Christ at the Checkpoint

March 12, 2014

In Bethlehem this week, Christians from around the world are gathering for the Christ at the Checkpoint conference (the third such conference, which occurs every two years). I have heard some reports from the previous two versions of the conference and it a helpful effort to highlight the voices and perspectives of Palestinian Christians. Interestingly, as this year's version of the conference started, the Israeli government slammed the conference. Here is the statement from the spokesperson of the Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

The attempt to use religious motifs in order to mobilize political propaganda and agitate the feelings of the faithful through the manipulation of religion and politics is an unacceptable and shameful act. Using religion for the purpose of incitement in the service of political interests stains the person who does it with a stain of indelible infamy.
This is an unprecedented critique of evangelical Christians by the Israeli government. The statement is ironic since the Israeli government accused evangelicals at the conference of doing exactly what the Israeli government itself often does with conservative evangelicals. The conference does deal with both religion and politics since those issues cannot be separated. But to call such dialogue "propaganda" is dishonest. Apparently the Israeli government does not appreciate its hegemony on matters of religion and politics being questioned, and the statement shows the conference must be doing a good job of challenging the dominant narrative.

The conference likely is viewed as a threat because it hits at the heart of U.S. support of Israel: evangelicals. But recent signs suggest this support is falling, especially among younger evangelicals. If evangelicals stop unquestionably supporting Israel, then the nation might some of its policies and actions facing stronger criticism. This is not to say the conference is designed to be anti-Israel; instead, it seeks to tell a fuller story of the situation beyond the conservative evangelical account that says Israel is right no matter what it does. The conference is organized by Bethlehem Bible College, an evangelical school doing great work in the region. Alex Awad, one of the leaders at that school and of the conference (and pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church), explained the purpose of the conference in an Ethics Daily video after the last conference. In addition to Awad, the strong line-up of speakers this year includes Hanna Massad, a Palestinisn pastor from Gaza that I interviewed for an Ethics Daily story a few years ago (who also spoke at the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant). I encourage you to join me in watching sessions online (you can watch them live or as archived videos). Let us listen to and support our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine.

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