Proselytizing for Palestine

Evangelist and activist Tony Campolo, formerly spiritual counselor to Bill Clinton post-Monica, recently sojourned to Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank for the school’s convocation of “Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Peace and Justice.”  This Palestinian evangelical school peddles a form of Palestinian liberationism that much of the Evangelical Left in the U.S., increasingly anxious to justify hostility to Israel and its U.S. allies, eagerly finds persuasive.

Besides Campolo, other speakers included British anti-Israel Anglican priest Stephen Sizer, author Lynne Hybels (wife of Willow Creek mega-church pastor Bill Hybels), Wheaton College professor Gary Burge, United Methodist missionary Alex Awad, and Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre.

Campolo effusively rhapsodized about “Christ at the Checkpoint” in a column for Jim Wallis’ Sojourners.  The “horror stories” from “oppressed Palestinians” that Campolo heard at Bethlehem Bible College “sent chills” up his back and aroused his “indignation” and “compassion.”  Naturally, Campolo is angriest at pro-Israel evangelicals in the U.S. who are the real culprits for Palestinian suffering.

“Why don’t our Christian brothers and sisters in America care about what is happening to us?,” Campolo remembered one Palestinian imploring of him.  “Do they know that their tax dollars paid for the Israeli tanks that destroyed my house and the houses of my neighbors?”

Predictably, Campolo recited the usual narrative of Christian exodus from among the Palestinians, reporting that Bethlehem has declined from 70 percent to 15 percent Christian.  “Sometimes heartless and dehumanizing treatment that Bethlehem Christians have had to endure over the years has led most of them to emigrate to other countries,” he explained.  Supposedly Israel is exclusively to blame for Christians leaving the region.  But the overall Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, which is 95-98 percent Muslim, continues to grow.  For the most part, Muslims are not leaving. Why would the one or two percent of Palestinians who are Christian most likely emigrate?  Could radical Islam’s influence be a factor? Could it also be that Christians have more contacts with the West that more easily facilitate emigration?

Campolo, like most of the Evangelical and Religious Left, does not try to answer these questions.  Nor does he express a lot of public interest in Palestinian and other Middle East Christians except as a cudgel against Israel and, ultimately, against conservative Christians in the U.S. — Campolo’s favorite bête noire. “The most serious threats to the well-being of the Palestinians in general, and to the Christian Palestinians in particular, come not from the Jews, but from Christian Zionists here in the United States,” he charged.

Of course, Campolo repeats the usual canard that U.S. evangelicals are uniformly bewitched by “Dispensationalism,” which originated with 19th century English theologian Nelson Darby.  In the stereotype that Campolo rehashes, these Darbyite Dispensationalists blindly believe that Jesus Christ will not return “until all of this land is occupied by Jews, and all others are forced to leave.”  Trying to sound equitable, Campolo notes that “Jewish lobbies” are not the main villain behind the “30 percent of all U.S. foreign aid” going to Israel which enables the country to have the “fourth most powerful army in the world.”  No, it is the Christian Zionists who are the “primary sources of pressure on the U.S. Congress to financially back the Israeli military that has made the injustices I have described possible.”

In the Campolo/Evangelical Left narrative, pro-Israel Christians foolishly ignore how the “entire Islamic world views what is happening in the Holy Land,” U.S. evangelical support for Israel is “hindering evangelism among Muslims,” and “so many of the conflicts that exist between Muslims and Christians around the world are partially due to what is happening in the Holy Land.” The Muslim media is quick to link the “oppression of Palestinians to the justification of attacks on Americans, in particular, and the Western world, in general.”

For Campolo, the solution is simple:  “We should be calling for the demolition of the separation wall that is as offensive as the Berlin Wall was.” And “we should be demanding” a return to the 1967 borders.  He says he favors “safe and secure borders for the State of Israel and protection against terrorists.” But evidently, Israel should not be permitted to build walls against suicide bombers or to negotiate defensible borders. Presumably, good will and accommodation will create all the security that Israel needs.

Anti-Israel Anglican priest Stephen Sizer, who participated with Campolo at “Christ at the Checkpoint,” enthusiastically interviewed Campolo afterwards for his website. “The only talk of a resistance against the Israelis, that I heard, is non-violent resistance,” Campolo blithely assured an eagerly listening and believing Sizer about Palestinian intentions.  The evangelist apparently also likes the Israel-Apartheid comparison: “When you begin comparing this to Apartheid in South Africa, you immediately communicate to the American people…The phrase has power.”  And Campolo warned that “both sides,” i.e. Israel and Palestinians, are guilty of hateful portrayals of each other in educational curricula, but Israel is especially guilty. “Hate is allowed to reign free within the Israeli community,” he warned.  “And we incited the Hilltop situation in Hebron and the young men going in…” he continued, in an apparent reference to the 2008 incident when Israeli youth rampaged over Israeli court ordered evictions of Israeli settlers.  It’s not clear who the “we” is who provoked this violence, but presumably it is the dreaded pro-Israel Christians in the U.S.

According to a Pew poll, evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics in the U.S. all sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinian cause. But for the angry Evangelical Left, including Campolo, supposed Israeli oppression is due exclusively to Zionist evangelicals purportedly obsessed with biblical prophecies about the end-times.

Most American Christians sympathize with Israel because it is a pro-American democracy and not owing to 19th century Darbyite theology.  But Campolo and the Evangelical Left prefer not to discuss the merits of democracy versus its Islamist alternatives. Instead, they demonize pro-Israel evangelicals and hope cries of “apartheid” will persuade when sound argument will not.

  • Marty

    campolo is simply one more monotonous useful idiot. Why doesn't he protest the shelling of Israeli civilians by hamas murderers? Why doesn't he recognize that the only arabs who live and thrive in the only democracy in the Middle East reside in Israel? Why doesn't he condemn the oppression of religious minorities that dhimmitude brings in islamic countries? Why doesn't he face up to the fact that he is a moral hypocrite?

    • kid bertha

      Marty, the answer to all of your questions is really quite simple. He is deceived. Just as all non-messianic Jews are deceived, so are he and all his ilk deceived. It's supposed to be that way. But it will all work out according the Lord God of Israel's master plans. You can count on it. Everything happening all over the earth today is aligning right up with the ancient hebrew prophecies and new testament prophecies. The world map looks quite like a chess match. Does it not? Start connecting the dots. It is going to be one hell of a show! Fortunately, I will not be here for its grand finale.

  • Jean

    I used to pay attention to Campolo, but became uneasy as he sounded more and more borderline heretical. Sorry to hear he's wandered so far and descended so low.

  • BS1977

    Now that I think about it, almost every nation has some form of "apartheid" or another. Criminals and those who are deemed a danger to the public are seperated out and kept apart…..In China, the wealthy capitalist commies live in seperate gated, secure elitist areas while the prolertarians live in squalor and high density crowding. In Saudi Arabia, no churches, temples or synagogues are permitted and women are kept in life long apartheid from a variety of social functions. Israel is the most pluralistic , diverse and democratic nation in the ME…unfortunately they are under seige and must protect themselves from suicide bombers and armed killers…so they have checkpoints and restricitions. This is called survival folks, not Apartheid.

  • Jon

    Just a comment about John Nelson Darby. His "dispensational" theology was developed at a time when a deep interest and study was going on, in the English speaking church, about escatology. This also included the distinction between the calling of the Church and the calling of the nation of Israel as revealed in the Bible. These studies were concluded and spread abroad at a time long before there was even a hint of the modern Arab-Israeli conflict. Dispensational theology simply set out in advance what we see happening today becuse it was, and is, based on the prophecies of the Bible (Old and New Testaments).

  • georgerekers

    the only reason that evangelical christians are interested in israel is because christ was born there. when the muslim threat simmers you will have a christian threat. in the back of their minds they would like israel a christian nation. be careful who you select as friends.

  • david elder

    It is sad to see Campolo degenerating in this way. Perhaps the inbred nature of the religious left has claimed another victim. I have no interest whatsoever in Darby's dispensationalist theology and no rigid theory about eschatology in general. I wouldn't be surprised if Israel has some part to play in it, but I don't insist on any detailed version of this, nor do I oppose a two-state solution – if the Palestinians are really interested in one. If Campolo really wants to help the Palestinians, he could best do so by stopping from making open-ended excuses for them and their Arab neighbours. The Palestinians lost the West Bank to Jordan, not Israel, in 1948; Jordan could have got it back after the 1967 war had she been willing to make peace with Israel. The religious left, Wallis, Sizer, Campolo etc. peddle simplistic, slanted, predictable, politicised ideology dressed up as prophecy. Even when they have a point they distort it by extremism. Their influence on church social justice bodies and the religious and mainstream media in my country (Australia) is unhealthy in a major way. Tooley, keep up the shock and awe at their expense.

  • Bonnie Lee

    Do not call Campola an evangelical. He has wandered away down the path of PC (politically correctness) instead of staying on the narrow path of Truth. He is part of the Emergent Church which is revising God's Word to fit the culture, never mind what Christ Himself said, and did, and is. The Bible says that in the Last Days there will be goats and sheep. I will not follow this modern anathema to be "popular". I will follow Christ (Messiah) alone. I will, and we as a country should not abandon Israel. Look at history. I dare you. From Rome to the present, any nation that has cursed Israel has fallen.