Where are Empowered21 and Oral Roberts University Headed in Relation to Israel?

August 17, 2015

7 min read

Tricia Miller

The future stance of Empowered21 (E21) and Oral Roberts University (ORU) towards Israel is uncertain due to the relationship between these two organizations and ORU mega-donor Mart Green. As a result of the $250 million he has contributed since 2008, Green has an inordinate amount of leverage over the perspective of ORU and E21, which is headquartered on the campus of the Christian college in Tulsa, OK.

Green’s extensive involvement in both of these organizations in relation to their eventual viewpoint towards Israel is cause for concern because he financed the production of the 2010 anti-Israel documentary, “Little Town of Bethlehem.” This film presents a one-sided and fallacious Palestinian narrative that portrays Israel as a brutal occupier, while ignoring the existential threats facing the state of Israel.

The absence of any public evidence that indicates Green has changed his beliefs in respect to the Jewish State since the production of the documentary raises the question of just how much he will prejudice the final position ORU and E21 take concerning Israel.

The Relationship between E21, ORU and Mart Green

Empowered21 is a relatively new Christian organization that claims to represent 640,000,000 evangelical and pentecostal Christians around the globe. Since these Christians constitute the part of Christendom that has historically supported Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, the stand this movement takes in relation to Israel will have a significant impact on Christian support for Israel worldwide.

This global movement is the result of an initiative launched in 2008 by the Board of Trustees of Oral Roberts University when the newly formed board, under the leadership of Mardel founder Mart Green, “began work on clarifying the mission of the university for 21st century ministry.”

ORU was founded by Oral Roberts, a Pentecostal Methodist evangelist who was a strong supporter of the State of Israel. Before Mart Green formed the new Board of Trustees in 2008, the Board had included pro-Israel activists such as Pastor John Hagee, the founder of the two million strong grassroots movement, Christians United for Israel.

Green became the chairman of the new board in 2008 in “return for the donation” of $70 million intended to save the evangelical Christian school from a financial crisis that included tens of millions of dollars of debt. Mart stepped down as chairman in April 2014 but remains a member of the board, and his father David, CEO/Founder of the Hobby Lobby retail chain, is a member of ORU’s Board of Reference.

Mart Green and the ORU Board of Trustees asked The International Center for Spiritual Renewal in Cleveland TN, then under the leadership of Dr. William “Billy” Wilson, to facilitate the 2008 initiative that inaugurated the Empowered21 movement. At the time, Wilson was also the vice-chair of the ORU Board of Trustees.

On January 31, 2013, this same Board of Trustees elected Billy Wilson as the fourth president of the university. When Wilson assumed the position of president of ORU on July 1, 2013, the E21 initiative went to ORU with him. Consequently, the vision for E21 – initiated by Green in 2008 – has become an integral, if not primary, part of the mission of ORU, and Wilson is both president of ORU and chairman of E21, all as a result of the financial clout of Mart Green.

Concern over how Green’s view of Israel could prejudice the future position ORU and E21 take concerning the Jewish State is heightened by the fact that a few months after Wilson was elected as the new president of ORU, he accepted an invitation to speak at the 2014 anti-Israel “Christ at the Checkpoint” (CaTC) conference sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) in Bethlehem, a prominent purveyor of anti-Israel propaganda.

BBC and the biannual conferences it hosts promote a Palestinian version of replacement theology that not only teaches that Christians have replaced Jews in the purposes of God, but rewrites the Bible by making the false historical claim that the Palestinians – not the Jews – are the indigenous people of the land. The logical outworking of this theology is the identification of Jesus as a Palestinian, which is in direct contradiction to the Scriptures these Christians claim to believe.

This erroneous conclusion means that the Palestinian people are the rightful owners of the land, which serves their political agenda very nicely by delegitimizing the existence of the Jewish State. It also works hand-in-hand with Palestinian liberation theology, which depicts Palestinians as victims who need to be liberated from Israeli occupation.

When he spoke in Bethlehem in 2014, Wilson stated that he did not share the Christian Palestinians’ belief in replacement theology. However, he did not refute their liberation theology.

Wilson’s involvement in the conference gave the Palestinian movement increased credibility in the evangelical world, and it was a portend of things to come. In May 2015, Jack Sara, the president of Bethlehem Bible College, was an invited participant in E21’s Global Congress, which was held in Jerusalem and co-chaired by Wilson.

Throughout the conference in Jerusalem, there was a concerted emphasis on the importance of Christian unity and the need to stand with Palestinian Christians. This suggests that E21 and ORU may become aligned with the Palestinian anti-Jewish, anti-Israel narrative, which is nothing more than a new form of Christian anti-Semitism tailor-made for an evangelical audience.

Mart Green and the “Little Town of Bethlehem”

The potential alignment of E21 and ORU with the erroneous Palestinian narrative becomes even more troubling in light of Mart Green’s involvement with anti-Israel activists featured in the 2010 documentary he funded, titled “Little Town of Bethlehem.” The film pretends to provide multiple viewpoints of the Arab-Israeli conflict through the testimony of a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew. But in reality, the film offers a single narrative of Palestinian victimization and Israeli violence that is nothing more than a combination of “anti-Israel activism with a theological backdrop.”

“Little Town of Bethlehem” was produced by EthnoGraphic Media (EGM), which is financed by Green and headquartered in the Green family’s Hobby Lobby complex in Oklahoma City, OK. According to its LinkIn profile, EGM is “a revolutionary film and new media group exploring the critical issues of our time…We strive to be catalysts – entry points to social change – through film and grassroot programs.”

Its Facebook “About” page identifies EGM as a nonprofit organization whose “purpose is to serve by sharing true stories that take on the most difficult subjects…and we do not flinch when it comes to presenting raw subject matter or raising difficult questions.” The conflict in the Holy Land is one of the questions mentioned, and in relation to this subject, EGM asks, “Will a nonviolent movement bring lasting peace?”

Mart Green’s answer to this question is found in his production of the “Little Town of Bethlehem,” which was advised and assisted by the Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian organization that supports boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, conducts politicized tours that target evangelical leaders with its anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian propaganda, and is a co-sponsor of the biannual Christ at the Checkpoint conference.

The documentary presents the personal experiences of three men: Sami Awad, an evangelical Christian leader; Ahmad Al’Azzeh, a Muslim; and Yonatan Shapira, a former Israel Defense Forces pilot. While the involvement of these three presumably provides a Christian, Muslim and Jewish perspective, all three of them tell the same story – that Palestinians are innocent victims of an oppressive Israeli occupation, much like the Roman occupation in the time of Jesus.

Sami Awad is the founder and executive director of the Holy Land Trust (HLT), and is also the son of Bishara Awad, the founder of Bethlehem Bible College. The HLT website states:

Holy Land Trust exists to lead in creating an environment that fosters understanding, healing, transformation, and empowerment of individuals and communities, locally and globally, to address core challenges that are preventing the achievement of a true and just peace in the Holy Land.

However, HLT supports the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), which according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, seeks to destroy Israel by demonizing the Jewish State as a 21st Century Apartheid regime. This is not an action that promotes “the achievement of a true and just peace in the Holy Land.”

Speaking at the National Leadership Conference for the Vineyard Church in 2009, Awad stated, “We’ve actually done training in non-violence for Hamas leaders and other militant groups as well.” Since Hamas makes it clear in its charter that it intends “to fight the Jews and kill them”and replace Israel with an Islamic state, the only thing Awad’s so-called “training” in non-violence does is give Hamas some unwarranted credibility.

Ahmad Al’Azzeh, the Muslim featured in the film, has served as an activities coordinator for HLT and is the field coordinator for “Musicians without Borders,” which works in cooperation with HLT. Al’Azzeh is an advocate of a one-state solution, which means the establishment of a Palestinian state through the destruction of the Jewish state.

Al’Azzeh may think a one-state solution will bring about a true and just peace for Palestinians, but the destruction of Israel will most certainly not result in peace or justice for any of its citizens, Jew and non-Jew alike.

Yonatan Shapira is a former Israeli air force pilot turned anti-Israel activist. He is involved in “Breaking the Silence,” an organization that claims to collect the testimonies of disenchanted soldiers who served during the Second Intifada. However, the charges of “war crimes” against Israel are all based on “anonymous and unverifiable hearsay ‘testimonies.’”

Shapira is also involved in the BDS movement, and participated in the “Free Gaza” flotilla in 2010 and another flotilla attempt in 2011. These are not the activities of a person who is working towards peace with an existent Jewish State. Rather, as this picture demonstrates, they are the activities of someone who is working for a Palestinian state, which as Mahmoud Abbas declared on July 29, 2013, will be Judenrein.

Sami Awad and the Holy Land Trust support the BDS movement and offer training for Hamas, whose reason d’etre is to kill the Jews and replace Israel with an Islamic state.

Ahmad Al’Azzeh works with the HLT and advocates for a one-state solution, which also means the destruction of the Jewish State.

Yonatan Shapiro is involved in an organization that demonizes Israel through unverifiable means, supports BDS, and participates in anti-Israel flotillas.

These are the only testimonies presented in the one-sided, anti-Israel documentary financed by Mart Green.

In light of the fact that “Little Town of Bethlehem” is still advertised on EGM’s Facebook page, and in the absence of any public statement from Green that indicates his perspective concerning Israel has changed since the production of the documentary, one has to wonder just how much his negative view of Israel will prejudice the future stance of ORU and E21 towards Israel.

If the involvement of Sami Awad and the screening of “Little Town of Bethlehem” at Empowered21’s “Converge21 USA” conference at Regent University in Virginia in 2012, and the inclusion of Jack Sara in Empowered21’s Global Congress in Jerusalem in 2015 are any indication, the final position of E21 and ORU will not be good for Israel.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Camera

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