Palestine: Church Disapproved by PA

June 8, 2012 at 6:30 am | Posted in VOM Fridays | Leave a comment
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Palestine: Church Disapproved by PA

Officials from the Palestinian Authority (PA) have informed pastor Naim Khoury of Bethlehem’s First Baptist Church that his church lacks the authority to function as a religious institution under the PA. The church can still gather to pray for now, but the PA’s decision, conveyed on Saturday, March 10, will have a real effect on church members.

They said that our legitimacy as a church from a governmental point of view is not approved,” said the pastor’s son, Steven, who serves as an assistant pastor at First Baptist. “They said they will not recognize any legal paperwork from our church. That includes birth certificates, wedding certificates and death certificates. Children are not even considered to be legitimate if they don’t have recognized paperwork.”

The irony, Steven said, is that the PA’s announcement comes right after the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. The conference, which took place from March 5 through March 9, was a gathering of approximately 600 evangelical Protestants from across the globe (mostly from the United States) to discuss the theology of Christian Zionism, which some evangelicals believe increases the prospect of violence in the Middle East and gives support to Israeli policies that they do not like.

There is a sense among some Christians in Bethlehem that anti-Christian animus has increased in the city over the past few years. “People are always telling them, ‘Convert to Islam, convert to Islam; it’s the true and right religion,’” Steven said.

Steven said this is the second time the church has been told it is operating without PA approval. He said other churches in Bethlehem are left alone, suggesting that First Baptist’s love for both the Jewish and Arab people may have played a role in the PA’s decision. Prior to the PA, the church, which was founded in 1980, never had a problem with its paperwork. “We believe it’s people who don’t like what we’re doing and the message we offer,” Steven said.

The church’s message of reconciliation flies in the face of the propaganda that permeates Palestinian society. Steven said the Palestinian Authority needs to treat all sects with equality and respect their rights. “The First Baptist Church in Bethlehem has demonstrated its value to the community over the years and proven itself to be a law-abiding church,” he said.

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