An international gathering of Christian leaders at a Baptist seminary in the Czech Republic explored ways for Israeli and Palestinian believers to build bridges between their communities.
Delegates from more than 20 countries unanimously adopted a “Prague Declaration” calling on the church to become an agent of healing instead of division in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It called for “great sensitivity” when making public statements about the situation and reconciliation between “Messianic” and Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.
The declaration came at the close of a Nov. 13-17 conference at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague titled “Christian Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”
“The Israel-Palestine situation is one of the most intractable for the world today, and generally we hear only about the difficulty of dialogue,” Keith Jones, rector of IBTS,” said in a press release. He termed it a “dangerous thing” to bring Christians from the differing perspectives to the table, but in the end, “We had a beautiful spirit of concern for moves toward reconciliation.”
Several thousand persons who broadly identify themselves as Messianic Jews reside in Israel today. Alongside them are about 150,000 who identify as Palestinian Christians. Most are aligned with the historic Orthodox or Catholic churches. Evangelicals are a small minority.
Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years created tension between the two groups. Palestinian Christians tend to feel solidarity for Arabs in the West Bank opposing occupation by Israel, while Messianic Jews are drawn to the right by their views on God’s promises to Israel in the Old and New Testaments.
“There has been a lot of tension between Messianic and Arab believers in Israel/Palestine through the years,” said Wesley Brown, adjunct professor of contextual missiology at IBTS and an organizer of the conference.
Often discriminated against in Israeli society and looked down upon as “traitors” for accepting Jesus as Messiah, Messianic Jews often feel they must “prove” their Jewish identity and loyalty to the state, said Brown, who lived 11 years in Jerusalem as Middle East representative for American Baptists. Some Messianic fellowships hold dispensationalist views, and a few are committed to the settler movement on the West Bank.
Palestinian Christians, meanwhile, often are angered by Zionist commitments of Messianic believers and their literalistic readings of Scripture.
The conference featured articulation and defense of both Christian Zionist and Palestinian Christian perspectives.
“Early in the conference we wondered if we could emerge with any kind of consensus,” Brown said. “So it was almost miraculous that we were finally able to affirm together the Prague Declaration.”
“Although believers in the Messiah share a common faith, there are great cultural, historical and language differences,” the Prague Declaration began. “Violent conflict, political ideologies and theological disparities cause divisions and create enemies. Both sides are emotionally charged by their pain and enmity; the conflict is a continuous struggle between two people.”
Delegates acknowledged “with deep regret the church’s historic role in anti-Semitism” and affirmed “the right of the State of Israel to exist, free from the threat of annihilation.”
They also acknowledged “with deep sorrow Christian indifference to and ignorance of Palestinian suffering. We affirm the right of Palestinian self-determination.”
The statement called on churches to partner with local ministries–both Messianic Jewish and Christian Arab–to respond to human need and influence governments to promote peace.
It called for “great sensitivity when making public statements about the situation or about other faiths, abstaining from statements that could endanger local believers or discredit their witness” and asked churches to “encourage reconciliation efforts in the Middle East.”
Delegates listed their prayers that:
–“Our churches will inform themselves and support the indigenous outreach/witness of the local Christian Arab and Messianic Jewish communities.
–“That all involved parties will seek God’s guidance in the pursuit of peace with justice by non-violent means.
–“The Church will exhibit a spirit of love and humility as they view the conflict.
–That the Church will be an agent of healing rather than a source of division in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.