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March 13, 2012 1:44 pm

Exclusive: Baptist Church in Bethlehem Declared Illegitimate By Palestinian Authority

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

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A week after Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told an audience of Evangelical Protestants from across the world that his government respected the rights of its Christian minorities, officials from the Palestinian Authority have informed Bethlehem pastor Rev. Naim Khoury that his church lacked 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 will have a real impact on the members of First Baptist, which endured numerous bomb attacks during the First Intifada.

“They said that our legitimacy as a church from a governmental point of view is not approved,” said Khoury’s son, Steven, who serves as an assistant pastor at First Baptist. “They said they will not recognize any legal paper work 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. This conference, which took place from March 5 through March 9, 2012 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.

During the opening night of the conference, Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad told the assembly that his government respected the rights of Christians. Palestinians celebrate religious holidays together, PA officials attend Christmas celebrations and even attend Midnight Mass for Christmas, Fayyad said.

“This is what it means to be a Palestinian,” Fayyad said, adding that the PA feels a deep sense of responsibility for the holy places and will allow unfettered access to places of spiritual significance in areas under its control.

Nevertheless, there is a sense among Christians in Bethlehem that anti-Christian animus has gotten worse in the city over the past few years, Khoury said. “People are always telling them, ‘Convert to Islam. Convert to Islam. It’s the true and right religion.'”

This is the second time the church has been told it is operating without PA sanction, Khoury said. Other churches in Bethlehem are left alone, said Khoury, who suggested that the church’s love for both the Jewish and Arab people and its belief that both can live in the land in peace 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, Khoury said.

“We believe it’s people who don’t like what we’re doing and the message we offer,” he said.

The church’s message of reconciliation flies in the face of the propaganda that permeates Palestinian society. Muslim clerics routinely offer up anti-Semitic rants on PA television and so-called peace activists have turned the concrete sections of the security barrier in Bethlehem into a canvas for their propaganda, which in some instances proffers a troubling fatalism to its viewers.

For example one section of the security barrier near the Alrowad refugee camp in Bethlehem depicts two Palestinian youths throwing rocks and another  being arrested by Israeli soldiers. Alongside the image, the artist has written in French and English the phrase “We can’t live, So we wait for death.”

Khoury 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,” Khoury said.

Khoury said he will speak to members of Congress in the United States to draw attention to what is happening to First Baptist in Bethlehem.

“We did let them know that we’re not going to go quietly on this,” Khoury said. “We want our church to be fully recognized equally with all the other recognized denominations. Our church deserves the right to be equally recognized amongst all the other recognized denominations in the PA.”

Joann Magnuson, a long-time observer of Christian communities in the West Bank, said she has known the Khourys for at least 15 years.

“I know them to be serious Christians, busy caring for their flock and preaching the gospel of love and forgiveness,” she said. “It’s seems more than coincidence that the Christ at the Checkpoint conference ended and now the Khourys are being targeted.”

At the time of publication the PLO Mission in Washington, D.C. has not responded to The Algemeiner’s request for comment on these allegations. This story will be updated as information allows.

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  • Andy

    it would be nice to have an update attached to this article. are their weddings and the likes recognised or not?

  • Andy

    for those who say the land belongs to the Jews because God gave it to them, why was it they lost the land, what about the warnings of the prophets about rejecting God and not acting justly, Israel is a secular state that does not act in accordance with the conditions required for the fulfilment of the promise according to the bible and not just cherry picked promises. Christians are given the commission by Jesus and should seek to fulfil that rather than get caught up in supporting Israel as a state, that is not what Christians are told to do by Jesus under the new covenant. instead they are told to go firstly to the Jews and then the Gentiles to make disciples. Sadly much effort, pray and funding is diverted from the commission into supporting the secular state of Israel. Christians should surely believe that anyone who isn’t a Christian is going to Hell which will include all Jews in Israel and around the world along with all other non believers and that should be the focus of their effort, to see conversions and then disciple as Jesus told them to rather than to see the establishment of a secular state for the Jews. Yes we all should oppose racial hatred but that is not just of the Jews but also of the Palestinians or any other group. For God so loved the world… Jew and Gentile… that He gave His only Son. Sadly many seem more intent on supporting Israel the secular state rather than expressing the love of God to Jew and Palestinian. To many focus on the few Jews who sadly are killed while justifying the death of many Palestinians including children. Where is the love of God expressed for them? It is easy to get caught up in the beliefs of zionism and so lose all humanity and love for the non Jews. Surly Christians should like God love both equally and seek to see them discipled in obedience to Jesus. Surely Christians should be praying for a love for Jew and Palestinian and for workers to harvest as Jesus told them to. Where in the teaching of Jesus does it say support secular governments, submit to them yes but surely Christians should be focusing on doing what God actually tells them to do.

    • Dicksie

      I agree with you, Andy. Are you part of any group supporting Palestinian rights. I am an evangelical who would like to see Palestinian rights supporting. I am attending Christ at the Checkpoint by Bethlehem Bible College this March.

  • james

    I don’t agree with all pastor Naim views , but to be fair to Mr Naim Khoury he is a man of God , whether he is pro israel or whatever .
    Seeing first hand , pastor Naim and his wife are doing great work for lots of palestinian Christian families .
    Pastor Naim makes it possible for many people that I personally know , met or spoke with to mange a very hard situation .
    They help so many in different ways to keep them fed , employed and of course teaching and preaching the word of God.
    Pastor Naim is real and has dedicated his life to help others.
    He deserves recognition from the palestinian authority and other churches in israel and the west bank , which will enable him to do much more for Christians on both sides.

    We are very unfair by judging him for his views .
    He can’t make some happy but he is making God happy and many christians .

  • Iris Blue

    I only found this looking for a way to contact Brother
    Khoury. I met him, his family and church members a long time ago, while just on a tour and wanting to go to church.
    It was a wonderful experience. I know Jesus was a Jew and He said: “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son, That whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he is not believe in the name of the only son of God. And this is the judgment; the light has come into the world, and the people love the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his work should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
    I didn’t know the difference between Jew, Muslim, Catholic or Protestant and was a very undesirable and 35 years ago someone with a heart like Brother Khoury told me this Jesus could forgive and change even someone like me.
    Brother Khoury, his family and his church seem to be trying to do what Jesus told us to do. He is loving even those that hate him. It seems to me those that are trying to close them down and slander him are afraid of them or at least their message, that Jesus can save the whole world, because He loves the whole world.
    I don’t know who is in on all of this, but I will pray. That church will be on every prayer chain I know of, and they know of.

  • Jean-Pierre Katz

    Persecution of Christians by Muslims in the Holy Land is not well known.
    The Wikpedia Encyclopedia has an article about Taybeh, the only majority Christian town in the Holy Land.

    “In September 2005, hundreds of Muslim men from nearby villages torched homes and vehicles in Taybeh in response to the honor killing of a 30-year old Muslim woman from Deir Jarir who was said to have been romantically involved with a Christian from Taybeh. [15]The mob also destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary”

    Christians are respected and tolerated if they tow the line, conform to Muslim superiority and hate Judaism.

  • Let’s be fair

    There are injustices occurring toward Christians on both sides of the wall. Here is a link to an article which illustrates a similar problem on the Israeli side of the wall and Israeli authorities. I am not seeking to demonize either side but simply trying to point out that it is not fair to critique one side and ignore injustice on the other.

    • james

      You sound like you know what you are taking about .
      Thank you for voicing your opnion and not being bias .
      Christians are In a tuff position regardless of where they live inside Israel or behind the walls.

  • Abu Habeeb

    This is a false story. Nothing true about it.i checked it for myself and the church hasn’t been closed as the pastors wife confirmed that to one of my friends. Please, verify such news before you claim it’s exclusive while I read it in various websites before yours.

    Here is the answer to this issue

    • Abu:

      The article to which you are replying does not state the church was closed. It merely states that it was visited by the PA and told it was illegitimate the day after the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. Rev. Steven Khoury has reaffirmed this story in another public statement.

      I don’t mean to insult you, but how well do you read English? I’m asking because as I re-read the article myself, I am struggling to determine exactly what part of it indicates the church was “closed.’ In fact, I reported “The church can still gather to pray, for now…”

      That demonstrates that the church was not closed. So we are in agreement on this fact, and yet you say the article is false for stating the church was “closed.”

      The article is in fact, exclusive, in that it was the first public description of what actually transpired, and was the first interview with Steven Khoury about the events.

      Please, Abu, try to read the article first before responding and when you do respond, respond to what it actually says and not to what other websites have reported.

      I may be culturally inscribed, but that’s how we roll, (or at least try to roll), in the West.


      Dexter Van Zile

  • Nabil Abdo

    please note that both naim and his son are both not telling the truth at all\
    I got these information .
    1-Saterday is a holiday and the Ministry of interior in the PNA is not working Saturdays and therefore no body at all handed any decision to Naim’s church at all
    2-The church of Naim khury was not a legal one at all in order to be declared it as illegal
    IN THE fUTURE I HOPE THAT the author of this article must follow the truth otherwise he and the newspaper will lose credibility as naim and his son already lost it long time ago

    Nabil a christian Palestinian living in Bethlehem

  • Nabil

    Both naim and his son are both liars they don’t have a legal church first of all that it have been on Saterday delegimized ,I also checked with the interior ministry if they sent something to Mr Naim church .they told me that it is a holiday on Saterday and even though they don’t send him anything you talk about in your article
    Be careful in the future in order to keep credibility ,and stop writing against the PLO

  • ***”They said that our legitimacy as a church from a governmental point of view is not approved,” said Khoury’s son, Steven, who serves as an assistant pastor at First Baptist. “They said they will not recognize any legal paper work from our church.”***

    Now this is interesting, and your newspaper should research it, before printing Khoury’s crocodile tears. Fact is that Naim and Steven Khoury are also 1. pro-Israël activists funded by American and European Endtime christians, and 2. are selling pieces of Palestinian land with fake certificates. See:

    Suspicious Bethlehem land sale netted by consumer watchdog

    • Peter

      Hi Sonja,

      I would advice you to talk to Steven before making the claims you did. Pro-Israel? They are pro Jesus, and nothing else. As for your second point, again if you talk to Steven, or even Naim Sr., you will find that this docep website used names without authorizations as they would not give it as it is not true.

      What the Khoury’s preach is love and forgiveness towards anyone, if that is their crime, they are more than willing to suffer for it, as it is why many Christians were martyred (gave their lives to save other) over the last 200 years.



      • Peter

        sorry 2000 years

      • Sonja

        If these people were ‘pro-Jesus’ an teaching ‘love and forgiveness’, they wouldn’t travel the world to put money in their pockets from people who advocate theft, ethnic cleansing and, of course, their prophecy that their God will put upon the (non-converted) jews the biggest Holocaust ever, so they can have eternal life with their God as a reward.

  • kate brennan

    It would do all Christians to read Jesus’ words

    a) He never became a Christian he remained a Torah observant Jew.
    b) He never abolished the law Matthew 5:17-21
    c) As Paul states, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into Heaven “the covenants and the promises to Israel (the Jews) is IRREVOCABLE

    JESUS is not a Palestinian, Israel was named Palestine in 135A.D. by Hadrian the Roman. Jesus is a Jew, Immanuel (God with us – Isaiah 9:6) and as Acts 1 states he will be returning to restore the Kingdom to Israel. He will reign from Zion, where the law (Torah) will go forth from Jerusalem.

    The very fact Israel is back in the covenanted land proves the Torah and New Testament. REad Ezekiel 35 – 39, it presumes at the very end, Israel will be back in her land and another nation says let us make these 2 nations and these 2 countries our own so that the name of Israel will be no more……that can’t be Israel, can it? So, get with the programme, our Father in Heaven’s programme.

    The land of Israel cannot be “OCCUPIED” with Jews, as it was truly occupied with Roman’s at Jesus’ birth, it is the plan of God and proves that He is Sovereign and nothing can change His plan.

    Jesus died for sins, if you’ve cast your sins upon Him and He is the substitute for you (Isaiah 52-53) then stop sinning (breaking God’s commandments) take the beam out of your own eyes before you take the splinter out of others, and be humble enough to read His word – it’s eternal.

    Peace in Messiah, Yeshua, the eternal Jew, Immanuel.

    • John McNab

      As Paul states, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into Heaven “the covenants and the promises to Israel (the Jews) is IRREVOCABLE
      In that case why did Jesus waste time trying to convince Jews of anything at all? What did they need him for? Why did he not just go straight to the gentiles? And why did the gentiles need to be saved by Jesus when according to Judaism and the law a gentile can be saved by following the Noahide law?
      Your version of Christianity has been corrupted and molded to make it less offensive to Jews. In doing that you’ve destroyed the social function of Christianity which has traditionally been to provide Europeans with a defence against organised Jewry. Without that defence the average European society can easily be taken over by the Jews.
      Its not enough to just read the Bible. There is much more to Christianity and Judaism than what you will find there.

      • Stevie the K

        “the social function of Christianity which has traditionally been to provide Europeans with a defence against organised Jewry. Without that defence the average European society can easily be taken over by the Jews.”


      • “Your version of Christianity has been corrupted and molded to make it less offensive to Jews. In doing that you’ve destroyed the social function of Christianity which has traditionally been to provide Europeans with a defence against organised Jewry. Without that defence the average European society can easily be taken over by the Jews.”

        Similar arguments were made in Poland in the 1930s.

        Dark times then, dark times now.

    • Pastor AL

      If I may make two comments,
      you said
      “b) He never abolished the law Matthew 5:17-21”

      In the verses you quote Jesus said Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

      “but to fulfill” the law. Jesus also said

      Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

      ALL the Law and the prophets (the entire Old Testament) hang on these 2 commandments, love God and the NEW commandment love your neighbor.

      And yes this is a NEW commandment, Jesus said so in
      John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

      My second comment is this, as much as I appreciate your “invitation” in the last paragraph, I would reword it, due to your “stop sinning” comment.

      Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is a wonderful offer of forgiveness of sins.

      #1 it requires that one come to a point of agreeing with God’s word that we are all guilty of sin (breaking his commandments)

      #2 recognizing that it was because of our sin, that the Lord Jesus Christ willing suffered and bled and died. For this understanding to be sincere it should bring one to a point of repentance. Which is not “to stop sinning” which would then beome a “legalistic work” on our part, but rather repentance is a change of mind about sin, due a godly sorrow for our sin. This results in a hearts change about sin, and a willingness to turn from our habit and desire for sin and turn unto God. This is life changing repentance and a very necessary ingredient of true salvation.

      #3 And then calling on the name of the Lord, trusting in Jesus as your Saviour. No longer trusting in your good deeds which are as filthy rags before the Lord. Trusting in Jesus to save you, not trusting in money you put in a plate, or good deeds you do for your neighbors (which ought to be the fruit of genuine salvation, but does not “save” anyone)

      This is the true gospel
      Acts 20:21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

    • Bonecrusher

      Amen sister! Keep spreading THE TRUTH as you have done here. Very well said.

  • kaytee rath

    In the comment you state that PA has no authority to recognise churches.Then you state that PA grants civil rights and has authority to protect churches.God bless you,anyway.

  • Palestinian Goverment Media Center

    Before publishing this report, it was worth contacting the PA to ask about this issue, and if there was decision to close this church as they claimed, in the first place. The PA itself doesn’t authorize or recognize churches, it’s a wider process that includes the approval of a regional council for churches. As if you don’t know, there are 13 churches in Palestine that the PA recognize and the certificate issued by it, including, the Protestants, Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox and Copts dominations. The Christian community here is fully supported and protected by the PA and it institutions. Their rights of belief and worshipping is granted , as well as their civil rights.

    • A Christian Palestinian

      The Christ at the Checkpoint Conference was a total success, not only Palestinian evangelists said so, but Catholics and even Muslims residents and none residents who followed the conference live on the web-site.

      We never felt undermined as Christians in the holy land, but rather equal citizens under ruthless occupation, with The Nativity Church bombarded by Israel in 2004, while the whole world watches. The PA with its humble means, have defended Christians as equal citizens. Christians from all denominations, Muslims and the PA were hand in hand for the same Nobel cause, to build A peaceful state with our neighbours. I do not see a reason for such an attack on the PA, but to jepordize the religious freedom in Palestine.

      • “I do not see a reason for such an attack on the PA, but to jepordize the religious freedom in Palestine.”

        I do not see how the article above would undermine or jeopardize religious freedom in the West Bank, unless of course, the status of religious rights is in a precarious situation. If exposing the discrimination against First Baptist church undermines the cause of religious freedom under the PA, which by the way, embraces Shariah, then it is not true religious freedom. True religious freedom cannot be contingent on staying quiet about discrimination.

      • siggy

        You are right of course.

        Why else would Christians be leaving in record numbers?

        Remember Sabra and Shatilla? Do you believe the Christians reacted out of love when they attacked the Palestinians?

        As for religious freedom, there are others who clearly don’t see things through your rose colored lenses.

        They are called realists.

      • Thomas

        A success by what measure? You mention ruthless occupation and a bombing. Might the bombing been related to wanted Palestinian militants seeking refuge in the church? Your speech sounds like you are a student of revisionist history. Are you so sure the PA wants peaceful co-existence or only that until they have enough missiles to start lobbing at Israel again? As a Christian you surely realize God’s covenant as far as the Holy Land and the Jewish people, or don’t you?

    • “Before publishing this report, it was worth contacting the PA to ask about this issue, and if there was decision to close this church as they claimed, in the first place.”

      There are two issues with this sentence written above.

      First, I contacted the PLO mission in Washington, D.C. and asked for a response. As the article states, the PLO Mission did not respond in time for publication, but the Algemeiner stated it will update the article as information allows.

      Second, no one at the church stated the PA had ordered the church to be closed, as you state above. What happened? The church’s pastor was visited by PA officials who stated the church was not recognized by the PA and as a result, its birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates would not be acknowledged. Clearly, this is a hindrance to the exercise of their rights as citizens in the PA.

      The fact that some Christian churches are accorded recognition by the PA, as you stated, does not eliminate the discrimination endured by the people who are members of First Baptist Church in Bethlehem.

    • siggy

      I wonder if the Palestinian Goverment Media Center recognizes Judaism as religious entity.

      Given the refusal to repair vandalized Jewish holy places despite promises to do so, state sponsored anti Jewish curriculum and media programming, the question is a fair one.

      I won’t hold my breath waiting for an answer.