“Christ at the Checkpoint” (CatC) is a biennial conference sponsored by the Bethlehem Bible College since 2010. The conference claims to be “theology in the service of peace and justice” but its true purpose is to fundamentally change the way that Evangelicals in the West read the Bible in order to fundamentally change their political stand regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict-and through them, to affect their political leaders. Instead of reading the Bible in its historical and cultural context in order to understand what the inspired prophets and apostles communicated as the Word of God, organizers of CatC want us to read the Scriptures only “in the shadow of the occupation”, that is, filtered through the Palestinian Arab’s POV and political aspirations. The result is “theology” divorced from God’s originally intended meaning; “theology” as clay reformed in the CatC potter’s hand to serve a one-sided, anti-Israel Palestinian political program.
A Position Paper for the Messianic Jewish Community regarding the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference (CatC)1.The Word of God: the Tanakh and the New Covenant Scriptures together, are the one true, infallible, and unalterable standard of truth and life for all believers. As Yeshua our Messiah declared, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17) and “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Therefore we affirm that “all the promises of God are ‘Yes’” and ‘Amen’ (not abrogated) in Yeshua (II Cor. 1:20), and that “the gifts and calling of God” for His chosen people, Israel, “are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28b-29 in context). “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew!” (Romans 11:2). Rather, “to them belong [present tense!] the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises” (Romans 9:4).2.The Messiah Yeshua’s calling for His Body – in the Land of Israel and throughout the world — is to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19) by proclaiming “repentance for the forgiveness of sins…in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Every movement or activity which does not promote or which, on the contrary, distracts us from that central purpose and calling is not of God, no matter what biblical or spiritual language may be used to describe it. Yeshua never commanded, or even suggested, that His followers were to “bring in” the Kingdom of God on earth. Yeshua Himself promised to establish His Kingdom upon His return (Matthew 25:31, 34), and we, who are heirs of His Kingdom and proclaimers of it in the present age (James 2:5; Acts 28:23, 31), are instructed to pray for that day to quickly come (Matthew 6:10; cf. Philippians 3:20-21).3.Christ at the Checkpoint is, therefore, a false messianic movement, arrogating to itself the role of Messiah in establishing the Kingdom while promoting a humanistic, political “liberation theology.” [All the “evangelical” CatC speakers reflect the same approach and goals, as is evident from the Kairos Documentwhich Yohanna Katanacho, CatC Committee member, helped compose and Bethlehem Bible College endorsed]. Although cloaking its “mandate” in biblical language (“the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God”) and using seductively positive terms (“Peace, justice, and reconciliation”), this movement has one overriding purpose: to sway Evangelical believers worldwide away from belief in the eternal promises of God to Israel by slandering the Jewish people and delegitimizing the Jewish state; painting Israel as a wicked, oppressive, apartheid “entity”—especially in contrast to the supposedly ‘democratic, tolerant and peace-seeking’ Palestinian Authority and people. There is no Gospel here!4.Christ at the Checkpoint is a partisan political movement, willingly acting as public relations spokesmen for the Palestinian Authority to the Evangelical world. The CatC 2012 keynote speech by then Prime Minister of the PA, Saleem Fayad, demonstrated the one-sided and political nature of this conference. In 2014, CatC will open “under the Patronage and Presence” of Dr. Rami Hamdallah, Prime Minister of Palestine. As president of Al-Najah University, in 2001 Hamdallah sponsored an exhibition glorifying terrorism, including a reconstruction of the Sbarro Restaurant massacre in Jerusalem. By welcoming the patronage of one who glorifies terror, CatC has lost any claim to morality, not to mention objectivity. All claims to be an Evangelical movement for peace, justice and reconciliation are exposed as false propaganda.CatC speakers and “testimonials” consistently demonize Israel, while they absolutely refuse to condemn, or even mention, the repression of Evangelical churches and systemic human rights abuses by the Palestinian Authority and their outrageous financial corruption—all of which have been documented and which are recognized even by Israel’s critics in the European Union. While the “nefarious evils” of the “Israeli occupation” are trumpeted incessantly, and carefully selective guided tours are offered to mislead naïve participants, CatC speakers make no mention of the hundreds of Palestinian terror attacks and thousands of Israeli terror victims which necessitated the security fence, for example. Such inconvenient facts are summarily dismissed as beside the point.5.CatC deliberately misleads their Evangelical brethren in the world by intentionally misrepresenting the two sides of the Middle East conflict. CatC organizers and speakers like Sami and Alex Awad and Mitri Raheb crisscross the world, calling on Evangelical Christians to stand up for “their Christian brethren in Palestine” who are being terrorized by the Israeli occupation. In so doing, these self-proclaimed Evangelicals are falsely portraying the conflict as a war of the Jews against the Christians. Their use of the image of Jesus as a Palestinian being “crucified” on the “apartheid wall” by the Jews recalls the age-old anti-Semitic blood-libel. The fact is that “Evangelical Palestinians” make up less than 0.1% of the population in the West Bank and Gaza; with 95-98% being Moslems and the remaining 2-5% being predominantly Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church members. Western Evangelicals are intentionally and deceitfully led to believe a lie.6.The organizers of CatC have as their final goal the end of the Jewish state and its replacement with a single, multinational “Palestine.” This is also the purpose of the BDS campaign against Israel, which is strongly supported by CatC organizers and speakers (see CatC website links to Kairos Palestine “Bethlehem Call” document there). While ostensibly eschewing violence as the means to this end, and expressing willingness to accept a “two-state solution” as an interim measure, the dissolution of Israel is nonetheless the actual result which they promote (see Alex Awad interview). Awad and Stephen Sizer participated—along with Hezbollah and Hamas representatives–in the 2008 Voice of Palestine Naqba conferencein Indonesia where the one state solution was one of the four objectives.This “one-state solution” echoes the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to acknowledge any Jewish right to an independent national existence in the Land of Israel (that is, Zionism), while at the same time demanding that same right of “self-determination” for the “Palestinians.” CatC’s unequivocal, hypocritical condemnation of Zionism, Christian or otherwise, is therefore inherently racist.7.Messianic Jews and Evangelical Christians should have nothing to do with a false messianic, partisan political movement which turns a blind eye to terror and misleads Evangelicals in order to promote the destruction of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel. These false teachers are like those from which the apostle Paul warned the believers in Rome: “…by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:18). And what did he call us to do? “Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.” (Romans 16:17).We call on all those who follow the Messiah Yeshua truly and submit to His Word faithfully to join us in publicly rejecting the CatC agenda and refusing to lend legitimacy to its activities in any way.Published by Noam Hendren; Faculty of our seminary, an elder of “Or HaSharon” messianic congregation and Chairman of the National Evangelism Committee.
Look who is funding CaTC:
According to JNS news …
The U.S., U.K., and Dutch governments are helping to fund an upcoming conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint,” which attempts to sway Evangelical Christian opinion against Israel and whose themes have anti-Semitic undertones, according to a new report issued by the Jerusalem-based watchdog group NGO Monitor.
The report titled “Christ at the Checkpoint: How the U.S., U.K. and Dutch Governments Enable Religious Strike and Foment in the Mideast Conflict,” first obtained by JNS.org, examines how the American and European governments are directly and indirectly funding the conference.
“Direct and indirect funding to the organizers of Christ at the Checkpoint is mystifying and deeply concerning to us,” said Yitzhak Santis, Chief Programs Officer and “BDS in the Pews” Project Director at NGO Monitor.
Read full article here
In 2012, Wayne Hilsden gave a very interesting presentation on God’s plans for the Jewish people, according to the Bible. His talk was warmly received and politely listen to. He engaged in a friendly discussion with Gary Burge, and was otherwise made to feel most welcome.
Hilsden went aware of the conference’s terror links, yet determined to override these concerns by winning hearts and minds through his Biblical theology. His thinking seemed reasonable enough. The logic goes something like this:
If someone can talk to anti-Israel Christians in the language of Scripture, and argue convincingly why God loves the Jewish people and keeps His covenant with them, then this would be a great opportunity. Then these Christians would be so impressed, they might just drop their associations with terror leaders and take a more reasonable position towards Jews – having met some Jews with whom they shared spiritual fellowship and belief in the New Testament.
You will hear riffs on this version throughout the pro-CATC Messianics, who seem genuinely convinced they are doing God’s will, and ignore an obvious issue about CATC’s problematic terror connexions that even the Palestinian press is aware of.
The CATC Messianics instead see the CATC terror issue as just background noise.
The CATC Messianics are convinced that Israeli Jews (including many Messianics) pointing out the CATC terror connections are misguided people who don’t understand the real theological issues at play.
At 2014, the CATC Messianics will be listened to and applauded – just as they were in 2012. They will be allowed to make seemingly bold statements like “God’s love for Israel is everlasting”, “God has brought the Jewish people back into the land”, and “all Israel will be saved,” and will see themselves as brave for saying so.
But truthfully, theology about Jews is not a particularly huge issue for CATC. It is instead a red herring.
Stephen Sizer for example still believes in a future mass turning of Jews to belief in Jesus, just like many Christian Zionists do. When Sizer is faced with an evangelical audience, he publicly states Israel has a right to exist (even if his visits to Iran and Hezbollah seem to tell another story). Gary Burge and Hilsden last time got bogged down in minor disagreements about what happens to Israel in the Apocalypse, and CATC organisers like Salim Munayer have grown up alongside Messianic Jews and are quite used to hearing pro-Israel theology.
Long story short: the Messianics will be listened to politely at CATC. They will probably not be challenged publicly, even if what other speakers say totally contradict them. They will have a warm, positive feeling that they have made a theological difference.
But CATC are prepared for whatever the Messianics say. They are not really listening to the words of the CATC Messianics, which they see as just background noise. What is 1000 times more important for CATC organisers is the image of having Messianics alongside them, to be held up as evidence that their message cannot possibly be construed as antisemitic. In this way, the Messianics will essentially be used as cover.
You might still say - okay whatever CATC’s intentions are, surely Messianics can still convince them of theological truth? You might be thinking – isn’t theology the most important issue for all believers?
For CATC, theology is the creche where the children go and play, whilst the adults discuss the important political issues. What’s important is not how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin, so much as how to take the pin and stick it in Israel’s eye.
You will listen to CATC organisers and you will hear a need to show non-violent resistance to Israel, perhaps a call to admire terror leaders, and even cries to begin a “Christian jihad.” You will hear Israel denounced as an apartheid state, which ought to be boycotted by Christian leaders fighting for justice.
For CATC, none of this negative politics towards Israel contradicts a positive theology about the Jewish people- they can simply say they love the Jews but hate the Israeli state. All the pro-Jewish theology does, therefore, is simply strengthen this CATC narrative. Therefore the Messianics are allowed to discuss theology with a tacit understanding that they will “not get into politics right now.”
This is a win-win situation: the Messianics can talk about their pro-Israel theological views and avoid conflicts, whilst CATC organisers keep anything sounding vaguely pro-Israel politically off the public platform. As such, the CATC organisers will deliberately lose theological “battles” in order to win a political “war”.
How then do the CATC Messianics step out of the creche and join the adults?
The only way for the Messianics to make a genuine challenge to the narrative of CATC is to point out what is happening. For this to work, the Messianics would need to say that they are happy to discuss theology at any time and any place, but there can’t be any serious theological discussion without mutual respect for a basic right to live free from terror. The Messianics could call CATC to make a public apology about CATC organisers’ previous associations with terrorists.
But if there were any danger of that happening, you get the feeling that CATC would have sensed it by now, and disinvited any potential troublemakers who want to do more than just be a simple prop producing background noise.
The main Palestinian news agency Ma’an reports how CaTC is on the vanguard of attacking Christian support for Israel in America. Note how critiques of CaTC are categorised and dismissed as sophisticated attacks rather than genuine concerns
“Isaac says there has been an “increased density of attacks” in the run-up to this year’s conference which often target individual members of the Palestinian evangelical community.
Despite some of the opposition, the attacks have generally become more “sophisticated,” Isaac says, a clear indication that the conference is being taken seriously as a movement which can no longer be ignored in the wider pro-Israel evangelical community.”
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Hundreds of peace activists, church leaders, evangelical Christians and academics will meet in Bethlehem on Monday for five days of dialogue and discussion about the role of Christian Zionism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
First held in 2010, the Christ at the Checkpoint conference has grown in size and stature over the past three years and will welcome over 700 participants from March 10-14 at the Bethlehem Bible College, located a mere 100 meters from Israel’s separation wall.
Conference director Munther Isaac says the number and diversity of participants this year, together with opposition to the event from elements of the evangelical right, reflect the growing impact of a forum designed to challenge evangelical theological beliefs which have long legitimized Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“Just the fact that evangelicals are talking about Palestine and Israel is a success,” Isaac told Ma’an on Wednesday.
The conference aims to discuss the realities of the injustices in Palestine, empower the role of the Palestinian church in achieving peace, and explore the role of Christianity, above all the evangelical church, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Dr. Jack Sara, President of the Bethlehem Bible College, says that the conference is also an invitation to international Christians to come and learn about the local context of the Palestinian struggle.
“We feel that the Palestinian people have been oppressed for so long and their voice needs to be heard,” Sara told Ma’an.
“A lot of the Christian world does not know that there is an existence of Palestinian Christians who live in Palestine and Israel and who are suffering because of the conflict.”
The conference will host a wide range of speakers and aims to both inform the Western world about the existence of Palestinian Christians and demonstrate that the Palestinian church is active on the ground and an integral part of Palestinian society, Isaac says.
“The conference will highlight the injustices for sure, this is one of our key goals, but we will not be adopting a victimization mentality. We want to show that here is a living, hopeful culture which is looking forward despite all of the challenges.”
Shift in evangelical attitudes
From 100 or so international participants in 2010, this year’s conference will host church leaders, mission agencies, and official representatives from different Christian denominations, in a sign that traditional evangelical attitudes to Israel and the occupation of Palestine are slowly beginning to change.
Once an automatic support base for pro-Israel US policies, evangelicals in the United States are slowly beginning to join the debate about the practical implications of their theological beliefs, Isaac says, and Christ at the Checkpoint has provided a platform that had previously never existed.
According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelical Protestants are twice as likely as American Jews to favor stronger US support for Israel and 82 percent say that God gave Israel to the Jewish people.
Isaac acknowledges that political and economic support for Israel from US evangelicals is “real, and measured on the ground,” but says that there is a significant generational shift in attitudes among young evangelicals which is beginning to challenge the dominant theological narrative justifying Israel’s occupation.
“I think it’s going to take some time, but there are positive signs that the younger evangelical generation are more interested in social justice. They are more knowledgeable, they know more about the conflict so they can make informed decisions.”
Church leaders in the US are also now feeling more comfortable to positively engage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of defending Israel as a default position, Isaac says.
“Our message is rather than engage in a discussion about who has a divine right to the land, let’s engage in a discussion about how we can advance peace among Palestinians and Israelis and how the church can promote a shared land concept,” Isaac says.
“It is slow, but things are moving in the right direction.”
Growing opposition sign of success
As in previous years, the conference has been widely discussed among the evangelical community in the United States, the Israeli press, and by Jewish groups, who fear that Christ at the Checkpoint represents a turning point in dividing the US evangelical support base for Israel.
A recent blog in the Jerusalem Post described the conference as “anti-Israel, anti-Zionist” and “dangerous,” while an article in the Middle East Quarterly described the Bethlehem Bible College and the Christ at the Checkpoint conference as playing leading roles in a growing “anti-Israel” narrative among evangelical groups.
An article in December by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli think tank, described the original Christ at the Checkpoint conference as part of an “Evangelical Intifada”, and noted that the 2012 conference could be “legitimately described as a watershed moment for the cause of anti-Zionism in American Evangelicalism.”
One article in Israel Today went as far as labeling Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who will attend this year’s conference, as a “terror-Linked Palestinian Official”, and evidence of the conference’s “true underlying message.”
Isaac says there has been an “increased density of attacks” in the run-up to this year’s conference which often target individual members of the Palestinian evangelical community.
Despite some of the opposition, the attacks have generally become more “sophisticated,” Isaac says, a clear indication that the conference is being taken seriously as a movement which can no longer be ignored in the wider pro-Israel evangelical community.
Isaac stresses though that progress in challenging the influence of Christian Zionism in the United States is dependent on a number of factors, including the outcome of the current peace process, the possibility of a return to violence, and the ongoing conflict in Syria.
“We talk about hope, and it is our belief that only forgiveness and true reconciliation is the way forward, forgiveness that is based on justice. Palestinians must forgive Israelis and Israelis must forgive Palestinians, I believe we are both victims in this conflict.”
Israel Today reports:
With the third biannual Christ at the Checkpoint conference just a week away, a majority of Israeli Messianic Jews continue to find the event too politically-charged and too undergirded by anti-Semitic themes to be taken seriously as a platform for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Jewish and Arab believers.
While many Messianics are choosing to reserve comment until after Christ at the Checkpoint, others believe the content of the previous two conferences is reason enough to speak out now, and make clear why they simply cannot participate.
The following is a petition circulated by Israeli Messianic academic, author and rabbi, Dr. David Friedman, and signed by many local and foreign Messianic leaders.
It begins with a letter addressing directly the organizers and sponsors of Christ at the Checkpoint:
The letter to CaTC can be read here.
I’d like to heartily recommend this very perceptive and well-researched document - Christ at the Checkpoint: the Failing Experiment, by Hannah Weiss.
Click the link to download the Word document
This is a Yeshua’s Harvest episode with Eitan Shishkoff, leader of Ohalei Rachamim Messianic Congregation in Kiriat Yam, Israel teaching on Isaiah 60.