Last Thursday, the New York Times reported that the Shi’i military and political movement Hezbollah, which many would classify as terrorist, toppled the Lebanese government just six months after the death of Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of Hezbollah’s most prominent intellectual and religious figures.
Fadlallah and other Hezbollah leaders have regularly refused audiences with western authors and media. But for Carl Medearis and New York Times bestselling novelist Ted Dekker, both conceivably Evangelical Christians, Hezbollah made exceptions. And not only Hezbollah made exceptions, so did Hamas, the Saudi Arabian Minister of Oil, two of Osama bin Laden’s brothers, and many other prominent and everyday Middle Eastern Muslims. The result is Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies’ Table, Our Journey through the Middle East.
In the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5), Jesus articulates principles for a life of integrity that are counter-intuitive, strangely fulfilling, philosophically rich, infuriating, and magnificent all at the same time. “You have heard it said, ‘do not murder.’ But I say to you whoever rages at his brother or sister (some translations include, “without cause”) will be liable for judgment” (5:21). And, “You have heard it said, ‘do not commit adultery.’ But I say whoever looks with lustful intent (presumably, at someone else’s spouse) has already committed adultery in his heart” (5:27). And, “You have heard it said, ‘do not swear falsely.’ But I say do not swear at all, but simply let your “yes” mean “yes,” and your “no” mean “no” (5:33-37).
But the challenge of refraining in thought, word, and deed from fury, lust, and duplicity is less daunting than this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (5:43-45, NRSV).
When an attendee at a Harvard Bookstore forum asked Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of The Perfect Storm (1997) and War (2010), about loving one’s enemies in wartime, Junger replied, “It’s a beautiful idea. I don’t think it’s realistic, unfortunately. If that worked, there wouldn’t be war, but it doesn’t work.” For Junger, Afghan insurgents and U.S. soldiers cannot love one another. They must kill or be killed.
Although Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis are not soldiers, they challenge Junger’s verdict by setting out to love enemies and pray for perceived and actual persecutors. In Tea with Hezbollah, Dekker and Medearis recount their trek through Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories to eat, drink, interview, and converse in Jesus’ name with Muslim ideologues, Hamas leaders, Hezbollah fighters, the Saudi Arabian Minister of Oil, two of Osama bin Laden’s brothers, Lebanese Sheikh Ayatollah Fadlallah (deceased July 4, 2010), as well as workaday Muslim taxi drivers, teachers, river farriers, entrepreneurs, and military officers. They brave border patrols, body guards, the IDF, and Saudi religious police to humanize powerful and everyday Middle Eastern Muslims to Americans, and to humanize Americans—especially American evangelical Christians—to Middle Eastern Muslims. One of the ways they do this is by peppering their interviewees with questions ranging from lighthearted to audacious:
What is something your children or grandchildren do that makes you laugh?
What are your favorite hobbies, television shows, or sports?
What would you say are Americans’ greatest misconceptions of your people?
What are the worst Muslim, Arab, and Saudi misconceptions about Americans?
If you had one thing to say to all Jews and Christians, what would it be?
Jesus’ greatest teaching was that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even love our enemies. How do you recommend we love each other as Jesus taught?
If you fire a rocket at your neighbor,is that loving them?
But Tea with Hezbollah does not merely moralize that Muslims and even terrorists are people too. Dekker and Medearis aim for reconciliation in a “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12-13) emulating Booker T. Washington (let no one pull you so low as to hate them) and Martin Luther King, Jr., “to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from this view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature…learn and grow and profit.”
Dekker and Medearis labor to win their enemies’ friendship, understanding, and acknowledgment of what is right by initiating conversations about Jesus with Muslims who traditionally revere Jesus as a prophet, virgin-born Messiah, and as a “Word” from God in language reminiscent of John 1 (see Surah 3:45, 4:171). But even though Muslims respect Jesus, they are usually woefully ignorant about the gospels, not least because of misguided or malicious efforts to ban Bibles in parts of the majority Muslim world. Such censorship continues despite commands in the Qur’an that apparently allude, appeal to, or purport to confirm Jewish and Christian scripture, “If thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee” (Surah 10:94).