What Happens When Churches Use Religion as An Anti-Israel Bludgeon?
Since the creation of the modern Jewish state, American evangelicals have proudly been among Israel’s most vocal supporters. Millions of these supporters are members of the more than 11,000 congregations which belong to the Willow Creek Association, an umbrella organization formed by Willow Creek Community Church. Yet a co-founder of this megachurch, Lynne Hybels, has become one of the most outspoken critics of Israel through her work with a controversial advocacy group, Christ at the Checkpoint.
Christ at the Checkpoint hosts a myriad of religious leaders at a biannual conference in the West Bank under the guise of promoting peace and spreading the gospel. Yet the conference keynote speakers, public pronouncements, and agenda betray the true agenda of these activists.
In 2010, the conference invited Naim Ateek, founder and head of Sabeel Center, to give a keynote presentation. Ateek was heavily involved in the first Christ at the Checkpoint conference. And the present director of Christ at the Checkpoint, Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, is a speaker at Sabeel’s upcoming 9th International Conference.
Beginning in 2005, the Sabeel Center took a leading role in encouraging churches to divest from Israel. In addition, Ateek engages in incendiary rhetoric against Israel. Consider his 2001 Easter message remarks:
"The suffering of Jesus Christ at the hands of evil political and religious powers two thousand years ago, is lived out again in Palestine…it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily."
In a 2011 speech, Ateek stated, “The establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God.” Even more jarring is an article written by Ateek which suggests that the Sampson of the Bible was a “suicide bomber.” The close relationship between Christ at the Checkpoint and Naim Ateek indicates an organization bereft of a fully functional moral compass.
Not to be outdone, in 2002, board member and conference organizer, Dr. Bishara Awad, notably defended Dr. Hanan Ashrawi as “very moderate” in an open letter published in Christianity Today. Dr. Ashwari served on the committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and as political director of the First Intifada. She also founded an organization, MIFTAH, which refers to Israel’s founding as Al Nakba (the Catastrophe). Her rhetoric and political alliances are hardly those befitting a moderate.
Not only does the organization’s leadership maintain ties with radical political leaders, but the organization also aligns with theological sentiments far outside the evangelical mainstream. Stunningly, Christ at the Checkpoint apparently endorses a doctrine long since rejected by most evangelicals known as “replacement theology.” The manifesto states, “Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.” This sounds innocuous until one understands the full meaning of this brief sentence.
The term “Abrahamic Covenant” refers to the following promise made by God to Abraham recorded in Genesis chapter 12: “Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” According to Biblical tradition, after hundreds of years of enslavement in Israel in Egypt, the Exodus, and wanderings in the desert, this covenant at last became fulfilled as Abraham’s descendants settled in the land if Israel.
Replacement theology taught that a “New Covenant” granted only to those who believe in Jesus replaces the former Abrahamic Covenant between the Jewish people and God. Mainstream Christianity has rejected the “replacement theology.” Yet Christ at the Checkpoint rushes to embrace it.
Thus, the most recent Christ at the Checkpoint conference featured Rev. Stephen Sizer, an outspoken critic of Christian Zionism. In an interview with The Electronic Intifada, Sizer stated: “Christian Zionism can be defined as Christian support for Zionism. They simply believe that promises God made to Abraham and the Jewish people in the Hebrew Bible are in some sense being fulfilled today, or are about to be fulfilled…The particularism and the exclusivism of Christian Zionism is actually a misreading of the Bible.”
An organization truly intent on fostering peace would draw attention to the fact that Arab nations force Palestinian refugees to suffer through lifetimes of isolation by refusing to grant citizenship or economic opportunities. Or such an organization could work to counter the overt racism taught in Palestinian schools.
Instead, Christ at the Checkpoint erodes support for Israel and hinders lasting peace through its distortion of evangelical theology and by lending credibility to extremists.
Such an organization should not receive moral support from leaders such as Lynne Hybels.