Empowered 21 Threatens Jewish-Christian Relations

The backdrop at the  Christ at the Checkpoint Conference juxtaposes the cross with Israel's security barrier, suggesting that Israel's efforts to defend itself are an obstacle to God's purposes for the Middle East.
The backdrop at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference juxtaposes the cross with Israel’s security barrier, suggesting that Israel’s efforts to defend itself are an obstacle to God’s purposes for the Middle East. (Photo: Dexter Van Zile)

Empowered 21 (E21), a worldwide Christian organization based in Tulsa, OK, is threatening Jewish-Christian relations as a result of its seemingly unreflective alliance with Palestinian Christians who propagate a narrative rooted in demonization of Jews and the Jewish State.

At its Global Congress in Jerusalem in May 2015, co-chair Billy Wilson and others placed a significant amount of emphasis on the necessity of Christian unity for the purpose of “world evangelization in our generation.” This unqualified call to unity is cause for significant concern because it presumably included an expectation of solidarity with conference participants who are leaders in Palestinian Christian organizations such as Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) and Christ at the Checkpoint (CaTC) conferences – both of which are primary promoters of virulent anti-Jewish/anti-Israel propaganda.

The relationship between E21 and those who promote such pernicious dogma is demonstrated in part, through the inclusion of Jack Sara, president of Bethlehem Bible College, as one of the leaders in this year’s Global Congress. Sara was scheduled to participate in a breakout session that addressed the subject of networks of ministries and churches. He was also a member of the committee, “Exploring the Land of Pentecost,” which was responsible for educating attendees about places they would tour.

Jack Sara’s participation is particularly troubling because he is president of Bethlehem Bible College, which sponsors the biannual Christ at the Checkpoint conferences in Bethlehem. The logo for Christ at the Checkpoint depicts a church behind the security barrier built by Israel.

The representation of the security barrier in CaTC’s logo demonstrates the central role the barrier plays in the narrative offered at the conferences. According to Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust, which is a co-sponsor of CaTC:

Today Bethlehem is a city that is completely surrounded by walls and fences. The wall just completely engulfs the city. Living in the wall is like living in a big prison where you are deemed guilty and that’s why you live in this prison. Every day we see the wall. It’s very big and very ugly, completely surrounding us, completely engulfing us.

The first problem with this account is that it is simply not true. The security barrier does not completely surround Bethlehem. However, it does separate the city from Jerusalem, and as a result, has effectively stopped the deadly terror attacks against Israeli citizens that intensified during the Second Intifada.

Another problem with Awad’s statement is that it does not address the reason the barrier was built, which was to prevent terror attacks. This is a revealing example of the one-sided story presented at CaTC in which the two millennia-old Christian allegation that Jews are an obstacle to God’s purposes is perpetuated. The combination of the depictation of a church behind the barrier, and Awad’s deceptive and inaccurate description of that barrier, contributes to the demonization of Jews and the Jewish state.

Most recently, Christ at the Checkpoint took this demonization to a new low through the posting of a video on YouTube on March 26, 2015. The video was produced to promote a CaTC Young Adult conference in July 2015.

In this video, images of ISIS captives about to be beheaded are juxtapositioned with images of the security barrier Israel built to protect its citizens from suicide bombers.

Images of the Jordanian pilot about to be burned alive in a cage are juxtapositioned with scenes of people going through a checkpoint.

And images of the ISIS flag are juxtapositioned with those of the Israeli flag.

The obvious implication is that the security measures Israel has been forced to take in response to Palestinian suicide bombers is equivalent to what ISIS is doing to people as it seeks to forcibly establish a caliphate ruled by an extreme form of Islamic law.

Empowered 21’s unqualified expectation that attendees at the Global Congress stand in unity with those who proliferate material that perpetuates the demonization of Jews and the State of Israel is both alarming and destructive.

It is alarming because an unreflective alliance with Palestinian Christian leaders who promote such virulent propaganda suggests that this worldwide movement – which represents a significant part of Christendom that has historically supported Jews and the Jewish State – may be abandoning that support in favor of unity with those who are blatantly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel.

The call to unity is destructive because cooperation with those who propagate anti-Jewish/anti-Israel propaganda will cause significant damage to strong Jewish-Christian relations based on mutual support for the Jewish State that other organizations have developed over the past decades.

Institutions such as the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) have painstakingly built bridges with the Jewish community within Israel and abroad ever since its founding in 1980. Over the past thirty-five years, the ICEJ had earned a solid reputation for its work within Israel and its education of Christians worldwide concerning a biblical understanding of Israel.

But, the foundations for Jewish-Christian relations laid by organizations such as the ICEJ are in danger of being undone through Empowered 21’s incautious alliance with Palestinian Christian leaders and their institutions who are complicit in the demonization of Jews and the Jewish State.



About the Author
Tricia Miller is a Senior Research Analyst with CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. She monitors Christian organizations and media activity in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. She has been published in multiple online publications, and in the print edition of the Jerusalem Post's Christian Edition. Tricia has a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and wrote her dissertation on anti-Semitism in relation to historical interpretation of the book of Esther. The dissertation was published in July of 2014 under the title Three Versions of Esther. A second book, titled Jews and Anti-Judaism in Esther and the Church was published in May 2015, and addresses the relationship of Esther to current Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Zionism.
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