One pro-Israel advocate has described the debate among Christians regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as “A long war,” while organizers of the so-called “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference are claiming to be balanced in their theological views as they watch American groups like Christians United for Israel add daily to their already huge constituencies.
The CATC conference, just concluded in Bethlehem, had several hundred attendees, and according to CAMERA’s Dexter Van
Zile, “These people [CATC] may have unleashed forces in American society that they may regret.”
He refers to the large pro-Israel community in this country, including Christians who support the Jewish state. In essence, the organizers of “Christ at the Checkpoint” want to infiltrate the pro-Israel evangelical community, and soften views of the Palestinians.
It is a strategy unlikely to work, despite the strenuous efforts of Lynne Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church), Sami Awad (Holy Land Trust), Todd Deatherage (Telos Group), Mae Cannon (World Vision), and others.
In fact, I am hearing from several quarters that the CATC confab is poking the eye of a sleeping giant, and that they are going to receive scrutiny like they’ve never imagined.
While the CATC organizers claim to want equal billing given to the suffering of Palestinians, specifically Palestinian Christians, they differ sharply with their counterparts over the source of that suffering. The so-called “Christian Palestinianists” (a term apparently coined by British scholar Paul Wilkinson) allege that it is the “Israeli occupation” that causes most of the suffering, while they ignore Palestinian terrorism. They also ignore the real, overwhelming truth that Muslim persecution of Christians is epidemic.
In fact, as the conference went on, Palestinians in Gaza launched dozens of rockets at Israel. CATC organizers appeared to want to ignore the rockets.
They also find other ways to marginalize Israel, culturally and historically. Incredibly, the “Jesus was a Palestinian” lie is still
being used among this crowd, and other historical whoppers have been trotted-out, including the idea that Palestine was a
thriving sovereign entity before the Zionists moved in.
Van Zile told me last week:
“What I''m seeing this year is that the CATC movement is not part of an effort to educate people about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It''s about giving people a way to ‘engage’ in the conflict and that means propounding a word of judgment
against Israel. The story told in this movement is of Israeli guilt, and Palestinian suffering and innocence.”
In fairness, my prior criticism of Oral Roberts University President William “Billy” Wilson, for accepting an invitation to speak at CATC this year, must be tempered by the fact that when given an opportunity to speak on Wednesday, Wilson repudiated Replacement Theology, which is essentially the worldview of the CATC crowd. “Replacement Theology” in short is the belief that the biblical promises to the Jews, primarily in the Old Testament, have been transferred to the Church.
A comical moment was created at CATC when one speaker attempted to re-label Replacement Theology as “Enlargement Theology,” or, as one wag put it, “Viagra Theology.”
It is this attempt to continually change terms and definitions, while refusing challenges and questions from pro-Israel advocates that is halting the hoped-for progress of CATC sympathizers.
Christianity Today magazine, which I’d describe as friendly to CATC beliefs, attempted a balanced piece, by writer Timothy
Morgan, but using quotes from folks like Dale Hanson Bourke (herself a member of what I’d describe as the Christian Palestinianist Rat Pack). The attempt is at best naïve. When possible, it serves all parties to gather quotes from those on both sides of the aisle. (I have asked CT editors several times to provide balance in the pages of their magazine, by allowing a Christian Zionist to pen an article. All queries have been refused.)
When I attempted to find quotes from Christian Palestinianists last week, querying Deatherage and Cannon, they politely declined.
Which brings me to the strange case of Cameron Strang, publisher of Relevant magazine—described as “Rolling Stone for Evangelical Millennials.”
Strang has presented himself as a balanced observer of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but he is hardly that. Long-time associations with folks like Hybels, and his close friend, the writer Donald Miller, put Strang squarely in the Christian Palestinianist camp.(Miller, whose horrid accusations of war-crimes against the Israel Defense Forces, in a November 19, 2012 column, continue to go on-documented, claims that the IDF shoots Palestinian women and children, and that the Israelis—are you sitting down?—control the daily caloric intake of Gazans!)
Strang, whose trips to what he calls Israel/”Palestine” settle neatly on the left side of the debate (plenty of photos of Israel’s security fence, etc.), has this month published a cover story for Relevant: “Blessed Are The Peacemakers.”
The lengthy article is sharply slanted toward the Palestinian narrative. For example, inexplicably, Strang allows long-time Yasser Arafat/PLO mouthpiece Hanan Ashrawi to re-write biblical history:“’Palestinians are the descendants of the early Christians,’ says Palestinian legislator Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. ‘We are probably the straightest line to original Christianity. The Palestinian presence in Palestine is important. Christianity is part and parcel of the Palestinian identity.’”
Strang doesn’t mention that Ashrawi’s father was a founding member of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), created in 1964—three full years before Israel took control of the West Bank, Sinai, Golan, and Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War (It begs the question: what were they hoping to liberate?).
Perhaps he doesn’t know.
Actually, that is hard to know, since Strang refuses to answer questions/challenges about the overall article. When the cover story broke, I read it, made voluminous notes, then requested an interview with him. He declined.
The following week, a regularly scheduled Relevant “Q&A” podcast was advertised, to focus on the cover story. Within an hour of my question (those who watch these podcasts are invited to submit questions), Strang announced that due to a technical glitch, the podcast was canceled.
The Show Must Not Go On.
I don’t think this was entirely due to my question. In fact, a more interesting angle centers-on the comments that followed Strang’s cover story. Let’s just say the publisher probably didn’t count on such blowback. In short, he stepped in it. Here is one comment from a reader:
I just want to add to the chorus (and majority) of voices which are rightly pointing out this is an unbalanced and disappointing article.But before I get into all that, I want to say I''m a long-time reader of Relevant, a huge fan and someone who refrains from posting negative comments, especially on a site like this which I love.
Cameron, I understand this article is based on your own experiences in the Holy Land, but who was showing you around?
And why did these people not introduce you to Messianic Jews, or even Christian Zionists who haven''t completely lost the plot? (Trust me, they exist!)
Why are ALL of your interviewees so keen to use words such as "occupation" when in reality there is two sides to this story. The land is disputed. Whether Israel are "illegally occupying" it or not is up for discussion and debate. But no one would know this from reading your artlcle.
You also appear to have fallen for the Palestinian narrative which claims the Palestinians were the first Christians. This is absolutely crazy! The first disciples were Jewish who followed the Torah which clearly states that God gave the land to the descendents of Abraham. The land wasn''t known as Palestine until 70AD - long after Jesus had gone home to his Father!
You''ve also ignored the fact that Palestinian Christians are under huge persecution and pressures from Islamists arguably much more than they are Israel! Now clearly people like Sammi Awad aren''t going to say that because he (and this is well known) has been verbally attacking the Jewish state for years.
I''m not saying he hates Israel or is anti semitic. But you aren''t going to get a positive view of Israeli policy from him! The last thing I want to do is come across as one of those Christians who are obsessed with Israel and basically elevate Israel as if it were God. I''m not like that, I promise you. Jesus is front and centre of my theology. And that''s why I get so angry when I see Christians twisting Jesus to fit him in with a political agenda that shuns the very people (Jews in the Jewish state) who Jesus came for in the first place!
I should have made notes as I went through this article cause honestly, it was littered with inaccuracies. Part of the problem is not so much with what you write but what you don''t write!
You''re happy to talk about the 700,000 Palestinians who left when Israel became independent, but you aren''t willing to say that 1) many of them left because the surrounding Arab nations said if they did that, the Arab armies would go in and completely destroy Israel so they could have their homes back and 2) that there were thousands of Jewish refugees made at the same time from surrounding Arab nations who kicked them out!
Seeing as you''ve had near unanimous criticism for this artlcle, I think the decent thing to do would be to pull it, seek further advice on the mistakes and half truths and take time before republishing.
I AM NOT asking for a piece which says there are no problems, Israel is always right and the Palestinians just have to suck it up. I''m just asking for a bit of balance here. I don''t blame you for this piece. I blame whoever took you out to the region, because it seems you spent a lot of time in the West Bank hearing ONE (not THE) Palestinian narrative.
Again - I''m sorry to have to leave this comment, but this piece has really upset me and I''m shocked by the lack of balance.
Americans engaged with this issue are starting to come around to the reality that the Christian Palestinianists, while purporting to be Gandhi-like peaceniks, are anything but. In fact, they are finding new ways to demonize Israel, particularly among Millennial audiences.
In an email reply to my recent request for an interview—or at least answers to my questions about his cover story—Strang told me that he wouldn’t do that, due to the biased nature of my previous writings about these subjects.
That reply is largely Irrelevant, plus he of course declines to acknowledge that he is biased about the subject. Bias is part of human nature, but the Christian Palestinianists hope to fool a lot of evangelicals in America by claiming they are simple seekers of truth, and nothing more.
In fact, they are much, much more.
Which begs the gigantic question: Why is Cameron Strang hiding?
(Jim Fletcher is a researcher, writer, and speaker, and a long-time advocate for Israel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)