Yesterday, I went and saw “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” I thought the movie was put together really well. The film starts by looking at what life was like for a group of apes who had been genetically modified to be more human-like and had escaped from San Francisco. The apes had created a society for themselves in the forest and after 10 years of hard work they had carved out a good life. After watching their lives (raising families, hunting, and building), you couldn’t not root for them. When the humans finally come into the picture and you see the suffering they had experienced while surviving a potentially civilization ending plague, you can’t help but root for them as well. The humans and apes end up on opposite sides of a dispute (as we all knew they would) and it was interesting to watch a movie where you were left rooting for “people” (including some apes) rather than taking a side in the conflict.
I am part of the PCUSA denomination and we have just recently had one of our big nationwide conferences. One of the big debates at the assembly was whether our denomination should divest in several companies that makes equipment that Israel uses with their military. This debate has tuned my attention more on the issues between Israel and Palestine… and there has been a lot to tune into this last week.
In the back of my head, I’ve been thinking back to a conversation I had with other PCUSA pastors about our assembly. One major point we discussed was that maybe it was good that at least the PCUSA was taking sides on issues (even if you didn’t always agree with which side was chosen). The Christian Church has sometimes been criticized for staying on the fence on important issues rather than taking a stand when necessary. The issue of slavery in the U.S. is one example. Isn’t taking a side better than sitting on the fence? For some reason, I left that conversation uneasy. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way.
On the way to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” I was listening to radio coverage of the conflict in Israel and Palestine. A woman in Palestine went to work (in between blackouts and explosions) because she needed the money, only to find the building she worked at left as rubble. I listened to an Israeli man who feels an invasion of the Gaza Strip is necessary because the warning sirens of missiles from Palestine come all the time now. Only an invasion will “quiet” things down for at least a couple years. I could not get these real stories out of my head as I watched monkeys and humans fight for no reason on the big screen.
I admit to not being an expert on the conflict in Israel (or anywhere else for that matter). So maybe what I am about to write sounds “idealistic” or too simple. But I do know some things about Scripture. And “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” reminded me of a simple principle I hear when I read Scripture. As Christians aren’t we called to root for people rather than issues? I realize now that the problem I had with that discussion a few months back was not whether of not Christians should take a stand… we should! But rather, I believe it is rarely wise to take a stand on one side of most issues. We should be much more often taking stands with people.
For some reason (and maybe its all the movies we watch), I think many of us mistakenly believe that there are always “good guys” and “bad guys.” There is always a right side and a wrong side. Maybe this is true sometimes. But as I get older, I find myself seeing more and more issues as being complicated. For example, conflicts between individuals and people groups are usually built upon years and years of prejudice and revenge based on revenge based on revenge. There are rarely good guys and bad guys. There are just people, who are sometimes saints and sometimes sinners, often thrust into difficult circumstances not of their own making.
I’m not sure if the PCUSA should be spending so much time considering what side of every current issue they should come down on. Because maybe the decision is often easier than we think. Maybe the church should usually just come down on the side of people. Maybe whether the PCUSA has some investments with Caterpillar, who has some products that make it to Israel is the wrong concern. Maybe we should have been spending much more of our time not thinking about divestment but investment. Instead of worrying about what “side” of this issue we are on, we should be thinking about the people on both sides. It wouldn’t be hard to find PEOPLE in Israel and Palestine. People who are helping people. People who are promoting peace. And then find more ways to invest in them. Isn’t that what we do with missionaries?
Maybe my denomination is already doing this sort of investment in Israel/Palestine… and if we are that’s great! I need to find a way to do this more myself!! However, even if we are “investing” well as a denomination, it seems like our current action of divestment- taking a “side” in this conflict, has hurt the “people work” we’ve done. If “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is prophetic at all, it seems like it is possible to come to a point when taking “one side” may force you to only be on one side… unable to do any more Kingdom building work.