By: Shelley Neese
Replacement Theology—the belief that the Christian Church replaced Israel in God’s plan—has found a new home in the work of the Sabeel Center—the Jerusalem-based ecumenical organization for Palestinian Christians. After experiencing decades of decline and total rejection by many denominations, Replacement Theology has resurfaced in the form of Palestinian Liberation Theology (PLT)—a theological movement pushed by Sabeel. PLT rejects the eternalness of God’s promises to the Jewish people based on a dangerous manipulation of scripture. PLT’s goal is to radically reinterpret the Bible to make it more relevant to Palestinians and less partial to Jews. PLT grew out of the Liberation Theology movement popularized in Latin America in the 1970s and 80s, a faddy form of Christian socialism where Replacement Theology met Marxism. They emphasized oppression of the poor and encouraged political activism to abolish perpetual class struggle. The rich were against God by way of their wealth, and the poor were privileged by way of their poverty. The Bible was reduced to nothing more than stories about the poor and the persecuted.
The heyday of Liberation Theology was its inception. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the failure of Marxist revolutionary movements in Latin America, Liberation Theology lost most of its justification and influence. The premise did appeal to Palestinians, because of its favor for the underdog and its potential to de-Zionize the Old Testament.
It’s no secret that Israel’s founding ignited a theological crisis in the Palestinian Christian community. The Abrahamic covenants and Old Testament prophecies justified Israel’s national rebirth. According to Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Center, the Torah was seen as a “Zionist text” and became “repugnant” to Palestinians. Palestinian Christians needed a new theology that would in Ateek’s words “liberate God from the Old Testament.”
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