At the invitation of the Council for World Mission, a global community of churches together in mission, we gathered on 28–31 October 2015 in Bethlehem – in occupied Palestine to consider “Mission in the Context of Empire: A Call for Global Theological Resistance in Palestine.” We gathered as 32 Christian and Muslim theologians, scholars, and leaders from 13 different countries, with different contextual experiences of global empire that impact on the lives of the colonizers, colonized people and places, enslaved people, and the exploited alongside the dispossessed and transferred.
We define empire, following from the Accra Confession, as the „convergence of economic, political, cultural, geographic and military imperial interests, systems and networks that seek to dominate political power and economic wealth. It typically forces and facilitates the flow of wealth and power from vulnerable persons, communities and countries to the more powerful. Empire today crosses all boundaries, strips and reconstructs identities, subverts cultures, subordinates nation states and either marginalizes or co-opts religious communities.‟
This theological colloquium joins the flow of critical biblical and theological reflection inaugurated at the Amman Call (2007) and the Bern Perspective (2008). It is our hope that this colloquium will contribute to and revitalize global ecumenical biblical and theological reflection that questions any alliance with the colonial project of Empire.
The settler-colonial project that Israel continues to pursue is a reflection of empire. Violence is endemic to it. The international community has demonstrated its support for the expansion of Israel, sending aid that provides the hardware – infrastructure and weaponry. We identified and interrogated the many ways Christian theology colludes with the development and maintenance of oppressive and sinful systems; in this sense, some theologies have created software for empire.
Our exposure to Palestinian occupied territories opened our eyes to the conditions Palestinians endure. We saw:
- illegal settlement as a sign of the total control of the Israeli state over the lives of Palestinians.
- the expansion of colonial settlements across the West Bank, leaving the people without land and water
- the daily humiliations of colonized people deprived of civil and political rights
- the false god of security that has become an industry, tested through military occupation and marketed to the world
- uprooting of olive trees to build more walls of segregation, settlements, and roads
Among the subjects we discussed through interdisciplinary discussions were the global influences of Christian Zionism, the silencing impact of post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian dialogue on critiques of the Israeli state, and conspiratorial intersections of law, race, caste, sexual orientation and gender identity, and age. We also interrogated the selective use of scripture against native, indigenous, black, brown, caste-discriminated, Palestinian, and otherwise marginalized people.
The so-called “Oslo peace process” initiated in the 1990s has lost all credibility with no solutions on the horizon. This is a Kairos moment. We are challenged to sharpen our approaches to biblical interpretation and theological and ethical resistance. We felt the interconnectedness of our global struggles. Through our dialogue with one another we heard a common call to unite in solidarity toward a new oikumene.
We urge the transnational community:
- To respond to the Kairos Palestine call to come, see and walk in the counter-imperialistic footsteps of Jesus with the people of Palestine.
- To boycott free trips offered to theologians, Pastors, and church leaders by the Israel lobby.
- To engage in campaigns that support the preservation of ancient olive trees and the planting of new olive trees on Palestinian land.
- To call on seminaries to crack the theological software of empire (i.e., dismantling the ideologies that support oppressive regimes).
- To call on world communions to adopt and engage in a process of empowering voices from subjugated communities that challenge empire.
- To call on churches to challenge any military cooperation between their countries and Israel.
- To encourage the use of social media to inform, connect, and mobilize communities towards a world based on justice and a culture that nurtures life.
- To call on international communities to support political solution based on international law in Israel and Palestine.
31st October, 2015