Christ at the Checkpoint or Crisis at the Checkpoint?

I recently reviewed the current Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC) Manifesto point by point from a biblical perspective. As a result, I found myself either agreeing, disagreeing or a bit of both. The whole breakdown was part of a pre-conference review I did. One apparent core value of the CatC Manifesto–rightfully so– is reconciliation:
1. The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
2. Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.

On one hand, I do not agree on the point that the Kingdom of God has come (Kingdom Now Theology claims among other things, that Yeshua’s Kingdom was inaugurated at His first coming while Scripture states that He will reign as Messianic King on the throne of David from Jerusalem in a yet to come Millennial Messianic Kingdom as validated by Psalm 72:8, 11, 17; Isaiah 9:7, 11:6-11; Jeremiah 23:6, and Zechariah 3:10 among other Scriptures). But on the other hand, as a believer in Yeshua, I see the great need for peace, justice and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. Furthermore, as proposed in Article 2 of their Manifesto, I agree that we are created in God's image and should look at each other from that perspective only (God created man and woman in His image, regardless of ethnicity as seen in Genesis 1:27; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; and Ephesians 4:24.)

Reconciliation is indeed critical, as long as real reconciliation is sought.Biblical or not, proper reconciliation requires:
1. Identify the issue
2. Identify the protagonists
3. Recognize the need to reconcile
4. Recognize shortcomings
5. Seek forgiveness and unity

These five steps can be used in any context, but when it involves believers, it must be on the firm foundation of God's word, based on a consistent and literal approach to the Bible. Anything less brings man's opinion into the equation and reveals our inability to be unbiased and just. In the context of CatC 2016, it was hardly the case. the scale was tipped in favor of the Palestinian and Palestine from the word go!

It is obvious to Israelis and Arabs, as well as the rest of the world that there is a crisis/conflict in the Middle East. The issue has been identified as a disputed piece of land the size of the state of New Jersey. Some will claim that this sliver of real estate belongs to the Jewish people based on a covenant that God made with them through Abraham, going back to Genesis 12 and further ratified through Isaac and Jacob in Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:15;17:7-8, 19; 25:5-6; 26:3; 28:3-4 and 35:9-15. Others will argue that the land belonged to the Palestinians and was stolen, colonized and now suffers from an apartheid policy by Israel. Identifying the issue could be done by saying that opinions differ on whom the land belongs to.

The protagonists–for lack of a better word– are the Arabs and the Jews. The fact that Arabs in the region are now called Palestinians only exacerbates the issue. Before 1967, the word "Palestinian" simply described inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael also known back then as Palestine. It was then inhabited by Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. So technically, anytime Israelis and Palestinians are described as the two main protagonists, it is a misnomer and it results in setting-up a false premise. It would then be proper to describe the protagonists in the context of an "Arab/Israeli" conflict.

All sides speak of the obvious need to reconcile and bring peace to the region. CatC claims that the model for that reconciliation is Yeshua and His Gospels, yet the vast majority of the conference is spent describing Israel as the occupier and the enemy. There were so many instances where Israel was called the enemy during CatC, yet no mention was made of Palestinian terrorism, stabbings or any other feats of Islamic terror. They actually even invited a Muslim scholar who is linked to Hamas. CatC's definition of reconciliation doesn't seem to include the recognitions of both sides' shortcomings and really seems to emphasize Israel need to apologize and stop the invasion of "Palestine."

On a lighter note, I found it very telling that in the name of reconciliation, the only symbol hanging next to the speakers podium was a Palestinian Kaffiyeh (head covering made popular by Yassir Arafat). It would have gone a long way to hang it next to a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl) as a symbolic picture of reconciliation. Additionally, the worship sessions included songs in English and Arabic. It would have also shown good intentions if they had included some of the lyrics in Hebrew. Even the CatC website only exists in English and Arabic.

To an extent, I can understand that people living in the Middle East and having been brought up in a culture that is vastly antisemitic could have a hard time accepting Israel right to exist and right to the land. I don't share their views but I understand that they can have them. What baffles me is the involvement of evangelical Christians–once supporters of Israel– such as Fuller Seminary Mark Labberton or "Bible Answer Man" Hank Haneggraff. Mr Haneggraff's presentation was a disgrace. His unbiblical approach to the issue at hand and his vitriolic description of Zionism and Christian Zionism was borderline antisemitic and certainly in line with the conference's philosophy. I have yet to find anything in Mr. Haneggraff's message that would encourage anybody towards proper reconciliation. He was joined by a plethora of speakers from all theological perspectives with only one common goal: the demonization of Israel. It was Christian Palestinianism at its scariest best!

For the honest viewer who respects the Word of God, the veneer of reconciliation and fight against extremism wasn't very hard to peel. Once that done, it was easy to see that Christ at the Checkpoint is indeed interested in reconciliation, as long as by it they mean Israel's unilateral apology for its "crimes" against Palestinians, Israel relinquishing the "occupied" land of Palestine and further submitting to the regional demands by its Arabs neighbors. As a one way street, this has nothing of a true reconciliation. So at the end of the day, Christ at the Checkpoint was really more of a "Crisis at the Checkpoint." Evangelicals should have nothing to do with such a farce!

Why Would "Christ at the Checkpoint" Compare Israel to ISIS?

While I was recently traveling throughout Israel, I drove about 600 miles. Looking at the landscape around me, I quickly realized that we were often driving nearby the Palestinian territories and at times even through some Arab neighborhoods.

It was as if someone had ripped pages from the Bible and made street signs and town signs with them, pointing to The Galilee, the Dead Sea, the river Jordan, Ashdod, Jerusalem, Jericho, Ramallah, Gaza, Jaffa, Modi'in etc.

I particularly fell in love with the Old City in Jerusalem. Its extensive color palette mixed with a myriad of scents was a perfect backdrop for Jews, Arabs and Christians to interact. We had dinner in an Armenian restaurant, a Jewish one AND an Arab one. If you asked me to tell you where the food tasted better, the answer would be.... YES!

While the Middle East crisis is indeed a crisis and Israel is far from perfect, it is obvious that Jews, Arabs and Christians share their cultures, heritages and foods on a daily basis. The mix is simply overwhelming…in a good way, of course!

Sadly, while I was in Israel I was also made aware of a video that was released to promote an upcoming conference in July 2015, by and for young adults. The conference promotional piece was advertised as coming from “Christ at the Checkpoint-Young Adults” or CaTC-YA.

While I must admit that I was unable to understand the closing commentaries in Arabic, the video collage that came first was enough to upset any supporter of the truth about the Middle East. The video is rather short and it even repeats some of its footage on a loop.

Yet, what it tries to do will turn your stomach upside-down. It sends the very clear message that Israel is equal to ISIS in violence and human rights violation. You see footage of ISIS thugs getting ready to decapitate rows of “infidels” dressed in the now world “infamous” orange overalls, juxtaposed with Israelis filtering Palestinians though checkpoints. Then, another frame shows the Islamic State brandishing their black flag followed by an Israeli tank brandishing a Jewish flag, making again a "not-so" subliminal connection.

The attempt at drawing a parallel between ISIS and Israel shouldn’t be missed AND shouldn’t be dismissed either. It is a new low in Christian Palestinianism. To be sure, the parallel was already attempted by CaTC superstar Stephen Sizer, when he compared Israel to ISIS and even said that Christian Zionists were Christian Jihadists.

Christ at the Checkpoint (CaTC) is a conference that started in 2010 and continues to take place every two years, sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College (BBC). The next official CaTC conference should take place in March 0f 2016 with the theme: "The Gospel in the face of religious extremism." In the meantime, a group of young adults proponents of the same agenda, is promoting a 2015 date. Their video is posted on their Facebook page and on the CaTC YouTube channel.

This raises some serious concerns about the biblical integrity of Bethlehem Bible College. How could they possibly claim to be Christians and promote such virulent demonization of the Jewish people and Israel. There is always the possibility that the video in question was produced by a group of supporters not necessarily officially affiliated with either CaTC or BBC (although currently posted on the CaTC YouTube channel). Even if it is the case, we need to hear from either or both very soon. I fear a silence that will of course speak tons about their position.

I cannot help but ask CaTC and BBC which “Christ” do they mean in “Christ at the Checkpoint” and which “Bible” do they use to validate him? If CaTC and BBC do not distance themselves from such unbiblical libelous attacks, they will further validate their anti-Semitic stance. This will leave a vast number of uneducated and/or gullible Evangelicals with a choice to make as well. Each choice we make leads to consequences.

Would they continue to support and attend such a conference as it compares Israel to ISIS? I certainly hope not! You can only claim ignorance for so long before you loose your credibility and ruin your reputation, but then again in a world were tolerance and political correctness are measured by one’s level of hatred for Israel and the Jews, I might be asking for the impossible.

In the meantime, if you want to know what’s going on in Israel, start by reading your bible and then consider making a trip yourself and experiencing some of what I just experienced for a few days. Incidentally, I drove by the Israeli towns of Ramallah and Jericho (under Palestinian authority) where Jews ARE NOT WELCOME EVER, and I drove by plenty of Israeli areas where Arabs AND Jews live in relative peace. But of course that is a topic that will never be covered at such conferences!

The theme of next year's Christ at the Checkpoint 4 is "The Gospel in the face of religious extremism." As of right now, I doubt that what is meant by religious extremism pertains to Islamism and/or the Islamic State. Based on the current trend and this new video, Zionism and Israel are in the crosshairs.

It doesn't matter if you follow Yeshua (Jesus) or not, the fact is that He was born a Jew not a Palestinian. He was born in Eretz Yisrael not the Palestinian territories and taught His followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:44)– something that isn't a characteristic of CatC proponents. So really, which Christ is at their checkpoint?