By Brian Schrauger, Jerusalem Journal-—
In the early days of March 2016, Bethlehem Bible College held its fourth Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC) conference.
Although attendance was lower than prior iterations (about 300), the conference’s anti-Israel agenda was more explicit than ever. Notably, however, the primary focus of the confab’s condemnation was not Israel or Jews. Its primary focus was condemnation of Christians who support the Jewish state.
It is a focus that represents a strategic move against Israel within mainstream evangelicalism. As such, it is at once ingenious and profoundly hypocritical.
It is also dangerous. The greatest danger is to Jews, especially Israeli Jews, but it is also dangerous for Christians who stand with them. The nature of the danger is a religious framework that, like Christianity in 14th century Spain and 20th century Europe, could once again justify unspeakable atrocities against Jews and any who side with them. As such, today’s revamped religious framework coming out of Bethlehem is a uniquely ideological, evangelical brand of terrorism.
CatC’s anti-Israel framework for Christianity is customized for evangelical millennials, their teachers and opinion shapers.
That framework is already the prevailing sensibility in European Christianity, including evangelicals in every demographic. There are exceptions, but they are few. Meanwhile in North America, the millions of Christians who support Israel seem unaware of significant erosion within. Their children, evangelical millennials in the their 20s, are tottering toward an anti-Israel religious world view.
Arguably and since it began in 2010, the entire CatC movement aims to be the lever that tips, or converts, those millennials into religious ambivalence, if not hostility, toward the Jewish state and Jews everywhere.
Can the movement pull it off? The relatively small number of those who have attended the four CatC conferences to date cause some critics to dismiss its threat.
But numbers can be deceiving. In each conference, including #CatC2016 (the conference hashtag), speakers and registered guests represent spheres of Western evangelical influence that, like Christian Zionists, number in the millions. Like dandelion florets floating in the wind, CatC lecturers and devotees are spreading its ideology to the four corners of North America and the world.
What are CatC’s methods and the messages that have already made huge gains in converting evangelicals away from support for Israel? In short, as revealed by #CatC2016, those methods and messages are construed in such a way that they almost completely mask the movement’s profound hypocrisy.
Ostensibly, #CatC2016 was structured around the theme, “The gospel in the face of religious extremism.” The essence of religious extremism, said conference speakers, is any doctrinal belief that, in the name of deity, supports an ethnocentric state, including all of its self-sustaining acts of violence.
The conference agenda made it appear that this kind of religious extremism would be critiqued as seen today in Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
The real focus, however, was Christian Zionism.
Christian Zionism is a mostly evangelical movement that regards Jesus’ Jewishness and Torah-based Judaism as defining characteristics of his human identity and divine mission.
Accordingly, Christian Zionists assert, it is impossible to follow Jesus apart from honoring his Bible, Torah (a.k.a., the “Old Testament”), as God’s Word; and his family, the Jews, as God’s uniquely chosen people.
Christian Zionists also regard Torah-based Judaism as the foundation of Jesus’ teaching and work. As such, his Jewishness and Judaism are part-and-parcel of his identity both yesterday and today, making it impossible to fully know or understand him apart from these things.
Not according to #CatC2016, however.
Its speakers and organizers could not have been more clear. According to Reverend Dr. Munther Isaac, the conference administrator, “Christian Zionism is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus.” How so?
IN THE names of God, love, justice and Jesus, #CatC2016 kicked off on Monday evening, March 6, 2015. Sitting at the venue’s front row, guests of honor included local dignitaries, Palestinian Authority police and official PA representatives.
Under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah is the ruling political party of the PA. Billing itself as a secular movement, Fatah members are required to swear oaths of allegiance in the name of Allah. The primary goal of that allegiance, says Fatah’s charter, is “complete liberation of Palestine.” What this liberation requires, the document clarifies, is “eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.” What’s more, the “inevitable method” for achieving this foremost objective is “armed public revolution.”
And the place for Jews in this vision of liberation? On July 29, 2013, Abbas clarified that in his movement’s “final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.”
In other words, the essence of the PA is a land claim based on an ethnocentric and violent patriotism to which all members swear allegiance in the name of Allah. Condemning this very thing as the fundamental nature of religious extremism, every part of #CatC2014 explicitly endorsed it.
That endorsement began as all were invited to stand for the “Palestinian national anthem.”
The governmental guest of honor was Hanna Amira of the PA. Amira is a member of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He also serves as chairman for its Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs In Palestine.
From the podium of #CatC2016, Amira made the outrageous claim that the PA has “created a national non-violent resistance” to “the occupation”; Israel, that is. This in spite of explicit and sustained endorsement by the PA of murderous terrorist attacks against Israelis that began in September of 2015 and continue to this day. Turning truth on its head, he charged Israel with sanctioned acts of unprovoked murder by its “army and settlers.”
Although his claims were explicit lies, they were conveyed by #CatC2016 without a peep of protest. In fact, Amira’s presentation in Arabic was translated into English by #CatC2016’s organizer, the Reverend Dr. Munther Isaac.
The first of #CatC2016’s three full days was billed as “the challenge of religious extremism within Islam.” With only a brief mention of Islamic State (ISIS) and its atrocities as an Islamic movement, most of the presenters sang the praises of Islam. Muslim scholar Mustafa Abu Sway argued that, according to “good” Islam, Israel’s occupation is a violation of human rights. As such he said, that occupation is both a political and religious issue. When he suggested that Israel could leave the West Bank in six days, “in time for Shabbat,” CatC’s audience laughed with approval.
Speaking for evangelicals, World Vision’s Chawcat Moucarry delivered a scholastic apology for Muhammad’s religion. And Anglican Bishop Michael Nari-Ali also sang its praises, noting that “for some time, I have had a strong interest in Islamic mysticism.”
It was all a setup for the second full day.
ON THAT DAY, CatC pulled out its biggest guns. The morning began with a “Bible reflection” delivered by Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary.
With two campuses in California and three more in Washington, Arizona and Texas, Fuller is a foremost institution for training evangelical leaders in North America.
Speaking from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Labberton said that sometimes the enemies of God are members of one’s own faith, and sometimes those enemies can kill. In light of what was to come, the implied meaning was unmistakable: fellow Christians who call themselves Christian Zionists are enemies of God who can kill. Regardless, Labberton argued, we must love them.
Sami Awad, president of Holy Land Trust, an NGO and co-sponsor of CatC conferences, argued that Christian Zionism has sided with the enemies of Christian Palestinians and done so in the name of God. It thereby inflames the conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
It is an extremist form of Christianity that is built on “fear of the other” instead of love. That’s why, Awad explained, they “do not listen or hear our cry” as Palestinians.
Indeed, Munther Isaac added, the “Imperial Theology” of Christian Zionism is an arrogant, dehumanizing and racist narrative that “employs God” to support “the occupation” and “even the settlements.” As such, he added, its “triumphalist” nature is indifferent to suffering and undergirds Israeli colonialism.
CatC’s ideological Gatling gun came next.
Hank Hanegraaff, host of a daily radio program in the US, is known as “The Bible Answer Man.” Loaded to quote and smote in the names of God, Jesus and the Bible, he unleashed a 30-minute diatribe against Christian Zionism.
Here is a synopsis of what he said:
All of God’s promises to Abraham have been fulfilled. And so, today God only has one chosen people; they are not today’s Jews, whose ethnicity is dubious, in any case. The evil of secular Zionism began with Christian Zionism about half a century before the movement that established today’s Jewish state. Its establishment, conceived by Christian Zionism, led to Jewish Zionism’s murder, terrorism and ethnic cleansing in 1948.
Christian Zionists called that ethnic cleansing a divine command. The end result was the largest displacement of a people group today. Christian Zionism therefore is a biblically indefensible position that ignores Jesus’ plain language. Any argument that today’s State of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy is indefensible. All talk of a Third Temple is nonsense because the Shechinah or Glory of God will never again descend upon a Temple constructed of lifeless stones.
Accordingly, the land of Palestine and the Temple Mount today have historical but no theological significance. Indeed, there is nothing in the Bible that commends the theology or eschatology of Christian Zionism.
Like the razor sharp apex of a triangular spearhead, Hanegraaff’s indictment of Christian Zionism was the poison tip of #CatC2016. Although a day and a-half of the conference remained, its rhetorical stiletto, like a Palestinian terrorist’s knife, was thrust into the corpus of Christian Zionism; and as a proxy, into Jewish and secular Zionism too. Delivered with intent to kill, it was left embedded in Zionism’s torso.
In the aftermath of the assault, even #CatC2016 sat in momentary silence, stunned.
Just as the first half of the conference was preparation for a climactic attack on Christian Zionism, its final half was little more than a denouement of that pointed apex. As Munther Isaac acknowledged in closing remarks on the final evening, CatC is particularly concerned with Christian Zionism and will continue to address it. Why? Because, he said, “we believe that Christian Zionism is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus.”
HOW CAN, how should, biblically motivated Zionists respond? First, we must not run away from or minimize the threat of CatC anti-Israel ideology.
Modest numbers at its conferences believe the massive influence its teaching has achieved in evangelical centers of influence, including its leading schools, major churches, popular books and music. The success it has achieved in these realms does not bode well for future support by evangelicals for the Jewish state.
Secondly, there is a rather desperate need to build real relationships across various divides.
Christians who stand with Israel must beware and renounce all racist attitudes toward Arab Palestinians. That means we allow them to call themselves Palestinians. Granting them this name does not mean we affirm a false history of “Palestine” as a nation or unique culture prior to 1948. If the name Palestinian is good enough for the State of Israel, it is time for it to be good enough for Christians who stand with the State of Israel. At the same time, we must build meaningful relationships with Jews and Palestinians. Only by doing so can we fight for the truth in ways that are not abusive.
Thirdly, a response that pursues meaningful relationships with Palestinians, Jews and Christians must be in the context of a fierce commitment to objective truth. Relationships must not be allowed to devolve into relativism in which we speak of “your truth” and “my truth.” When truth becomes relativistic, relationships become manipulative and abusive.
The fourth component of a meaningful response requires that religious Zionists, both Christians and Jews, recommit to study of the Bible so that they have a first-hand, working knowledge of it. Otherwise there is no defense again “Bible Answer Men” who reject whole swaths of God’s Word in the names of their interpretive framework. Accordingly, the only way to avoid doing the same thing ourselves is by a commitment to an inductive study of the Bible, not a deductive one. This means allowing the Bible and its authors to speak for themselves, seeking to understand their individual and collective meaning rather than imposing presuppositions upon their words.
Finally, in the context of meaningful relationships, objective truth and Bible study, Christian Zionists must learn to engage in ideological, rhetorical warfare and do so without apology. History is chock full of evil dogmas that have led to unspeakable human atrocities. Those ideologies are not buried in the past. They remain alive and well, only somewhat mutated for 21st century sensibilities. Like any deadly disease, they must be identified, renounced and treated as mortal enemies. Like medical warriors who commit their lives to study ongoing strains of flu viruses, we too must commit to study of “toxic thought syndromes.” Only then do we have a chance to inoculate ourselves, our families and our world. …In such a time as this.
Brian Schrauger is the Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Journal. He can be reached at Editor@JerusalemJournal.net