There’s a conference in town today. Well, not exactly ‘in town’, more in the suburbs. Bethlehem, to be precise. Beyond the wall where the cabbies can’t go. It’s going to be quite an event, this third “Christ at the Checkpoint”. Several days of conference, keynote speakers to include a prominent Muslim human rights activist, an influential author, several pastors from a variety of denominations, the president of Bethlehem Bible College and many and various luminaries within the Arab Christian community and beyond.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denounced “Christ at the Checkpoint” in no uncertain terms…
“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.”
While it is true that at first glance, the Arab Christian minority has tended to draw the short straw in the political and spiritual street fight that passes for attempts at reconciliation here, the strength of the Establishment response is extraordinary. The subtext, smoothly oiled over with a veneer of spirituality is rather uglier, since it has drawn such pointed criticism from the authorities. There are varieties of opinion, it would appear, and as long as the principal tenets are adhered to, most notably, outspoken support for the concept of “occupation”, participants can attend seminars, visit a checkpoint early in the morning to see for themselves how security is maintained and discuss with like minds. The hated face of Zionism (a minority view amongst many haredi sects) is not condemned outright, merely included in a litany of other unjust and unconstitutional practices. BDS is probably not far below the surface. The words of one of the organisers, Sami Awad, virtuous as they may be, earnest and passionate, carry with them a subtext which many find difficult to digest, namely, the Arab desire to share the rights of homeland in denial of responsibilities to it. He writes “For anything to move forward in the Holy Land, a relationship of trust and respect must be established between the peoples. Peace is not just negotiated settlements between politicians. Peace is the process of building trust and respect… To be able to see each other with new eyes…understand who the ‘other’ is…appreciate their culture, heritage, the narrative that they bring to the table…
Superficially, what a worthy objective, but what sacrifice must be made, what concessions made to orthodoxy and truth in order to achieve it? Powerful theological weight is brought to bear to lend support to both hard and soft supersessionism, from hard-line Lutheran dogma that the New Covenant replaces the Old in its entirety, in other words, God had had enough of the Children of Israel in the first century and transferred all Covenant promises to followers of Yeshua Ha-Maschiach to a softer but no less pernicious doctrine that the Church has been unilaterally entrusted with the fulfilment of the promises of which Jewish Israel is the trustee.
This is all very fine, but why are dissenting voices suppressed? I cannot help but feel that this is no genuine fellowship, no Kingdom building, no real rapprochement as the pre-conference literature proclaims; instead a wolf, cunningly disguised as an inoffensive sheep which is cynical at best and propagandist at worst. I’d dearly love to nod vigorously with the peaceniks, but I fear on this occasion, I really can’t.