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Shake the Dust
Human Rights, Religious Freedom, and Global Evangelicalism with Wissam al-Saliby

Human Rights, Religious Freedom, and Global Evangelicalism with Wissam al-Saliby

Season 1, Episode 9
A square image. It is a somewhat abstract Illustration in warm, bright colors of a blue and white landscape with flecks of orange. The landscape itself is undulating in about 4 waves descending from the top right to bottom left corners of the image. The sun is partially visible on the top left and the sky is blue. White, cursive lettering spells out “Shake the Dust” across the ground.

This week, the team talks with Wissam al-Saliby; an international human rights lawyer; Advocacy Officer for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) in Geneva, Switzerland; a founder of the Didomi Collective, whose podcast he also hosts; and a contributor to our anthology. We talk to him about why he and the WEA engage in international human rights advocacy, his perspective on religious freedom, how Christian political engagement affects our global witness, church engagement with oppressive regimes, and a lot more. It’s definitely not a conversation you get to hear every day, so check it out wherever you get podcasts! 

Shake the Dust is a podcast of KTF Press. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. Find transcripts of this show, sign up for our free mailing list, and subscribe to our blog at KTFPress.com


Jonathan Walton – follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.  

Suzie Lahoud – follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.  

Sy Hoekstra – follow him on Twitter.  

Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra – listen to the whole song on Spotify

Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam – follow her and see her other work on Instagram.  

Shake the Dust is produced and edited by Sy Hoekstra, and transcribed by Suzie Lahoud with help from Descript

Questions about anything you heard on the show? Write to shakethedust@ktfpress.com and we may answer your question on a future episode. 


Wissam al-Saliby: The international politics is a difficult and challenging work, and it takes a lot of wisdom to be able to play the prophet role with these leaders, knowing that they will be upset. But if God is calling us to get them upset, but at the same time, God is calling us to tell them, “Look, I mean, there's always a way to repent and go back.”

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]   

Sy Hoekstra: Welcome to Shake the Dust, leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, a podcast of KTF Press. I’m Sy Hoekstra here with Jonathan Walton and Suzie Lahoud. Suzie- what do we have for the people today?

Suzie Lahoud: Today we are interviewing Wissam al-Saliby, who is the Advocacy Officer of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) since January of 2018. Based in Geneva, he advocates with the United Nations on behalf of national evangelical alliances in over 130 countries for freedom of religion, rule of law, and human rights.

Prior to joining the WEA, al-Saliby was the Development and Partner Relations Manager of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, and a lead trainer in the Middle East on international humanitarian law with the Swiss organization Geneva Call. He received his undergraduate degree in law from the Lebanese University Law School, and his master's degree in international law from Aix-en-Provence University Faculty of Law in France.

We talked to him about why he and the WEA engage in international human rights advocacy, his perspective on religious freedom, how Christian political engagement affects our global witness, how churches can approach engagement with oppressive regimes, and a lot more.

As a side note, in this interview, we do touch on recent escalations in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. However, we recorded this interview not long after the ceasefire had been brokered between Hamas and Israel. So we talk about the violence like it's in the past, because the violations of the ceasefire had not yet occurred.  

Jonathan Walton: Again, thank you so much for listening to our podcast today. The best way for you to show support is to go to KTFPress.com and subscribe. That gets you our weekly newsletter on resources to help you leave colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, bonus episodes of this show, and writing from the three of us. It also supports other projects we're working on, like future books.

If you're not in a position to do that, just hit subscribe or follow on your podcast player; follow us @KTFPress on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter; and tell your friends about us. And we would love to hear from you. Send your email to shakethedust@ktfpress.com with your comments, questions, any feedback that you'd like to give us. And your question might show up on a future episode.

Sy Hoekstra: And without further ado, here is our conversation with Wissam al-Saliby.

[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.] 

Sy Hoekstra: Wissam al-Saliby, thank you so much for joining us on Shake the Dust today. We really appreciate you taking the time to be with us.

Wissam al-Saliby: Thank you for hosting me.

Sy Hoekstra: So you are an international human rights lawyer. You work for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). Could you just give us a sense of what the WEA does and what your role is with them?

Wissam al-Saliby: So in 2018, I joined the World Evangelical Alliance as their Advocacy Officer in Geneva. I flew with my family to come to Lebanon. Sorry, I flew my family from Lebanon to come to Geneva, to work here on human rights, advocacy and religious freedom advocacy with the World Evangelical Alliance. And the World Evangelical Alliance was founded in the 1800s. The membership of the World Evangelical Alliance are national evangelical alliances all over the world, and there are more than 130 national evangelical alliances in more than 130 countries. These constitute the membership of the World Evangelical Alliance, and therefore the WEA is the body that can represent over 600 million evangelicals all over the world in the international forums as an international global voice.

And the purpose of the WEA is to equip, to strengthen the national alliances and the local evangelical churches to be a global voice for these alliances and for evangelical values. Within this perspective, the WEA has a Geneva office and the Geneva office, the mandate of the Geneva office, is to pursue advocacy for rule of law, human rights, and freedom of religion or belief as a voice for national evangelical alliances. Very practically speaking, today, I'm in touch with people from Algeria, from Nepal, from Vietnam, trying to understand what's been happening with some of the churches, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the churches in Algeria.

There was a court sentencing yesterday for a pastor and his assistant, and they were on for June another court decision related to the closure of churches. So we're trying to get the facts right from Algeria as well as from the other countries that I mentioned so that we can share these facts with the, with the relevant legal analysis, with the United Nations human rights mechanisms, and with diplomats here to tell them what's happening so that we help the local churches and the local evangelical alliances in those countries to help them in advocating for freedom of religion in their countries. In our office as well, as the WEA, we seek to help equip and be a voice of our member alliances all over the world. So this is very briefly what the WEA is and what the Geneva office is, and therefore what my work entails within this office.

Sy Hoekstra: So then you, as an international human rights attorney are sort of filling in the gap there and trying to advocate, not just to the UN in general, but explaining how, kind of, international human rights law applies to the individual cases that the local evangelical alliances hear about or bring up to you?

Wissam al-Saliby: Yes. And oftentimes the cases are a stark violation of international human rights law. Most of the cases we work on are freedom of religion cases, because that's the, most of the requests we currently receive from our members. And the main difficulty isn't the legal aspect. The main difficulty is actually to get the facts right. And to get, and to ask the difficult questions that the media doesn't cover. And, you know, the pastors in the field, they're great at being pastors, but they just don't know how to share the right information needed for a report in Geneva. So a lot of our effort is basically, is a lot of email exchanges, phone calls, and to understand what happened, what was the government response or lack of response, the broader context of what is happening. What was the court decision? Why? What is the, what is the decision says specifically? Can we get a copy so that we can put all of this in our report so that we are as factual as possible, accurate as possible, and then explain how this is a violation of international human rights law, specifically Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is our freedom of religion or belief?

In addition to this, to the issue of religious freedom, we've addressed issues of peace and security. We've addressed issues of human trafficking. And we can address anything that the local alliance ask us to- corruption, you know, broader human rights issues- within, of course, we are only limited by our capacity. Our office is small. I was the first full-time person in 2018 and now we have, we were joined by another full-time person. So we are currently two full-time person and two part-time person working in the office.

Suzie Lahoud: That's so interesting that this is sort of, in some ways, a new branch, it sounds like, of what the WEA has been doing, or almost an expansion of this work. And so could you just talk about- and I feel like this is sort of where we see an intersection of your work and kind of the theology behind it- could you talk about how the WEA sees what you do as integral to its mission as a Christian alliance?

Wissam al-Saliby: The WEA exists to serve the national alliances, national evangelical alliances, and churches to have visible, viable, vital national alliances in every country in the world to serve them and to be their voice.

One of the four pillars of WEA work is advocacy. Why? Because our alliances and the local church is engaged in advocacy. The local churches and the alliances are fighting for freedom of religion in most parts of the world, because in most parts of the world there are violations. The local churches are also involved, in some countries they work against human trafficking, in other countries they work against corruption. In many countries in Africa, they work for peace, reconciliation, interfaith dialogue, and cohesion in societies. So, because of the local churches and the national alliances are engaging at the national level, one way as a global body to serve them is to be an extension for their voice.

Now, this is the practical answer. The theological answer is, very simply, we are all created in the image of God. We are all, we have inherent dignity and rights because we are created in the image of God. We have responsibilities to respect and fulfill and enshrine the rights of others in societies.

The governments are ordained and have a responsibility towards God to respect the human rights of their citizens and not to violate them, because their citizens are in the image of God, are people, bearers of the image of God. And oftentimes we see these violations because of racism, corruption, greed, of the sinfulness that leads to denying that this other person is in the image of God. When we talk about second-class citizen, when we talk about persecution of religious minorities, when we talk about persecution of… when we talk about the caste system, when we talk about the religious other. You know, oftentimes, in politics, these terms are used to deny that this other person is in the image of God. He is a human being. We have the obligation to respect his rights. So this is the, you know, the quick theological understanding of, you know, why I engage, why I pursue the work I'm pursuing, and why the WEA also engages globally.

Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Thank you for that. And just expanding a little bit more, could you talk about how the WEA views the United Nations, and if you feel that the United Nations is able to serve evangelical churches globally? And part of why it's so interesting what you're doing right now, and so inspiring is, I think, particularly in the United States, unfortunately, there have been some strains, I think, of evangelicalism where the United Nations and even the whole human rights project is viewed as suspect somehow. And so, yeah, if you could just expand on the perspective of the WEA on the kind of work that you're doing through the UN.

Wissam al-Saliby: So what is the United Nations? The United Nations is the gathering of all sovereign states all over the world. And this gathering of all sovereign states all over the world, you know, there is no higher or supreme authority. It’s just this big gathering and structure with a charter, with the charter of United Nations that came out after the Second World War with the aspiration for peace, for justice, for human rights, and human security.

And this charter is something that is, on paper, is something we aspire to as peacemakers, as Christians called to be peacemakers in our society. As people called to care for the people around us who are suffering injustice and to fight against this injustice, just like in the Old Testament prophets. We view this, the charter of the UN, and the idea of the UN to be extremely valuable. We should not take it for granted. I mean, it's a very young organization when you think about the history of humanity, and it's an important forum, international forum.

It's an important international forum to engage with because, while, you know, we recognize that whenever you put sinful people in a room, you're not gonna get the best results- we're all sinful- but at the same time, it is our calling as a global body, it is our calling as a church. We are not part of this world, but we are in this world. So when we go to the United Nations, we go as ambassadors of Christ. We go with a sense of that we need to engage in this forum to defend freedom of religious belief, but to do so in a way that points to the hope that we have.

We engage with the United Nations because it's a very important global forum for the same reason why we go on the mission field or anywhere else. It's just, it's just another mission field where we need to engage and help the United Nations and help the diplomats, quote unquote, to look at the UN Charter, to look at the human rights declarations and international covenants and instruments, and to help them understand and put them in practice because we are in a broken world and these ideal documents are not yet in practice. Human rights violations in the recent decade are only increasing. Violation of religious freedom is increasing according to every single report and every different methodology of how you assess it. And in this context, we feel our calling, as the World Evangelical Alliance, and, I believe that, as the church globally, is to be a voice in support of human rights and dignity, and to engage with governments, to engage with the United Nations mechanisms, with the diplomats, because that's part of our calling as a church to make, to seek peace and to humbly call out injustice.

Jonathan Walton: So, Wissam, as you were sharing, I just couldn't help but think about the, the tension that I felt as you were speaking about how you thought so aspirationally and so missionally about the United Nations. But then also thinking about how American evangelicalism’s historical view of the United Nations is very different. And so I'm wondering, particularly as you fight for religious freedom, or are you fighting for Christians’ freedom?

Wissam al-Saliby: We, as the World Evangelical Alliance globally and as the Geneva office, we advocate for freedom of religious belief for all, for everyone, because that's, because everyone is in the image of God and everyone deserves and needs to have the right for freedom of religion or belief. But also, practically, you cannot fight for the rights of one community and at a time where globally evangelicals are a minority, and in most countries, it's not just the evangelicals, but the evangelicals and other religious minorities and other communities are, their rights are violated. So in these countries, we see the local churches oftentimes, more often than not, advocating for the rights of everyone within their community, partnering with, like in India, for example, with Muslims, with, you know, other minority groups in, you know, we see this in Sri Lanka. So oftentimes in many parts of the world there are local alliances in support of protection of minorities when the church is a minority.

And we echo this, you know, at the United Nations. But fundamentally, we really believe that the strategy is, we know we need to support the freedom of religion or belief for everyone, because that's the only way we can support the church. You know, we need structural change. We don't need, you cannot advocate for a law that protects Christians. We need a law in a given country that protects everyone, including the churches.

So, yeah, that's the ethos of our advocacy and that's important in Geneva because there's a misperception that, you know, this is a, you know, that World Evangelical Alliance is a tribal group, an interest group, that are here to defend their own group. They're not committed to human rights as such. They just, they’re here to advocate their agenda- which is false. And over time, people are noticing that we are, we truly do what we're doing because one, we're grassroots, we're connected with the locals; and second, we are committed to the human rights framework because this is the value system that we believe emanates, started with the Christian biblical worldview that believes that every single human being is in the image of God. The equality, inherent dignity, you know, in the Human Rights Declaration in 1948, and everyone is endowed with reason. So this is our belief, and this is what we need to communicate in international forums.

Sy Hoekstra: I think sometimes in the US it's difficult for us to kind of wrap our heads around the framework that you just gave us, even though it's a relatively simple, reasonable seeming framework, because we are so used to here advocating for very small things that we kind of argue are, you know, oppressive towards us.

Like right now, there's a case in the Supreme Court where Christians are arguing that we should have the freedom to take public money and have Christian foster care agencies refuse to license foster parents who are same-sex couples or who are just single foster parents even. And, you know, we argue that that's a religious freedom issue, right?

So it's not the state like oppressing us. It's just the state not allowing us to use its funds to discriminate in the ways that we prefer based on kind of moral disapproval of certain types of couples and I don't, or certain types of families. And do you think that that, sort of what I would characterize as a false witness in the US, affects how the UN thinks about the World Evangelical Alliance?

Wissam al-Saliby: There is a misperception and misunderstanding of evangelicals globally, and it's not just because of the politics of, the evangelical politics in the US. There's also the evangelical politics in Africa, evangelical politics in Brazil and Latin America, and everywhere- it's causing a lot of misunderstanding. But also, the methods and approaches for advocacy that are aggressive pursued by some evangelicals. The change, seeking to change in legislation when we are failing to change the hearts of people and convincing the people has led to backlashes, has led to limited effectiveness, you know. You could, I mean, just the issues of abortion when you think of the examples of Poland and Argentina and what's happening. You know, you could have limited success, but then what is the meaning of your success at the court or the government or the parliament level if the population stands up against you? What does it mean for the church and the church witness? Difficult questions to grapple for a lot of our members and national alliances.

Now, as the World Evangelical Alliance, we are a global body representing, you know, from over 130 nations. So a lot of the questions that are, that the local alliances face at the local level, you know, we pray and support the alliances as they, and we pray for wisdom to know how to navigate it. But it's not for us to address unless it's a human rights, it has a broader human rights implication that is, that we need, and then we are requested to work on it.

So in most parts of the world, evangelicals are a minority. It's true that the church is growing and that evangelicals are growing, but we're still a minority. So it's not like we are, you know, we have the same challenges that exist in the US for example, where evangelicals have a greater margin of maneuver in politics and society. So that's why the WEA’s questions and priorities are different from what some of the things you see. And we try to reflect that we are a global body. We try to reflect we are a global evangelical body and that evangelicals are, by nature, everywhere in the world. And we, we genuinely care for the dignity and human rights for everyone.

We do, we did, we did take a stand, for example, when Swedish alliance asked us to ask, you know, to object for the denial of the right to conscientious objection for medical practitioners who are forced to partake in abortion or otherwise they will lose their license as a nurse. She wouldn't be able to practice as a nurse. There are four countries in the world, I think, where nurses are obliged to partake in abortion and there's no right to conscientious objection. And one, you know, we brought this up at the United Nations, it's a clear and cut case of violations of the right of the nurses to be forced to partake in abortion.

You know, this is the kind of causes that ended up on my desk. The ones in the US, it's, I mean, it's a national challenge and difficulty to address, but, you know, it's not necessarily yet relevant for a global human rights framework. I don't know what will happen in the future, how things will go.

Suzie Lahoud: Wissam, shifting gears a little bit, you have spent, I'm sure, a lot of time thinking about how churches should respond when they exist under oppressive regimes. And I'm thinking, specifically, not just about your work globally, but even pastors that you and I know who participated in Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and thinking about the situation in Lebanon and the protests and uprisings there. So how do you think Christians should frame their thinking about their response to corruption and tyranny and violence from the state? What are your sort of insights into that?

Wissam al-Saliby: Yeah. This is a question that I've been trying to understand and grapple because, you know, you go to meet in Geneva with diplomats of countries that are considered to be oppressive, tyrannical, committing widespread human rights violations, and you try to engage with them. But I know also that evangelicals and leaders, they engage with, you know, the WEA leadership with a lot of countries all over the world.

And the reality is, first and foremost, there's no country in the world that does not commit some form of human rights violations. I mean, of course, there are different measures, but I mean, the United States, I mean, oftentimes we criticize other countries, but the United States- the 2003 war on Iraq, the weapons sales that they do, and also the whole issue of policing and community- are all violations of human rights or include violations of human rights. So I'm saying this to say that oftentimes the discourse is that China, Russia, and Iran are the evil-doers. In reality, in my work, you see that most countries in the world there are severe difficulties and challenges for human rights, with the exception maybe of some European countries. But even Sweden that I mentioned the issue of, you know, Sweden might be viewed as, you know, as a country that respects human rights, but then nurses are obliged to partake in abortion. So, you know, every country in the world, you have to challenge the people and the authorities to tell them these, your people, your citizens, your minorities, all are equal, should be equal citizenship for all, because everyone is in the image of God, everyone has human rights and human dignity. You cannot pursue what you're pursuing in India in terms of neglecting Christian or Muslim minorities. And you cannot, in the United States, pursue policing where African Americans are being killed and shot with harming narratives and stories that we read, or, you know, China, and how the treatment of, whether Muslim or Christian minorities, et cetera.

Now, one of the challenges is we also need to keep in mind that these rulers, those who commit human rights violations, I mean, including the worst of the worst. If we say that, in Syria, for example, the killing that took place, the bloodshed, whether by the government or by opposition groups, I mean, they are also people in the image of God and also we need to pray for the Paul moment- Paul going towards Damascus and Jesus appearing to him. We shouldn't forget the story from our head when we engage with and when we denounce, when we, you know, go and say, “Listen, you're committing these violations. Let's have a conversation about it, these human rights violation.” We shouldn't leave, forget that even those people have the opportunity to repent, and we shouldn't forget that. And we should, in one way or the other, communicate this. And it's not an easy line to walk on. So I think a lot about what is the way that you go and meet, whether in Geneva, diplomats, or in the capitals, you meet the leaders and you honestly engage with them and call out injustice in their countries- and injustices that they may be committing- while at the same time, demonstrating love to them, while demonstrating God's love to them. And at the same time, not being, not allowing to be manipulated or misused for their media and PR machine saying, “We just met with this group of evangelicals and everything is going well in our country.”

So it's, the international politics is a difficult and challenging work, and it takes a lot of wisdom to be able to play the prophet role with these leaders, knowing that they will be upset. But if God is calling us to get them upset, but at the same time, God is calling us to tell them, “Look, I mean, there's always a way to repent and go back.” We should pray always to find this balance. Also, we shouldn't play into government narratives, you know, saying, “These governments are the evil and this is the good,” or “We are good and they are bad.” And I started off, I started off by saying, you know, most governments are, you know, everybody's sinful. There's no government or government leaders that are irreproachable. And we need to understand that in our engagement.

I often call on churches, and I've, recently I was having a conversation and, you know, someone asked me, “What do you think of the XYZ, bad countries, nasty countries?” And I responded thinking, “Well, before we talk about other countries, Christians should talk about their own government and country. They should call out the injustice in their society. They should call out the violations of human rights in their own society before we set out to criticize the rest of the world.”

Sy Hoekstra: Yup. And I think your essay in our book last year was, also got at this point. It was a little bit more in the foreign policy area, but just on Christians believing in the moral superiority of their country. So for a lot of really great thoughts on that, I would suggest listeners go and read that essay.

Recently, Wissam, shifting gears a little bit, you have been writing kind of online about the conflict in Israel and Palestine and trying to come up with a way of thinking about that particular situation that takes seriously the biblical call to justice for the oppressed, but also respects, you know, the image of God in all people like you've talked about a few times. Can you tell us where your thoughts are on that situation right now?

Wissam al-Saliby: Thank you. In May there was this, again, yet another massive conflict between Hamas and the Israeli army, along with demonstrations and mobilization in the West Bank and within Israel itself for the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship. And I'm a Lebanese. So as a Lebanese, you know, growing up in Lebanon, I mean, Israel, for me, growing up in Lebanon meant bombings and attacks and killing. You know, in 1996, Israel attacked during one of the episodes with Hezbollah. In 1996 they attacked a UN shelter where a hundred women and children were immediately killed and massacred by an Israeli attack on that shelter, you know.

And so, when you're growing up and you see that Israel is killing women and children in Lebanon, you have, you know, deep injury and hurt. So one of, before talking about what's just happened with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I need to understand myself that I'm very much hurt, as a Lebanese, by the crimes, the war crimes, committed by the Israelis. In 2006 also, there was a war where over a thousand people, maybe, or a thousand civilians, were killed by Israel. And I was part of the Human Rights Watch team of three people- I was actually the translator back then- you know, going and investigating why these 1,000 people were killed, or more than a thousand. You know, going from one village to the other and understanding how the attack happened, what happened. And we verified that most of the people who were killed were civilians and there was no explanation or rationale why they were attacked by the Israelis. You can read the report, Why They Died by Human Rights Watch about this.

So this is a challenge for me because I have to overcome my hurt. This is where my Christian identity and my identity in Christ needs to overcome my Lebanese identity of growing up in a country where we were on the recipient end of American-made bombs sent by Israel. We need to over, I need to overcome this injury in order to genuinely love the Israeli other, this other side. Because we are called to love them, whether we want to classify them as enemies or neighbors or friends, whatever, we are called to love. And we are called to, you know, to respect that they are also in the image of God.

And this is, this was, this is always a challenge. When I read the media, and I read the accounts of what happened in May, what's happening, ongoing on, when you see on Twitter, you know, “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will take vengeance,” and you have to be able to filter all the information that we're receiving, to filter them through the filter of the Bible that says, “Okay, you will not forget, fine. But you need to forgive. You need to forgive, but also you need to fight against the ongoing injustice. You need to, we need to, act as agents for peace.” And what does it mean to act as agents for peace when there’s, you know, there's, in Israel and Palestine specifically, but also in the region, you have Israel is Goliath and strong with nuclear weapons, with military and funding and economy, and they have chosen to, you know, oppress the Palestinians? You, when the Palestinians go demonstrate, at least one person is shot and killed. When they launch, when Hamas launches rockets, more people get killed. When, you know, the Palestinians resist their home demolition and getting kicked out of their homes, they, you know, like yesterday, there were several people detained in Sheikh Jarrah and Jerusalem.

So when the war happened in May, I was thinking, “What is my voice as an evangelical Christian?” And my voice as an evangelical Christian Arab is, first and foremost, to my own people and my own community is to say, “Violence is not the answer. Everyone is in the image of God. Everyone has inherent dignity, including the Israelis, including the Palestinians, including the Palestinians in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon or in Gaza or elsewhere. Including the Jews all over the world, whether those who support Israel or those who support, you know, the justice for the Palestinians.”

And then the second layer of thinking for me is it's an asymmetric war where you have one side- the Israelis they have, not only the military might, but also the media, the media and communication and the control of the narrative. And I felt, as an evangelical Christian, in addition to, for me, that everyone is in the image of God, I wanted to fight over the narrative because in the West, I felt that the Palestinian is portrayed as the terrorist or, you know, portrayed as the person who is basically, why are they launching rockets? Or, why are they demonstrating? There’s the misunderstanding of the context, of the animosity, of the violence, of every, you know, how you, what it means to growing up as a Palestinian and you end up throwing stones or throwing rockets at the Israelis, just explain all of this. And then, so I just wanted, I wanted to have this kind of contribution because I felt, I don’t know, I was thinking, “What is my calling in this situation?”

You know, I've had conversations with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and I challenged them- you know, they're not Christian, they're Muslim- and I tried to challenge them when the conversation on, in relation to the Israelis, to see if they can envision a solution of the conflict that includes everyone, that embraces the Jewish and everyone, and they couldn't. They couldn’t, in part, because they've never met an Israeli because when you are a refugee in Lebanon, it's not like in the West Bank or in Israel where you actually meet and understand, you know, you look into the Israelis in their eyes. You know, in Lebanon there’s this distance. And so it's much easier to dehumanize and it's much more difficult for me to try to humanize the Israelis. But it’s also, there's a sense of helplessness. You're talking to people who are growing up in a camp in very difficult financial, social situation and there's helplessness. So the challenge I find is there are so many stakeholders I need to communicate with.

And that is one of the reasons why I ended up doing a podcast episode on the Didomi podcast. Didomi is a collective of Christians who work for justice and peacemaking. And I decided I want to interview Palestinian evangelicals, and you can go on didomi.co to listen to that podcast. And I wanted to challenge them and to understand from them, one of the questions is how they try to make their identity in Christ overcome their national Palestinian identity? And what is their peacemaking role? And what is, you know, how do they see peacemaking and prayer in this conflict? And it was just all attempts to be, have a constructive, edifying contribution within, you know, recognizing that it is just a drop in the water, but, you know, prayerfully thinking, “What is my personal calling into this situation?”

Sy Hoekstra: Wissam, thank you so much for your time today. Before we go, is there anything that you would like people to, obviously the Didomi podcast would be, that you just mentioned, would be one. And just so people know, that's D-I-D-O-M-I, is that correct?

Wissam al-Saliby: D-I-D-O-M-I dot C-O. It's a, Didomi is a collective of Christians, and the first thing we did was the podcast because of the pandemic. I mean, we were hoping to do something more physical. I actually, because of social media, I'm going more and more needing to engage more personal, deeper, with relationship rather than digital.

But because of the pandemic, we started off this podcast. But we're hoping on the long run to do more, you know, workshops and events discussing church witness, justice, peacemaking. I worry that people, especially young people, have a default, they default back in terms of politics to worldly, you know, engagement in politics from a worldview. They don't understand how, as a church people, we need to relate to politics. The approach and the content should be different. And I'm talking not as, you know, I'm talking as a Lebanese seeing what's happening in the Arab world and elsewhere. I'm not talking about what's happening in the United States.

Sy Hoekstra: Right. And where can people follow you online?

Wissam al-Saliby: I recently shut down my Facebook account because I grew wary with Facebook as a concept and content and everything, and privacy concerns. So I'm on Twitter currently- W-A-L-S-A- L- I- B- Y on Twitter and on LinkedIn, and that's where I share and I try to present a bit. I write often on the ABTS, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary’s blog, and there's the Didomi podcast where I, with a group of friends, we are interviewing and sharing about, oftentimes, what we work on.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, in addition to the Didomi blog, the ABTS blog is another good resource that listeners should check out.

Wissam, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Wissam al-Saliby: Thank you for hosting me. I really appreciate it. I appreciate the work you're doing, and thank you also for offering that I contribute to the book that you wrote.

Sy Hoekstra: Oh, of course! We loved having you and we feel the same about the work that you're doing. Thank you.

[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.] 

Sy Hoekstra: Thank you so much for listening today. Please remember to take a moment to check out our blog at KTFPress.com, consider subscribing or signing up for our free mailing list, follow us on social media @KTFPress.

Remember to subscribe to this podcast or follow it, whatever your podcast player says, just click that button. That means you'll get notifications when we have new episodes, and leave us a rating and review if you can.

Also, remember to write in to shakethedust@ktfpress.com with questions, written or recorded as a voice memo. You might show up on a future episode if you do.

Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see you next week when we have Professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez to talk about her book, Jesus and John Wayne. It's a good one. Everybody, we will see you then.

[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades back in. Lyrics: “Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” Song fades out.]  

Sy Hoekstra: Alright. So let's go to the other one, which is, I don’t know why I made these two separate documents…

Suzie Lahoud: So you could put them in the two separate folders.

Jonathan Walton: Yep.

Suzie Lahoud: [in a sing-song voice] Organi-za-tion

Jonathan Walton: [responding in a sing-song voice] Very obvious to me.

Sy Hoekstra: [laughs] Good.

Suzie Lahoud: [laughing] We should just do our own little jingles.

Jonathan Walton: [snapping fingers and singing] Hey, shake that dust!

Sy Hoekstra: Hey, shake that dust.

KTF Press
Shake the Dust
Leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God – Shake the Dust features candid interviews and informed discussions that guide us as we seek Jesus instead of empire.