Faith Matters: Christian perspective on the Holy Land
With Israel occupying most of the headlines in the news today, it reminded me of the multiple trips that I have led to this historical and sacred land.
As a Baptist minister, I have been leading Christian tours to Israel since 1990. Since it is a Christian tour, most of those who have accompanied me are of the Christian faith, but every now and then, I have the privilege of hosting people of other faiths who are interested in visiting and appreciating this revered land.
For Christians, it is always a celebrative time to visit the holy sites germane to our faith. These include the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem, the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, the Sea of Galilee around where Jesus spent a great deal of His ministry, the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where it is believed Jesus died and was buried before His resurrection.
Without taking any political sides or making any statement to that effect, it is heartbreaking to hear and see what is taking place today in Israel. All of the human suffering taking place on such prominent religious real estate is a testament to the failure of religions to take seriously their mandate of the Golden Rule, which is a written instruction in almost all the religious holy books known to man.
Today, there are no tours to Israel for people who wish to get in touch with their religious roots. That in itself is a tragedy, but the real catastrophe, of course, is the devastating loss of life and hatred that is being demonstrated, which once again reveals the failure of religious leaders and their followers to demonstrate a better and more peaceful way of settling our differences.
I will never forget when a person of another faith joined us on our tour, came to me after we had baptized a number of people in the Jordan River, and said it was the most beautiful ceremony he had ever seen. He was so glad he had come, if just to have only witnessed that event.
On another occasion, a person of a different faith remarked on how much they appreciated the visit to the Holy Sepulcher. He had never understood before then the significance of what it meant to a Christian believer regarding Christ’s death and resurrection.
On each tour, we hold a Sunday morning service in the Garden of Gethsemane, and after the service, we ask each participant to select an old olive tree there in order to spend time alone in prayer. For another person, it was a moment of solitude and thankfulness to be connected with God in such a sacred spot.
I have given you these testimonials simply to say that when hatred and bigotry are removed from our hearts, we can find peace and kinship with those around us, even people of different faiths, customs, and ethnicities.
As a Christian, I am instructed to pray for peace in Jerusalem. I can’t help but believe there would be no need to pray such a prayer if all people could appreciate what their neighbor appreciates and respect the rights of others. As religious leaders, we need to lead the way.