Christ at the Checkpoint 2010: Theology in the Service of Peace and Justice
March 17, 2010 – The first global evangelical conference to take place in Palestine, “Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Peace and Justice” completed its work in Bethlehem. Organized by the Bethlehem Bible College in partnership with the Holy Land Trust, over 250 participants representing twenty nations came together between the dates of March 12 - 17 and listened to challenging and powerful presentations spoken by some of the leading voices of the evangelical movement (Palestinian, Messianic and international), and were a direct witness to the current realities on the ground.
The conference addressed different understandings of how the Evangelical Church, both in the past and currently, deals with scriptural understandings of theology regarding those who live in the Holy Land and how that either promotes war and violence, or promotes peace and justice. Some of the themes of the conference included a biblical critique of dispensational theology and repudiation of an exclusive theology of the land that marginalizes and disenfranchises the indigenous people. The conference affirmed the strategic role of the Palestinian Evangelical Church in justice, peacemaking and reconciliation. The conference speakers repudiated both Christian Zionism and Anti-Semitism.
Other themes examined the dangers of using the Bible to justify ethnic hatred towards others, whether in demonizing Islam or minimizing the effect of the Holocaust. Participants shared their personal experiences and committed themselves to nonviolence as the only means to achieve lasting peace with justice.
Palestinian theologians gave speeches showing how Palestinian Christians read the Bible as an indigenous book, reflecting their land and culture, and how their rejection of Christian Zionism is based on Christ’s teachings which rejected nationalist chauvinism on the one hand, and violence on the other.
Scholars and participants in the conference agreed to reject the teachings of any theology that promotes unbiblical teachings, and declared that much work is needed to transfer those findings to ordinary evangelicals in the West who often express uncritical support of Israel because of their ignorance both of scriptures and of the facts on the ground.
On the last evening of the conference, Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad addressed the participants and declared his government’s commitment to nonviolence as a means of moving forward and thanked them for their coming to Palestine and encouraged them in their way forward working for peace and justice.
The following statement called "The Bethlehem Evangelical Affirmation" was released at the end of the conference:
"We recognize that this is the time to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, we are convinced that the Holy Spirit is leading us at such a time as this to unite as Christians throughout the world in order to pray and work for a just peace in Israel and Palestine. To this end, we commit to reconnect with the local Palestinian church and to listen and learn from all those who follow Jesus in the Holy Land and to share their stories with our own faith communities. We further commit to work together to advocate changes in public policy and so achieve a just and lasting resolution of the conflict. Our vision and our hope is that Israelis and Palestinians will live in justice and peace in the land of the Holy One."
In addition to praise and worship time, participants engaged in fact-finding tours to areas where the Separation Wall is being built, daily visits to the checkpoint at 6:00 am to see the difficulties faced by Palestinian laborers going to Jerusalem, visited Palestinian refugee camps, a Jewish settlement, Jerusalem and Hebron, took communion in Shepherds' Field, prayed in local churches and enjoyed a Palestinian cultural evening with traditional dance and food.
In addition to many workshops, participants listened to the following international keynote speakers: Tony Campolo, Professor Emeritus at Eastern University; Lynne Hybels, co-founder of the Willow Creek Community Church; Brother Andrew, leader of “Open Doors” ministry; Paul Alexander, founder of Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice; Gary Burge, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College; Darrel Bock, Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Colin Chapman, writer and expert on Islam; John Feinberg, Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Manfred Kohl, VP with Overseas Council International; Stephen Sizer, incumbent at Christ Church, Virginia Water and Anglican Parish in Surrey, England.
Locally, the following speakers gave keynote presentations. Naim Ateek, founder and head of Sabeel; Alex Awad, Pastor of the East Jerusalem Baptist Church; Salim Munayer, founder and director of Musalaha Reconciliation Ministry; Sami Awad, Executive Director of Holy Land Trust, Yohanna Katanacho, Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College; Jonathan Kuttab, Chair of the Board of Bethlehem Bible College; Mitri Raheb, Pastor of the Evangelical Christian Lutheran Church;
Titles of the conference included, Palestinian Christianity in the Shadow of Christian Zionism, the Holocaust and the Evangelical Church, the Pentecostal Church’s Role and Responsibility towards Peace and Justice in the Middle East, the Ethical Responsibility of the Evangelical American Church Towards Palestinian Christians, the Land in Light of Reconciliation in Christ: A Dispensational View, and Contextual Palestinian Theology as it Deals with Realities on the Ground.