A painful irony was brought home March 9 to many of the 600 leaders and representatives of evangelical churches who attended a peace conference in Bethlehem on the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories.
On the same day that they finished their work at the conference, whose theme was seeking a resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, they learned that Hamas fighters in Gaza and the Israeli military had just begun barraging one another with rocket fire.
No one at the conference was injured since the West Bank is more than 40 miles away from Gaza. The exchange was the worst outbreak of violence in that area in months, according to news reports. More than 20 residents of Gazan territory have been killed, including 18 militants. Two Israelis have been seriously injured and the lives of more than a million Israelis and those living in Gaza have been thrown into turmoil.
Held at the Bethlehem Bible College from March 5 to 9, this was the second Christ at the Checkpoint conference. The theme this year addressed the issue of how to find hope in the midst of conflict.
“The Church in the land of the Holy One has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost,” said a statement issued by conference organizers. “It must be empowered to continue to be light and salt in the region, if there is to be hope in the midst of conflict.”
Among their recommendations, evangelical leaders and representatives from around the world encouraged congregations and Christians to expand their Biblical thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of limiting views of the conflict through the lens of “end-times” prophesy, said participants, churches and believers could consider examining the parts of Jesus’ message that call for people to pursue justice, peace and reconciliation.
In a series of inspirational messages, Bible studies, interactive workshops, panels and site visits, participants discussed such topics as Christian Zionism, Islam, justice, nonviolence and reconciliation. Participants from 20 nations and a sizeable delegation of university students listened to the testimony of Palestinian men and women who shared their stories of pain and suffering.
Speakers included Rev. John Ortberg, a writer and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California; Bashar Awad, president of Bethlehem Bible College; Lynne Hybels, advocate for global engagement at Willow Creek Church in the Chicago area; and Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a church in Florida.
What Do You Think?
- Is it appropriate to think of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in terms of “end-times” prophecies?
- What would it mean to look at the conflict in light of Jesus’ message of justice, peace and reconciliation?
- What ways can North American Christians participate in this peace process?