Reconciliatory Activism and the Work of Palestinian Christians

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In his most recent book, Just and Unjust Peace, political theorist Daniel Philpott attempts to answer the question, “What is justice after large-scale injustice?” Philpott responds by describing a concept of justice called political reconciliation that has at its heart the restoration of right relationship between perpetrator and victim. He notes that this concept is found most commonly in the scriptures of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Philpott argues that this concept of justice is fit for politics and offers the greatest chance of attaining a just peace through its promotion of human flourishing.

So, does the Bible support political advocacy and should Christians be involved in it? If so, in what capacity or by what means? These important questions come up particularly in situations where vast injustice has been committed, or continues to be committed. I would argue that the Bible defends a form of political advocacy, defined as reconciliatory activism, which is active, nonviolent, and centered on the formation of right relationship. We can think of reconciliatory activism as a subset of Philpott’s concept of justice. It adheres to the same treatment of reconciliation, but is supported in the teachings of Jesus Christ as well as in his interactions with the political culture of his time.

Throughout his childhood, Jesus came into contact with many political movements, each attempting to respond to the political injustice of the Roman occupation. Among these movements were the Zealots, dedicated to a violent, radical overthrow of the occupiers; the Essenes, the isolationists of the time who removed themselves from society and the problems of the day; the pragmatists, the Herodians and Sadducees, who collaborated with the occupation; and finally the Pharisees, the religious fanatics who held to rabbinical law but removed themselves from greater societal issues such as justice and mercy. Jesus, however, took a different route and adhered to his own political activism. His was an activism that stood for justice without violence, involved itself in the world, sought justice for both oppressor and oppressed, and worshipped God without being caught up in the strict interpretation of the law.

This type of reconciliatory activism has continued to this day, most notably in the Christian community in Palestine. Palestinian Christians have had a long history of advocating for peace in the midst of political injustice. Their voices are not the dominant ones, but the work they are doing is founded around the pursuit of reconciliatory justice.

Among these efforts is the work of civil society institutions such as Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian Christian nonprofit, which attempts to bring healing to broken identities and dignities through rebuilding demolished Palestinian homes. Reconciliatory activism also is present in the personal stories of Palestinians who, through friendship and discussion, bring together Israelis and Palestinians, healing broken relationships in the attempt to bring about a just peace. Finally, it can be seen in the words of the Palestinian Christian leaders who, in the Kairos Document for Palestine released in 2009, describe resistance to the occupation of Palestine as mandated but that, “It is resistance with love as its logic. (Kairos, pg. 12)

Reconciliatory activism works for the redemption and reconciliation of relationships among people who have suffered injustice. Reconciliatory activism is persistent and proactive rather than merely reactionary. It does not wait around for justice to be given, but instead actively pleads for justice. It is also nonviolent, understanding as Jesus did, that violence only begets violence. Finally, it places mercy and forgiveness at the heart of its activism, knowing that we are all created in the image of God.

- Aaron Tolkamp is studying International Relations at Redeemer University College.