Baptist Church in Bethlehem (Palestine) declared illegitimate by Palestinian Authority

“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.

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.

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