A new brand of Replacement Theology built atop Jesus’ teachings of compassion and attacking those who would support the State of Israel on biblical grounds is permeating the Church. Known locally as Palestinian Liberation Theology, the movement got a major boost in 2010 with the release of the documentary film “With God on Our Side,” which presented a critical view of Christian Zionism, and the first Christ at the Checkpoint conference, during which some speakers attempted to equate Jesus’ suffering with Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinian Arabs.
The second Christ at the Checkpoint conference at the Bethlehem Bible College in March 2012 promises to further advance the cause. And this time, Israelis are paying attention, many of them confused over how portions of an Evangelical Church that had so vigorously supported their nation’s prophetic restoration could now be championing its delegitimization.
Israel’s best-selling newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, ran an article highlighting the participation of British writer Ben White, author of the recently published book Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy. Of particular interest to Yediot was the fact that the forward for White’s book was written by extremist Israeli-Arab Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi. Among other antics, Zoabi called in March 2010 for the start of a third terrorist uprising, or intifada, against Israel.
White himself is entirely sympathetic toward those Arabs who want to destroy Israel, writing in Counterpunch in 2002 that he does “not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are.” White’s writings have consistently been filled with unsubstantiated claims that Israel subjects the Palestinians to “massacres, death-marches and ethnic cleansing.” His stories of woe and suffering find an enthusiastic audience among Christians who believe that, bereft of its biblical promises, Israel is worthy of little more than criticism and scorn.
Another headliner and one of the conference organizers is Anglican vicar Rev. Stephen Sizer, whose book Zion’s Christian Soldiers firmly condemns Christian Zionists for their literal interpretation of scripture and support for the physical restoration of the nation of Israel. Since writing the book, Sizer has made a career out of attacking Christian support for Israel as the primary obstacle to peace.
Sizer likewise doesn’t think much of Israeli Messianic congregations that hold to Israel’s biblical destiny, stating at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting in October 2011:
“There are certainly churches in Israel/Palestine that side with the occupation, that side with Zionism. One of my burdens is to challenge them theologically and show that they’ve repudiated Jesus, they’ve repudiated the Bible, and they are an abomination.”
The participation and active involvement of people like White and Sizer speaks volumes about the agenda of Christ at the Checkpoint, as does the description of the conference posted on its official website. On the English-language page, the conference is billed as “a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism and an open forum for ongoing dialogue between all positions within the Evangelical theological spectrum.” But the Arabic-language page perhaps reveals the conference’s true intent, calling it “an environment for dialogue with all Christians and to provide an alternative to the Christian Zionist thought, as the Holy Word of God challenges the Christian Zionist thought.” [Translation provided by Rosh Pina Project]
Despite evidence to the contrary, Bethlehem Bible College insisted in a response to Israel Today that Christ at the Checkpoint will not be a platform to demonize the Jews, Israel or its Christian supporters:
“We at Bethlehem Bible College reject and denounce Anti-Semitism based on ethical and biblical standards. Our speakers are aware of this. If we are convinced that a prospective speaker endorses anti-Semitism, then he/she will not be invited. We are aware that some of the speakers in the conference have in the past taken a strong stand against certain policies of the State of Israel, yet we do not think that this should be confused with anti-Semitism.”
Wishing to give our fellow brothers in the Lord the benefit of the doubt, Israel Today requested permission to cover Christ at the Checkpoint. Bethlehem Bible College Vice Academic Dean Munther Isaac responded that he would “welcome your correspondent and photographer at the conference. We value any healthy conversation in this important issue.” So, stay tuned for a report direct from Christ at the Checkpoint next month!
A number of Messianic and pro-Israel Christian leaders have also been invited to speak at Christ at the Checkpoint this year, and we can only hope their presence will blunt the hostility shown toward Israel by other presenters, thereby creating an atmosphere for true dialogue and some degree of reconciliation.
The Christ at the Checkpoint conferences have been drawing a lot of attention from traditionally pro-Israel churches who suddenly find themselves questioning the righteousness of supporting the Jewish state. But the teaching underlying the message of many of the conference speakers – Palestinian Liberation Theology – has been a topic of hot debate in the Land for some time. Israel Today asked local Messianic leaders to comment on Christ at the Checkpoint and Palestinian Liberation Theology. This is what they had to say:
Most believers in Israel are genuinely interested in developing good and loving relationships with Palestinian believers. We have a common desire to be reconciled in the Lord. But when Palestinian believers and western theologians claim that Israel’s restoration in modern times has no theological significance, and in fact could not be of God, this creates a huge problem. On what basis can we be reconciled if our return to the Land is not of God? Reconciliation between men must be based first of all upon reconciliation to God and to His expressed will, including, in this case, the restoration of the Jewish people to the Land.
Stephen Sizer, one of the organizers of Christ at the Checkpoint, has endorsed the position taken by the Middle East Council of Churches, which has called Christian Zionism a “devious heresy.” I believe that this kind of theology will serve to fuel hatred for Israel and simultaneously undermine the support she receives from the Evangelical camp. It will actually work to make peace more remote and difficult to achieve, reaping further violence and bloodshed.
[Unfortunately] the western Church has in its very foundations, in one form or another, Replacement Theology. Humanistic activism has replaced Christian compassion bringing much confusion into the way the Church sees the conflict between Israel and the Arab world.
[What we are seeing is] a marriage between Replacement theology and Palestinian Liberation Theology. It is proving to be a very potent tool with an aim to first change the tide of support for the restoration of Israel within the Church, and then to mobilize Christians as a political power within their nations against Israel. This is dangerous, of course for Israel, but also for the Church. May God have mercy!
Richard Harvey (scheduled to speak at Christ at the Checkpoint)
My participation doesn’t mean that I agree with all the aims of the conference or the views of the conference organizers. In fact, as I will be saying in my paper, I believe in God’s continuing election of the Jewish people, which includes the Land promises, and oppose all forms of anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism and supersessionism (Replacement Theology). I am going to meet my Arab brothers and sisters in Christ to talk, listen and pray with them, to seek to model the reconciliation between enemies and the unity that we have in the Gospel.
The organizers of this gathering have a politicized view of the Bible that boils down to politicized Replacement Theology. Western Evangelicals are greatly influenced by politics, by imbalanced reports of the situation, and are not strongly founded in their understanding on the Word of God. Many believers are humanistically oriented and therefore relate on the basis of what they hear concerning injustice, bad treatment of Arabs, rather than on a deeper spiritual level.
There are surely injustices on both sides and no one can deny this, but this is only a smaller part of the much greater picture.
The extra political dimension and the way [Christ at the Checkpoint] present their case makes this a dangerous matter. On the other hand, we do have to repent for whatever we are guilty of and not quickly justify our position when we are wrong. Most important, however, is God’s covenant promises to Israel and what this means for the whole future deliverance of creation in relation to God’s Kingdom purposes for this earth. Israel’s present existence as a nation and her call to fulfill a specific calling in the plan of God relates directly to God’s name and honor and the battle of the kingdom of darkness against God’s eternal purposes.
In my humble opinion, every effort to identify the message of Messiah with one or another political position is misplaced and a desecration of scripture and its divine purpose. It is out of place to declare a “Messianic political position.” Our position needs to be ethical; to challenge both sides to fear God; to be humble and kind instead of nationalistically selfish, which will result in prolonged suffering for both people.