600+ Attend Conference to Counter Christian Zionism
Conference organizer and Baptist minister Alex Awad said the participants came from more than 20 different countries.
Awad is pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church and is also dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College.
He said the idea for a Checkpoint conference resulted from a discussion with Reformed Dutch theologians. They had come from Holland for a "Theology of the Land" conference a few years ago.
"We noticed that every time we spoke about the suffering of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation, they immediately spoke about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust," Awad said. "If we mentioned the Wall of Separation and its negative impact on Palestinians, they would immediately speak about Auschwitz."
After patiently explaining that Palestinian Christians are not responsible for the Holocaust, nor are they anti-Semitic in philosophy, the professors of Bethlehem experienced a breakthrough with the theologians.
"I had the idea to expand this to the evangelical church worldwide," Awad said. "Our first purpose of conducting a conference like this was to challenge Christian Zionism from a biblical perspective in order to create some balance in evangelical churches."
Awad believes that much of the continued suffering of the Palestinian people can be traced to Christian Zionism: the belief that because Jews are God's chosen people they have a divine right to the Holy Land. In an attempt to support Israel, many Christians diminish the suffering of Palestinians.
Awad said God is just and so cares for those who are politically, economically and religiously abused. God desires their freedom.
Conference organizers attempted to communicate a theology of the land that is based on a nonterritorial, just God.
"The New Covenant that we have in Christ presents to us God's kingdom as nontribal and nonterritorial," Awad said. "In Christ, all people are equal and his desire is to reach out to the outmost part of the world."
Christian Zionists count their number near 40 million, according to Awad. What percentage is actually Zionist to the degree its leaders are is unknown.
Evangelical churches have long had a particular care for Israel, even if they haven't known about the plight of the Palestinian people, especially those in Gaza.
Former President Jimmy Carter has worked hard to bring the situation to light, speaking and writing regularly about what he calls "apartheid" in the Palestinian territories.
In his 2006 book, "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid," Carter described the situation: "Palestinians are deprived of basic human rights. Their land has been occupied and then confiscated and then colonized by the Israeli settlers. And they have now more than 205 settlements in the West Bank itself."
Awad wants to help educate the evangelical church about the injustices in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. His mission is shared by the conference's leaders, including filmmaker Porter Speakman Jr.
"Aspects of this belief system lead some Christians in the West to give uncritical support to Israeli government policies, even those that privilege Jews at the expense of Palestinians, leading to great suffering among Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike and threatening Israel's security as a whole," Speakman wrote on the film's website.
Awad said Christian Zionism's impact hasn't only been felt in Israel and the Palestinian territories, though.
"Christian Zionism is militaristic," Awad said. "I believe that without them, America would not have gone to war in Iraq, and if it is up to them, they will cause America to wage a war with Iran in order to preemptively defend the State of Israel. Christian Zionists often work to help God fulfill prophecy even if the means of fulfillment are not guided by New Testament principles. Their desire to see prophecy fulfilled is greater than the desire to see justice and peace spread on our planet."
Awad said conference organizers exceeded their expectations of the event. Feedback he has received indicates that there will likely be a Checkpoint conference in the United States and possibly one in the United Kingdom.
As for people who were unable to attend the conference this year, Awad has four suggestions.
Awad said Jewish leaders around the world have been skeptical and critical of the conference, but Messianic Jews who attended the conference said the conference was neither anti-Semitic nor did it demonize Israel.