Empowered 21 (E21), a worldwide Christian organization based in Tulsa, OK and the sponsor of a Global Congress in Jerusalem in May 2015, may be endangering its credibility, and the credibility of the Christian faith it seeks to propagate, because of its relationship with Palestinian Christians who promote a fallacious anti-Israel narrative.
This global entity, which intends to “shape the future of the Spirit-empowered movement” and evangelize every person on earth by 2033, claims to represent 640,000,000 evangelical and pentecostal Christians. Therefore, the potential fallout from an alliance with those who spread dishonest propaganda against Israel is significant.
At the recent conference, E21 co-chair Billy Wilson and others repeatedly emphasized the necessity of Christian unity for the purpose of “world evangelization in our generation.” The problem with this call to unity stems from E21’s unreflective support for, and involvement with, Palestinian Christian leaders who promote a narrative rooted in demonization of Jews, delegitimization of Israel, and erroneous theology.
This relationship is demonstrated in part, through the inclusion of Jack Sara, president of Bethlehem Bible College, as one of the leaders in E21’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 Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) and the Christ at the Checkpoint (CaTC) conferences it sponsors are some of the primary promoters of virulent anti-Jewish/anti-Israel propaganda. The logo for Christ at the Checkpoint depicts a church behind the security barrier built by Israel, and the theme of last year’s meeting was “Theology in the Service of Peace and Justice.”
Through their imagery and content, these conferences present a one-sided narrative that perpetuates the two millennia-old Christian doctrine that Jews are an obstacle to God’s purposes. As a result, Jews are demonized, the Jewish state is delegitimized, and Christians are encouraged to accept the message in the name of peace and justice.
This narrative is rooted in a customized replacement theology and a Palestinian version of liberation theology. Traditional replacement theology says that God no longer has any purpose for Israel or the Jews and that God’s work on earth is now being done through Christians and the Church. This teaching promotes contempt for Jews, and has provided justification for two millennia of anti-Semitic violence.
Palestinian replacement theology rewrites history by claiming that Jesus and the first Christians were all Palestinians, and that the Palestinians – not the Jews – are the indigenous people in the land. This assertion means that the Palestinian people are the rightful owners of the land, which serves their political agenda very nicely by delegitimizing the existence of the Jewish State.
Palestinian liberation theology depicts Palestinians as victims who need to be liberated from Israeli occupation. This narrative is particularly appealing to an evangelical audience susceptible to a message emphasizing the need for peace and justice, but has no understanding of the historical or political context of current events necessary to counter the lies and distortions supported by this theology.
The promotion of, or adherence to, any theology that is customized for the purpose of promoting a political agenda undermines the credibility of historic Christian faith.
Therefore, the perpetuation of 2,000-year-old anti-Jewish canards and erroneous theology by BBC and CaTC is a serious problem. Consequently, it is imperative that the leaders of E21 consider the repercussions of not distancing themselves from this demonizing narrative, even as they express the understandable desire to support their Palestinian brethren.
E21’s collaboration with local Christians was further evidenced through the scheduling of a service in Manger Square in Bethlehem, before it was cancelled with one days notice due to “significant political and religious pressure,” In response to this unexpected development, E21 co-chair Wilson “spent the afternoon in Manger Square trying to find a way to further support our Christian brothers in there, including considering the possibility of other alternative venues.”
Wilson’s intent to “support our Christian brothers in there” by scheduling a service in Bethlehem, and the involvement of the president of BBC in the leadership of E21 are consistent with the conference’s emphasis on the importance of Christian unity. This would be an ideal goal in an ideal world. However, in this case, E21’s cooperation with Palestinian Christian organizations that have a track record of anti-Israel activism may provide a venue through which their false narrative is promoted to a global audience.
In light of this threat, the leadership of Empowered 21 needs to reconsider how they define their stand in “unity” with those who promote anti-Israel propaganda based on erroneous theology, demonization of Jews, and delegitimization of Israel.
Otherwise, the credibility of this global movement and the Christian faith it seeks to propagate will be compromised, and its intent to “shape the future of the Spirit-empowered movement” will be an issue of great concern.