Jack Sara, president of Bethlehem Bible College, has initiated a full-on assault on Israel’s Evangelical supporters in the United States.
In no less than three articles published on The Christian Post’s website over the past few weeks, Sara has accused Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. of making life worse for Evangelical Christians in the Middle East and of general indifference to the plight of Arabs in general in the region.
American Evangelicals have done these things, Sara declared, through their unflinching support for Israel and for President Donald Trump’s decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Evangelical support for Israel and the Trump Administration’s policies make it hard for Evangelicals in the Middle East to share the gospel in the Muslim-majority environments in which they operate, Sara reports.
“It is shameful that so many of our Christian brethren overseas have such feeble concern for the millions of Arabs who live in the Middle East,” Sara wrote in one article. “The church here feels marginalized as we listen to our brethren who would try to speed up the return of Christ at the expense of justice and stability in this region—even if their efforts lead to another world war.”
Sara’s characterization of Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. as racist, Armageddon-seeking kooks is defamatory on a number of levels.
Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. are unmatched when it comes time to express concern for the safety and welfare of Christians in the Middle East. Evangelical Protestants are the primary supporters of institutions such as Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs and Christian Solidarity International — all of which have an undeniable track record of promoting religious freedom in the Middle East and the rest of the world.
American Evangelical concern for Palestinian Christians was also evident at the Empowered21 Conference that took place in Jerusalem, where three of Sara’s Palestinian Christian colleagues were allowed to take rhetorical potshots at Israel before an audience of American Evangelicals who were largely pro-Israel and who had good reason to be suspicious of the anti-Zionist propaganda coming from Palestinian Christians.
Many pro-Israel Evangelicals turn a blind eye to this messaging because they want to remain in solidarity with the beleaguered community of Christians that Sara serves in the West Bank.
And Sara’s accusation that Evangelical Protestants “have such feeble concern for the millions of Arabs who live in the Middle East” is simply put, an ugly defamation. Sara may disagree with Evangelical Protestant support for Israel, but the record is undeniable. American Evangelicals have expressed huge concern for Arabs in general in the Middle East.
I’ve been hugely critical of World Vision, a Christian charity that has promoted and supported Sara’s anti-Israel messaging, with its assistance to the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. Nevertheless, despite its shameful support for anti-Zionist messaging by irresponsible BDS-supporting activists (like Jack Munayer, who like his father Saleem, has spoken at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference), World Vision has been at the forefront in efforts to serve refugees from Syria’s civil war.
And who does World Vision rely on for much of its funding? Pro-Israel Evangelicals in the U.S. that Sara defamed as theological war-mongering simpletons!
And then there’s Samaritan’s Purse, another Evangelical-supported organization that has helped refugees in the Middle East.
So, no, despite what Sara says about Evangelical Protestants in the U.S., they have a robust (not “feeble”) concern for Arabs in the Middle East. They give millions of dollars of year to help them.
And Sara’s accusation that American Evangelicals support Israel out of a desire to “speed up the return of Christ” is also an unfair over-generalization.
In the years before and after the year 2000, there was an undeniable uptick in the millennial impulse in some quarters of the Evangelical community, but two decades after the turn of the millennium, this impulse has diminished significantly and most Evangelicals are concerned, as they always have been, with the incremental, day-to-day work of “building the kingdom.”
The writings of Gerald McDermott, Brad Young — and many others — are emblematic of this outlook. Most Evangelicals simply do not peer into the mind of God to determine how history will end. Instead they struggle with the issues of the day in the light of their faith. They have decided that supporting Israel is the just thing to do. They are not trying to force the hand of God, but merely do what they think their faith requires in a dangerous world.
Anti-Israel and anti-Evangelical polemicists have placed a heavy focus on the end-time hopes of premillennial dispensationalists to further their own anti-Zionist narrative, but the fact is, many Evangelicals support Israel out of gratitude to the Jewish people for the Scriptures, remorse over the Holocaust and a belief that God’s promises to the Jewish people remain in force. They do not want to worship a God who changes his mind. Such a respect for the covenant fidelity is a perfectly reasonable theological stance to take.
With his bigoted diatribes in The Christian Post, Jack Sara has kicked Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. — who have prayed for his welfare even as they disagree with his stance on Israel — in the teeth.
Sara has offered a bigoted caricature of American Evangelicals that simply does not stand up to scrutiny. It is as if Sara is trying to turn Edward Said on his head, and engage in a bit of anti-American Occidentalism if you will.
Why would Sara, an Evangelical himself, do such a thing?
Because he has too.
Sara is the leader of a Christian college operating in the Muslim-majority West Bank. And every Christian institution — Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant — has to make nice with the corrupt Palestinian Authority in order to keep operating. In order to stay in the good graces of the PA — whose leaders incite anti-Semitic violence, pay salaries to terrorists and steal international aid money hand over fist — institutions such as Bethlehem Bible College and the Catholic-run Bethlehem University — have to toe the anti-Israel line drawn the PA. For this reason, you will not see Christian institutions in the West Bank or Gaza Strip offer prophetic warnings about the PA’s violence, dishonesty and thievery.
They will, however, condemn Israel, because not only is it the safe thing to do, it helps ingratiate Christians into the good graces of the thieving bullies who control the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
This helps explain why Bethlehem University’s website used to describe Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Acre and Tiberius — all Israeli cities — as “Palestinian Occupied Territories.” To its credit, once the school’s supporters in the U.S. were alerted to this language — which expressed a hope for Israel’s destruction — it was removed from the website.
It also helps explain why you will not see Palestinian Christians condemn the anti-Semitic and genocidal rhetoric coming out of the mouths of jihadists on The Temple Mount and why you will not see Palestinian Christians forcefully and directly confronting the genocidal monotheism broadcast by groups like Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Palestinian society.
But with his constant attacks on Evangelicals in The Christian Post, Sara has really stepped up his attacks on Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. who have always been the bogeyman of Arab and Muslim intellectuals throughout the world.
My guess is that the Palestinian Authority is doing everything it can to squeeze every last bit of public submission from Sara and his colleagues at the Bethlehem Bible College before the school hosts its biannual “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference in May, 2018.
At previous CATC conferences — which have taken place every even-numbered year since 2010 — Palestinian Evangelicals have called on the Palestinian Authority to accord their churches the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the established Orthodox and Catholic churches under the millet system that was inherited from the Ottoman Empire.
Because Evangelicals are relative newcomers to the Holy Land, their churches are not recognized under this system which was established in the 1800s in an arrangement called the status quo. As a result, the paperwork generated by Evangelical churches, such as birth and wedding certificates, are not recognized by the Palestinian Authority. This is a real hindrance on the ability of Evangelicals to operate in Palestinian society.
In 2014, Munir Kakish, the leader of the Council of Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land, called on the Palestinian Authority to recognize Evangelical churches and accord them their civil rights. “As a religious group, we are still unable to practice our basic civil rights, to issue marriage certificates, register our church properties in the name of the church, or even open bank accounts to manage the churches’ financial affairs,” he said.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has taken a huge beating in the international press as of late. President Donald Trump has focused his attention on Mahmoud Abbas’ intransigence. Shilling and propagandizing by groups like Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) or the World Council of Churches can’t help him now.
Abbas needs a game-changer. One way he can change the discourse is by acceding to the requests of Evangelical leaders and recognize their churches (with huge fanfare of course) at the upcoming Christ at the Checkpoint conference.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet the house that the PA will announce this change at the CATC conference in May. It’s a good strategy, because as it turns out, the same dichotomy between the established pre-existing churches and the Evangelical upstarts in the millet system handed down by the Ottoman Empire have been the source of complaints in Israel as well.
And even though Israel allows for religious freedom in ways that the PA and Hamas do not, an announcement at the Christ at the Checkpoint in Bethlehem about how Mahmoud Abbas has finally recognized Evangelical churches will be public relations gold for the PA. If it happens, journalists will flock to Bethlehem and talk about a rebirth of Christianity in the city of Christ’s birth, blah, blah, blah. And the folks at Bethlehem Bible College will have a talking point they can share with their supporters in Europe and North America. It might even make its way into the U.S. State Department’s annual report on religious freedom. It will not represent any meaningful change in the lives of Christians, but like I said, it will be a real PR coup for Sara and his colleagues — and for the PA itself.
But in order to achieve this laurel, Jack Sara and his colleagues at Bethlehem Bible College will have to demonstrate that they are useful to the Palestinian cause, because PA support does not come free.
So there you have it, folks. Forgive my speculation, but my guess is in the next few months we’re going to see regular attacks on American Evangelicals from Jack Sara and his colleagues at Bethlehem Bible College and for his efforts, Evangelicals in the West Bank will be thrown a crumb of recognition by the thieves and bullies who rule the roost in Ramallah.
My advice to American Evangelicals?
Don’t take it personally.