In March of 2012, the Bible College in Bethlehem will host dozens of US theologians, activists and ministries for the “Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 Conference.” Bethlehem Bible College trains Christian servant-leaders for the churches and society within an Arab context. Founded in 1979 by local Arabs, the college usually enrolls 135 students who are interested in Christian service in the Middle East.
The aim of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference was given as to provide an opportunity for evangelical Christians to prayerfully seek a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation. The conference will:
• Empower and encourage the Palestinian church.
• Expose the realities of the injustices in the Palestinian Territories and create awareness of the obstacles to reconciliation and peace.
• Create a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism and an open forum for ongoing dialogue between all positions within the Evangelical theological spectrum.
• Motivate participants to become advocates for the reconciliation work of the church in Palestine/Israel and its ramifications for the Middle East and the world.
Giulio Meotti, Italian journalist with Il Foglio, described the conference as a major religious and political event meant to demonize Israel and to support the Palestinian Intifada against the “ethnocentric” Jewish State. The impressive range of Christian theologians and pastors from many churches located in the United States make the gravity of the upcoming conference clear.
Samuel Rodriguez, President of the US National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, is a speaker. Also attending are popular US preacher and “spiritual adviser” to Bill Clinton, Tony Campolo, and President of the World Evangelical Alliance and Asia Evangelical Alliance, Sang-Bok David Kim.
Two of the conference organisers, Stephen Sizer and Sami Awad, adamantly defended the Gaza flotilla sent in May 2010 by the Turkish terror group IHH. Another speaker, Ben White, has shared a political platform with Azzam Tamimi, who has endorsed suicide bombings against Jewish civilians in the past.
The “Bethlehem Call” manifesto, which serves as platform for the Bethlehem 2012 Conference, has just been published on the websites of the Would Council of Churches, the Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ.
The Bethlehem Call defines Israel as an “illegal regime” and a “crime against humanity”, it promotes “international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns” against Israel, labels the more neutral Churches as “accomplices in crimes against humanity” and attacks Christian Zionism as “a crime and sin as defying the core of the Gospel”.
The Bethlehem Call also updates the “Kairos Palestine,” the major document used as global tool for the Christian struggle against Israel speaking in the behalf of “us Christian Palestinians”. Even the name of the Catholic Custodian of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, prominently appears among the most important signatures in the website.
The theological meeting also marks a return to “replacement theology”, the medieval view that the Church has replaced the people of Israel in God’s plan and that all biblical references to Israel refer to the “new Israel”—that is, to Christians.
Stephen Sizer, pastor of Christ Church, Virginia Water, made a statement on behalf of the conference organizing committee and the leadership at Bethlehem Bible College. The following affirmations reflect my personal convictions and hopes as well as those of the other conference organizers.
Affirmation #5 deals with Zionism. It says: Modern Zionism is a political movement created to meet the aspirations of Jews around the world who longed for a homeland. It has become ethnocentric, privileging one people at the expense of others. Christianity calls believers in Jesus to focus on building God’s kingdom on earth.
Another view of the conference has been expressed by Dalton Lifsey, from Tauranga, New Zealand. Lifsey is the Associate Director of the Tauranga House of Prayer and also manages the website http://thecontroversyofzion.com.
The gathering is intended to encourage …support [for] Palestinian Christians who find themselves suffering under what they refer to as “The Israeli Occupation” of Palestine. But there are serious problems with the sort of the solidarity and support that Sizer and Burge are advocating, and that other well meaning but naive Christians are embracing.
The worldview of men like Sizer and Burge rests upon the conviction that Israel is a racist and apartheid regime whose national identity and destiny has been rendered “irrelevant” by Jesus and the apostles. They argue that Israel has no right to the Land believing Israel to be a “cruel and dehumanizing” State.
Conveniently ignoring important issues like Islam, jihad, anti-Semitism, the scores of Israelis brutally slain by Palestinian terrorists that all contribute to Israel’s political posture towards Palestinians, they level the accusation that to endorse the State of Israel is “an abomination” and “heresy.” Championing justice while ignoring history and only telling part of the story is in itself an abortion of justice.
Any call to solidarity with one people group at the expense of the marginalization of another is not just, righteous, or pleasing to the Lord. And any call to support one people group at the expense of the other’s right to exist and defend themselves against those who have no problem blowing up women and children with bombs strapped to their chests is morally insane.
All believers with a conscience should readily reject a call to social justice that is predicated on the assertion that Israel is an apartheid regime and “abominable” for Christians to support (Sizer’s words). While I don’t doubt the sincerity of Sizer’s affection for the Arab Christian community in places like Bethlehem (of which I also feel) I doubt that this is what is primarily motivating his labors. Judging by his writing and teaching, the delegitimization and dismantling of the State of Israel and the discrediting of anyone who supports it.