Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Israeli Messianic Jew Addresses the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference

A Tale of Two Palestinian Theologies

Along with others around the world, Israelis have noticed the rising controversy around the upcoming "Christ at the Checkpoint" (CatC) Conference hosted by Bethlehem Bible College in a few days (March 5-9). Curiously, the Israeli Body of Messiah has not spoken up in any collective way, as have several Messianic groups abroad. This is despite the fact that several of our number are scheduled to speak at this Conference. As someone living in the Land for nearly 30 years, I would like to offer my personal observations on the situation.  - Hannah Weiss  

The Context for My Tale

The 2012 “Checkpoint” Conference claims to be bringing all sides of the Christian world together to examine the plight of Palestinian Christians, and to raise consciousness and support among Christians abroad for these persecuted brethren.  Apparently the consensus is exaggerated. Opposition to CatC was prompt and vocal from evangelical, Jewish and Messianic organizations alike.  By the end of 2011, Jewish groups as diverse as the rightwing-religious Israel National News (Arutz 7) and the British Messianic Jewish Alliance had already gone on record condemning the Conference as a platform for liberal Israel-bashing.

Feeling the heat, the Conference committee members in Bethlehem posted an energetic defense on the Conference website (25/jan/12), denying that they are anti-Israel or that they support Replacement Theology.

The denial of anti-Israel bias appears to be somewhat out of touch with reality. The Conference LINKS page includes "The Palestinian Kairos Document", also known as "TheBethlehem Call", which deplores Israel's existence as “the illegal regime”. The Call rejoices that “the government and state of Israel is now regarded as an apartheid regime” and calls on the world to continue in “the deligitimization and criminalization of the Israeli government.”

Apparently not noticing this link on the CatC site - or that one of the signatories to "The Bethlehem Call" is their colleague at Bethlehem Bible College, Academic Dean Yohanna Katanacho, the apologists for the Conference deny any connection whatsoever with this document.  They don’t repudiate it, however; instead they recommend it as "worthy of study."

A few days ago, a joint rebukepublished by four Messianic organizations (the UMJC, MJAA, MJAI and the International Alliance of Messianic Jewish Synagogues) provoked a still sharper rebuttal from CatC spokespeople. A Response to Representatives of the InternationalMessianic Jewish Community” (21/feb/12) provides a detailed 11-point declaration intended to prove that the international Messianic community has falsely accused them.

There are some interesting paradoxes here. One is the emphasis on the Kingdom of G-d taking priority over the inheritance of the Land, applicable to both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples (point 9); this is undermined by the great pains one of the “Response” signatories has taken to establish who he believes G-d has – and has not – mandated to inherit the Land. (More details later.) Another anomaly is the moderate assertion (point 10) that as Palestinian believers they have the right to protest against “Israeli policies” – a far cry from the “Bethlehem Call” that was co-authored by another signatory of this “Response”, Conference speaker Hanna Katanacho (as mentioned above).  But I digress.

It is true that the explicit goal of the Conference is not to denounce the state of Israel, or the Jews. They have a more vulnerable target in mind: the Christian Zionists.

Spokesmen for the Simon Weisenthal Center agreed in their commentary in the Jerusalem Post; they called the CatC event an "assault on lovers of Zion" which amounts to "stealth theo-terrorism". ("Palestinians to Evangelicals: Zionism is a sin", 14/nov/11)

A stated goal of this Conference is to "create a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism and an open forum for ongoing dialogue between all positions within the Evangelical theological spectrum."  Sure enough, their speaker lineup has the full range of Christian opinion, from Replacement Theology to Christian Zionism - even some familiar faces from the Israeli Messianic community who identify themselves as Zionists in word and deed.

One of the defenses in the CatC “Response” to the international Messianic community is that Israeli Messianic leader “Wayne Hilsdon [sic - Hilsden, longtime pastor at King of Kings Congregation in Jerusalem]... has the support of most of the Messianic leaders in Jerusalem regarding his participation” in the upcoming Conference.

I cannot confirm or deny that claim.  I can, however, speculate that the willingness of Messianic Israelis (and of Zionists in general) to participate in CatC 2012 might be because the Conference promotional material gives the impression that only one form of Christian Zionism is being taken to task: the extremist type that gives uncritical support to Israeli government policy and doesn't care a fig for Palestinian rights. 

Given such an appearance of moderation, facing off with Replacement theologians could be seen as an opportunity to bring balance to this "open forum".  But based on the press release from the previous Conference (CatC 2010), the "ongoing dialog" has already established a starting point: Christians must repent from any brand of Zionism that affirms the Tanach passages promising the land of Israel to the Jews.

One of the scheduled speakers at this year's Conference and its Program Director, British vicar Stephen Sizer, openly stated in a UK church last fall that the brethren who hold such a belief are "an abomination" (Rivercourt Methodist Church, King Street, Hammersmith, "Jerusalem Under Threat" rally, 6/oct/11). 

The press release following the 2010 Conference was almost as blunt: "The conference speakers repudiated" Christian Zionism as "nationalist chauvinism" which violates the teachings of Christ and shows an ignorance of the scriptures.

The Palestinian Theology Behind “Christ at the Checkpoint”

The theological support for this stance is supplied by Dr. Salim Munayer, head of the reconciliation ministry Musalaha, and was presented in detail in his keynote address at the previous Conference (CatC 2010). Dr. Munayer, who will also be speaking at the upcoming Conference, signed the above-mentioned “Response” from the Conference organizers to the Messianic organizations. 

In the Israeli Messianic community, Dr. Munayer is known for Jewish-Palestinian youth trips sponsored by his organization, which encourages dialog between the two groups. More recently, Dr. Munayer directed a leadership training seminar for Messianic Israeli youth counselors, in partnership with the directors of a popular Messianic youth camp here in Israel.

Less well-known is Dr. Munayer’s endorsement of the anti-Zionist documentary, “With God on Our Side” (released in 2010). The synopsis states that the film’s goal is to “look at the theology of Christian Zionism, which teaches that because the Jews are God's chosen people, they have a divine right to the land of Israel.” 

In keeping with the conflicting messages coming from CatC representatives (the film’s producer, Porter Speakman, is also a speaker at CatC 2012), the film’s website asserts, “God does not take sides with certain people groups, nations and agendas,” and then inexplicably quotes Joshua’s encounter with the angelic Commander as he embarked on the Israelite conquest of this very same Land.

By the same token, the “Response” signed by Dr. Munayer appeals to Messianic Zionists: “We plead with you to respect the theological diversities that exist between us;” while in a trailer promo for the film he goes on record rejecting that diversity as a threat to his existence: “The implication of Christian Zionism, as we would understand it - the world will hear it here - is that to accept this theology is to commit suicide as a peoplehood.” [sic]

For those not familiar with Dr. Munayer's alternative, which he calls "Theology of the Land", here is a summary gleaned from his keynote address at CatC 2010:

1.      The covenant made by G-d to the Jewish people giving them the land of Canaan was conditional on their being obedient - worshiping G-d only, and making the right moral and ethical choices.
2.      When the Jews became unfaithful, they lost their right to live in this Land.
3.      When Yeshua came (or possibly since the time of creation... this point was unclear), the concept of "land by covenant" became universal. Every people was given a land from G-d by covenant, with the same conditions as those G-d gave to the Jews.
4.      Zionism is a dream of the Jews to return to the place where they had historical connections.  It is understandable, but it's not moral. The right from G-d to live in this land passed to the Palestinians. They cannot accept the status of "strangers dwelling with" Israel - the Palestinians are "the indigenous people" and therefore are the rightful heirs to it.
5.      The Europeans (not G-d) returned the Jews to this place, out of guilt for European sins against them during the Holocaust. The Europeans caused Jewish suffering, so they should pay the price, not the Palestinians.
6.      There is no return of the Jews to this Land prophesied in scripture. Christians who believe that the covenant promise of this land still belongs to the Jews are misunderstanding the Bible, and they are promoting injustice.

Listening to the entire address will reveal how the scriptures are used to justify this theology, and which passages are ignored.  (scroll down to Dr. Munayer's audio file: "From Land of Strife to Land of Reconciliation"

Another Palestinian Theology

Readers who stayed with me this far might be tempted to give up hope on any reconciliation with our Palestinian brethren that doesn’t do violence to G-d’s word.  Before you despair, let me introduce you to a small flock of Palestinians living in the same neighborhood as the Conference venue - only one kilometer from the “checkpoint” from which the Conference borrowed its name. These other Palestinians would stand that Conference on its head and put its theology to shame... had they been invited. 

To simply quote this second Palestinian theology would not do justice to the power and love conveyed by the speaker in a few simple words. Nor would it capture the context that shows the high price they are paying for their stand. 

I invite you to take a few more minutes to listen and watch Pastor Steven Khoury and his father Pastor Naim Khoury, leaders (respectively) of Calvary Baptist Church in Jerusalem and First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, interviewed by the Christian Broadcasting Network: 


Speaking as a Messianic Jewish Israeli, I declare these persecuted, ostracized, unsung theologians to be our true Palestinian brethren in the Land. They uphold all of G-d's word, with no compromise or apologies, and I am sorry to have discovered their existence only recently. 

They are worthy of our prayers, encouragement and tangible support – as well as a place of honor at the next Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation effort attended by Messianic believers.

It is my fervent hope that my fellow-believers in Israel who are engaged in Palestinian-Israeli dialog will make the appropriate changes.

Hannah Weiss
Restorers of Zion on-line network: http://www.restorersofzion.org

NOTE:  Pastor Steven Khoury is sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and accepts speaking invitations abroad.


Jill A. said...

I traveled with a group to Israel last month, and we listened to Salim Munayer speak at BBC. I was honestly nauseated and was fighting tears through his entire presentation. He showed no love for the Jews or Christian zionists. I can't believe he can throw away all of the covenants to the Jews that are EVERLASTING. He showed prideful arrogance, and when I asked him how the Bethlehem Baptist Church was doing, he looked very cold, told me they were doing fine, and told me that everything that comes out of that church "is a lie". The worst part was, many of the seminary students who I was with seemed to enjoy his presentation. The true Christian church loves Israel and the Jews. If the Jews can't trust His everlasting promises, then the Christian can't either.

Donna Diorio, IsraelWatcher said...

"If the Jews can't trust His everlasting promises, then the Christian can't either."

I agree with that statement entirely, Jill.

Donna Diorio