John Calvin believed that government has not “come about by human perversity…but by divine providence.” This led Calvin to what, for some today, would be a shocking conclusion: civil magistrates are the most important people in God’s plan for the world. To quote Calvin again, “…civil authority is a calling, not only holy and lawful before God, but also the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal (humans).”
When traveling in Israel and Palestine, a common complaint heard from Israelis and Palestinians is that their governments are not serving them well. Many believe that rather than working toward peace, too often, their governments fuel the very divisive issues that keep the two peoples from making peace with one another. As Calvinists, We Presbyterians believe that both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to choose and empower leaders who will pursue peace and justice.
As we consider the PCUSA role as a peacemaker in the Middle East, can we not draw from our theological heritage, regarding the importance of good government? Can we not join large sections of the Palestinian and Israeli citizenry who are angered by the lack of progress toward peace by the current governments in Israel and Palestine, both of whom have demonstrated an unwillingness to take steps toward negotiating a peace? Many Israelis believe that the Government of Israel is not doing all that it could to advance peace, and point to settlement expansion as the most visible example. We can and should be vocal in supporting those calling for stronger, pro-peace government policies from Israeli leaders.
With respect to Palestinian leadership, too many in the Western community have given up on the idea of Palestinian democracy and inclusive government. This represents an abandonment of the many Palestinians of good will that want peace and better leadership. There is almost no international support for Palestinian elections, and when the subject is brought up the answer is too often that if elections were held, Palestinians would choose bad leaders. This is a condescending and demeaning point of view and does not reflect reality. We cannot predict the leaders that Palestinians might freely choose if they had the chance, but without that opportunity how can positive change occur?
It is easy to say that the Palestinian government is corrupt because of Israeli policies. It is equally easy to say that the growing strength of right wingers in the Israeli cabinet is the result of Palestinian violence aimed at Israeli civilians. This back and forth of self-serving justifications has been going on for years. Rather than advancing peace, it is undermining any hopes for peace.
Rather than justifying excuses for not making peace, the PCUSA must assert the need for courageous, political leadership in both the Palestinian and Israeli communities. Both peoples deserve political leadership that, as Calvin suggests, will see their role as being answerable to God, not to the most extreme voices in their societies.