Life and death at the checkpointBy Ryan Rodrick Beiler
“I am a Palestinian Christian — not invented. I was born in Bethlehem to an Arab Palestinian family. I can trace my family at least 10 generations that we have been living here in Bethlehem. I am an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus, a sinner, saved by grace,” said Munther Issac. “We are not inventing our suffering. The checkpoint is our reality.”
“For us as Palestinians, it is not an academic study to talk about the theology of the land. It is very personal,” said Isaac, vice academic dean at Mennonite Central Committee partner Bethlehem Bible College, and director of the recent Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. His words form a fitting frame for a week of presentations and discussions on some of the most controversial issues of religion and politics.
“Why do we have a conference like this?” said Alex Awad, dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College and pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church. “We really want to educate the church at large, but especially the evangelical church, about what is happening here. We want Christians from around the world to come, see the checkpoint, see the wall, see the occupation as it is. And then, open the Bible and say, ‘What does Christ tell us about this?’ ”
Contrary to early criticism of the conference by various groups, the program very intentionally included Israeli, Messianic Jewish and Christian Zionist voices — all of whom were welcomed lovingly and respectfully, despite sharp theological and political differences. In addition to the many prominent speakers, participants visited local sites such as Hebron, Tent of Nations, the Bethlehem checkpoint at morning rush and the community of Beit Jala affected by the separation wall.
Here is Ron Sider’s presentation on biblical justice:
Here are some key quotes from just some of the many different voices that hopefully will give a sense of the themes and diversity of perspectives presented:
Labib Madanat, coordinator of the Palestinian and Israeli Bible Societies: “You can earn the right to criticize, only when you love. We need to be soaked in the love of Christ. Love is not a hug and a kiss. Love is to seek the life of the other that the cost of one’s own.”
Yohanna Katanacho, academic dean at Bethlehem Bible College: “Love is not an opportunity to overlook justice. Love is an opportunity to pursue justice … I am not embarrassed to say that I love the Jewish people. Every Jewish person is a gift from God. But I hate injustice … The Israeli occupation is a sin. And people need to repent from that sin … [But] we want to resist any form of evil with the heart and mind of Jesus Christ … There is no love without justice. And there is no true justice without love.”
Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church, Florida: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you’re not getting a reaction, you’re not taking enough action.”
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