AMMAN: Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem are hosting a major conference that aims to expose cracks in the theological basis for the support many evangelicals give to Israel.
The conference, named “Christ at the Checkpoint,” starts on Monday with 400 people expected to attend, including 210 from outside the region.
Munther Isaac, director of the conference, told Arab News that this is the first time in the era of Donald Trump’s presidency and since the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem that Palestinians and others will have a say regarding attempts to hijack Christianity to support political positions on Israel and Palestine.
“Although we are witnessing a re-emergence of the Christian Zionist camp, we are confident that this is an artificial rise that has no basis among young people, among academics, among theologians or Christians and the evangelical Christian elite,” said Isaac, pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.
He said organizers of the conference “are going back to the roots and theology in an attempt to challenge Christian Zionist theology and in a way that makes it clear that it doesn’t reflect Christian values.”
Isaac says that the “Christ” that Christian fundamentalists talk about puts one side of the religion in a conflict against the other, opposes peace, violates international law and is the opposite of peacemaking.
Professor Joseph Cummings, pastor of the International Church at Yale University in Connecticut, told Arab News he was invited to speak on the topic of seeing Muslims through the eyes of Jesus.
“The challenge to Christians around the world is to think of the Palestinian context in the eyes of Jesus,” said Cummings, who is director of the Reconciliation Program at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture.
He also believes that “unfortunately Christians, and particularly American Christians, don’t ask the question of what Jesus would do in dealing with a conflict such as the Palestine-Israel one.”
Cummings admits there is a rising problem in America that is true in the evangelical community and wider society.
“We have bigotry toward Muslims and hostility toward Palestinians and toward Arab Muslims in general that has nothing to do with the Christian faith but everything to do with American white nationalism. It is the antithesis of the faith in Jesus Christ,” he said.
He argued that the rise of Donald Trump is not the cause of the problem but it is a symptom. “It has made it more urgent than ever that Christian leaders must say that Jesus taught us to love our neighbors and Jesus rejects bigotry and prejudice.
Among the invited speakers are megachurch pastors including Eugene Cho from Seattle and Brian Zahnd from Missouri. International speakers also include Ajith Fernando from Sri Lanka, Michael L. Brown, a messianic Jewish pastor, and Gary Burge from the Calvin theological seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Bishara Awad, president emeritus at the Bethlehem Bible College, which has organized the conference since 2010, told Arab News that the aim of the event has always been to talk about justice and peace.
The opening session is under the patronage of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and it is expected that Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki will address the conference.