Americans awoke this morning to reports of war in the Middle East, as the terrorist group Hamas attacked the state of Israel in unspeakably brutal ways. As our screens fill with imagery of fire raining down from the skies, of families grieving the kidnapping and murder of their loved ones, we know that—just as for our own country in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks—this evil day is just the beginning of what is to come. As we pray for peace at the beginning of this war, American Christians should do so with the moral clarity to recognize Israel’s right and duty to defend itself.
Some might assume that evangelical Protestants automatically support Israel based on eschatological views that see some role for the modern state of Israel in biblical prophecy. For some, this is indeed the case. Many of us, though, don’t share those beliefs. We believe the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ, not in the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. Many of us are quite willing to call out Israel when we believe it is acting wrongly. We don’t believe the Israeli Knesset is somehow inerrant or infallible.
But even with those disagreements, American Christians should be united in support of Israel as it’s under attack.
Some Christians, to be sure, are pacifists who believe any military action to be wrong. Most Christians throughout church history, however, have held to some form of just war theory, which holds that war is always awful, but—under certain, very limited circumstances—can be morally justified.
Jesus interacted with soldiers (Matt. 8:5-13) and called them, as others, to repent of sin. But he never spoke of military service itself as a sin. The Apostle Paul wrote of the role of the state to “bear the sword” against “the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:1-4). This authority is hardly boundless. Every state is accountable to the justice of God and, if it acts unjustly, subject to the judgment of God. The very Roman government of which Paul wrote was pictured later in Scripture as a “Beast” state to be opposed (Rev. 13:1-18).
When acting justly, though, the state not only has the right but the responsibility to protect itself and the lives of its citizens.
Sometimes, especially in the early moments of any war, we may be uncertain about who is right and who is wrong. There is no such moral confusion here. Hamas—and its state sponsors—attacked innocent people, as they have done repeatedly in the past, this time employing a force and brutality previously unseen.
We should expect any just state to respond with force to an attack like the one Israel has suffered—but here, that impetus is heightened by the unique circumstances that led to the formation of the Jewish state. Many tried to appease a bloodthirsty German Reich even as it carried out the worst genocidal atrocity in the history of the world. After those butchers were defeated, and the state of Israel established, Israel faced constant threat to its very existence, often in terms of the very same antisemitic tropes weaponized by the Nazis about the so-called “Jewish question.”
As Americans, we should stand with Israel under attack because it is a fellow liberal democracy—and a democracy in a region dominated by illiberal, authoritarian regimes. As Christians, we should pay special attention to violence directed toward Israel—just as we would pay special attention to a violent attack on a member of our extended family. After all, we are grafted on to the promise made to Abraham (Rom. 11:17). Our Lord Jesus was and is a Jewish man from Galilee. Rage against the Jewish people is rage against him, and, because we are in him, against us.
No one wanted to wake up to war in what was already a tinderbox of the world order. But war has come, and we should recognize terrorism for what it is. We should also recognize the justice of a forceful response to that terrorism. However we read the prophecy passages of the Bible, and however we disagree on world politics, American Christians ought to stand together with Israel now.
Russell Moore is the editor in chief at Christianity Today and leads its Public Theology Project.