Antisemitism at Wheaton College

Wheaton College are hosting Stephen Sizer tomorrow night, to discuss the “lobby“. Who is this lobby?

Sizer claims “the Israeli lobby” buys every single US politician.

He has also made a ludicrous claim about the “Jewish lobby” in his first book on Christian Zionism (p.54 of PDF file):

In America the Jewish lobby realised the potential significance of wooing the political endorsement of the powerful 50-60 million Evangelical block vote through their fundamentalist leadership.

So you can imagine who “the lobby” is Sizer is talking about. Jews.

This will set the tone for a “24 Hour Middle East Leadership Briefing” at Wheaton College.

Although that sounds an important title, you should realise, these people are not Middle Eastern leaders in any way. Some might be pastors or priests in the Middle East, others are just laymen.

There is a good chance that they are also meeting to plan for the Christ at the Checkpoint 2014 conference, details of which will be released shortly.

After the embarrassment of CATC 2012, in which they welcomed and honoured PA politicians who discriminate proudly against Palestinian Christians, one wonders what to expect from CATC 2014.

At the Wheaton College event –  hosted by Gary Burge – there is a particularly awful person called Mark Braverman, who seems to think that Christians should have Jews on-trial. He is on-record as saying:

“To our Christian sisters and brothers I say — do not, out of a sense of guilt for anti-Semitism, give the Jewish people a free pass.”

A “free pass”? As in, don’t not view Jews with suspicion?

More of the same, then, as we have come to expect from this crowd.

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.

Christian Palestinianism, Christian Anti-Zionism, Palestinian Christianity and the Jewish Roots of Christianity

Calvin Smith has a thoughtful and informative post on Christian Palestinianism, Christian Anti-Zionism, Palestinian Christianity and the Jewish Roots of Christianity here.

The rise of modern-day Marcionism is highlighted by Smith, as the Tanach is eschewed by Christian anti-Zionists, Palestinian Christians and their followers.

To purge Jewishness from the Christian kerygma is to purge an essential element from the message of Jesus and the New Testament and create a totally foreign religious identity to the one revealed in the New Testament, which is seeped in the Tanach. Palestinian Liberation theologians have created a new Jesus in their own perceived image – a Palestinian martyr being killed by Israeli troops. Palestinian theologians show aversion to the Tanach as their political prejudice makes God’s covenants with the Jewish people hard for them to accept.

Here are selected paragraphs from Calvin Smith’s post:

Thus just as some CPs define CZs as extremists, racists, condoning Israeli state terrorism and repudiating the Gospel, conversely extremist CPs are similarly anti-Semitic, turn a blind eye to Islamic terrorism and are pro-Islam. Alternatively, while some CZs support Israel but struggle with aspects of Israeli policy, likewise some CPs may support the Arab people but struggle with aspects of Hamas and Fatah. If you think about it this twin system of defining CP and CZ works rather well, allowing for moderate and extreme expressions on both sides. At the vey least it will certainly help to challenge the stereotype of CZ as somehow monolithic and extremist (the proviso being, of course, that there are also moderate expressions of CP).

Unfortunately, and with important exceptions aside (for example, it is clearly the case that many grassroots Evangelical Palestinian Christians reject a version of Palestinian liberation theology espoused by their leaders), today it is not always easy to differentiate between Christian Palestinianism, Christian anti-Zionism and Palestinian Christianity. And going back to where I began this post, one of the important ways in which all three camps seem to be so similar is the way in which the Jewish roots of Christianity are relegated or ditched completely. Consider when was the last time you heard a well-known representative of either camp express a positive view of the Jewish roots of Christianity in a book, journal article, talk or blog post? Or how often is the Old Testament downplayed by church leaders in Palestinian Christian circles? One well-known minister of a historic Protestant denomination explained to me recently how, while attending several conferences with various Palestinian Christian leaders, they barely acknowledged the Old Testament.

Read full post here