“What now?” That question was on the mind of many delegates as they entered the closing session of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference on Thursday evening, March 10. The last four days had been full of challenging and perplexing presentations on religious extremism, especially as it related to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The evening was designed for inner reflection and calls to action. Following a time of worship led by musicians from Bethlehem Bible College, the conference’s resident poet Lucy Berry offered a set of poems, some inspired by the sessions of the previous days. Her final poem, “The Lion Lay Down with the Lamb,” imagined a day when individuals and nations actually owned up to the violence and injustice they had inflicted on others:
The Arabs and the Jews said:
The Christians and the Muslims said:
The black people and the white people said:
“That is enough now. I want to find out who you are.”
Lisa Sharon Harper, Chief Church Engagement Officer with Sojourners in Washington DC, continued the theme of repentance in her address, “The Gospel and the Extremism Within Us.” Drawing from Isaiah 58, she highlighted the danger of empty pious words, which are often a cover for the injustices that we ignore or perpetuate, both in our society and in ourselves. Repentance includes recognizing our call to act, and to offer“resistance to dehumanization, to the crushing of the image of God.”
Harper pointed out that when God created humanity in God’s own image God gave humans “dominion over the earth.” To be in the image of God, Harper explained, is “the freedom to maintain the wellness of creation, to protect the land.” Dominion is not domination–exercising power over creation and over other people.
The anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, she said, was a movement toward dominion, in which blacks reclaimed their ability to make choices, to be creative and eventually to extend forgiveness to their oppressors.“The logic of love meant ripping down policies where some are on top and others are on the bottom.”
To conclude, Harper asked delegates, “What will repentance look like for you?” She recapped the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus as a movement of resistance to the kingdoms of this world and in favor of “the movement of God.”
She invited delegates to sit in prayerful silence for a few moments and then stand as a sign of their fresh commitment to action in line with God’s kingdom. The hall then reverberated with the hymn often associated with the civil rights movement in the United States: “We shall overcome…. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday.”
The evening concluded with remarks by conference coordinator and BBC Academic Dean Munther Isaac, and a sending prayer by BBC President Jack Sara.
Isaac recapped the various thematic threads of the conference, including the humility that comes as we face various forms of the religious extremism around us. “Let us speak to the other. We need to build bridges, and we can’t do that with fear,” he said.
Isaac issued a plea to the international guests to keep making known the plight of the Palestinian church as they seek to be a gospel voice for peace and justice in the region, despite their diminished numbers. “We plead with you to help us to remain; we need you to be close to us, we need your prayers.”
In keeping with many other declarations of hope that conference speakers had issued, Isaac also exhorted the crowd: “Let’s continue to dream; we continue to dream because we have a great God.”