What I Learned at Christ at the Checkpoint

In this screengrab from video, Dr. Michael Brown speaks at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem.

By Michael Brown Published on May 31, 2018

My time at the Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, was both wonderful and terrible, powerful and painful. As I said to the leaders face to face: The people were even warmer than I expected. Their positions were even worse than I expected.

Regardless of who is right or wrong, the deep chasms that exist can only be bridged through prayer, humility and forthright dialogue. By God’s grace, I am committed to continuing the journey with my newfound Palestinian Christian friends. (For those unfamiliar with the controversies surrounding Christ at the Checkpoint, see here.)

A Warm Welcome

Let me start with the positive, which was very positive.

I was received with open arms and without restriction by the Christian leaders there. They could not have made me feel more welcome, and they truly honored me as a respected brother in the Lord. As for the conference attendees, about 300 in number, they went out of their way to thank me for coming as the lone, public voice of dissent.

The message I brought was quite intense — although bathed deeply with love, which was apparently quite evident — bringing a very public and open challenge. Yet I received applause and even hugs rather than jeers and scorn.

The conference leaders made it clear that their greatest desire is to honor our Lord. I believe and hope that they now count me as a friend.

As difficult as it was for me to bring the message, it must have been difficult for the audience to hear it. Yet hear it they did.

Not only so, but the leaders made clear that their greatest desire is to honor our Lord. They often expressed love for their Jewish brothers and sisters and emphasized that Israel had every right to exist as a secure nation in the Land. They simply wished for equality and dignity as neighbors and friends.

I believe and hope they now count me as a friends.

Palestinian With a Capital P and Christian With a Small C

As for the negative, it was very negative.

Aspects of the conference were embarrassingly political. I even said in my message that the opening night was Palestinian with a capital P and Christian with a small c. These parts were hardly Jesus-centered in approach or emphasis.

And while I understand that an international event of this size would necessitate the presence of Palestinian Authority leadership — as a matter of honor — the Christian celebration of that leadership was beyond the pale. (Should I also mention that one Christian leader was pleased to announce that more churches were joining the BDS movement against Israel?)

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On a larger ideological level, I was amazed to see how every possible anti-Israel narrative was enthusiastically embraced. In fact, it seemed to be the only narrative known.

I’m not just talking about our massive differences in perspective (again, regardless of who is right or wrong). For example, for me, Trump’s moving of our embassy to Jerusalem is wonderful. For them, it is dreadful.

Deep Differences in Perspective

But the differences go much deeper.

For me as a Messianic Jew of evangelical Christian persuasion, 1948 marks a glorious, historic event. The rebirth of the nation of Israel. For them, it marks the Nakba, the catastrophe.

For them, the writings of Ilan Pappe, an Israeli scholar who has focused on modern Israeli history, are gospel truth. For me, they represent revisionist, Israel-bashing of the worst kind.

In their eyes, earlier this month, Israel carelessly slaughtered young Palestinian men who were venting their frustration in Gaza. In my eyes, Israel protected itself against a human wave of Hamas-sponsored terror. (The fact that Hamas’s efforts largely failed does not lessen the evil of their intentions.)

Encouraging Love, but Fostering Anti-Semitism

Worse still, I have no question that CATC is a seedbed of anti-Semitism, even though the leaders deplore anti-Semitism. (I did not hear a syllable from any of them that could be construed as anti-Semitic. I will defend them against all such charges.)

The overall effect of lecture after lecture and tour after tour was to create hostility towards Israel as a people.

But when CATC encourages attendees to take a tour of the Walled Off Hotel, it’s no wonder that many leave the conference with deep animus towards Israel. The Hotel presents Israel in the worst possible light. It distorts the past and twists the present, openly accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing and genocide. And in many cases, Israel equals the Jewish people. (I hope to produce a video commentary on the Walled Off Hotel in the near future.)

It doesn’t matter how many times the leaders encouraged everyone to love their neighbors as themselves — including their Jewish neighbors. The overall effect of lecture after lecture and tour after tour was to create hostility towards Israel as a people.

If my presence there made any difference at all, I hope it would be in this area. I hope the leaders take my concerns seriously and make some significant changes in future conferences.

God is My Witness

On a theological level, I had no idea that Christian Zionism could be bashed and maligned in so many different ways. (I’m aware there are extreme and unhelpful forms of Christian Zionism, but the bashing was quite generalized and broad.)

It was also extremely unfortunate that a public response was given to my message the moment I finished. (This did not happen with any other messages in the conference.) The response was utterly dismissive. It almost raised the question of why I was invited at all. (I have already conveyed my feelings about this privately to some of the leaders, and they received my words graciously.)

But I do not want to end here on the negative. At an opening dinner for the speakers, we were given a minute to introduce ourselves. I explained that I’d been invited as a dissenting voice and that I came with an open heart, an open mind, and an open mouth.

Hopefully, I spoke what was appropriate, truthful and fair. That’s for others to judge. But I do know that I listened carefully, praying often for God to show me my blind spots and help me to better understand. I also urged those I spoke with, especially the young Palestinians, to speak to me plainly without fear of offending me.

God is my witness that I have not dismissed their concerns.

Speaking in human terms, the situation is nearly hopeless. The good news is that what is impossible with man is possible with God.

To be sure, I learned nothing really new. I am familiar with the many complaints that come regularly against Israel. In fact, Israel’s harshest, most vociferous critics are often Israelis themselves.

But it’s always powerful to look into someone’s eyes and hear their own words as they talk about what they’ve experienced in their lives. (Some of their stories were tragic and quite moving.)

Anything is Possible With God

Naturally, with any situation, there are two sides to the story. In this case the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. I never assume that Israel is guiltless. I’m sure there are many things my people can do better — in some cases much better.

So, while I will continue to challenge my new Palestinian Christian friends on several fronts — theological and practical and political — I will do my best to challenge the leadership of Israel to treat their Palestinian neighbors with dignity, equality and respect. And that applies especially to Palestinian Christians, a tiny minority within a Muslim majority that itself has limited autonomy.

Speaking in human terms, the situation is nearly hopeless. The good news is that what is impossible with man is possible with God.

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  • Patmos

    Islam’s doctrine as a top down theocracy is going to be difficult if not impossible to be anything but a stumbling block in the region.

  • Ray

    We must learn to be Christians first above all else.

    • Betty Loewen

      But that does not mean we should accept everything that everyone who calls themselves “Christian” says or does. We must stand on the Word of God! There are times we have to disassociate from those who use the term but do injustice to its real meaning… Arabs who say they follow Jesus but deny He was a Jew, or deny the everlasting promises made to the Jewish people, are deceived, and they deceive others.

  • Colin Austin Barnes

    Hi and thank you for all you did there!! Watching from afar, CATC has always been aimed at turning American evangelicals against Israel (in a way that the liberal Sabeel could not). I was therefore surprised at how liberal this event seemed to be – from universalism, Jesus only being an example of the way, to a real de-emphasis on personal salvation and witness, to the whole “Peacemaking” by identifying oppressive economic structures, characteristics of empire etc. That is, it was not evangelical! That is just my take from watching Livestream – what do you think?? God bless, Colin

    • Michael L Brown

      Yes, some felt that way, although we were told that the statement about John 14:6 did not imply universalism. May truth triumph in all of our hearts! Thanks for watching.

  • Raymond Pfister

    As a French Pentecostal-Charismatic theologian, I wanted to thank you for the courage, faith, and empathy towards Arab Christians you have demonstrated through your presence and speech at the 2018 CATC conference in Bethlehem. I agree wholeheartedly with you that a continuing dialogue is important and necessary with all those Christians who are caught up in a fallacious, at times revisionist logic, which is not at all rooted in biblical theology, but, on the contrary, have adopted a sort of liberation theology that would seem to be more inspired by the anti-Israel islamic ideology of “Palestinian” leaders, than by the Gospel message of Israel’s Messiah.
    Dr. Raymond Pfister
    Senior Lecturer in Biblical Theology, Church History, and Messianic Judaism
    King’s Evangelical Divinity School, UK

    • Michael L Brown

      Thank you so much, my brother!

    • marty_wise

      raymondpfister yes

  • Bassem Adranly

    As an Arab pastor that love and live for both, Jews and Arabs, I apologize for what happen; I do share most of your concerns, I do feel so sad by Muther’s response right after your talk,
    But I urge you to continue this hard difficult road, to honor Yeshua’s blood that was shed in His land, to gather His scattered redeemed sons into one (1 Peter 4:16; John 11:52)

    • Michael L Brown

      Bless you, my brother! Thank you! We are one in Jesus!

      • Bassem Adranly

        I wanted so much to meet you; but unfortunately I missed you twice, in Christ Church and in CATC; I was there only the evening of the 29th, and the morning of the 31st !!

    • Betty Loewen

      Yes, God’s plan is to restore His scattered sheep into the fold – but that means bringing them back to where they were when they first went astray – and that was almost 2000 years ago, when the Gentile believers cut themselves off from their Jewish origins and ran away from their Jewish Shepherd!
      Now, worldwide, God has been moving… Have you noticed it?
      To use another analogy — He has been putting us grafted-in ones back onto our Hebraic roots, which always means blessing Israel! At the same time, He has been restoring the original broken-off branches… whom we are told to “not boast against”!
      If God is doing this all over the world, including with new believers in many Muslim countries – giving them a love and concern for Israel – why should it not be so for Arab Christians?! Why should those who call themselves “Palestinian Christians” be such stubborn, vicious enemies of Israel? They are missing out on God’s blessing by cursing the Jews! They come to the west and bear false witness, and promote BDS… It’s wicked!

      • Kathy

        Could not have said it better, Betty…thanks!

      • Bassem Adranly

        Well Betty, I agree with the first pat; but concerning those who call themselves Palestinian Christians, I believe they were called that name by Christ Himself: “15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” Eph. 3. Sometimes God changes names of nations; but most of the time He redeems the names and nations to be His servants. Please don’t try to play God, let Him be God. These Palestinians that are real followers of Christ, is part of His family, and by the way, most of them don’t believe like BBC’s theology as well. You need to enlarge your heart, and look at the church from God’s perspective.

  • chiam

    I too attended this conference and was greeted with warmth but came away from the conference feeling negative as the dishonesty that was on display when it came to how much islamist theology was influencing the speakers. Instead of exposing islam as being a strong motivation behind the conference the speakers like Tony Campollo feigned ignorance.

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