By Bob Allen
A pastor who ministers among a shrinking Palestinian Christian population in the city where Jesus was born is the scheduled keynote speaker for a Nov. 8-10 conference titled Waging Peace and Justice in Palestine at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
The conference featuring Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, is sponsored by the Justice in Palestine and Israel Community of the Alliance of Baptists. A longtime mission partner of the Alliance, Raheb was among a group of Christian leaders in Palestine that published Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth in 2009.
The paper subtitled “a word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering” criticized Israel’s military occupation of the land as “a sin against God and humanity” and opposed those Christians who defend it by quoting Scripture.
“We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war in the name of God Almighty, subordinating God to temporary human interests, and distorting the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice,” the document said.
The faith leaders said one consequence of ongoing human-rights violations in the Holy Land is emigration, which is causing the number of Palestinian Christians to shrink rapidly.
“Furthermore, we know that certain theologians in the West try to attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights,” they said. “Thus, the promises, according to their interpretation, have become a menace to our very existence. The ‘good news’ in the Gospel itself has become ‘a harbinger of death’ for us. We call on these theologians to deepen their reflection on the Word of God and to rectify their interpretations so that they might see in the Word of God a source of life for all peoples.”
Many conservative Christians believe the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel fulfills Bible prophecy and points to the imminent Second Coming of Christ. Scholars connect this “Christian Zionism” to a theological movement called dispensationalism that emerged in the 19th century and was popularized in the 20th century by preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and in books including Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind novel series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
The Kairos Palestine document, however, describes Palestinian Christians’ right to the land “not an ideological or a theological question only” but rather “a matter of life and death.”
“There are those who do not agree with us, even defining us as enemies, only because we declare that we want to live as free people in our land,” the document said. “We suffer from the occupation of our land because we are Palestinians.”
“And as Christian Palestinians we suffer from the wrong interpretation of some theologians,” it continued. “Faced with this, our task is to safeguard the Word of God as a source of life and not of death, so that ‘the good news’ remains what it is, ‘good news’ for us and for all. In face of those who use the Bible to threaten our existence as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, we renew our faith in God because we know that the word of God cannot be the source of our destruction.”
“Therefore, we declare that any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another, transform religion into human ideology and strip the Word of God of its holiness, its universality and truth,” the document stated.
“We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God,” it continued. “It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation.”
In addition to learning about the Kairos Palestine document, conference participants will establish a biblical foundation for justice-making, identify impediments to peace and review programs and resources available to local churches.
The conference begins with an evening worship service on Friday, Nov. 8. Saturday, Nov. 9, will include all presentations, panels and displays. Sunday, Nov. 10, Raheb will deliver the sermon at Calvary’s worship service.
Registration is available at the Alliance of Baptists website.