The Evangelical Left is hosting a “Christ at the Checkpoint” jamboree at the birthplace of Jesus Christ to identify the Savior with Palestinian liberation. This anti-Israeli mobilization will include leading evangelicals from the U.S.
“We are not accusing the Israeli military of putting Jesus at a checkpoint,” insists one disingenuous spokesman, who complains that “some” critics will incomprehensibly interpret it that way. “This is a conference about empowering the Palestinian church.” If so, then why is the conference not less provocatively titled?
Palestinian politicians are often accused of speaking sweetly about peace and co-existence in English to Western audiences but far more stridently in Arabic to their own constituency. Perhaps that same spirit afflicts organizers and defenders of Christ at the Checkpoint.
Another spokesman for Christ at the Checkpoint promises it will challenge the “theology of the land” and the “end times” beliefs of pro-Israel Christians, while advocating a “theology of peace.” But will this theology of peace also challenge Islamists and Palestinian nationalists who reject Israel’s existence or any future for Jews or Christians outside of subjugation?
Major U.S. speakers at the March 5-9 Checkpoint event in Bethlehem include evangelist Tony Campolo (former spiritual counselor to Bill Clinton), Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter (board member of National Association of Evangelicals and spiritual counselor to President Obama), Chicago megachurch co-founder Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community, and popular religious campus anti-war activist Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way in Philadelphia.
Church of England priest and anti-Israel activist Stephen Sizer will also speak, as will Porter Speakman, Colorado producer of the anti-Israel film for evangelicals “With God on Our Side,” plus Gary Burge of evangelical Wheaton College outside Chicago. So too will Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and Chris Seiple of the Institute for Global Engagement, along with Sang-Bok David Kim, chair of the World Evangelical Alliance.
Christ at the Checkpoint’s official purpose is help evangelicals to seek “peace, justice, and reconciliation” by empowering the Palestinian church and exposing the “realities of the injustices in the Palestinian Territories,” while also challenging Christian Zionism.
“Some have accused the conference as being part of a process of demonization of state of Israel,” admitted conference organizer Alex Awad of Bethlehem Bible College, who is also a missionary supported by the United Methodist Church. “I totally and absolutely reject this accusation,” he declared, insisting Christ at the Checkpoint merely wants Israelis and Palestinians to “live in peace and harmony.” Awad further clarified: “We are not anti-Semitic, we are not against Jewish people.” But he admitted: “There may be some criticism of Israel.” No doubt!
Awad implored that criticism of Israel not equate with anti-Semitism. Perhaps this appeal would be more persuasive if Christ at the Checkpoint includes serious criticism of Palestinian authorities and attitudes that persist in denying Israel’s right to exist. And this event would truly convey its desire for “peace” and “reconciliation” if it condemned not just evangelical and Jewish pro-Israel theologies but also critiqued Islamist theology asserting that conquered Islamic lands may never revert to non-Islamic control. But don’t hold your breath. In the mindset of many Christ at the Checkpoint organizers and speakers, a Texas Baptist who believes God still blesses the Jews is more morally culpable for Mideast conflict than a Hamas-supporting Islamist in Nasrallah who believes Allah wants to drive the Jews into the Sea.
“Absolutely this conference will not advocate replacement theology,” Awad also promised, referring to the belief by some Christians that the Church has completely replaced the Jews in God’s eyes. He added: “But there may be some people in this conference who present this point of view.” Again, no doubt. Awad declared of his own Bethlehem Bible College, which is hosting the event: “We don’t believe God replaces people.”
Awad further explained that Christ at the Checkpoint is simply inviting the international community to come see “our situation” by looking at the “wall,” the “siege,” and the “settlements.” In other words, to examine Israeli injustices but not examine why Israel is unable fully to withdraw when Palestinians are unwilling to accept Israel. The event will not “impose a solution,” Award promised, but is only hosting theologians to “pray and meditate.” And then the Holy Spirit will lead them into “solutions.” After all, the event has no “agenda.”
Another defender featured on the Christ Checkpoint website promised the event will not offer any “political solutions,” whether “two-state” or “one-state,” i.e. the abolition of Israel as a Jewish democracy. Instead it only urges “equality for all.” Still another defender explained the event was about how to expand the "Kingdom of God among the Palestinians.” But the conference schedule seems heavy on political and social critique and very little on the topics of evangelism and discipleship that typically characterize church conferences focused on expanding the “Kingdom of God.”
A young Palestinian Christian spokesman for Christ at the Checkpoint explained: “We would like to bring Christ to the reality we face.” But that reality focuses exclusively on purported political liberation of Palestinians from Israeli occupation. It is mainly a variant of the liberation theology of the 1970s and 1980s that replaced Christian beliefs about salvation with Marxist demands for political revolution.
“Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah were quite critical of the behavior of ancient Israel and yet, Biblical scholars do not classify them as demonizers of Israel,” explained Alex Awad in his ongoing defense of Christ at the Checkpoint. So the U.S. evangelicals swarming to Bethlehem largely to criticize Israel and stay mum about Palestinian problems are successors to the prophetic Hebrew tradition of Jeremiah and Isaiah.
American evangelicals are overwhelmingly pro-Israel, not just for idiosyncratic theological reasons. Like most Americans, they notice Israel is democratic and pro-American, offering tolerance to religious minorities, including Christians. Meanwhile, most of Israel’s neighbours are not. Current Palestinian rulers offer little hope that their victory over Israel would advance justice for anyone, much less the tiny and dwindling Palestinian Christian minority.
Christ at the Checkpoint is primarily a public relations scheme to dissuade American evangelicals from pro-Israel views. To succeed, they will have to mount blinders on cooperatively gullible evangelicals, guiding their eyes towards disruptive Israeli checkpoints, while hiding the rest of the surrounding reality.
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