An Evangelical appeal to moral case for cease fireBishop William J. Barber II / November 23, 2023
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. — Lev. 19:18.
As evangelical Christians in America, we are grieved by the violence that has consumed Israel and Gaza and we are troubled by the ways our faith tradition has been used to justify it. Yet even as we witness gross distortions of faith by Christian nationalists in public life, we also celebrate how people from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions around the world are coming together to cry for peace. Some say cease-fire, some say a “cessation of hostilities,” some say humanitarian pause. Some just say, “Stop for the babies!” But the world is experiencing a kind of Pentecost as people cry out in different tongues with a unified call to end the violence.
Judaism teaches through the prophet Amos that God hears a united remnant against injustice. Islam teaches that “God is with the group.” And Jesus prayed that we all might be One, even as he and his Father are One. There is power in the unified cry of faithful people.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share moral convictions that ground our response to this moment.
We believe that every human being is created in the image of God. Both the Talmud and Islamic teachings say that to save a single life is to save all humanity, and Jesus extends the law of love for kin and neighbors even to those who are our enemies. Together we believe that every Israeli life is precious; every Palestinian life is precious; every single life is precious.
We also share the conviction that vengeance belongs to God. While governments have a right and duty to ensure security, our traditions insist on restraint and limits when the state exercises its power. No government knows enough to become the ultimate arbiter of justice.
Finally, our traditions share a commitment to justice, especially for those who are weak and vulnerable in this world. Whenever there is an imbalance of power, God hears the cries of those who are suffering and calls us to join their cry for justice.
Because of these shared convictions and our knowledge that a “three-fold chord is not easily broken,” we join our voices with Jews, Christians, and Muslims around the world who are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and the safe return of all hostages and civilian prisoners taken in the present conflict.
While “cease-fire” is a technical term of international law, our faith demands that we outline a basic moral call to CEASE-FIRE.
Confront and stop immediately indiscriminate violence against any civilian, especially women, children, and the sick.
End the denial of basic necessities to any population, including food, water, electricity, fuel, internet and medical supplies.
Affirm the image of God in every human being.
Stop the practice of holding hostages and ensure the safe return of all hostages and prisoners home.
Exercise nonviolent power to build a just peace for all people.
Faithfully work as Jews, Christians, and Muslims to support a viable alternative to the brutality of Hamas and to challenge the Netanyahu administration’s practices of occupation and apartheid.
Insist that human rights for all people are non-negotiable.
Raise a moral cry against murder, indiscriminate violence, war, and public policies rooted in vengeance, no matter which faith is used to justify violence.
Engage nonviolently to interrupt the violence that is being carried out against fellow human beings.
As people who are committed to manifesting beloved community and overcoming violence of any kind against any person or people, we steadfastly demand that justice be done and seek to protect the dignity of all human life regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or national identity.
We need a cease-fire for God’s sake, for the future’s sake, for the sake of the babies who are dying, and for the sake of our own humanity.
Jesus said, “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword,” and, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made clear, in an era of nuclear weapons that can destroy the whole world, our ultimate choice is not between violence and nonviolence, but between nonviolence and nonexistence. Killing our future is worse than wrong; it is an act of despair that denies God’s hope.
Our faith compels us to lift up this moral call for a cease-fire. We invite any who share this conviction to join people of faith around the world who are praying and taking action for peace.
Bishop William J. Barber, II is the founding director of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale Divinity School and president and senior lecturer at Repairers of the Breach.