This year marks the 5th Christ at the Checkpoint conference and the 10th year that we have embarked on this journey of theological, social and political discussion, where we seek God’s will in our land and the prophetic voice of the Church at this time. Each conference has had its unique focus and flavor, and each one has contributed something unique to the discussion.
This year was no different. Quality attendees from more than 20 countries, a rich collection of speakers and an exciting increase in young adult participation; were all highlights for our 5th gathering. The theme of our discussion was “the centrality of Christ”, where speakers and participants met together “at the checkpoint” with Palestinians Christians and sought to understand what it means to have Christ at the center of our faith, mission and witness in our context.
From the outset, Christ at the Checkpoint has always insisted that reconciliation and dialogue with those that do not agree with us will have a platform in our conference, and therefore we always dedicate one segment for this purpose. To set this in stone we also included this in our manifesto under points 2, 7 and 11:
2. Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.
7. Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity for self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.
11. Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.”
For that reason, year after year we have invited Christian Zionists, Messianic Jews and others who do not agree with us to attend, speak and share their perspectives. The attacks, slander and harassment against us and these speakers were a great disappointment to us. The strategy has clearly been to stop the conference by using these tactics: Ignore, boycott and smear. Even worse so, there have been intense efforts to prevent attendees and speakers from coming and hearing our voices. They all failed. There is more to say about this but we would like to highlight the positive.
A few did decide to bravely engage with us, despite the ‘heat’ from their own community. They were valuable contributors and helped build the path to dialogue and discussion. Examples of this are Richard Harvey and Dan Juster’s dialogue with Gary Burge. This year we invited Dr. Michael Brown to come and challenge us, and this created even more controversy for those that oppose us. We were well aware of Dr. Brown’s opinions and his criticism of the conference, yet we stood by our aforementioned manifesto’s principles. Despite the pressures from his own community not to attend, he decided to come and because of this he has gained our respect. Many have tried to downplay the positive encounter we have had this week, but we think both Dr. Brown’s overall reflections on the conference and his commitment to future dialogue tells a different story. There were negative aspects of course, but we hope to continue to address these in the future.
Dr. Brown’s opinions are vastly different from our own and we felt his understanding of the causes and reality of the injustices of our daily life were not been addressed adequately. We even disagree on some of the assessments he has made about the conference, yet we want to prove that dialogues based on the principles of Jesus are the best way to move forward. We want to reflect positively on our time and discussion together:
• We can truly claim that we have found a new friend. We look forward to future discussions and even disagreements.
• We appreciate the honesty, openness and courage that Dr. Brown displayed during his session. This was particularly evident when he apologized for his interview with Israel Today, although to be honest we were already aware of their lack of journalistic professionalism and integrity.
• We are grateful for the time he invested in the Palestinian Christian young adults.
• The political and theological points that Dr. Brown presented are not new to us, yet we take his criticisms seriously and plan to chew on them for a while. We are not immune to “blind spots” and want to be as self-aware as possible.
We do however have some serious concerns with the rhetoric used before and during the conference. There were strong aspects of this which we perceived as enforcing the ongoing process of dehumanization of the Palestinians (and Palestinian Christians) that is often heard from Christian Zionists. The speech contained a generalization of the Palestinian society, the Arab world and the Muslim global community that we find extremely problematic. This overlooks the history and contemporary diversity that exists amongst the Palestinian people and commitment to nonviolence.
There were also patronizing elements in his speech which raised concern. Firstly, our main problems were defined and chosen for us. There was even a claim that if we did not submit with his framework this would somehow indicate some form of internal oppression, and that not accepting his theological framework would be opposing the will of God. We completely object to this premise and format of discussion. We believe this is an obstacle to mature and constructive dialogue. There was also a presented list of solutions that were a precondition for relationship and fellowship with the Evangelical community in the United States.
We pray that we will continue to search for God’s love and justice together in this complicated situation and that we continue to focus on Jesus Christ at the center of everything that we do. For all of those that disagree, object and are even afraid of coming and engaging with us, we call on you to take these first steps with an open mind and heart, and hear the call for peace and justice that we the Palestinians Christians have adopted as a core part of our identity.
Bethlehem Bible College