the book that may make you mad but you’ve got to read anyway.
Nobody who has been around me for any amount of time needs an introduction to my spiritual grandmother, Margaret Gaines. At Renovatus, we have a saying in our manifesto that “We are your grandmother’s church.” We take our heritage and the value of continuity in our community of faith very seriously. Strategically, Margaret was the first guest speaker we ever had at Renovatus, all the way back when we were having Saturday night services at Resurrection Lutheran Church.
Margaret is best known for her many years on the mission field in the small village of Aboud, a Palestinian community she devoted her life to. She established a wonderful church and school there, which I had the life-changing opportunity to visit with Margaret in 2006. At 78 years old, Margaret is battling a wide variety of health issues, now back at home in Pell City, Alabama. But she’s unstoppable. She took over as interim pastor at a church of about 20 in her town, and is preaching every Sunday!
One of the things that has always struck me as sad about Margaret’s legacy is that while she is very revered within our tradition, I have never felt like we have been particularly attentive to what she actually has to say. So it is with prophets–we would rather revere them as icons than do what they tell us to do. While nobody questions she is a deeply holy woman, plenty of people have been nervous about the prospect of her sharing her heart and her stories of injustice to Palestinian Christians. In evangelical culture in America, there is no higher act of treason (even against God himself, for the John Hagees of the world) than to criticize any policy or position of Israel as a modern-nation state. But prophets speak the truth, even and perhaps especially when it goes against the grain of religious tradition. Over 10 years ago, Margaret felt what she described as a prophetic anointing of the Holy Spirit to write down what she had seen and heard. After years of writing political leaders and gently pleading the case on behalf of her people, she felt the time was right to go public within the Church.
And for over a decade, that manuscript has gathered dust. She gave me a copy a few years ago, and I have quoted it and pointed to it as often as possible in my writing and speaking. Last year, I had referenced and quoted part of this work in a blog entry. When Dr. John Christopher Thomas’ mother saw it on facebook, she told her son somebody had to get this published. And Dr. Thomas, being a man who has always honored the voices of his fathers and mothers in the Lord (including Margaret’s), decided to do just that. In addition to being the Clarence J. Abbot Professor of Biblical Studies at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, he is also now directing the Center of Pentecostal Theology. They are now publishing important works by Pentecostal authors. He was eager to honor Margaret by finally giving her the platform to speak the message she is most passionate about.
On the back cover, the book is described this way:
Roused to speak by the injustices experienced over many years by Palestinian Christians amongst whom she has lived in the West Bank, long-term missionary Margaret Gaines offers a prophetic word to the Christian community and beyond. In this ‘testimony’, she traces the historical origins and development of the tensions by which this part of the world has been characterized, asking all parties – Muslims, Christians, and Jews – to seek understanding by viewing the grievances of each through the eyes of the other. By envisioning the other as friend instead of enemy she seeks to bring an end to the violence that haunts the country, creating an environment in which peace can take root and thrive. Weaving personal narrative with historical analysis and theological reflection Gaines delivers a prophetic word that, though unsettling to some, offers a distinctively Christian way forward in this troubled land.
It’s an important work that, given the Church climate in North America, is bound to make people angry. But it’s a book that simply must be read and engaged by sympathizers and critics alike. It’s message is desperately needed. One of the things that I love about this slim volume is that Margaret is really able to speak inside the church culture she comes from in a way I’ve not quite seen before. I’m a full-blooded Pentecostal with perhaps the highest view of the authority of Scripture imaginable, but I’ve long ago forsaken a lot of the fundamentalist systems that have gained traction in our tradition, especially as it pertains to end-times. Margaret doesn’t stand apart from those systems so much as critique from within them in ways that I think have literally never been done before. She argues forcefully from the Scripture, weaving her story with historical analysis deftly along the way.
I could say a lot more about this, but I’d rather just prepare the way. Hers is the voice you need to hear. Hard copies are available very soon–but today I’m thrilled to tell you that Small Enough to Stop the Violence is available for the first time to the world exclusively through the Kindle edition, for only $5.99! Stop reading this blog and buy it right now, here.