The Middle East has declared World War III, yet Canon Andrew White encouraged hope during his visit to Wheaton College. In the subsequent months since ISIS became a household name and further violence erupted from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, White has seen horrors and tragedies across the Middle East, shocking him. The Center for Applied Christian Ethics and the Political Science Department at Wheaton came together to create a space for Canon White to share these first-hand experiences this last Tuesday afternoon.
White has been detained at gunpoint, had posters of his face with rewards for him dead or alive, and has lost dear friends. Much of this rings true to the Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2015, which included a summary of grievances in each country. This last year Hamas and Palestinian troops have carried out around 4,500 rocket attacks which have displaced thousands of Israelis from their homes along the Gaza stip. The tens of thousands of Israeli attacks have done similar damage amongst Palestinians, with most of the resultant deaths being civilian deaths.
Additionally, many Arab leaders are nervous about ISIS’ growing presence in the
Middle East. Several leaders, including Iraq’s Foreign Minister and King Abdulla of Jordan, have referred to the fight against ISIS as “World War III” because of the group’s indiscriminate brutality. According to White, more Sunnis have been killed by ISIS than both Christians and Shia Muslims have been. “They’re frightened,” White says. “All Sunni leaders rising up to ISIS are being killed.”
When asked what hope he saw in the reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, White replied, “None.” Yet in the face of the hopelessness in the Middle East, White holds to a resilient hope in Christ that is counter-cultural. White’s hope extends not only to God’s work in the Middle East but also to God’s work at Wheaton College.
“The wonderful thing about Wheaton is, even though it’s a highly prestigious, individual college in America, it has historically for so many years, served the church internationally. And it has provided leaders not just for the church but for society. We must not just provide good ministry leaders — we ought to be providing good leaders of the nations,” White said.
On Tuesday, White had breakfast with the Middle East Understanding Club cabinet on campus. Although the club has only been in existence for a year, President Theodora Beschel says the student body has responded enthusiastically to learning more about the Middle East and the issues that surround the various conflicts. Beschel expressed great encouragement from her talk with Canon White, especially his peacemaking work in Israel/Palestine.
“It’s exactly what we’re trying to do on campus. He said he’s bringing Muslims, Christians, Jews and Samaritans to do inter-faith dialogue,” Beschel said. The Middle East Understanding Club is not a pro-Israel or pro-Palestine organization. “We’re pro peace,” Beschel stated.
This refusal to take a side lays claim to a national trend stirring amongst young Christian evangelicals. According the March 2015 issue of Sojourners, evangelicals are re-evaluating how they see peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.
“Wheaton College in the last 10 years has discovered the Middle East. When we look at the region today, we don’t simply see the country of Israel surrounded by Arabs — we see a complex mosaic of people who are equally important in God’s eyes. And we now recognize the ancient thriving Christian communities there. Today Wheaton students are traveling regularly to the area, many have devoted their lives to service there, and we even have a Middle East Club on campus bringing travel, speakers and films to campus. This interest will only grow with each year,” Burge said.
Beschel concluded, “There has been a big push towards racial reconciliation this year, which is amazing. However, I hope that we can expand that to continue on to look at things like inter-faith dialogues, Israel and Palestine, and really focus on greater reconciliation.”