Dr. Linford Stutzman with students on one of the 13 cross-cultural study semesters to the Middle East he has led with his wife. Students on this trip spend several weeks in and around Jerusalem. (Photo by James Souder)

‘Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem’: Longtime cross-cultural leader Linford Stutzman on Trump’s U.S. embassy move

My wife and I have led 13 groups of college students to the Middle East since 1991 as part of Eastern Mennonite University’s required cross-cultural program. During the semester-long immersive travel, we stop each year at a special chapel.

Easter
(Photo by Jon Styer)

The Dominus Flevit overlooks the city walls of ancient Jerusalem and the stunning golden dome of the Al Aqsa Mosque. According to tradition, Jesus paused here on the Mount of Olives on his way to cleanse the temple. “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus cries as he laments the corruption of religious/political power and the violence against the prophets who dared to denounce it.

When we come to this chapel, the students have spent three weeks in nearby Bethlehem in Palestinian Christians homes. We’ve also spent several days on a sprawling Jewish settlement close by.

So when we look out over Jerusalem from the Dominus Flevit, we remember our wonderful Palestinian and Jewish hosts who fear and misunderstand each other.

We look out over the city. Oh Jerusalem the Holy! Oh Jerusalem, City of Peace! We can pick out the Muslim, Jewish and Christian Quarters of the Old City, the mosques, churches, and synagogues. How lovely, fragile, holy and tense!

Jerusalem, I tell the students, is the heart and soul of both the Middle East conflict and any prospect for peace in the region. I try to prepare them for the experience of living there: They will experience how the hopes and fears of all the years meet in the Old City daily.

Then we continue as always down the Mount of Olives, through the Garden of Gethsemane, into the Old City of Jerusalem, into reality.

Reality. On September 28, 2000, the political leader, Ariel Sharon, in a show of force and in the name of reality, entered the Temple Mount with thousands of soldiers. While the visit lasted 34 minutes, it helped ignite the Intifada, which has continued in various forms to this day. Violence. Suffering. Pain. Reality.

On Wednesday, in the name of reality, surrounded by Christmas decorations in the White House, President Donald Trump announced that the United States declares Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. This is a “recognition of reality,” he said. President Trump and pundits somehow make the argument that this will contribute to peace.

In Bethlehem, four miles away, the Palestinians turned off the lights of the Christmas tree in Manger Square when they hear this announcement. No joy to this part of the world. No peace on earth.

In one Christmas-season announcement, President Trump contributed fuel to the simmering fire of the Middle East. Trump’s announcement managed to sabotage any vestiges of goodwill and trust and unite the world against this reckless, politically-motivated change of policy. I predict the following:

The announcement will contribute to violence, fear and suffering. Hamas has already called for a new Intifada.

The announcement will derail any attempts to go ahead with a genuine peace process. Peace negotiations were always connected to the final agreement on Jerusalem. If that is not negotiable, there is little motivation on either side to engage in genuine peace settlement.

The announcement will put American travelers in the Middle East at a higher level of risk. Look for additional warnings for travel in the Middle East from the U.S. State Department.

The announcement will diminish the reputation of American values such as justice, peace, fairness and democratic ideals.

The announcement will confirm to many in the Middle East that American Christians are powerful, but naïve and biased. This puts the Christians of the Middle East in an even more vulnerable position.

Jesus not only wept over Jerusalem, he confronted it.

As followers of Jesus, we need to confront this latest American failure by living out the Good News like Jesus. Go ahead and weep with Jesus over Jerusalem, but also follow Jesus by taking the risk of loving all enemies, relating to all people, living out hope, using our American Christian identity to challenge misuse of power wherever it can be found, beginning in America.

Dr. Linford Stutzman has spent two decades teaching culture, religion and mission courses at Eastern Mennonite University and leading EMU’s semester-long and summer cross-cultural study programs in the Middle East. He now directs Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s Biblical Lands Educational Seminars and Service (BLESS) program.

Join the Discussion on “‘Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem’: Longtime cross-cultural leader Linford Stutzman on Trump’s U.S. embassy move

  1. I have always loved Linford and Janet, and appreciated them in various ways over the years. But I feel that three things are missing from this article:

    #3 While this article mentions American politics and President Trump’s “recognition of reality” – which, by many, is expected to result in undoing what supposedly has already been done in working toward peace, and throwing the entire region into a tailspin – what did NOT get mentioned is the responsibility those in that part of the world have in not contributing “to violence, fear and suffering.” There was also no mention of condemning Hamas for calling for “a new Intifada.” Don’t the people of that region have any responsibility for how they act and treat each other?

    #2 While I believe this article was written from the perspective of one who cares deeply about people and who desires peace in that part of the world, I cannot help but see the words, “I predict the following” followed by five paragraphs speaking death into that region and into the hope of there ever being peace. I realize there is disappointment, fear, etc. that many feel in many parts of the world, but can we try to focus on possible solutions and speaking life into this situation?

    #1 While I applaud the efforts of those who try to actively make peace wherever they go, the “regonition of reality” is that – in this situation and EVERY situation – true peace, wholeness, completion, prosperity, shalom can only be fully experienced in the very real context of the Kingom of God, not outside the Kingdom. Until two warring parties see themselves and each other as citizens of God’s Kingdom under the eternal reign of God’s Anointed King, Jesus, all earthly efforts will fall short of God’s design for reconciliation between us and God, and between us and the rest of the people of the world.

    We have much work to do.

  2. Daniel. I want to comment to your #3 point above. I feel that yes, the people of the region have a responsibility for the way they treat each other. ALL of the people share in this responsibility. That includes denouncing the violent view of Hamas. But it also includes denouncing the violence caused overtly and covertly by structural injustices committed by the Israeli government on Palestinians throughout the country over the last 70 years. It may not be as overt as the call from Hamas, but when you continually take land away from a people, harass them at checkpoints, and treat them unfairly under the law, that is violence.

    You cannot blame one side for what occurs in the region.

    1. I agree, William, and thanks for your reply. Please don’t read my initial comment as blaming only one side. I had spent a few months in that region and have lived long enough to know that it always “takes two to tango.” My main thought behind what I typed in #3 was that, if any overtly violent acts are carried out against either side (or more sides, depending on how one looks at the situation) in reaction to what our President (or anyone else) says, the blame must fall fully on those who choose to carry out the violent attacks.

      As a side note to this and every issue we’re made aware of, unless we witness or experience something firsthand, let’s not forget that any “news” we hear or read – whether it be from a well-known media source or a small Mennonite university, and whether we agree or disagree with said “news” – we are only being told what those on the other end want us to believe. Please don’t hear me calling anyone a liar, or saying anyone’s experiences are more or less than anyone else, as that’s not my intent. I’m just stating another “recognition of reality” that we all must deal with.

      I pray that abuses and injustices come to an end on both sides. And more than just an end to violence, I pray that both sides will see those on opposing sides as image-bearers of Almighty God, and actively work toward wholeness and putting each side back together again.

      Thanks again for your reply. Peace to you.

  3. I like this quote:”As a side note to this and every issue we’re made aware of, unless we witness or experience something firsthand, let’s not forget that any “news” we hear or read – whether it be from a well-known media source or a small Mennonite university, and whether we agree or disagree with said “news” – we are only being told what those on the other end want us to believe. Please don’t hear me calling anyone a liar, or saying anyone’s experiences are more or less than anyone else, as that’s not my intent. I’m just stating another “recognition of reality” that we all must deal with.”…i totally agree with the conversation but mostly with the what can or cant do against the systemic feature of any type of media…i think that theres no way to get rid of personal biases, neither others can claim of having any sort of possibility to see the kaleidoscopic complexities of any random topic. What can we bring to the discussion imagining our selves as walking into the shoes of an imaginary protothype of “the historical jewish”?, how the decisions of the UN impact them spreading so much fear and anguish after the trauma of the ww2, have any American in the present remember from first hand what happened during those days, an even if there’s one survivor I don’t think that his perception of the horrific events would match with the ones who were defeated…with all respect i believe that here are more ugly sides to discuss of the stories we tell as we think we know them also. I am not an expert on these themes neither traveled there (middle east) I am just a courious person wondering like millions more how is that the whole world seems so ignorant about how did we get to a point of choosing extreme positions of a very sensible topic we don’t understand. I graduated from EMS on 2015, went to the Seminary wondering how to connect with the Mennonite sub culture, the Seminary sub culture, the Harrisonburg “bubble”, tried organically to engage with the “American culture”, live within your habitat 9 years and I am still wondering why or from where (from my humbly experience), the American, as I understood them, have the pervasive attitude of thinking that they can or might be in control of things, adding more complex lenses perspectives to things, are we talking about anthropological issues here appart from faith?…just an intelligent exercise of catharsis, blessings!

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