Now that last week's controversial Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC) conference is over, participants, observers and critics on all sides are beginning to take a step back to reflect upon events over the past couple of weeks and consider where next. As the conference wound up CatC organisers released a "manifesto" on the last day setting out their position in the wake of the conference. More on the contents of the manifesto in a moment.
Unfortunately there appears to be considerable confusion surrounding who actually drafted the manifesto, which was initially presented as a document produced and agreed upon by all delegates (when you read it you'll see why its strongly one-sided nature is hugely problematic for some of the Messianic delegates who attended). Several of the Messianic attendees have stated categorically they were not involved in producing the statement presented in their name, and indeed did not even know a statement was being produced.
For their part, CatC organisers also seem confused. The conference website has been changed to reflect Messianic objections, while the website of one of the CatC organisers, Stephen Sizer, has reflected no less than three versions of events over the weekend. Elsewhere another CatC organiser, Sami Awad, tweeted to confirm Messianics were involved in drafting the document. For their part Messianic participants are currently drafting their own statement which is expected to be released shortly. You can keep up with the various twists and turns on the RPP website, which has followed the story closely and has attracted comments by at least one of the Messianic delegates stating emphatically that he was not involved in drafting the manifesto.
Some critics will claim a cynical attempt by CatC (or individuals associated with it) to spin in order to present the manifesto as having the widest support possible. Others may more generously accept that in their enthusiasm and in the heat of the moment CatC organisers simply overplayed Messianic support. Or perhaps one or two Messianics were involved in drafting the document, which if true begs inevitable questions such as, why didn't they inform their Messianic colleagues, and why would CatC then present such involvement as a united Messianic position? Or perhaps all this is nothing more than organisational mismanagement, the results of a statement not originally planned but hurried out at the last minute (apparently several Messianic delegates were told beforehand there would be no joint statement).
Whatever the confusion surrounding who was involved in producing the manifesto (and it needs to be sorted out quickly if some of the trust it's claimed was built up during the conference is not to melt away), there is no confusion about the manifesto, which is pretty unequivocal. You can read it here. Whether it becomes a landmark document or not only time will tell (it's not off to a particularly auspicious start), but I was struck immediately by several points.
First, the manifesto is all one-sided, with no reference whatsoever to Palestinian injustices or security concerns. As is so often the case when the "reconciliation" buzzword is used, much of this call for reconciliation seems to be one-way. True reconciliation, on the other hand, comes about when both sides concede errors and seek to move forward. As such I believe the document is a complete non-starter, grandstanding that merely speaks to the choir (whether anti-Israel or Christian anti-Zionist). I see little here that makes an objective individual who genuinely wants to move forward and reach out to the other side seek to do so. More's the pity, because we need to see less division and pejorative, polemical slanging and more respectful engagement and dialogue with each other, whether among believers in the region or between Christian Zionists and Christian anti-Zionists more generally.
Second is the attempt in point 3 to associate Christian Zionism with racism (which is, of course, a recurring theme for several CatC organisers). This is a straw man argument. Not only were the Jews God's chosen people in the Old Testament (meaning if it is racism today, it was then), but importantly Jewish identity is not based exclusively on race. Indeed the key here is Jewish identity, because the Jewish nation always included outsiders who came into covenant with the house and God of Israel. Crucially, however, they did not do so to establish or promote a rival national collective within wider Israel. They may have initially retained their national identities as individuals, but they became part of the nation of Israel as a corporate entity. Such assimilation is not racism, and the constant attempt to besmirch those who believe God has returned the Jewish people to the land as somehow racist not only lacks nuance, but in the way it is sometimes presented is nothing less than mischief-making.
Perhaps the most significant point in the manifesto is the very last one: "Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extreme Islam". This moves well beyond calls from some Evangelicals for respectful dialogue with Muslims and is code for calling Christians to understand the rise of Islamism and terrorism in light of Israel and the West. This was highly evident during Colin Chapman's presentation and responses to several questions afterwards. It is patent nonsense, of course; Islamism and Islamic violence existed long before the founding of the Jewish state in 1948. From what I know of some of the CatC delegates I was surprised to find this point included in a final statement (perhaps they too were not consulted on the manifesto), not only because it seem to contradict point 6, ("all forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally"), but it also makes it all the more difficult for people on the other side to engage objectively with the CatC position.
What are your views on the CatC manifesto? Is there anything here which might serve as a basis to get Christians on both sides talking to each other, or is it merely another example of preaching to the choir? Post your comments below, or click on one of the social media buttons below to forward the article and bring others into the conversation (would be good to have views from all sides).