A gathering to promote peace for Palestinian Christians?
Or a forum for bigots and anti-Semites?
Those sharply contrasting narratives emerged as a four-day conference called Christ at the Checkpoint USA drew roughly 150 evangelical Christians to this Oklahoma City suburb last week (Oct. 15-18).
The desire to offer more Americans the opportunity to hear from the Palestinian Christian community led to the U.S. version of a conference previously held at Bethlehem Bible College, south of Jerusalem in the West Bank, said the Rev. Darrell Cates, the Oklahoma conference’s director.
Cates, a United Methodist minister who estimates he has made 20 trips to Israel since 1995, said that most Christians in Israel are Palestinian. Their stories are widely ignored, he said.
“The Christian community is primarily Palestinian, and they have an experience and a witness to the faith and to the gospel that is largely discarded or discounted and dismissed by most evangelical Christians in the United States,” he said. “I think it’s because they’ve never really heard it.”
The organization’s name alludes to the 13 major crossings manned by Israeli military or private security officers that allow 70,000 Palestinians with day work permits entry into Israel. At the most crowded inlets to the miles of concrete wall, lines begin forming as early as 3:30 a.m., though they won’t open for hours.
Checkpoints are a symbol of sorts to those on both sides of the conflict. Critics of CATC say the organization’s use of them politicizes their intent, no matter the mission statement.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America criticized the conference earlier this month for inviting speakers it said were biased against Israel. The Jewish News Syndicate described the conference as part of a “concerted effort to turn Middle America away from supporting Israel.”
The NGO Monitor, a nongovernmental news outlet in Jerusalem, expressed similar sentiments.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service, Tamie Ross