Christian Zionism

Four Reasons Jews Worry about Christian Zionists — and Why They Don’t Have To

Photo via Aleksandar Todorovicvia / Shutterstock / RNS
View from Dominus Flevit church, located in the old part of Jerusalem. Photo via Aleksandar Todorovicvia / Shutterstock / RNS

Is Christian Zionism good for the Jews?

Not every Jew thinks so.

In fact, Christian Zionists make many Jews crazy.

Why?

Worry No. 1: Christian Zionists believe all Jews need to be back in the land of Israel before Jesus can return.

Except it’s not true.

I once asked Ralph Reed, the prominent conservative activist and founder of the Christian Coalition, about this.

“Rabbi, I’ve been in church every Sunday of my life and I have never heard such a thing,” he said.

Israeli Institute Gets $2.2 Million to Help Christians Study Jewish Thought

President of the Herzl Institute Yoram Hazony. Photo courtesy of the Herzl Institute/RNS.

A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.

The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.

The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.

Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.

Stassen and Gushee: An Open Letter to Christian Zionists

American Christian Zionism is pushing the U.S. government to support Israeli policies that our international friends find immoral and illegal.

We have come to believe that Christian Zionism underwrites theft of Palestinian land and oppresses Palestinian people, helps create the conditions for an explosion of violence, and pushes US policy in a destructive direction that violates our nation's commitment to universal human rights.

We write as evangelical Christians committed to Israel's security. We worry about your support for policies that violate biblical warnings about injustice and may lead to the destruction of Israel.

'We Reject Christian Zionism...'

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice, and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine.

We call upon Christians in churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism.

We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice, and security.

With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid, and empire-building.

The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently, but nonviolently. “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Excerpts from the “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism,” issued by church leaders in the Middle East in August 2006.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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Discovering Palestine

I grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois. My family were members of South Park Church, whose main claim to historic fame may be that it dismissed Bill Hybels as its youth leader, sending him on his journey to found Willow Creek.

Like most evangelical churches shaped after World War II, our church’s theology included the kind of interpretations of the “end times” found in Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind novels. I recall some of those complex charts on walls of Sunday school rooms with passages from Daniel and Revelation giving clues to current events and fueling expectations that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was drawing near.

My dad was a business executive, and two of his associates—Wally Stolkin and Sid Luckman, the former Chicago Bears quarterback—became close family friends. Wally and Sid were both Jewish. So I first came to know the Jewish community as a child through these relationships.

I was theologically curious as a young boy. Like other evangelicals in the 1950s, I would hear interpretations of world events that were pointing to Christ’s return. Once, when I was probably 9 or 10, Mom was explaining to me how exciting it was that the Jews were returning to Israel. This was concrete evidence that biblical prophecies were being fulfilled and that the Second Coming was near. And I remember asking, “When are Wally and Sid going to move there?”

This was the first time in my story that the theology of evangelical Zion­ism began colliding with actual facts and relationships in my experience. That would happen many more times.

In 1970, I was working for Sen. Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon. He decided to take a trip to the Middle East. As governor of Ore­gon, he had visited Israel more than once, getting to know figures such as Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, Golda Meir, and others. But this time, he decided to visit a couple of Palestinian refugee camps in addition to meeting with political leaders.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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How Christian is Zionism?

"Lord," the disciples asked the risen Jesus, "is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" His answer was: "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority." —Acts 1:6-7

The question was a reasonable one for disciples who had earlier heard Jesus imply future glory for the city of Jerusalem when the times of Gentile political domination were past (Luke 21:24). Here in Acts such standard hopes of Jewish end-times theology (or "eschatology") that included political sovereignty were not denied but apparently deferred. For now the concern to which the disciples were directed was a worldwide evangelistic mission radiating out from Jerusalem, instead of a focus on political rule in Jerusalem.

Fast forward to the late 19th century. When nonreligious Jews sought to create a secular Jewish state, many Orthodox Jews objected that the Zionists were jumping the gun. The Zionists were "flying in the face of heaven," they said, and they should wait until the Messiah came to take the people of Israel back to their ancestral land.

The Orthodox Jewish stance has a remarkable affinity to Jesus' answer to the disciples, because both depend on traditional Jewish eschatology, which says it is the Messiah who will restore Israel to the land where justice and peace may be enjoyed. In Acts 1, Jesus, as the Messiah, is personally to restore the kingdom to Israel, and the timing is to be God's. The context suggests that when Jesus returns from heaven it will be his role to carry out this Messianic task: "This same Jesus, who has been taken up from you to heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2003
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Not a Monolithic Bloc

"We write as American evangelical Christians concerned for the well-being of all the children of Abraham in the Middle East—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. We urge you to employ an even-handed policy toward Israeli and Palestinian leadership so that this bloody conflict will come to a speedy close and both peoples can live without fear and in a spirit of shalom/salaam....

Mr. President, the American evangelical community is not a monolithic bloc in full and firm support of present Israeli policy. Significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions—of both Israelis and Palestinians—on the basis of biblical standards of justice."

This is an excerpt from an open letter sent to President Bush last summer and signed by many prominent evangelical leaders, including Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Clive Calver, president of World Relief; John M. Perkins of the Christian Community Development Association; Robert A. Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement; Vernon Grounds, chancellor of Denver Seminary; Steve Hayner, past president of InterVarsity USA; Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.; Paul Kennel, president of World Concern; author Philip Yancey; and others.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2003
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Apoca-what?

Eschatology. The theological study of the end times.

Millennialism. The belief that there will be a protracted series of events, including a 1,000 year earthly reign of peace or "Millennium," before the returned Christ gets on with the Last Judgment.

Dispensationalism. The belief, developed in the 19th century, that God relates to human beings via different covenants ("dispensations"); in particular, dispensationalists believe that God's covenant with Israel, including promises of land, continues in full force distinctive from Christianity.

Premillennial Dispensationalism. Currently the most popular flavor of dispensationalism, this belief holds that Christ will return prior to a literal end-times millennium.

Rapture. The doctrine that Christians will be "caught up" out of this world at the beginning of the end times. In most versions, the raptured get to avoid all that unpleasantness with the Antichrist and the tribulation.

Tribulation. In premillennial dispensationalism, a seven-year period of hellish rule by the Antichrist after (or about the same time as) the rapture.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2003
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Short Fuse to Apocalypse?

"The Bible Belt is Israel's safety net in the United States."
—Jerry Falwell on CBS' 60 Minutes, October 6, 2002

Jerry Falwell told CBS' 60 Minutes last October that the Prophet Mohammad was "a terrorist" and a "violent man of war." This blasphemous remark insulted Muslims everywhere. Falwell's remarks followed a series of anti-Islamic statements from leaders of the Christian Right, including Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Vines of the Southern Baptist Convention. The outcry from the Islamic world was immediate, including demonstrations in major Islamic cities.

The timing of Falwell's interview was curious, coming as it did on the eve of President Bush's address to the nation calling for an attack on Iraq. After Sept. 11, 2001, the president solidified political support from two important U.S. constituencies previously deemed "soft" for the Republican Party: the fundamentalist Christian Right and the American Jewish community, particularly the powerful pro-Israel lobby. George Bush Sr. had been unable to mobilize support from these vital political components, but George W. has been able to build a powerful alliance that includes the pro-Israel lobby, the Christian Right, and neoconservative ideologues at the highest levels of decision-making in the Bush administration. Their ideology is supported by a network of financial backers of the conservative wing of the Republican Party and the arms industry and multinational construction firms such as Halliburton and Bechtel.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2003
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Evangelical, Not Zionist

Forty-three prominent evangelical leaders sent a letter to President Bush indicating that the Christian Right's uncritical support of Israel is not the position of all American evangelicals. Drafted by Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, Serge Duss of World Vision, and Don Wagner of the Center for Middle East Studies, the statement pointed out that "significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions—of both Israelis and Palestinians—on the basis of biblical standards of justice."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2003
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