Ten years ago this month, 13 Palestinian Christian clerics issued the now-famous Kairos Palestine document at a Bethlehem conference organized to oppose Christian Zionism. This formal declaration from the Palestinian Christian community rebuked Israeli occupation and called on the international community, and particularly the church, to stand with Palestinians against Israel.
Western Christians should heed the cries of their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. But they should also recognize that Kairos Palestine is a one-sided attempt to manipulate theology for a nationalist agenda.
The document outlines Palestinian grievances like settlements, the separation barrier, and the refugee crisis. Though these challenges exist, the authors of Kairos seem unbothered by the way many Palestinians have addressed these grievances through extreme violence directed against Israeli civilians. The authors neglect to mention suicide bombings in public areas, attacks on school buses, stabbings, kidnappings, rape, and torture; instead, they unironically blame Palestinian terrorism on Israel. “Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation,” they write. “However, if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.” Palestinian terrorists are portrayed as mindless automatons driven to commit barbaric acts by “the evil of the occupation.”
Not only do the authors give terrorists a pass, they say that resistance against Israel is a “right and a duty” for all Christians. This is a theological argument, and a novel one. Most of the Kairos authors are supporters of liberation theology, a dogma that claims that Jesus preached political resistance to unjust regimes as a form of earthly salvation. They point to passages of scripture like Matthew 5 where Jesus instructs his followers to walk two miles instead of one, which is an act of resistance because Roman law forbade soldiers to force local subjects to carry heavy loads for more than a mile. Liberation theologians do not, however, explain why Jesus would still tell Jews to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” when asked whether to pay taxes.
Kairos calls for nonviolent “creative” resistance that engages the enemy’s humanity. Such resistance may include civil disobedience or boycotts on Israeli products. In the same paragraph, the authors condemn antisemitism even though many Jews see boycotts as inherently antisemitic for their fixation on Israel to the exclusion of nearby despotisms like Syria and Saudi Arabia.
It is hard to look at Kairos as anything other than a manifesto of nationalist theology. In this sense the document’s authors are guilty of the same error they attribute to Christian Zionists, albeit on behalf of another nation. Filtering Christian doctrine through the lens of the Palestinian experience, they elevate political liberation over individual redemption and twist the Gospel to serve their purposes.
The Bible is full of discussions about injustice and gives deep insight on how to confront the knotty dilemmas of this world. But it is hardly a manual on liberation. Even as it addresses injustice it also spreads the blame so as to leave no one—not even the prophet—innocent before God.
The self-righteous posture of the Kairos authors would be well served by turning a few pages to Matthew chapter 7, and especially verse 5: “Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”