Christ at the Checkpoint

The Lone Pro-Israel Voice at “Christ at the Checkpoint”

on May 31, 2018

Over May 28-June 1, pro-Palestinian Evangelicals and Palestinian Christians are gathered for the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference at Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank.  While conference organizers state they aim to “find Jesus at the center of everything” and “finding courageous love for Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews alike,” the event has a controversial reputation.

Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) staff who attended the conference in the past found the event’s overwhelming pro-Palestine sympathies lend to the vilification of Israel and her American Evangelical supporters, especially among younger attendees. IRD President Mark Tooley previously identified “Checkpoint” as “a wider movement, mostly confined to Evangelical elites, to neutralize a key pro-Israel constituency in America.”

For all its flaws, “Checkpoint” organizers did invite one pro-Israel voice, Dr. Michael Brown, a Messianic Jewish leader, and conservative commentator. Standing before his audience, Brown maintained an affectionate tone as he noted how the “Checkpoint” event had bred contempt among some of its past attendees towards the nation-state of Israel.

“As a friend, I have to say many who come to this conference leave embittered towards Israel. I will find this as a common root when I talk to people who are hostile to Israel in an angry way and when I find out where it goes back to it was this conference,” said Brown. “And I don’t believe that’s your heart or intent. So it grieves me to see participants of the conference return home with outright hostility towards Israel produced in part by this dangerous theology.”

Brown’s candid address also called out “Checkpoint” organizers and supporters for failing to denounce the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) terrorist activities. “I wonder how many speakers here will decry the hundreds of millions of dollars that Hamas has spent on building terrorist tunnels to kidnap and kill Israelis, including kindergarteners, by their intent,” he exclaimed.

After recounting the horrific details of the 2011 Itamar terrorist attack in which a family of five, including a 3-month-old baby boy, was slaughtered in their home, Brown noted the families of the murderers, Amjad Awad and Hakim Awad, receive regular payments form the PA. “In fact, it’s reported that PA payments to families of terrorists and prisoners amount to roughly ten percent of the PA budget,“ he shared.

“If you care about justice, if you care about putting Jesus at the center, surely you have to renounce these things with me today,” Brown pleaded. “The least you could do as followers of Jesus is stand with me in denouncing your government’s celebration of terrorism.”

Such open discussion about the shortcomings of the “Checkpoint” gathering is refreshing. However, it is interesting to note directly after his speech conference organizer, and Palestinian Christian Pastor Munther Issac acknowledged that Brown had submitted his speech for review before the event. Issac then proceeded to challenge Brown’s address point by point, lest anyone should be persuaded by the pro-Israel sentiments.

Predictably other “Checkpoint” speakers went on to lament Israel’s injustices and paint Palestinians as the oppressed underdog. To do this, Pro-Palestinian activist and professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, Gary Burge, cited Luke chapter 4 where Jesus is rejected in Nazareth after explaining “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” Like those in the Nazareth synagogue, Burge acknowledged there might be some rattled by what they hear at the “Checkpoint” conference. “We’d rather toss Jesus off a cliff than change, which just may describe some of my Evangelical and Zionist friends,” he said.

Burge never mentioned President Donald Trump’s name during his speech. But anyone listening could hear the parallels Burge was drawing between those angry with Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue and the American president and his supporters. Mentions of walls, foreigners, and an emphasis on Jesus challenging our national priorities were not missed.

“Jesus is upending the geographical and ethnic priorities of Judaism,” Burge declared. “Jesus is up-ending all of these priorities. His ministry, the dawn of the Messianic age, meant something was going to shift. God’s new plan included Syrians and Phoenicians, and maybe even Palestinians.”

At one point Burge seemed to express his support for open borders. Switching geographical locations, he told a story about visiting a church in Laredo, Texas. He soon discovered many of the worshipers and church leaders were illegal immigrants. “There I was in the Nazareth synagogue, and I had to answer the question: Did I have eyes to see what God was doing?” asked Burge. “Or instead was I going to interpret everything I was doing through the lens of American politics? Was I blind or was I going to be sighted?”

Luke Moon, Deputy Director of the Philos Project and former IRD staff member, is currently attending the “Checkpoint” conference.  Moon has tweeted:

I reached out to Moon for his observations of the event. “Gary Burge and Brian Zahnd both spoke from the same passage in Luke,” shared Moon. “They argued that the crowd got angry at Jesus because he challenged their nationalism. It could be that they got angry because he refused to do miracles.”

As troubling as the political bias is at the “Checkpoint” gathering, we can all agree the Gospel is indeed meant for all, including Palestinians and Jews. We can and should pray for peace. At the same time, the temptation to reduce the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a David versus Goliath narrative must be avoided.

And while it might be easy to use American Evangelicals as a convenient scapegoat of such a complex tension, a new Christian Zionism is emerging. One where faithful Believers support Israel because it remains the only stable democracy in the Middle East, upholding women’s rights and freedom of religion for example. For further reading on this arising movement, please consider reading The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land edited by Gerald R. McDermott.

You can watch the “Christ at the Checkpoint” live stream here:

  1. Comment by Bill Bjoraker on June 1, 2018 at 7:42 pm

    Thank you Chelsen, for this balanced and accurate report. C@theC always invites one token Jewish believer to speak, because it makes them appear unbiased, but they make sure to refute him afterward. We are always engaging an intellectual and spiritual battle when we speak up in truth for Israel.

  2. Comment by Earl H Foote on June 2, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    Thanks for the report. It can be depressing how self-deceived “liberal” Christians, including Evangelicals, as well as Palestinian Christians, can be. I attended a local presentation by the head of the Sabeel Institute, Rev. Naim Ateek. It had the usual mixture of fact distortions and Israel-bashing, including a gross misinterpretation of Nehemiah 2:20. All we pro-Israel Christians can do is continue to speak the truth and hope that people are listening.

  3. Comment by Geri Ungurean on June 2, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    This makes me literally sick. Do you all understand that we MUST be born again to see the Kingdom of God? Are you “Playing church?” Do you not know that the entire Bible was written by Jewish men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Do you not know that the Jewish people are God’s Chosen?

    If you were to die tonight and God would ask you “Why should I let you into my heaven? How would you respond?

    The answer to that question shows whether you are truly born again or just playing “church.”

  4. Comment by Lorna Mclaughlin on June 2, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    They would do well to read what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31–46 about the “sheep and goat” judgment. I know they have no use for the Old Testament and therefore care little about God’s blessing on Abram…those who bless you I will bless, those who curse you I will curse….but maybe the problem is they just don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God, or perhaps they don’t even really believe in God….maybe Jesus is just a mythical purvayer of moral advice…it matters not, however, whether they believe in him now or not because someday they will bow their knee to him and “confess that he is Lord and so then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:11-12) This conference displays nothing but Biblical ignorance and therefore ignorance of God himself. And to think that one of the main speakers is a Professor of Theology at my alma mater…how ashamed I am!
    As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord….

  5. Comment by Paul Hubert on June 4, 2018 at 12:18 am

    Oh, how we travail over Jerusalem as did Jesus. LOVING the Jews when they reject Messiah. Loving the lost and suffering among the Arabs AND seeing the fruit of decades of prayer, while still, the majority stands resisting and opposing.

    The WORK is the Lord’s, but commitment and its courage are ours,

  6. Comment by Paul Hubert on June 4, 2018 at 12:29 am

    There is no such thing as a “liberal” Christian. The terms are incompatible. And, is “Conservative” any different? Isn’t it “Christian” without adjectives? Christ with nothing else? If I USED Twitter, I might follow, but I won’t touch the platform. It doesn’t appear to be one for engagement, only presentation.

  7. Comment by Paul Hubert on June 4, 2018 at 12:32 am

    How we ANGUISH over Jerusalem, as did Jesus. And He loved the Gentiles as well – as must we. And a Muslim Arab is a Gentile as I am – or was. Because IN Christ there IS no Jew or Greek (Gentile) – and apparently there are too many who have not understood and resist understanding this unification.

  8. Comment by Penny on June 4, 2018 at 1:50 am

    “use American Evangelicals as a convenient scapegoat of such a complex tension” – –
    this is now the norm — we are used as the scapegoats for just about any political situation …

  9. Comment by Jonathan George Kuttab on June 4, 2018 at 9:50 am

    Do you know of any conferences of Christian Zionists who are willing to invite a Palestinian Christian theologian to speak at their plenaries and engage Them in respectful dialogue? I do not.

  10. Comment by Dr David Friedman on June 9, 2018 at 7:45 am

    The sponsors of the Checkpoint wish for Israel, the Jewish state, to be dismantled. One sponsor claims to hobnob with Hamas; they all refuse to disassociate themselves from anti-Jewish speakers from their past conferences, including Steven Sizer and Ben White. About 5 Israeli Messianic Jews came to their latest one. If a purported reconciliation conference is basically ignored by 99% of Israeli Messianic Jews, there must be a pretty strong reason for such. It’s a reason that the sponsors can not afford to ask themselves or they’d have to confront their own prejudices which they say they do, but don’t.

  11. Comment by David Friedman on June 10, 2018 at 1:45 am

    There are 3 Arab-Israeli prayer groups that do this, Jonathan. I attend two of them regularly. I’m sure you know of some of them but there is only prayer, embracing of all comers and no political agendas present at these. Given such an agenda I understand why the Checkpoint’s sponsors refuse to come. Sowho are the ‘refusers’?

  12. Comment by David Friedman on June 11, 2018 at 5:08 am

    There are 3 Arab-Israeli prayer groups that do this, Jonathan. I attend two of them regularly. I’m sure you know of some of them but there is only prayer, embracing of all comers and no political agendas present at these. Given such an agenda I understand why there Checkpoint’s sponsors refuse to come.

  13. Comment by E. Dean Cozzens on November 3, 2018 at 5:21 pm

    Try attending on of the Nights to Honor Israel put on by affiliates of Christians United for Israel (CUFI. I pronounce it Goofy). There is nothing but the most extreme of Pro-Zionist sentiments at these events. I think if you were to attend and mention that you were Palestinian or sympathetic of the Palestinians you’re probably be hauled out in chains, maybe even shot. For certain you would be verbally mocked and ridiculed in the most forceful of ways. Try it sometime. Christ at the Checkpoint is at least a try at honest dialogue, and the one I attended was exemplary both in terms of scholarship and civility.

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