyes (Nazareth: Nazareth Evangelical College, 2017)
 Mary Pazdan, “Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman: Contrasting Models of Discipleship,” BTB 17 (1987): 145-148; D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 216.
 In a small village, perhaps this woman married all the men she could marry. Now she has become outside the accepted social and ethical circles in the society. However, we have to realise that a woman in the first century in Palestine could not live without the help of a man.
 For more information on constructive religious dialogue, see the story of the Queen of Sheba and the way she dealt with Solomon. See Yohanna Katanacho: “The Queen of Sheba, the Arab” MEATE, 1 (2014): 1-9
 The Apostle James says that faith without works is dead (James 2: 20), and Saint Augustine says that the faith of one who does not love is in vain. This way faith without love becomes dead. For more information, see Augustine’s distinguished book: Saint Augustine. Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love (trans. Albert Outler; Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Etheral Library), 76; available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/enchiridion.pdf; accessed on Dec 14, 2015.
 رفيق خوري، سداسية لأزمنة جديدة: الرسائل الراعوية الست الأولى لبطاركة الشرق الكاثوليك (القدس: البطريركية اللاتينية، 2008)، 173.