Christian Zionism and its Impact on Justice
Dr. Stephen R. Sizer
The Revd. Dr. Stephen Sizer is the vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, Surry. He is acting Chairman of Living Stones, Chairman of the International Bible Society (UK), and an area tutor at the School of Theology, Westminister College, Oxford. He has written three books: Panorama of the Bible Lands, In the Footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles, and Christian Zionism, Road Map to Armageddon?.
Lecture given at the National Conference on Justice for Al Quds Saturday 6th May, 2000. Wyggeston Queen Elizabeth 1 College, Leicester.
This will form but a brief introduction to Christian Zionism. I propose to introduce you to some leading Christian Zionist agencies and leaders under three headings, history, theology and politics. In my conclusions I will attempt a preliminary critique and alternative. May I reassure you at the outset that the majority of Christians do not endorse or support Zionism. If you are interested in reading further material on Christian Zionism I will direct you to some useful sources. Lets begin with a definition.
1. A Definition: What is Christian Zionism?
At its simplest, Christian Zionism has been defined as 'Christian support for Zionism.'1 In 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 3379 defining Zionism as, 'a form of racism and racial discrimination.'2 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
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,
Christian Zionism then describes a broad coalition of
agencies, some predominantly Gentile, others Jewish Christians who believe Jesus
is their Messiah. There are today well over 250 Christian Zionist organisations
operating in America alone.5
Just one example, Writing to the 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.7
In the 20th Century many leading American politicians were
Christian Zionists including Ronald Reagan and Jimmie Carter.
By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear... The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (Hebrews 8:13; 10:1)
Under the Old Covenant, revelation from God came often in
shadow, image, form and prophecy. In the New Covenant that revelation finds its
consummation in reality, substance and fulfilment in Jesus Christ. The question
is not whether the promises of the covenant are to be understood literally or
spiritually as Christian Zionists like to stress. It is instead a question of
whether they should be understood in terms of Old Covenant shadow or in terms of
New Covenant reality. This is the most basic hermeneutical assumption which
Christian Zionists consistently fail to acknowledge.
"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,
Bridges For Peace similarly affirm,
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' 10 Their simple statement of belief states,
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 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.12
Lewis Sperry Chafer, founding president of Dallas Theological Seminary, in tghe United States, the most influential Christian Zionist academic institution in the world, claims,
Perhaps now you can begin to see how their theology influences or determines their politics.
4. The Politics of Christian Zionism
Charles Dyer, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary warns that Saddam Hussein plans to attempt to repeat Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Israel, the only Arab ever to have done so. 'The Middle East is the world's time bomb, and Babylon is the fuse that will ignite the events of the end times.'15
For American Christian Zionists, in particular, America is seen as the great redeemer, her role in the world providentially and politically preordained.16 The two nations of America and Israel are like Siamese twins, linked not only by common self interest but more significantly by similar religious foundations. Together they are perceived to be pitted against an evil world dominated by Communist and Islamic regimes antithetical to the values of America and Israel.17
4.2 Apocalyptic View of the Future
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.18
The titles of Hal Lindsey's books show an increasingly exaggerated and almost pathological emphasis on the apocalyptic, on death and suffering.19 They are replete with categorical assertions that biblical prophecy is being fulfilled in this generation signalling the imminent destruction of the world. Hal Lindsey dogmatically asserts,
Lindsey's last but one book, The Final Battle, includes the statement on the cover,
"Never before, in one book, has there been such a complete and detailed look at the events leading up to 'The Battle of Armageddon.'"21
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.22 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.23
An indication of how seriously Christian Zionists take the military aspect of their apocalyptic scenario can be seen from the content of the itinerary used by Jerry Falwell, in his 'Friendship Tour to Israel'. It includes meetings with top Israeli government and military officials and,
Given the fact that Christian Zionists are essentially pessimistic about the future, there is also,
4.3 Hostility toward the Peace Negotiations
For example, in October 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu the Israeli Prime Minister spoke at the Jerusalem 3000 rally organised by the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, to support Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem. Following the provocative opening of an underground tunnel by the Israelis from the Western Wall through the Moslem Quarter, he was cheered when he insisted the tunnel, 'is open. It will stay open. It will always stay open.'26
The religio-political agenda of the International Christian Embassy is made quite explicit in this declaration.
Because of the sovereign purposes of God for the City, Jerusalem must remain undivided, under Israeli sovereignty, open to all peoples, the capital of Israel only, and all nations should so concur and place their embassies here. As a faith bound to love and forgiveness we are appreciative of the attempts by the Government of Israel to work tirelessly for peace. However, the truths of God are sovereign and it is written that the Land which He promised to His People is not to be partitioned... It would be further error for the nations to recognise a Palestinian state in any part of Eretz Israel... The Golan is part of biblical Israel and is a vital strategic asset necessary for the security and defence of the entire country.... To this end we commit to work with Israel and to encourage the Diaspora to fulfil the vision and goal of gathering to Israel the greater majority of all Jewish People from throughout the world.27
Not surprisingly therefore the Oslo Peace-Accord has been sharply criticised by Christian Zionist groups who see it as a threat to the realisation of Eretz Israel. In particular they have opposed the handing back of the West Bank and the threat to the status of the Jewish settlements. For example, Theodore Temple Beckett, Chairman of the Christian Friends of Israel Community Development Foundation has initiated an 'adopt-a-settlement' program among American Evangelical Churches. The Jewish town of Ariel has already been adopted by Faith Bible Chapel in Denver. By the end of 1995 it was Beckett's expectation that around 70 Jewish settlements would have been adopted by churches,
...with larger churches adopting larger settlements and smaller churches adopting smaller settlements and giving all a morale boost to show them they are not alone and are loved by many.28
5. Conclusions: A Critique of Christian Zionism
This 'simple dualism' and 'highly dogmatic thinking' is something Bishop Kenneth Cragg, probably the greatest English Christian Islamic scholar alive today, comments on. Satirically, he writes,
The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), representing the indigenous and ancient Oriental and Eastern Churches, has been highly critical of the activities of Christian Zionists. They assert Christian Zionists have aggressively imposed an aberrant expression of the Christian faith and an erroneous interpretation of the Bible which is subservient to the political agenda of the modern State of Israel. Indeed they represent a tendency to,
It is therefore perhaps not surprising that among the Middle East churches generally, Christian Zionism is regarded as a devious heresy, an unwelcome and alien intrusion into their culture, which advocates an ethnocentric and nationalist political agenda running counter to their work of seeking justice and reconciliation among both Jews and Muslims.34
Essentially, Christian Zionism fails to recognise the deep seated problems that exist between Palestinians and Israelis; it distorts the Bible and marginalises the universal imperative of the Christian message that God loves all people; it has grave political ramifications and ultimately ignores the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of indigenous Christians.35 It is a situation that many believe the Government of Israel exploits to her advantage, cynically welcoming Christian Zionists as long as they remain docile and compliant with Israeli government policy. Kenneth Cragg offers this astute critique of Christian Zionism,
Christian Zionism offers an uncritical endorsement of the Israeli political right and at the same time shows an inexcusable lack of compassion for the Palestinian tragedy. In doing so it has legitimised their oppression in the name of God. In the words of Kenneth Leech, Christian Zionism as a form of fundamentalism,
Christian Zionism : A Critique
To be frank, Israel is a materialistic and apartheid State practising repressive and dehumanising measures against the Palestinians in flagrant disregard of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Christian Zionists who endorse such policies would do well to heed Joshua's final words,
Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. But just as every good promise of the Lord your God has come true, so the Lord will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord's anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you. (Joshua 23:14-16)
Like Isaac's children Jacob and Esau, it is time to stop fighting over the birthright and start sharing the blessings.39
May the justice of God fall down
like fire and bring a home for the Palestinian.
1 Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land, Israel or Palestine? rev. edn. (Oxford, Lion, 1992), p.277.
2 Sharif, Non-Jewish., p. 1 & 120.
3 Hal Lindsey, The Road to Holocaust (New York, Bantam, 1989). Lindsey accuses those who oppose dispensationalism of anti-Semitism, '...the same error that founded the legacy of contempt for the Jews and ultimately led to the Holocaust of Nazi Germany.' (back page).
4 Walter Riggans, Israel and Zionism (London, Handsell, 1988), p. 19.
5 Halsell, Prophecy., p.178.
6 Regina Sharif, Non-Jewish Zionism, Its Roots in Western History (London, Zed, 1983), back cover. See also next chapter on history of Christian Zionism.
7 Palmerston to Ponsonby, Public Record office MSS, F.O. 195/165, (no. 261) 25 November 1840. cited in Tuchman, Bible., p. 175; and Sharif, Non-Jewish., pp. 58-59.
8 Christian Friends of Israel, Standing with Israel, information leaflet, n.d.
9 Clarence H. Wagner, 'Who are we?' Bridges for Peace, Jerusalem, September 1996.
10 The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA), 'What is the MJAA?' Internet: http://www.mjaa.org. obtained, 29 October 1996.
11 MJAA, 'What does MJAA believe?' Internet: http://www.mjaa.org. obtained, 29 October 1996.
12 International Christian Zionist Congress Proclamation, International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem. 25-29 February 1996.
13 Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas, Dallas Seminary Press, 1975), Vol. 4. pp. 315-323, cited in Gerstner, Wrongly., p. 184.
14 Lindsey, Israel., pp. 38-39.
15 Dyer, Rise., rear cover.
16 Michael Lienesch, Redeeming America: Piety and Politics in the New Christian Right (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, University of North Carolina, 1993), p. 197.
17 Merrill Simon, Jerry Falwell and the Jews (Middle Village, New York, Jonathan David, 1984), pp. 63-64, 71-72.
18 James Price and William Goodman, Jerry Falwell, An Unauthorized Profile, cited in Grace Halsell, Prophecy., p. 72.
19 Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth (London, Lakeland, 1973); The Terminal Generation (New York, Bantam,); The 1980's: Countdown to Armageddon (New York, Bantam, 1981); Combat Faith (1986); The Road to Holocaust (New York, Bantam, 1989); Planet Earth-2000, Will Man Survive? (Palos Verdes, California, Western Front, 1994); The Final Battle (Palos Verdes, California, Western Front, 1995); The Apocalypse Code (Palos Verdes, California, Western Front, 1997);
20 Hal Lindsey, The 1980's, Countdown to Armageddon, (New York, Bantam, 1981), back cover.
21 Lindsey, Final., front cover.
22 Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (London, Lakeland, 1970), p. 155; Louis Goldberg, Turbulence Over the Middle East (Neptune, New Jersey, Loizeaux Brothers, 1982), p. 172.
23 Lindsey, Israel., pp. 31-48.
24 Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (London, Lakeland, 1970), pp. 56-58.
25 Wagner, Beyond., p. 3.
26 Patrick Cockburn, Independent. 30 September 1996, p. 9.
27 International Christian Zionist Congress Proclamation, International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem. 25-29 February 1996.
28 Sarah Honig, 'Adopt-a-Settlement Program' The Jerusalem Post, 2nd October 1995.
29 Armstrong, Holy., p. 377.
30 Ruether, Wrath., p. 176.
31 Near East Report, vol. 21, No. 20, 18 May 1977, p. 78. Cited in Sharif, Non-Jewish., p. 136.
32 Cragg, Arab., p. 238.
33 MECC, What., p. 13.
34 MECC, What., p. 1.
35 Chapman, Whose., p. 277.
36 Cragg, Arab., p. 237.
37 Leech, The Eye., p. 205.
38 None of the constructive aspects are intrinsic or exclusive to Christian Zionism.
39 Yehezkel Landau. An illustration given at St George's, Jerusalem, December 1998.
40 Revd Garth Hewitt, Director of Amos Trust and SE London Coordinator of Christian Aid.