On Jan. 6, 2024, former Vice President Mike Pence signed an Israeli artillery shell being prepped for launching into Lebanon as the Israel-Gaza war threatens to bleed into another nation. He offered his endorsement of the weapon of war that could strike civilians in Lebanon — the second-most Christian nation in the Middle East (after Cyprus) — while speaking about his Christian faith during a trip to Israel to show support for that nation’s leaders and military.
Sharing on social media about his visit to the military base where he wrote on the artillery shell, he wrote about Israel’s soldiers: “God bless them all.” That day he also met with people from Samaritan’s Purse, the evangelical organization led by Franklin Graham that has been providing vehicles for Israeli first responders since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas. The next day, Pence posted a photo of Jerusalem and the text of Psalm 122:6-8 about praying for the city’s peace. And he recorded an interview with CBN, the media outlet founded by the late televangelist Pat Robertson, during which he quoted the Bible to justify his support of Israel’s current military actions.
Many U.S. politicians in both parties have offered their verbal support for Israel’s military campaign since Oct. 7. Pence went quite a bit further by claiming an artillery shell to literally be launched in his name. He did this after Israel killed more than 22,000 people in Gaza, most of whom were civilians and more than 9,000 of whom were children. The former vice president apparently saw no incongruity between his proclamations of faith and literally adding his name to a weapon during a genocidal war.
“In the 1990s and early 2000s many young Christians wore a bracelet with the initials WWJD,” Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian Christian journalist in Jordan, wrote as he critiqued Pence’s signature act. “The initials stood for ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ and they were an attempt by believers to evaluate how the Lord would have reacted in the situations the faithful found themselves today. It’s almost certain Jesus would not endorse bombs aimed at killing neighbors, created in the image of God, as Pence did.”
After noting the genocidal rhetoric by some Israeli politicians — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invoking of the biblical story of the Amalekites — Kuttab added, “The real problem with religious enablers like Pence is that they give such anti-democratic and genocidal leaders cover to spread their ugly racist program. Is that what Jesus would do?”
Kuttab (who has written several times for Word&Way) is correct that Pence’s behavior is contrary to what we can imagine the Prince of Peace doing. But Pence’s act unfortunately is not unprecedented. So this issue of A Public Witness takes a look at past efforts to bless weapons of war before returning to the current war to hear from a pastor in the little town of Bethlehem.
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