“Why should Christian Zionists coming to the Holy Land—where they worship Israel, not Jesus—why should they draw tens of thousands and we not get those kinds of numbers?”
The rhetorical question was posed in the closing hour of the 5th anti-Israel ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ (CatC) conference in Bethlehem. Awad is a former dean and professor at Bethlehem Bible College.
“As long as Christians have an unbalanced eschatology supporting one side (Israel), this conference is necessary,” he said.
Since its debut in 2010, ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ has been held only in the Palestinian Authority controlled city of Bethlehem.
But it intends to go global. As the conference came to a close on Friday, 1 June 2018, Jack Sara made an announcement:
"We are going to the United States," he said.
Sara is president of Bethlehem Bible College, the confab’s primary sponsor. The US event is scheduled for 15-18 October 2018, in Oklahoma City. The hotel where it is being held includes a ballroom with capacity for 1,400 people.
"‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ is becoming a movement," he added. "Eyes and hearts are being opened.
"We invite others to bring this to their countries too."
As for the US event, he made a special appeal.
“Student groups are especially invited. Just like here, our speakers will include some who disagree with us.”
Christians who stand with the Jewish State of Israel—and do so as matters of moral and biblical convictions—are likely to attend in greater numbers than represented at the conference in Bethlehem. To my knowledge, there were only two such (who were not speakers) in attendance this year: CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile, a Catholic; and myself, an evangelical. If there were others, they were silent observers.
The majority of those who have attended the Bethlehem confab since 2010 are Christians from the West. There are, however, a number from the East as well. No surprise. Proselytizers of CatC’s message have been traveling the world for some time. They have been reported in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Japan and the Philippines.
They have also been spotted in Brazil, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India.
These locations, in addition to the US, Canada, England and the European continent, are strategic hunting grounds. In all of them, there are huge communities of evangelicals who stand with Israel as a matter of biblical conviction. Generally, however, their understanding of Israel today, not to mention first-hand interaction with Jews, is minimal to nonexistent.
This makes them ripe targets for conversion to CatC’s anti-Israel narrative. Dressed in the garb of lingo and music that evangelicals adore, they are low-hanging fruit for these evangelists of a very different gospel.
Also, when they go to non-Western locales, there is no one to counter their message. Opposition in the States and Canada is minimal, but still visible and vocal. Not so elsewhere in the evangelical world.
This has almost everything to do with the culture of evangelicalism. With a visceral commitment to romantic notions of love, it is a community completely lacking a model for self-defense. The existence of wolfish hunters on the prowl, let alone resistance to them, are nonexistence notions. Often too, pastors who should defend their congregations invite carnivores to the podium instead of fighting them.
As the CatC movement goes global, what must Christians who stand for Israel know? What must they do? There are many things. Here are seven fundamental necessities.
This is war
The reason it is war is because CatC and its ideological proponents have declared war.
One enemy against which they have declared themselves is ‘Christian Zionism.’ Basically, that includes any Christian who, on the bases of moral and biblical convictions, stands with the Jewish State of Israel.
Christian Zionists, says Alex Awad, worship the modern state of Israel instead of God.
Moreover, those of them in the US are responsible for "electing Trump and dashing hopes for Palestinian peace,” he stated the night CatC 2018 began.
“There simply is no biblical basis for Christian Zionism,” says conference organizer Munther Isaac. He made this assertion in 2016 and did so as a pastor, Bible professor and theologian.
At the CatC conference in 2016, the hired gun to assault Christian Zionism was the so-called ‘Bible Answer Man,’ Hank Hanegraaff from the US.
Not only is the ethnicity of today’s Jews dubious, said Hanegraaff, Christian Zionists are directly responsible for what he called Jewish Zionism’s “murder, terrorism and ethnic cleansing in 1948.” Moreover, he asserted, all talk of a third Temple (as per the prophet Ezekiel) is “nonsense.”
In fact, said author and historian Robert Smith this year, all forms, all expressions of Christian Zionism lack ethical integrity. Hence there is no ethical common ground for discussing any of their arguments with them.
Little wonder that the number one written objective of CatC this year was “to challenge the theology of Christian Zionism.”
But this is not the only thing against which the movement has declared war.
It is also openly attacking the redemptive essence of the gospel.
At this year’s confab, Munther Isaac was remarkably clear about this. Miffed at the challenge presented by Michael Brown on Tuesday, 29 May (see below), Isaac made a startling statement.
“When Jesus said, ‘I am the way,’ he did not mean to exclude other ways,” Isaac said. “He meant that his way is the way of sacrificial life.”
Not only was Isaac asserting that, at the very least, “several ways lead to God,” he implied that the Jesus’ fundamental work was not redemption, but an example to follow.
Erasing any doubt as to his meaning, Isaac’s final words for CatC 2018 asserted, “There are two kinds of Christians today. The first looks at gospel as teaching that puts us right with God. The second looks at the gospels as a lifestyle. To carry the cross.”
This is the context for understanding another written objective of CatC 2018, namely, “to re-evaluate the notion of mission in current paradigms among evangelicals.”
So much for the explicit biblical assertion that “God was in Messiah reconciling the cosmos to himself,” and that “he has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation.”
Know your enemies
Who are the preachers, teachers, schools and popular leaders siding with CatC’s declaration of war?
They are not just a few Palestinian Christians. They also include evangelical leaders and institutions that openly side with CatC’s warfare narrative.
Among their numbers in North American are Brian Zahnd, pastor of a megachurch in St. Joseph, Missouri; Tony Campolo, an octogenarian sociologist, theologian and popular speaker to millennial evangelicals; Richard Mouw, president emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary and his successor in that job, Mark Labberton; Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College for 25 years, now teaching at Calvin College in Michigan; Co-founder of the megachurch where Burge is a member, Lynne Hybels.
And there are many more more like these. Among their ranks are most of the non-Palestinian speakers on the roster CatC conferences since they began in 2010.
The most important—and disconcerting—thing about these enemies is that they are among us. They are part-and-parcel of the fabric of Western evangelicalism; presumably, Eastern evangelicalism too, but mostly unidentified there.
Armor up and learn to fight—on the offense
The primary platform for the battles of this war are social media, especially Twitter and Facebook. Secondary platforms include blogging, op-ed writing, and of course video.
All of these are made exponentially more effective when those using them are reporting from the front lines of conflict: in the classroom, in churches, at conferences, and in direct interaction with Jews, Arabs, Muslims, immigrants. In this particular war, direct interaction is invaluable with Jewish Israelis, Arabs (Israeli and Palestinian), including religious Jews, Christians, Muslims and seculars who live both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories.
Skill in waging battle comes with practice and experience. Yes, you will make mistakes. Yes, you will be vilified by enemies and criticized by friends. Yes, it will be messy. And yes, you will sustain wounds.
In a nutshell, what’s needed to become skillful as a warrior is holy chutzpah. No matter what, grin, get up and fight another day.
Focus on who you are fighting for
The people for whom we fight are not those who lead CatC conferences or allies who advocate its narrative.
The people for whom we fight are the same people targeted by CatC: evangelical millennials from about age 20 to 40, along with their institutions and influential leaders.
The vast majority of those in this bulls-eye range are kind-hearted individuals who simultaneously, if vaguely, support Israel and have an instinctive compassion for the downtrodden.
One of the biggest mistakes made by pro-Israel evangelicals who attend CatC and its like is the idea they should, and can, convert those who have declared war to break ranks and love the Jewish state.
When this naïveté is combined with an unwillingness to see the enemy as an enemy, advocates for Israel are invariably neutralized, reduced to various kinds of paralysis; and sometimes defection.
Identify and expose deception
Like undercover agents in the movie franchise, Mission Impossible, CatC and its advocates have mastered the art of disguise. These are just a few of their most effective deceptions:
They dress themselves as conservative evangelical Christians when, in fact, they are mainstream liberal Protestants. Although it sounds conservative, Bethlehem Bible College originated in Methodism and is taught by professors who, directly or indirectly, have been trained in liberal Protestant universities and seminaries.
The vault of CatC disguises also includes “bait and switch” deceptions. One example of this is publishing a conservative statement of faith while actually teaching something entirely different. By way of illustration, there is Bethlehem Bible College’s declaration of “beliefs”.
Its first article declares, “we believe in the Holy Scriptures as originally given by God, divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy; and the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.”
In fact, as explicitly taught by Bethlehem Bible College at its CatC conferences, the Bible’s trustworthiness and authority are entirely subject to the Palestinian Authority’s social-political agenda.
As is the case at every CatC assembly, this was painfully clear last week.
When the conference kicked off on Monday evening, the keynote speaker was Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malik. Speaking in the place of President Mahmoud Abbas, he declared that Jesus was crucified because he was a Palestinian, then proceeded to eviscerate Israel and US President Donald Trump.
Every CatC leader was there. They fawned and applauded and patted al-Malik on the back. Then, wrapped in Christian lingo, they re-asserted all of his key points.
Later in the week an unscheduled representative of the PA appeared at the podium. Her powerpoint presentation was a gatling gun declaration of the PA’s explicit anti-Israel narrative, vilifying it as a criminal enterprise.
Another one of CatC’s effective disguises is that of appearing balanced and open.
This year the mask for that deception was Michael Brown. An experienced Christian debater who is ethnically Jewish, Brown was invited to CatC as a token representative of “the other side.” Brown was excellent. He was bold but gracious, clear but kind. And he made specific challenges.
Unsurprisingly, however, all of these were summarily dismissed by the conference organizer, Munther Isaac, immediately after Brown sat down.
CatC has a history of using Christian advocates for Israel to present themselves as rational opponents in a friendly debate between believers of like mind.
They are anything but. In fact, and as just illustrated, their fundamental identity is hard-core Palestinian Authority anti-Israel doctrine.
Resist and reject seduction
One of the main ways CatC and its advocates disarm evangelical opposition is by seducing it.
Pleading for love and unity, it relentlessly argues for Israel as an essentially criminal entity. Advocates for Israel who buy the seduction are persuaded that silence in the face of these assertions are necessary expressions of Christian love and unity.
Another seduction is using weapons from an entire armory of rhetorical accusations. The accusations against evangelicals who stand with Israel include charges of one-sided prejudice, lack of compassion, divisiveness, blindness, political motivation and, although the word itself is never spoken, heresy.
Perhaps the most effective seduction is various use of “bait and switch” appeals. Like a salesman who gets his mark to say yes about things unrelated to his real objective, CatC does the same. Appealing to evangelical sensibilities and expressions, those who participate, standing with raised hands and bowed heads, invariably find themselves in that same posture as anti-Israel invective is proclaimed as gospel truth.
This happened at the very start of this year’s CatC. Asking attendees to stand for an opening prayer, the program immediately proceeded to the ‘Palestinian National Anthem.’ Asked to remain standing, everyone apparently did. Refusing to stand for the prayer, I was spared the embarrassment of having to sit in the face of an anthem that declares,
Warrior, warrior, warrior,
...I will live as a warrior, I will remain a warrior,
I will die as a warrior - until my country returns
The best way to avoid seduction at such events is to suspend all public expressions of evangelical faith. Don’t pray, don’t sing, don’t join hands, don’t say amen.
All the biblical truisms, all the worship songs and prayers, have a duplicitous intent. Just as the heart opens up, just as the mind thinks yes, CatC’s declared war against Christian Zionism and the gospel opens fire.
The lesson? Never, ever, let down your guard at this event or others like it—including a increasing array of services at local churches.
CatC’s leadership and advocates are already taking their attack to evangelicals around the world. Apart from the West, they are all-but entirely unopposed. War has been declared. Its agents must be answered. They must be opposed.
Especially in such a time as this.
Photo: PA PM Maliki and Jack Sara president of Bethlehem Bible College at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem on 28 May 2018 | Photos: Brian Schrauger
Note: In order to satisfy Facebook censorship, all of the lettering in the original photo had to be removed. This is the original, including the inset: