Choosing sides

Sunday, April 4, 2010

There are at least two sides to every story. Two sides at minimum.

The History Channel recently ran a story about the Japanese surrender in 1945. Americans have always believed that it was what Harry Truman called "the rain of ruin from the air," the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that solely brought Japan to heel. Some historians now say there's more to Emperor Hirohito's decision to capitulate. They advise that it was the Soviet Union's decision to attack Japan on Aug. 8, 1945 -- in between the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings -- that equally influenced the surrender.

The Soviets immediately invaded Manchuria after its declaration of war. The nearby threat posed by the USSR combined with the devastation of U.S. atomic bombs brought about V-J Day. Or so say contemporary history experts. Two sides to every story.

This week, Israel is forbidding access to its territory from the occupied West Bank. These restrictions will continue into Tuesday -- effectively forbidding any Christian tourists who have traveled to the Holy Land for Easter week from visiting Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. The reason for this clampdown is a Palestinian protest March 28 that exposed a weakness in Israeli security. Roughly 150 people, who marched from the Church of the Nativity to the main border checkpoint near Rachel's Tomb (a distance of several miles), found themselves able to pass through without being detained.

Apparently, the private security company hired to police this checkpoint left the gates open and inadequately manned. The protesters -- some carrying Palestinian flags, others waving palm branches for Palm Sunday, simply walked through. This surprises me. When our family visited Bethlehem just three months ago, our vehicle was stopped coming and going, and we had to produce our passports for inspection for both ingress and egress.

Palestinians have long complained of the tighter restrictions on West Bank travel during major religious holidays. Apparently no one expected to have been able to exit. Israeli police did stop the marchers several hundred yards past the checkpoint and returned all to the West Bank. Israel's travel ban on Christian pilgrims (and most others) quickly followed.

Palestinians believe the Israelis have imposed an unnecessary burden on the West Bank, stripping Bethlehem, in particular, of the opportunity to win tourist dollars during the busy Easter week. Israelis believe the Palestinians intentionally pushed the envelope, hoping to spark an international incident with the checkpoint protest and border crossing. Two sides to every story.

The atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel found his faith in Jesus by weighing the evidence. Sifting through all the biblical and other source material, Strobel was persuaded that Jesus is lord and savior. On the other hand, the renowned columnist and author Christopher Hitchens claims to have done the same thing -- and his avowed disbelief in Jesus is as hard as permafrost. There are two sides, at minimum, to every story.

Each of us has to pick our side. Jesus said, "He who is not with me is against me." (Matthew 12:30/Luke 11:23) On this Easter morning, as you consider the empty tomb, you are invited to pick a side of the story: Strobel's or Hitchens'. Choose well.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Editor's note: After this column was submitted for publication, word was received that the Israeli government lifted the Easter restrictions on travel to and from Bethlehem and other sites in the West Bank.

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