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Christ at the Checkpoint in the Age of Trump

 

ALcheckpoint3
Checkpoint between Israel and Palestine; credit: Andrew Larson

This article was first published May 25 at Christianity Today.

Fares Abraham grew up in the West Bank village of Beit Sahour, where tradition says the angels sang “Peace on Earth” to the startled shepherds. But his clearest memory is of his mother shot in the back by an Israeli soldier as she shuffled him and the neighborhood kids into her house during the first intifada.

Now in his mid-30s, the Liberty University graduate created Levant Ministries five years ago to mobilize Arab youth to fulfill the Great Commission.

And when he comes back home, he is at peace with his upbringing.

“When I was young, I asked myself if I should join the resistance or be a bystander,” he said to the 500 attendees—including 150 local Palestinian Christians—gathered in Bethlehem from 24 countries at the fourth biennial Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference in 2016.

“But now I can go up to a checkpoint, look a soldier in the eye, and say, ‘I forgive you and love you in the name of Jesus.’”

Working also with global partners, Abraham believes the younger generations are pro-peace, becoming increasingly pro-justice the more their lives are transformed by the gospel.

It is a message communicated at CATC, though its anti-Christian Zionism is often criticized as anti-Israel…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today. 

CATC audience
Audience at CATC opening in 2016; credit: Andrew Larson

 

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Personal

Orient and Occident: Winter Edition

Orient and Occident

From my latest article on Orient and Occident:

‘The church in Egypt is better resourced to participate in society than in other countries of the Arab world, whereas in Palestine/Israel it constitutes only 1% of the population,’ says Stephen Sizer, a renowned critic of Christian Zionism, who presented a series of lectures in Cairo, including at the Anglican Cathedral.

Sizer is an Anglican minister from the UK and directs most of his energy combating US evangelical Christians who find Biblical warrant for supporting the Zionist policies of Israel. Instead, Biblical theology should direct the Christian to support the oppressed and stand for justice, on both sides of the separation wall.

Yet local expressions of theology have failed Palestinian Christians as well. In an interview with Orient and Occident Sizer suspects a similar deficiency among many Egyptian Copts.

‘Theology that says, “Stay out of politics and worship quietly; don’t get in the way or cause problems” will lead only to a victim mentality,’ maintains Sizer. ‘We have to get out of our ghetto and show the rule of law applies to everyone.’

Please click here to continue reading the article on Orient and Occident.

Orient and Occident is the bilingual online magazine of the Egyptian Anglican Church, of which I am privileged to be the editor. We seek to highlight voices who are able to articulate how the values of faith – Christian in particular, shared widely with Islam – can be lived practically in society, and in particular the Arab world. We welcome contributions from Christians and Muslims alike.

Please click here to view the Winter edition homepage in English, and here in Arabic. This season’s edition also features the following articles:

While on this blog Julie and I always appreciate your sharing of our thoughts about Egypt, we would like to invite you particularly to share any of these articles you find enjoyable or challenging. We hope Orient and Occident will be a service to the Arab world – both by inspiring its readers inside and by sharing a vision with the world outside. Thanks for any small steps you can take to help it be better known.

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Personal

Christian Zionism: A Lecture in Cairo

Rev. Stephen Sizer

Rev. Stephen Sizer, a renowned expert on Christian Zionism delivered a series of lectures in Egypt at Cairo University, the Anglican Cathedral, and other venues. This article is a summary of his presentation delivered on February 15, 2012.

According to Sizer, Christian Zionism is the view that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of our moral and political support.

Sizer opened with a brief history of Zionism, tracing its first political sponsor to Napoleon, who wished to wrest Jewish banking favor away from the British Empire in their struggle for supremacy. Britain eventually emerged triumphant, and then engaged Germany in the lead up to World War I, as both sides solicited Jewish favor in exchange for their support for a return of Jews to Palestine. The Belfour Declaration in 1917 was the pinnacle of Britain’s promise, set in the context of many geopolitical maneuvers with both Jews and Arabs.

The Christian element of Zionism received a great boost with the election of President Jimmy Carter in 1976, who believed the state of Israel represented the fulfillment of prophecy. During this time Rev. Jerry Falwell emerged as the leading advocate of Christian Zionism, and promised 70 million evangelical Christian votes for supporters of the cause.

After his death in 2007, Rev. John Hagee received his mantle, promising 50 million evangelical Christians would stand side-by-side with the 5 million Jews of Israel. Today, Sizer estimates 25% of US Christians identify with Christian Zionism, though this contrasts with only 5% of Christians worldwide.

Sizer identified five primary theological underpinnings of Christian Zionism, including:

  • Jews are to be restored to Greater Israel
  • Jerusalem is the eternal Jewish capital
  • The Jewish Temple is to be rebuilt
  • Antipathy towards Arabs and Islam
  • There will be a war of Armageddon

Theology, he noted, drives behavior. Sizer then illustrated how Zionist Christians:

  • Contribute money to support settlements and help Jews emigrate to Israel from Russia and elsewhere
  • Lobby the US government to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
  • Support the Orthodox in their effort to rebuild the Temple
  • Oppose the peace process as it compromises ownership of the land
  • View politics through the lens of a coming war between Russia, China, Arabs, and Europe against Israel

The consequence of Christian Zionism, Sizer noted, was the destruction of the church in the Middle East. Historic Arab Christian communities are being squeezed by the competing powers of Zionism and Islamism, finding no place for themselves. Many are immigrating.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey warned that the holy sites of the Middle East could be transformed into a Christian theme park, in which the only Christian witness is carried by tourists and pilgrims.

Sizer closed his remarks by quoting from the 2006 Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism, signed by the heads of the Latin, Syrian Orthodox, Anglican, and Evangelical Lutheran churches in Jerusalem. Highlights include:

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption, and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

We call upon Christians in churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism.

We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.

We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.

With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.

During a question and answer session afterwards, Sizer explained how Israel would like to have three separate achievements, but can only have two. These include:

  • Democracy
  • A Jewish State
  • The Occupied Territories

Israel can succeed in being a democratic Jewish state if it gives up the territories to an independent Palestine.

Greater Israel can succeed in being a democracy should it incorporate the inhabitants of Palestine as full citizens with equal rights, if it gives up its Jewish nature.

Or, Israel can succeed (?) in being a Jewish colonial state, but only at the expense of giving up its democratic nature.

Sizer’s presentation was warmly received by the majority of attendees, many of whom were less than familiar with this largely American religious phenomenon. The only issue taken with Sizer was his acceptance of the term, Christian Zionism. Some angrily rejected the coupling as an oxymoron – Zionism is not Christian at all.

Rev. Sizer and Bishop Mouneer, who provided translation into Arabic.

Personal Reflection

I wince when issues of the world are reduced to banking and Jewish conspiracies. Sizer does not take this bait and run with it, but much of anti-Zionist discourse does. Still, ‘follow the money’ is a truth worth reflecting upon, but surely historic world capital has been available via other than the Jewish ‘cabal’, no matter how disproportionate Jewish influence might be relative to their population.

Yet from my superficial studies of world Judaism, I believe that for most of modern history the majority of Jews have been anti-Zionist themselves. Before the creation of Israel they waited for the advent of the Messiah to restore their fortunes to Jerusalem. Furthermore, many deemed Zionist efforts to be counter-productive to the social necessity of proving themselves loyal citizens to the nations in which they lived. Why then would Jewish bankers wish to swing worldwide sentiment to creation of a Jewish state? Far more research than I have done is necessary to determine the validity of the question, but however it is sliced, Zionism is a peculiar entity.

As per Christian Zionism, I wish to recognize first that few evangelicals I am familiar with would use this phrase as a self-appellation. It is not a movement, however much it is a sizeable theological-political sentiment. Moreover, its sympathizers are good Christians, contra the disbelief of some who commented at the close of the lecture. Money given to support poor Jews in Russia may be manipulated politically, but it comes from a generous heart to help ‘the least of these’, as Jesus commanded.

One omission from this particular lecture of Sizer was an evaluation of the Biblical sources. Why is Christian Zionism faulty interpretation? Its proponents certainly name chapter and verse to demonstrate the grand plan of God.

Sizer’s website contains resources to address this question, as do the writings of Colin Chapman. I do not wish to enter into this discussion here, but it will suffice to say I recognize many of the principles of Christian Zionism, or of dispensationalism, its theological underpinning, as worthy Biblical options for interpretation. Christians disagree over interpretation all the time – what is important is that a common reference point judge between disputants. Both sides appeal to scripture, and therefore must not be excluded as the enemy, even if in error.

For me, the definition of Christian Zionism as given by Sizer contains the key to its essential error. Modern political Israel may or may not be the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Yet even if it is, this should not translate into the necessity of moral and political support.

Rather, it is the principles outlined in the Jerusalem Declaration that must guide Christian evaluation of Israel, as of all nations, including their own. Do the policies of a state nurture or hinder the flowering of love, justice, and reconciliation? Careful reading of the news is necessary, but in many cases the government of Israel violates these values. When it does, Christians must object.

The Bible maintains that it was God’s anointed hand and the fulfillment of prophesy which smashed the Jewish state via the scepter of wicked Babylon in 586 BC, and then again by the Roman Empire in 70 AD. That this was God’s design did not call on the people to approve, only not to stand in the way. On the contrary, in the case of Babylon God promises he will judge its rulers for their injustice and oppression.

Is God moving history toward a final confrontation between the world and Israel during which Jesus will return and inaugurate his kingdom? Perhaps. Those who scoff would do well to view events through this particular interpretive lens and gauge the odd correspondence. Why else would such an unimportant piece of land command attention of the whole world?

Yet even if this vision is true, God will hold Israel’s leaders to account for their conduct – not based on political exigency, but on divine righteousness.

He will hold Christian Zionists to account all the same. He will, in fact, judge the world.

As Coptic Orthodox repeat incessantly in prayer, ‘According to your mercy, oh God, and not according to our sins.’

note: Please click here for a five minute video of Stephen Sizer giving an interview to a member of the Arab media after his presentation. Due to sound quality the questions were edited out, but should be clear enough from his answers given, which are presented in full.

 

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