Dr Rev. Stephen Sizer is a Vicar at Christ Church, Virginia Water and an area Tutor at the School of Theology, Westminster College Oxford. He holds several positions of a trustee and is renowned for his lectures on Christian Zionism. He besides having numerous articles published on the Palestinian issue also has a book published by Eagle Publishers, The Panorama of the Holy Land, a spiritual tour guide of important sites in Palestine.
A Definition: What is Christian Zionism?
At its simplest, Christian Zionism has been defined as 'Christian support for Zionism.' In 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 3379 defining Zionism as, 'a form of racism and racial discrimination.' Contemporary Christian Zionism is in part a reaction to increasing world-wide criticism of Israel's form of apartheid.
So, for example, in 1967, following the passing of U.N. Resolution 242 condemning Israel's occupation of the West Bank when the entire international community closed their embassy's in Jerusalem, the International Christian Embassy moved to Jerusalem expressly to show solidarity with Israel.
Christian Zionists see themselves as defenders of and apologists for the Jewish people and in particular, the State of Israel. This support involves opposing those deemed to be critical of, or hostile toward Israel. Anti-Zionism is equated quite wrongly with anti-Semitism. Yet it is also rare therefore to find Christian Zionists who feel a similar compassion or solidarity with the Palestinians. Walter Riggans defines the term 'Christian Zionist' in an overtly political sense as, '...any Christian who supports the Zionist aim of the sovereign State of Israel, its army, government, education etc; but it can describe a Christian who claims to support the State of Israel for any reason.'
The History of Christian Zionism
In Der Judenstaat, published in 1896, Theodor Herzl forcefully articulated the aspirations of Jewish Zionists for their own homeland, but the Zionist dream was largely nurtured and shaped by Christian Zionists especially from the 1820's long before it was able to inspire widespread Jewish support a century later. This was in part a result of the rise of Evangelicalism - a belief in the literal interpretation of the Bible and especially the Hebrew scriptures, the growth in travel literature about the Middle East, the rise of 19th Western pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and above all by French and British Colonialist strategies for controlling the Middle East as a bridgehead to the trade routes to India and China. British politicians like Lord Shaftesbury, Palmerston, Lloyd George, Balfour, T.E. Lawrence and General Allenby were all Christian Zionists. Just one example, Writing to the British ambassador in Constantinople in 1840, Lord Palmerston claimed, There exists at the present time among the Jews dispersed over Europe, a strong notion that the time is approaching when their nation is to return to Palestine... It would be of manifest importance to the Sultan to encourage the Jews to return and to settle in Palestine because the wealth which they would bring with them would increase the resources of the Sultan's dominions; and the Jewish people, if returning under the sanction and protection and at the invitation of the Sultan, would be a check upon any future evil designs of Mohamet Ali or his successor... I have to instruct Your Excellency strongly to recommend [the Turkish government] to hold out every just encouragement to the Jews of Europe to return to Palestine. In the 20th Century many leading American politicians were Christian Zionists including Ronald Reagan and Jimmie Carter.
The Theology of Christian Zionism
Christian Zionism originated essentially in the 1820's when a group of influential Christian leaders began to speculate that promises made in the Hebrew scriptures that has not been yet fulfilled literally must therefore await future fulfilment. So for example the borders of the land promised to Abraham and the descendents of Isaac - from the Nile to the Euphrates - will Christian Zionists claim, become the future borders of the State of Israel. Because the Jewish temple as described by the prophet Ezekiel has never been built, it must one day be built in place of the Masjidul al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. Promises made during the exile of Jews in Babylon in the 5th Century BC are made to apply 2500 years later to the emigration of Soviet Jews to Palestine today. It is this biblical literalism - where every word must be taken literally and unconditionally - that fuels Christian Zionism. Instead of allowing Jesus and his Apostles to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures they are made to speak about present and future events almost as if the Christian Scriptures were never written. Just one quote from the New testament that refutes this position.
2. Covenant Chosenness
Because of their biblical literalism Christian Zionists believe that the Jews remain God's chosen people and have a unique relationship to God. The promises made to Abraham remain true today for the descendants of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. In Genesis 15 God indicates the extent of that land, "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates." (Genesis 15:18) Christian Friends of Israel insist, The Bible teaches that Israel (people, land, nation) has a Divinely ordained and glorious future, and that God has neither rejected nor replaced His Jewish people. Bridges For Peace similarly affirm, 'Through programs both in Israel and world-wide, we are giving Christians the opportunity to actively express our biblical responsibility before God to be faithful to Israel and the Jewish community. The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) claims to be the largest association of Messianic Jewish believers in the world, founded in 1915. MJAA has affiliations in 15 countries, 250 Messianic Synagogues, and 350,000 Messianic Jews world-wide. They insist they are 'the leading representative organisation for American Jews who believe in Messiah Yeshua.' Their simple statement of belief states, We believe in G-d's eternal covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We, therefore, stand with and support the Jewish people and the State of Israel and hold fast to the Biblical heritage of our forefathers. Christian Zionists err because they fail to recognise in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, 'chosenness' becomes the gift of God's grace to all who trust in Him, irrespective of their racial origins.
The theology of Christian Zionism is based on a belief in Restorationism, that is the promise of the land made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph was unconditional and eternal. Therefore, Christian Zionists encourage Jews to return to Palestine and occupy what they see as their eternal heritage. The International Christian Embassy is the most politicised Christian Zionist organisation. At the Third International Christian Zionist Congress held in Jerusalem 25-29 February, 1996 under the auspices of ICEJ, some 1,500 delegates from over 40 countries unanimously affirmed an affirmation of Christian Zionism including the following, The Lord in His zealous love for Israel and the Jewish People blesses and curses peoples and judges nations based upon their treatment of the Chosen People of Israel... According to God's distribution of nations, the Land of Israel has been given to the Jewish People by God as an everlasting possession by an eternal covenant. The Jewish People have the absolute right to possess and dwell in the Land, including Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founding president of Dallas Theological Seminary, United States, the most influential Christian Zionist academic institution in the world, claims, 'Israel is an eternal nation, heir to an eternal land, with an eternal kingdom, on which David rules from an eternal throne' These ideologies forms the basis on how their theology influences or determines their politics.
1. Attitudes toward Arabs and Palestinians
Christian Zionists while lovers of Israel are invariably also hostile toward Arabs and Palestinians. The demise of the Soviet Union, the rise of militant Islam, the success of the Allies in the Gulf War, and the beginning of third millennium have only fuelled more imaginative speculations among fundamentalists, while the same anti-Arab prejudices and Orientalist stereotypes persist.
2. Apocalyptic View of the Future
The 1967 'Six Day War' marked a significant watershed for evangelical Christian interest in Israel and Zionism. For example, Jerry Falwell did not begin to speak about modern-day Israel until after Israel's 1967 military victory. Falwell changed completely. He entered into politics and became an avid supporter of the Zionist State... the stunning Israeli victory made a big impact not only on Falwell, but on a lot of Americans... Remember that in 1967, the United States was mired in the Vietnam war. Many felt a sense of defeat, helplessness and discouragement... Many Americans, including Falwell, turned worshipful glances toward Israel, which they viewed as militarily strong and invincible. They gave their unstinting approval to the Israeli take-over of Arab lands because they perceived this conquest as power and righteousness... Macho or muscular Christians such as Falwell credited Israeli General Moshe Dayan with this victory over Arab forces and termed him the Miracle Man of the Age, and the Pentagon invited him to Vietnam and tell us how to win the war.
Lindsey confidently asserts that the world is degenerating and that the forces of evil manifest in godless Communism and militant Islam are the real enemies of Israel. He describes in detail the events leading to the great battle at Megiddo between the massive Russian, Chinese and African armies that will attempt but fail to destroy Israel. He offers illustrated plans showing future military movements of armies and naval convoys leading up to the battle of Armageddon. These will merely hasten the return of Jesus Christ as King of the Jews who will rule over the other nations from the rebuilt Jewish temple on the site of the destroyed Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Obstacle or no obstacle, it is certain that the Temple will be rebuilt. Prophecy demands it... With the Jewish nation reborn in the land of Palestine, ancient Jerusalem once again under total Jewish control for the first time in 2600 years, and talk of rebuilding the great Temple, the most important sign of Jesus Christ's soon coming is before us... It is like the key piece of a jigsaw puzzle being found... For all those who trust in Jesus Christ, it is a time of electrifying excitement.
3. Hostility toward the Peace Negotiations
The International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, as the semi-official voice of Zionist organisations, is frequently cultivated, exploited and quoted by the Israeli Government whenever a sympathetic Christian viewpoint is needed to enhance their own policies, and rebut Western criticism. Every Israeli Prime Minister since 1980 has spoken at their annual international gatherings in Jerusalem.
4. Conclusions: A Critique of Christian Zionism
Karen Armstrong is not alone in tracing in Western Christian Zionism evidence of the legacy of the Crusades. Fundamentalists have, she claims, 'returned to a classical and extreme religious crusading.' Rosemary Ruether also sees the danger of this kind of Christian Zionism in its, 'dualistic, Manichean view of global politics. America and Israel together against an evil world.' The following quote from Senator Bob Dole is a good example, American-Israeli friendship is no accident. It is a product of our shared values. We are both democracies. We are both pioneer states. We have both opened our doors to the oppressed. We have both shown a passion for freedom and we have gone to war to protect it.
1. Encouragement of dialogue between Jews and Christians 1. Justifies apartheid in an exclusive Jewish State
2. Opposition to Anti-Semitism 2. Supports ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians and building of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories to create Eretz Israel
3. Education of the Jewish origins of the Christian faith 3. Encourages religious intolerance, demonising Islam and any opposition to Israel
4. Humanitarian work among Jewish refugees 4. Incites religious fanaticism in supporting building of Jewish Temple on Mount Moriah
5. Dismisses moderate Jewish position who are willing to negotiate land for peace
6. Undermines Christian faith by justifying the denial of human rights
7. Apocalyptic Eschatology is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To receive Kurt Simmons’ e-mail newsletter, The Sword & The Plow, click the Subscribe link:
All rights reserved.