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Satellite Ministries Cross Boundaries. That’s Their Promise and Peril.

Image: Illustration by Nicole Xu

GOD TV celebrated too soon.

The 25-year-old Christian broadcasting corporation was granted a license for a new Hebrew-language channel in Israel, and the CEO wanted to praise the Lord.

“God has supernaturally opened the door for us to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of his Jewish people,” said CEO Ward Simpson, former director of the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, in a video posted online. “They’ll watch secretly. They’ll watch quietly. . . . God is restoring his people. God is removing the blindness from their eyes.”

It was a public relations disaster. An outcry from Orthodox Jews and anti-missionary groups led Israel’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council to reconsider GOD TV’s seven-year license. Council chairman Asher Biton claimed the company had misrepresented the channel as something that offered content for Christians when it was really programming designed to convert Jews.

GOD TV scrambled to take down Simpson’s video and clarify its purpose. GOD TV would not try to convert Jews to Christianity. But it would preach Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, consistent with the beliefs of Israel’s approximately 20,000 Messianic Jews. It wasn’t enough. Eight weeks after GOD TV was awarded the license…

Additional reporting by Jeremy Weber.

This article was originally published in the September 2020 print edition of Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Can ‘Abraham’ Bring Peace to the Middle East?

In forging the first Arab-Israeli peace deal since 1994, President Donald Trump paid homage to a patriarch.

He named the historic normalization the “Abraham Accord.”

The familiar Bible character “is referred to as ‘Abraham’ in the Christian faith, ‘Ibrahim’ in the Muslim faith, and ‘Avraham’ in the Jewish faith,” explained David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel.

“And no person better symbolizes the potential for unity, among all these three great faiths.”

In signing the accord, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab nations to make peace with Israel. Telephone lines are already being connected between the Gulf nation and the Jewish state, with preparations underway to exchange embassies.

It may open a new era. Fellow Gulf nations Bahrain and Oman signaled their support, while Saudi Arabia did not oppose it.

“This is a once-in-a-generation diplomatic achievement, but I predict it will be the first, not the last,” said Johnnie Moore, an evangelical leader engaged in behind-the-scenes advocacy. He and bestselling novelist Joel Rosenberg led an evangelical delegation to the UAE in October 2018 (as well as two delegations to Saudi Arabia), and Moore has personally visited three more times.

“The Abraham Accord,” he said, “will prove to be the moment when the grievances of the past no longer overpowered the promises of the future in the Middle East.” A hero of faith to both Christians and Jews, ‘Ibrahim’ is already a central figure in the UAE. The nation…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 17, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Why Many Christians Want to Leave Palestine. And Why Most Won’t.

In Bethlehem—the little town of Jesus’ birth—only 1 in 5 residents today are Christians (22%). A decade earlier, more than 4 in 5 were believers (84%).

The steep decline is reflected in other traditional Christian cities in the Holy Land. In Beit Jala, the Christian majority has fallen from 99 percent to 61 percent. In Beit Sahour, it has fallen from 81 percent to 65 percent.

When the Ottoman era ended in 1922, Christians were 11 percent of the population of Palestine—about 70,000 people. According to the 2017 census by the Palestinian Authority (PA), they now number 47,000—barely 1 percent.

There are competing explanations of what—or who—is to blame. Some identify the Israeli occupation. Others describe Muslim chauvinism.

The overwhelming answer, according to a new survey of local Christians by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), is economics.

Nearly 6 in 10 respondents identified this as the main reason they consider emigration (59%).

The poll, commissioned by the Philos Project, a US-based initiative promoting positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, surveyed 995 Christians in 98 Palestinian locations throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in January and February.

Compared to the economy, other cited reasons paled in significance.

Security conditions were named by 7 percent. Another 7 percent cited better education. And another 7 percent blamed the political situation.

Only 4 percent blamed corruption, while 3 percent gave a religious explanation.

But this particular question measured the primary driver of desire to leave the Holy Land. What secondary factors might be involved? Philos “affirms the right of all Christians to…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 4, 2020. Please click here to read the full text, and here for the Arabic translation.

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Current Events

Israel Orders Christian TV Channel to Stop Broadcasting

Israeli regulators on Sunday announced they ordered a US-based evangelical broadcaster taken off the air, saying the channel hid its missionary agenda when it applied for a license.

In his decision, Asher Biton, chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, said he had informed GOD TV on Thursday last week that it had seven days to stop broadcasting its new Shelanu channel.

“The channel appeals to Jews with Christian content,” he wrote. “Its original request,” he said, stated that it was a “station targeting the Christian population.”

The decision was first reported by the Haaretz daily.

And today, Shelanu announced that its satellite provider, HOT, has dropped the channel altogether—likely due to Israeli pressure.

“In a free and democratic society such as Israel, we would have received approval for our new license, and if not, we would have won in court,” stated Ron Cantor, Shelanu’s Israeli spokesman, in a press release. “The only thing that could have stopped our channel from being aired was if HOT broke our relationship.”

If there is no public apology and clarification, Shelanu plans to sue Biton.

The channel said its existing license “stated unequivocally” that it would broadcast its content in Hebrew to the Israeli public. Most Christians in the Holy Land speak Arabic.

“Therefore it is not at all clear what was wrong beyond political considerations,” it said.

According to a copy of its original application and approval, obtained by CT, Shelanu identified itself as “a Christian religion channel broadcasting Christian content … for the audience of Israeli viewers … [in] Hebrew and English.”

Nowhere did the channel state…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on June 30, 2020. Please click here for the full text.

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GOD TV Dispute Has Israel Talking About Messianic Jews

God TV

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on May 22, 2020, in cooperation with the Associated Press. I contributed some additional reporting.

The Messianic movement, which emerged in its modern form in the 1970s, incorporates Jewish symbols and practices—including referring to Jesus by his Hebrew name, Yeshua—but is widely seen as a form of Christianity. All major Jewish denominations reject it, and Israel considers Messianic Jews to be converts to another faith.

Messianic Jews in Israel push back against the accusations.

“In Israel and in Jewish circles, conversion is a loaded word. It is understood as leaving something to become something else,” said Lisa Loden, co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine.

“Messianic Jews avoid the term, and maintain that they remain fully Jewish when accepting Yeshua as Messiah and Lord,” she said. “But the average Jewish Israeli does not distinguish between Jews who believe in Jesus and Christians.”

Both sides in the conflict are sincere, suggests Mitch Glaser, president of New York City-based Chosen People Ministries.

“GOD TV is attempting to honestly state what they are doing,” he said. “The religious Jewish people opposed to its Hebrew programming are trying to protect secular Jewish people from becoming converts, and therefore ‘lost’ to the Jewish community.”

Many Messianic Jews, however, are rejoicing at the opportunity to demonstrate their sincerity (of still belonging to the Jewish community) to their fellow Israeli citizens. Shelanu has stated 70 percent of its content will be locally produced.

And on a popular website for the community, some are even praising the “amazing free publicity.”

“If the show was produced by a US or European Christian organization, the argument is very strong that the aim is conversion,” said Jaime Cowen, an Israeli lawyer and former president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.

“The reality is that Jews believe all kinds of different things and are subject to all kinds of programming that pushes various views.

“This is a huge open door—as long as the government doesn’t shut it down.”

But this is exactly what one Christian Zionist has petitioned Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to do, fearing that the GOD TV backlash will threaten Jewish-evangelical cooperation…

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

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Cleared of Landmines for Easter, Jesus’ Baptism Site Now Closed by COVID-19

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on April 17, 2020.

For over 50 years, Jesus’ baptismal site was a casualty of war.

Now, it is a casualty of the new coronavirus.

Last week in time for Easter, the UK-based demining specialist HALO Trust group exploded in chain reaction the final 500 landmines at Israel’s Qasr al-Yahud monastery complex.

“We got the churches together, all eight different denominations, and then we got the Israelis and the Palestinians,” HALO Trust CEO James Cowan told the BBC.

“So all three major faiths, and we looked at how we could do this.”

Located six miles east of Jericho on the Jordan River, “Bethany beyond the Jordan” in 1968 was placed by Israel under military jurisdiction following the Six Day War. Fearing terrorist infiltration across the shallow riverbed, the army laid over 6,000 landmines and booby-trapped the churches.

Israel declared peace with Jordan in 1995, but the area remained closed.

In 2011, it was partially reopened, allowing access along one narrow path between the Jordan River and the Greek Orthodox St. John the Baptist Monastery.

And in 2016, HALO Trust, which works in 27 nations around the world, announced…

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

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13 Christian Takes on Trump’s Peace Plan for Israel and Palestine

Trump Peace Plan

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on January 28, 2020.

After three years of anticipation—and dread—President Trump announced the launch of his “Deal of the Century” to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, he outlined details for a proposal that would recognize a Palestinian state following extensive land swaps and security arrangements.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not present, having broken off communication with the White House following several US decisions deemed biased toward Israel.

Abbas immediately rejected the plan, which Palestinians had long declared “dead on arrival.”

But Netanyahu’s acceptance was enthusiastic, declaring himself willing to begin negotiations with the Palestinians on such terms. A day earlier, Netanyahu’s challenger Benny Gantz also signaled his party’s agreement with Trump’s proposal.

With three Arab states lacking a peace treaty with Israel in attendance—Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates—Trump hopes there will be a regional push to implement his plan.

And with $50 billion promised as investment for the nascent Palestinian state, the president believes all the necessary pieces are in place.

“All previous generations from Lyndon Johnson tried and bitterly failed,” Trump said. “But I was not elected to do small things, or shy away from big problems.”

It only required he approach peace in a “fundamentally different” manner…

 

Following a summary the article includes the perspective of

  • Joel Rosenberg, co-founder of the Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem
  • Salim Munayer, head of the Jerusalem-based Musalaha reconciliation ministry
  • Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and secretary of the Jordan Evangelical Council in Amman
  • Hanna Massad, a Palestinian pastor who led Gaza Baptist Church for 12 years and returns regularly
  • Gerald McDermott, Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School who recently wrote The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land
  • Yohanna Katanacho, a Palestinian pastor and academic dean at Nazareth Evangelical College
  • Lisa Loden, the Messianic Jewish co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel–Palestine
  • Joel Chernoff, general secretary of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America
  • Martin Accad, chief academic officer at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut
  • John Hagee, the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel
  • Todd Deatherage, cofounder and executive director of Telos Group, which seeks to build a “pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace movement”
  • Wissam al-Saliby, the Geneva-based advocacy officer for the World Evangelical Alliance
  • Ibrahim Nseir, Syrian pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Aleppo

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

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Palestinian Evangelicals Gain Official Recognition

Palestine Evangelical Council
Bishop Efraim Tendero announces the legal recognition of a Palestinian Evangelical Alliance at the general assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance. (Image: Jeremy Weber)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on November 27.

After 12 years of waiting, evangelicals in Palestine now claim they have greater civil rights than their fellow believers in the Holy Land.

Earlier this month, the president of the Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land—which represents congregations and ministries located in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip—triumphantly held aloft his evidence at the once-a-decade general assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

“Here is the presidential decree signed by … President Mahmoud Abbas,” Munir Kakish told the approximately 800 WEA delegates from 92 nations gathered in Bogor, Indonesia. “Our hearts are full of thankfulness to God for this new declaration.”

When the Palestinian Authority (PA) was created in 1994 following the Oslo Accords, pastors of local evangelical churches met to create a council in order to have a voice with the new government, Kakish told CT.

Ministering in the Holy Land since 1978, Kakish pastors two churches: an independent congregation in Ramallah, Palestine, and a Baptist congregation in Ramla, Israel. They are only 30 miles apart, but divided by the Israeli separation wall.

“I knocked on [the PA’s] doors many times,” he said. “But now the timing was right, and the personnel … were understanding.

“Most of all, it was our persistence to obtain our civil rights as Palestinian citizens.”

Over time, the council—which Kakish has led since 2007—gained credibility as…

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

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How Palestine Divides Messianic Jews

Messianic Jews
(Oded Balilty, AP)

This article was first published in the May print edition of Christianity Today.

Among Christians in America, Israel can be viewed as a fulfillment of prophecy, a democratic ally in a region of chaos, or an occupier oppressing stateless Palestinians. How to choose?

Given that 2 out of 3 US evangelicals have a positive perception of Israel, according to LifeWay Research, perhaps a better question is: How should evangelicals identify with the issues Israel faces?

Fortunately, there is a useful interpreter. “If the Christian community wants to understand Israel from a believing perspective,” said Jamie Cowen, an Israeli lawyer and a believer in Jesus, “going through Messianic Jews is best.”

However, the complexity of Israel divides even Messianic Jews in attitude toward Palestine, as illustrated by debate this year over an interview provocatively summarized as supporting ethnic cleansing.

“The only rights the Palestinians have are squatter’s rights,” Paul Liberman, executive director of the Alliance for Israel Advocacy (AIA), told The Intercept.

He described how the lobbying arm of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) was pushing for a shift of US funding from UN–administered Palestinian aid ($364 million in 2017) to an Israeli-led effort offering money to relocate from the West Bank. The goal: eventual annexation of the territory in a one-state solution with fewer Palestinian citizens, maintaining Israel as a Jewish state.

First adopted by the MJAA in 2015, the idea reverberated within Messianic Jewish circles once TheIntercept highlighted efforts to harness evangelical influence in Congress and the White House.

“It is not a removal. It is an opportunity for a much better life,” said Joel Chernoff, CEO of the MJAA. “But the demographic issue is real.”

About 700,000 Jews and 1.5 million Arabs live in Judea and Samaria—the favored name in Israel for the West Bank. Chernoff desires more Jewish settlements there. And he believes many Palestinians already want to escape the territory’s corrupt Palestinian Authority. (A 2017 MJAA poll found half of residents were discussing a move abroad and were open to resettlement in exchange for about $5,000.)

The “ethnic cleansing” headline was a smear tactic by liberal and anti-Israel media, Chernoff said. The issue is not controversial among the MJAA’s 3,000 dues-paying members, 12,000 supporters, or 155 affiliated synagogues. But it is controversial to other Messianic Jews.

“There is not a consensus this is a good proposal,” said Monique Brumbach, executive director of the 75-member Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC). “The Scriptures promised the land to the Jewish people. But there will always be other people within it.”

Nearly all Messianic Jews believe modern-day Israel is the fulfillment of biblical promises…

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

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Pew: US Christians Like the Israeli and Palestinian People More Than Their Governments

Pew Israel Palestine
(via Vox)

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on April 24, 2019.

When it comes to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, do American evangelicals favor one side or the other?

Research Center finds one-third actually feel favorable toward both—when it comes to their peoples. And one-third feel unfavorable toward both governments.

Politico Magazine recently profiled Telos, an evangelical group dedicated to changing the narrative on Israel. “Christian faith communities persistently advocate for one-sided postures towards the conflict,” states the group, whose name means purpose in Greek, on its website. “Our telos is the freedom, security, and dignity of every human being in the Holy Land.”

But the profile prompted a strong critique from Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), who describes such “ambivalence” as actually harming both Israelis and Palestinians. Without solid evangelical support buttressing the US alliance with Israel, all sides will only entrench and deepen the conflict, he argues—making negotiation less likely.

“Impartiality and avoiding polemical stances are now de rigeur in much of nouveau Evangelicalism, so the Telos appeal has resonance,” he wrote on IRD’s blog. “Aren’t Christians supposed to be on everybody’s side?”

Pew’s new survey aimed to measure exactly that.

For decades, Pew has asked which side Americans sympathized with more: Israel or the Palestinians? But this year, researchers recognized a problem: this approach compared a country (Israel) with a people (Palestinians).

It was not apples-to-apples, nor did it allow for respondents to signal sympathy for both. So this year, they instead used separate questions asking about a favorable or unfavorable opinion toward the Israelis and the Palestinians as peoples, as well as toward their respective governments.

About 1 in 3 evangelical church attendees (34%) reported favorable opinions of both peoples.

However, the weight is still on the Israeli side…

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

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Will Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ on Israel-Palestine Please Evangelicals?

Trump Deal Century Israel Palestine Evangelical
Image: Illustration by Rick Szuecs / Source image: Senior Airman Delano Scott / JBA via CT

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on April 12, 2019.

When it comes to Israel, nearly all evangelicals hold dear the biblical maxim: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

But what does it mean after a fiercely contested election?

President Donald Trump will soon propose his vision of practical exegesis.

Two years in the making, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is slated to be released soon, now that Israel has reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His Likud party secured a virtual tie with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, but Bibi’s right-wing coalition will push him over the top.

Neither leading candidate made the peace process with Palestinians a major plank of their campaign as the entire Israeli electorate has shifted to the right, emphasizing security over negotiation.

Other American presidents have tried and failed to advance official US policy of a two-state solution. But while Trump has brought a new energy—and unpredictability—to forge an elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, he may face two very skeptical partners.

Even so, Trump has shaken the system.

Last year in May, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

In February, he stopped US funding to Palestinian aid programs.

Last month, he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

And more than any president prior, he has courted evangelical opinion. LifeWay Research shows that 67 percent of American adults with evangelical beliefs have positive perceptions toward Israel, with 80 percent believing Abraham’s covenant is for all time.

But while analysts have panned Trump’s decisions as decidedly one-sided against the Palestinians, he has dangled his own deal-making reputation as—at times—a warning to the Israelis.

“Israel will have to pay a higher price,” he said after ordering the embassy’s relocation, for the Palestinians “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next.”

What does Trump expect? And will it cost him his carefully cultivated evangelical support?

Details of his plan have not been publicly released, but in February US officials Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt toured Arab capitals seeking support.

A month later Greenblatt, Trump’s chief legal officer and special representative for international negotiations, checked in with US evangelicals in a special meeting at the White House.

Axios reported that several “raised concerns.”

CT surveyed 11 evangelical leaders—7 from the US and 4 from the Middle East—to take their pulse on expectations and gauge their red lines.

“Don’t divide Jerusalem, It would disappoint me if that was President Trump’s decision,” said…

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

Related: The attempt to bring Judeo-Christian politics to Israel

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Judeo-Christian Politics… in Israel?

Judeo Christian Politics Israel
Image: Amir Levy / Stringer / Getty via CT

This article was first published at Christianity Today on April 11, 2019.

In one of the most tightly contested Israeli elections in years, Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to remain prime minister.

His Likud party is projected to win 35 seats in the 120-member parliament, the Knesset, tied with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party; but coalition partners will likely boost the incumbent Bibi to a governing majority of 65.

But for Christians in Israel, could the most significant electoral development have come from a new party that won a total of zero seats?

“We are the only party to give Christian and Messianic candidates parity in the candidates’ list,” said Avi Lipkin, the Orthodox Jewish head of the Bible Bloc Party, known as Gush Hatankhi in Hebrew.

“For the first time in 2,000 years, Jews and Christians are … brethren and allies.”

In Israel’s proportional system, a party must claim at least 3.25 percent of the nearly 6.4 million eligible voters—so roughly 200,000 votes total—in order to enter parliament.

The Bible Bloc only won 367.

The significance lies in their getting started. As a new party, Lipkin explains they had limited time to build a base. To legalize a party, 100 members are needed. The Bible Bloc recruited 150: roughly half Jewish and half Christian, as reflected in their candidate list.

Heading the list was…

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

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Current Events

O Come, Ye Gazan Christians, to Bethlehem

Gaza Christians Bethlehem
Palestinian Christian couple from the Gaza Strip leaves through the Israeli Erez crossing, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 20.

Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity has restored its sparkling mosaics and marble columns to their original glory for the first time in 600 years.

“It has become such a beautiful church,” Ziad al-Bandak, head of the local project committee of Christian leaders, told the AP. “Every Christian in the world would love to see it now.”

Palestinian Mayor Anton Salman expects 1.2 million tourists will make their way to Christ’s birthplace this year. Among them, following an Israeli reversal, will be those who most long to visit for Christmas—the Christians of the Gaza Strip.

“In Gaza, they talk about the West Bank as if it is heaven,” said Hanna Maher, Egyptian pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church. “People love to go for Christmas; there are so many churches.”

In Gaza, there are three. According to the 2017 census, 47,000 Christians live in the Palestinian territories (1% of the population), but only about 1,000 live in Gaza.

Last week the Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) reported that nearly all who applied to enter Israel to visit the West Bank for Christmas failed to receive permits, except for those older than 55.

Applicants younger than 16 were also approved, consistent with restrictions instituted last Christmas and maintained through Easter. A previous policy limited travel to those between ages 16 and 35.

The MEC report was confirmed by Maher, who stated that initially just 200 travel permits had been granted, and Christians, sharing stories of the delayed permit applications, began to assume those outside the age limit would not be allowed to travel.

But their prayers were answered this week…

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

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Jesus’ Baptism Site is a Minefield to Navigate. Literally.

Israel Baptism Landmines
(Heidi Levine for The National)

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on December 19.

For fifty years, John baptized Jesus in private.

But last week on the western bank of the Jordan River, landmines were cleared to allow visitors a first look at a faded fresco of the baptism in a crumbling Ethiopian monastery.

Trudging through mud while avoiding well-marked areas warning of live charges remaining from the Six-Day War, intrepid pilgrims once again received iconic witness of the beloved Son.

“Israel placed the mines between 1967 and 1971 because there was a war,” Marcel Aviv, head of the Israel National Mine Action of Authority, a branch of the Defense Ministry, told the Times of Israel, standing a few hundred yards from Jordan.

“But now it’s empty because it’s a border of peace.”

Israel partially reopened the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site in 2011. But visitors…

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

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Under the Law: Israeli Christians Worry About Secondary Status in Jewish Nation-State

Israel Nation State
Judaism and Christianity symbols on the Jerusalem old city gate – MyHolyShop

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 31, 2018.

In a legislative act both obvious and inflammatory, this month Israel cemented its nature as a Jewish state.

By a narrow vote in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, the law entitled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” was adopted to serve alongside over a dozen other “basic laws” that serve as Israel’s de facto constitution.

A key clause states that national self-determination is “unique” to Jews. Other provisions formally establish the nation’s flag, emblem, and anthem. Jerusalem is confirmed as the complete and united capital. The Sabbath and Jewish festivals are declared official days of rest.

But two other clauses have raised considerable concern. Jewish settlement is a “national value” to be promoted. And Arabic is downgraded from an official language to one with “special status.”

“This law outlines that Israel’s democratic values are secondary for non-Jews,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical living in Nazareth. “It sends a clear message that my language is not welcome and consequently, neither is my cultural and ethnic identity.”

Her fears are echoed by an Israeli lawyer.

“While the idea of the law is straightforward—it’s hard to argue that Israel isn’t a Jewish state—the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory, and possibly racist,” said Jaime Cowen, former president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations…

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

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What Next for Syria?

Syrian city of Aleppo

The conflict has turned a corner as the Syrian government regained control of Damascus and begins pushing into rebel-held areas.

LobeLog interviewed Josh Landis of Syria Comment to ask him what happens next. The full interview is worth reading, but here are a few excerpts on competing regional policies.

Turkey:

Idlib was one of the poorer regions of Syria. It was a Muslim Brotherhood and rather Salafi place before the revolution. Now it’s become a dumping ground for all of the defeated rebel forces that have been pushed out of the various rebel pockets. They’ve all been pushed into Idlib, and it’s become this very unhappy collecting point.

Today we’re seeing lots of violence there internally, between militias that are vying for supremacy. But also, Turkey is protecting Idlib. Turkey does not want it to be conquered, because in doing so Assad would push tens of thousands of militia fighters into Turkey. That will make the refugee problem much more difficult for Turkey and saddle Turkey with up to 100,000 hardened rebel fighters, many of whom have links to al-Qaeda.

This gives Turkey a lot of incentive to take Idlib province and try to set up a satellite statelet that can act as a holding province for these rebels.

Israel:

Israel wants Syria to remain weak. The civil war has opened up a lot of potential for advances on Israel’s northern border. It’s destabilized that border, but at the same time it’s weakened Assad tremendously. He’s no longer a military threat to Israel, and the militias that are now along the border also don’t pose a threat.

Even if they have links to the Islamic State or al-Qaeda they’re small and have no missile capabilities or other advanced military technology. Israel would like to be able to preserve those gains and consolidate its control over the Golan. It’s now pressing the United States to follow up on its Jerusalem recognition by recognizing the Golan as Israeli territory.

United States:

The U.S. has closed off all of the major highways out of Syria to the east. International trade for Syria has been blocked off and sanctions tightened. The U.S. is dead set against international organizations playing any role in Syrian redevelopment so the U.S. can continue to strangle Syria and keep it extremely poor.

You might argue that this is bad from a counterterrorism perspective because it will create more instability, but I think the U.S. is willing to pay that price because it won’t hurt the U.S. directly.

We’re not sure exactly what the U.S. is promoting in Syria, but all the talk coming out of Washington reflects an effort to squeeze Syria politically, economically, diplomatically, and militarily in order to unseat Assad and replace him with a government that’s going to be pro-West and anti-Iran.

Any favorites?

 

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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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In Shadow of Death, Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews Relapse on Reconciling

 

Embassy Gaza
AP, via Japan Times

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on May 21.

Hanna Maher’s wife is nine months pregnant, due any day now, with only four hours of daily electricity. Her two older boys scurry about in the dark, kept ignorant by parents about the dead at the border.

But it is hard to be ignorant in Gaza.

A Norwegian charity estimates 56 percent of children in the Palestinian territory suffer from traumatic nightmares. Suicide, rarely seen culturally, is a growing concern. Maher, an Egyptian-born Baptist pastor, says some at the border see death as the best option.

Two million people are squeezed into a coastal strip roughly the size of Philadelphia. Exit is severely restricted on one side by Israel. The waiting list into Egypt is 40,000 names long.

Unemployment is over 40 percent. Clean drinking water is hard to come by. And on May 14, as tens of thousands massed near a chain link fence demonstrating for their “Right to Return,” Israeli snipers picked off dozens.

“Monday was a hard day. But at least it is quiet now,” Maher said. “It has been bad for years. But conditions now are the worst I have seen.”

Maher went to Gaza in 2011, and married his local Palestinian wife a year later. His congregation is the strip’s only evangelical church, with about 60 regular members. Overall, Gaza’s Christian population is about 1,000, mostly Greek Orthodox; in the last 10 years, it has declined by a third.

Maher provides food aid to about 120 families. His marriage preparation classes are a crash course in how to nurture a family amid poverty.

And he says local Christians are critical of just about everyone…

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

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Gaza Again

Flag Cross Quran

God,

By now, the tragedy is well known. Dozens of Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli fire at the border separating the two territories.

Some were crossing illegally. Others were protesting.

Decide between the narratives, God. There is only one truth, however nuanced.

There may be guilt widely spread. There may be ample justification.

But there is blood. And the blood draws attention to another tragedy: the situation itself.

Gaza is suffering. God, give them hope.

But give them more. Give them consistent electricity. Give them clean water. Give them movement.

Egypt has opened its border with Gaza to allow some flow of people and goods, throughout Ramadan.

But afterwards, God? What future with Egypt? What future with Israel? What future with the West Bank?

What future at all?

Give wisdom to all. There are security threats. There are humanitarian concerns. There are issues of basic dignity.

It is likely the protests at the border will continue. It is likely that some will grow increasingly desperate. Some of these will give up. Some of these will act out.

Where there is power, let it serve humbly. Where there is need, answer it graciously.

God, Gaza is just part of a larger, intractable struggle. Unstuck it.

Bring peace to the people on all sides of divide. Help Egypt be a friend to many.

Amen.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Uber, Iran

Flag Cross Quran

God,

If the world is being remade, make it well.

Peace is pending in North Korea, while Iran is thrown in doubt.

Taxis fall out of favor, as private conveyance newly legalizes.

And metro prices have risen again.

Give guidance to Egypt in wading the waters.

The region has already been shaken. Will it shake further? Tehran and Tel Aviv. Damascus and Golan. A new embassy.

Let there be peace, God. Let there be justice. Right the past wrongs, without making new ones.

But change will always displace. Care well for taxis, even as new earnings—and costs—come to be. Does it make the world better? It does make it different.

Is Egypt prepared to change? Is she prepared to preserve? Discernment, God, and quickly.

May she know her friends. May she know her principles.

Remake her, God, in your image. Lest she be remade by others.

Amen.