Not quite the Nobel Peace Prize, but a significant moment for Langham Scholar and newly published author with Langham Monographs, Rula Khoury Mansour. On 22nd June 2019, the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel presented her with an award for her years of studying the root causes of conflict in their churches and wider society, and seeking to build processes of reconciliation and peace building.
Rula received her PhD through the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in 2018. On her return to her homeland, she was appointed to the faculty of Nazareth Evangelical College, as Director of Peace Studies and lecturer on the Theology of Reconciliation. She joins fellow Arab Langham Scholars there, Yohanna Katanacho (Academic Dean), and Munther Isaac (visiting lecturer from Bethlehem). ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Well, read about the many good things at Nazareth Evangelical College on their website.
The Association of Baptist Churches (the largest Protestant group of churches in Israel) hosted Rula at an important workshop in May, in Cana of Galilee, in which she shared with pastors and lay leaders about her research. ‘It was probably the first time we heard about the root causes of conflict in our churches, looking at the social, theological, cultural, structural, economic and identity-related factors,’ said their report. ‘It was an eye-opening session indeed.’
Langham asked Rula to tell us more about her convictions and her new teaching post. Here is what she said:
“I believe that the Church’s mission to the world is not limited to evangelisation and discipleship (Matthew 28:19), but it also includes the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 18:5). Although the Palestinian church in Israel has held onto its faith throughout the last centuries, it did not take any significant steps to be part of a social or political solution, as it needs to, if it is to become a prophetic voice.
A prophetic role
Although the Church is not a political organisation, it is part of a society influenced by political, socio-cultural, and economic factors. Therefore, the role of the Church should not be limited to observation, but it should seek to apply the principles of shalom in its society. The prophetic ministry of the church (which the Reformers taught) is to link the Gospel to important events and daily issues. When the Church is silent while the country suffers from political and economic turmoil and widespread human rights violations, it loses its legitimacy and prophetic voice. The Church must serve as the conscience of society. It is not a matter of choosing to be political; rather the choice is to be true and obedient to God’s word.
But the question is: why do most churches in the Middle East (and worldwide?) find themselves unable to act on the Gospel call to the ministry of reconciliation? One reason is the fact that Christians in the Middle East are a marginalized and vulnerable minority, divided in their loyalty and questioning the continuity of their presence in the Middle East, with many seeing the solution as emigration. But another important reason is that the church's theologians have focused on vertical reconciliation between humanity and God, with very little having been done on the horizontal reconciliation between people. The danger is that the social meaning of reconciliation is left to politicians while its vertical implications are left to theologians, whereas the Bible shows that both matter to God.
The danger is that the social meaning of reconciliation is left to politicians while its vertical implications are left to theologians, whereas the Bible shows that both matter to God.
I strongly believe that the Palestinian evangelical church in Israel, through its unique identity as multicultural minority followers of the Peace-Maker, has a growing potential to influence Israeli society by dialoguing effectively with non-Protestant Christians, with Muslims and Jews, and even becoming a bridge between Palestinians and Israelis. However, the continuing nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict affects our churches negatively too. It is my desire to see churches grow to become agents of peace. This led me to my PhD project, which was to study the causes of inner-church conflict and to seek a culturally-compatible theological model of reconciliation for Palestinian evangelical churches.
Agents of peace
In order for the Palestinian Church to live out its vision as agent of peace three tasks are vital:
First, to conceptualise peace in a Palestinian Christian context
Second to research peace and understand the conditions whereby positive peace, is lived, created, sustained, and struggled for
Third to engage in actual peace-making in three dimensions: theological, socio-cultural and political.
I am thankful and excited about this opportunity to lead the peace studies at Nazareth Evangelical College (NEC), where we can contribute to developing those three important tasks. At NEC, the biggest impact we can make is through our transformative teaching, which seeks to engage participants in their communities to become agents of change and peace through both research and activism (embedded in love, peace and justice) that will develop the horizontal aspect of reconciliation. I teach the Theology of Reconciliation for our MA program in Ministry at NEC, focusing on the social meaning of reconciliation, the role of the church and our own role in peacemaking, elaborating on remembrance, forgiveness and repentance, justice and truth, and embrace.
As a result of the workshop in Cana of Galilee in May, the Association
of Baptist Churches in Israel approached me to lead strategic planning process for their churches. This project will include building a special curriculum for churches. The goal is to strengthen them to live up to their highest potential through the power of the resurrection, mediated by the Spirit, and to take the role of peacemaker."
A wider ministry
In addition to her teaching in Nazareth, Rula has taught on issues of peace and justice at other conferences and colleges in the Middle East, the USA, UK and Asia. She had the unique opportunity of teaching a course on the Theology of Reconciliation in the Peace Studies PhD program at the International Graduate School of Leadership in Manila, Philippines, with PhD students coming from four continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. You can also read an earlier article about Rula’s life and experience as a PhD student. Rula’s PhD dissertation was published this month by Langham Monographs, entitled Conflict Management in Dialogue with Miroslav Volf’s Theology of Reconciliation.