How does CATC2012 respond to PA treatment of Palestinian Christians?

Dexter Van Zile reported this week, that a week after PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad addressed CATC, the PA informed Palestinian church leader Stephen Khoury that his church “lacked the authority to function”, as a religious institution in the PA.

The church can still gather to pray, for now, but the PA’s decision conveyed on Saturday will have a real impact on the members of First Baptist, which endured numerous bomb attacks during the First Intifada.

“They said that our legitimacy as a church from a governmental point of view is not approved,” said Khoury’s son, Steven, who serves as an assistant pastor at First Baptist. “They said they will not recognize any legal paper work from our church. That includes birth certificates, wedding certificates and death certificates. Children are not even considered to be legitimate if they don’t have recognized paperwork.”

The irony, Steven said, is that the PA’s announcement comes right after the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference.

Many people have picked up on this irony, as the PA’s Prime Minister Salam Fayyad himself addressed CATC, just days before this decision came to light. Bear in mind, CATC was organised by Bethlehem Bible College, which is an evangelical Bible college. Indeed, last month Eastern Orthodox Christians on a web forum belittled CATC for being evangelical and not Orthodox, and therefore not truly representing Palestinian Christianity.

In response, CATC organisers Porter Speakman and Munther Isaac have written an article to the concerns raised about CATC and the timing of the decision about Khoury’s church.

Speakman and Isaac write:

Unlike traditional churches like the Greek Orthodox and Catholics, Evangelical churches in the Palestinian Territories are not officially recognized and therefore things like marriage documents are not considered legitimate by government authorities. They have the freedom to worship, but are not “official.”

They continue:

For the last few years, there have been many discussions between Evangelical church leaders, including those who organized and spoke at the Christ at the Checkpoint, and officials from the PA.

If the PA and CATC leadership have been in discussion, it has not born any fruit. The PA does not consider Palestinian evangelical Christians to be legitimate at all.

However, it appears that both parties consciously decided to oppose pro-Zionist theology in public.

This would explain why Salam Fayyad was not publicly challenged at all by anyone at CATC, as he gave his address to the conference.

This is Munther Isaac’s introduction to Fayyad:

“Palestinian Christians have always enjoyed the support of the Palestinian leaders. We worship with freedom and exercise our rights like all Palestinians. To emphasise this, we are deeply honoured to have the support of prime minsiter of the Palestinian Authority, Dr Salam Fayyad. Since 2007, Dr Salam has worked so hard to prepare Palestine for statehood, and his efforts in building the Palestinian economy and institutions have been described as ‘absolutely first-class, professional, courageous and intelligent’. Above all, Dr Fayyad is a man of vision, and his vision is one of prosperity and peace for the Palestinian people. And it is only fitting that his name in Arabic literally means ‘among them peace’. It is my privilege and honour to invite to us here, to the stage to speak to us, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Dr Salam Fayyad.

So Munther Isaac does not mention the PA discrimination against evangelical Christians, despite being a Palestinian evangelical at a Palestinian evangelical conference.

Consequentially, the attitude of the CATC towards Fayyad was deferential:

Speakman and Isaac further write in their article, about Palestinian churches:

The recognition does not depend entirely on the PA, and the input of the churches already recognized is as equally important. In addition, the congregational nature of the Evangelical churches and the absence of a recognized hierarchy complicate things.

This seems odd. If the recognition does not depend entirely on the PA, then who else does it depend on? Surely it does depend on the PA. It appears as if Speakman and Isaac are trying to play down the responsibilty of the PA, in the issue of church recognition. Here is their rationalisation, for inviting Salam Fayyad to CATC:

This is why efforts by Christ at the Checkpoint to highlight the Evangelical Palestinian church are so important. Having Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad come for the second time in as many conferences to speak and to see first hand what the Bethlehem Bible College and local churches are doing helps, not hinders, the churches efforts for recognition. In addition, the issue of seeking recognition for Evangelical churches in Palestine and in Israel was openly discussed during the conference.

It ought to say something, though, that Salam Fayyad has already been invited to CATC back in 2010, he then met with CATC organisers and Palestinian evangelicals, and nothing changed regarding recognition of evangelical churches. Two years later, Fayyad again is invited, and no progress has been made on the issue.

One of the stated CATC conference goals in English was to “[e]mpower and encourage the Palestinian church”. In order to do so, CATC will need to speak up for the rights of Palestinian Christians.

If they can link this to criticism of the Israeli government, then they will do so. However, if speaking up for the rights of Palestinian evangelical believers requires open criticism of the PA and of Salam Fayyad’s leadership, then will CATC provide this criticism?

Criticising the PA would be awkward for CATC’s image. Doing so may mean that others will accuse them of being Zionists. Sooner or later, CATC will have to decide which is more important – their anti-Zionist theology and image, or their care for the plight of the Palestinian church.

22 thoughts on “How does CATC2012 respond to PA treatment of Palestinian Christians?”

  1. Interesting piece. I’ve done various interviews with Palestinian Christians for a book I’m working on. This “history from below” approach yields a picture of a grassroots Palestinian Christianity that is far less homogenous than statements from Palestinian Christian leaders would have us believe (grassroots believers are not all nationalist, while some much prefer Israeli to PA rule). But more importantly in relation to the above piece, the majority of believers I’ve spoken with – whether nationalist or not – express concern about the treatment of and difficulties Christians face in the Territories.

    But this is well-known anyway, of course, and therefore I think you are right to ask if CatC is failing to focus on that issue to remain in the PA’s good books, and also because their motivation is primarily anti-Zionist more than anything else.

  2. Looking forward to that book, Calvin! It is a story that is far too seldom told.

    Great article, Joseph. I hope it gets some people thinking, particularly those who were most taken in by the message of CatC.

  3. Glad you’re on the button with this one Calvin, the issue will be to get such material as your new book will contain in the hands of the oh, so many Christians who have swallowed fables hook, line and sinker. This view has, of course, been deeply reinforced by the CATC so, here’s hoping that you and others can garner some truths together to be shared abroad, before it becomes yet more falsely ‘received wisdom’ is established within Christian groups.

  4. I am confused…. The PA informs Pastor Khoury that his Baptist church is no longer going to be officially recognized… and Porter Speakman (great expert on the internal affairs of Palestinian society that he is) explains that NO evangelical church has official recognition in the PA anyway (which is evidently the reason the CATC folk keep trying to get into the good books of the terrorists who run that pathetic ‘anti-Zionist entity’). Is it just a matter of semantics, or is Porter accusing the pastor of lying, or what?!

    1. Teacher to blue-eyed pupil: “Don’t complain to me that this school treats you worse just cos you’ve got blue eyes. This school treats everyone worse if they’ve got blue eyes.”

      1. If a lie is repeated often enough, those who choose not to think for themselves will soon believe it to be truth – witness how the Holocaust became possible…..

  5. The Palestinians yet have a doctrine to cause their State to be literally absent any Jews. This cannot be acceptable to Catholics in the Western World. Any new State must be free for all Jews, Muslims and Christians to be free to live in the land of their choice, and have equal protection of the laws. The State, cannot be Islamic Theocratic State, because that would immediately deny Christians and Jews peace in their own lives. When Israel and Palestine have equal rights for all people, and includes Jews living in the Palestine and Arabs living in Israel , as if it were two states in a Federal Union of States, where all people have free. Then the answer will appear. All the land can be called Palestine, and at the same time be called Israel or call all the Land Jerusalem, a common title for all religious people to share a heritage, with malice towards none.

    1. amen , If the terrorists decide to attack as a army, the next time the new country of Palestine can include all of Israel under Christian law , which is the same as Jewish law . The Jews army can see to it this happends from Lebanon to Egypt . Plenty of happy muslims can live anywhere they want , but no Shariah law between the nile river and the euraphades river only Judo Christian law .

  6. Am I correct in saying that the Israeli Ministry of religion only recognizes the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican denominations officially, and Baptists are seen as foreign influence? This is the same in Palestinian circles and the Orthodox churches have a similar attitude to the Baptist churches and of course denominations like Church of God. This was the case in 1985 when I first went to Israel and the PA have only carried on the policy. This arises from the non-recognition of denominations within Christendom- all are considered Christian and therefore historically from Israeli and Arab viewpoints the same. The Islamic influence in PA puts all Christians in the same box and while they recognize the Catholic and Orthodox denominations
    this is a temporary state as we see in Egypt.

    1. Yes Dorothy – very good point, it is a similar situation in Israel.

      Now imagine Messianic Jewish theological institute praising Netanyahu for the equal status that Messianics have in Israel, and then saying Messianic Jews only suffer in Israel because of Hamas. It would be unthinkable.

    2. I am not sure of the exact legal standing, but I do know of at least two Evangelical pastors in Jerusalem (one Baptist and the other Pentecostal) who are able to conduct legally-recognized weddings. Also, MANY Evangelical and even Messianic Jewish ministries are recognized as ministries judging by the fact that they possess non-profit status.

      So, no, it is not the same as in the PA-controlled territories.

      1. I too am grateful for Ryan’s comment, the situation must be very different today.
        I wrote to Pastor Khoury on last Shabat and his response to me was immediate :-
        “Thanks for your concern about us
        No, the church was not closed we are functioning and the church is going, but there was an misunderstanding in this issue.
        For, it is a matter of legal papers for the church, recognition like other denomination in the country.
        Yes, the Lord is our peace and He will take care. Appreciate your prayers in your fellowship.
        God bless you.
        Naim & Elvira ”
        They need our prayers. Shalom in Yeshua.

  7. The Palestinian Evangelical Christians must continue to build the Kingdom of God in Palestine without being anti-Zionist. Their main interest is not for Palestine or for Israel, it is for the Kingdom of God. They would do themselves harm by choosing a side, because by choosing a side means they are against the other side and that is not necessarily true. They do not have to choose sides. They must remain focused on building the Kingdom of God.

  8. “So Munther Isaac does not mention the PA discrimination against evangelical Christians, despite being a Palestinian evangelical at a Palestinian evangelical conference.”

    this is the same as in israel and if you close your eye to this fact this clearly is of political agenda

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