At its simplest, Christian Zionism is a political form of philo-Semitism, and can be defined as ‘Christian support for Zionism.’ Walter Riggans interprets the term 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.’Colin Chapman observes, ‘It is hard to think of another situation anywhere in the world where politics have come to be so closely bound up with religion, and where scriptures have such a profound effect on political action.’
Christian Zionists are essentially apologists for the State of Israel. This support usually involves accusing those critical of Israel of anti-Semitism, and invariably leads to the justification of Israel’s illegal occupation and settlement of the West Bank, Golan and Gaza on biblical grounds.
Grace Halsell, for example, asks: ‘What is the message of the Christian Zionist? Simply stated it is this: every act taken by Israel is orchestrated by God, and should be condoned, supported, and even praised by the rest of us.’ This leads Dale Crowley, a Washington based religious broadcaster, to describe dispensational Christian Zionism as a cult, indeed, the ‘fastest growing cult in America’:

‘It’s not composed of “crazies” so much as mainstream, middle to upper-middle class Americans. They give millions of dollars each week – to the TV evangelists who expound the fundamentals of the cult. They read Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. They have one goal: to facilitate God’s hand to waft them up to heaven free from all the trouble, from where they will watch Armageddon and the destruction of planet earth.’

The Middle East Council of Churches similarly reject Christian Zionism, ‘as representing a heretical interpretation of Holy Scripture’, while John Stott describes it as ‘biblical anathema.’
Whether consciously or otherwise, Christian Zionists subscribe to a religious Jewish agenda best expressed by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who claims: ‘We should not forget ... that the supreme purpose of the ingathering of exiles and the establishment of our State is the building of the Temple. The Temple is at the very top of the pyramid.’ Another rabbi, Yisrael Meida, explains the link between politics and theology within Jewish Zionism: ‘It is all a matter of sovereignty. He who controls the Temple Mount, controls Jerusalem. And he who controls Jerusalem, controls the land of Israel.’ This paradigm may be illustrated by way of three concentric rings. The land represents the outer ring, Jerusalem the middle ring and the Temple is the centre ring. The three rings comprise the Zionist agenda by which the Land was claimed in 1948, the Old City of Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and the Temple site is being contested. For the religious Zionist, Jewish or Christian, the three are inextricably linked.

The Distinctive Theology of Christian Zionism

Seven basic theological tenets are accepted, in varying degrees, by Christian Zionists.

1. Christian Zionism is founded first of all upon a literal and futurist interpretation of the Bible which leads proponents to distinguish between references to Israel and the Church. Injunctions and promises concerning the ancient Jews are applied to the contemporary State of Israel rather than to the Church.
2. From this hermeneutic flows the conviction that the Jews remain God’s ‘chosen people’, distinct from the Church. 3. God’s end-time purpose for the Jews is expressed in Restorationism.
4. The destiny of the Jewish people is to return to the land of Israel and reclaim their inheritance promised to Abraham and his descendants for ever. This inheritance extends from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates.
5. Within their land, Jerusalem is recognised to be their exclusive, undivided and eternal capital, and therefore it cannot be shared or divided.
6. At the heart of Jerusalem will be the rebuilt Jewish Temple to which all the nations will come to worship God.
7. Just prior to the return of Jesus, there will be seven years of calamities and war known as the Tribulation which will culminate in a great battle called Armageddon during which the godless forces opposed to both God and Israel will be defeated. Jesus will then return as the Jewish Messiah and king to reign in Jerusalem for a thousand years and the Jewish people will enjoy a privileged status and role in the world.


The Political Implications of Christian Zionism

Christian Zionists have shown varying degrees of enthusiasm for implementing six basic convictions that arise from their literal reading of the Bible:
The belief that the Jews remain God’s chosen people leads Christian Zionists to seek to bless Israel in material ways. However, this also invariably results in the uncritical endorsement of and justification for Israel’s racist and apartheid policies, in the media, among politicians and through solidarity tours to Israel.
As God’s chosen people, the final restoration of the Jews to Israel is therefore actively encouraged and facilitated through partnerships between Christian organisations and the Jewish Agency.
Eretz Israel, as delineated in scripture, belongs exclusively to the Jewish people, therefore the land must be annexed and the settlements adopted and strengthened.
Jerusalem is regarded as the eternal and exclusive capital of the Jews, and cannot be shared with the Palestinians. Therefore, strategically, Western governments are placed under pressure by Christian Zionists to relocate their embassies to Jerusalem and thereby recognise the fact.
The Third Temple has yet to be built, the priesthood consecrated and sacrifices reinstituted. Christian Zionists offer varying degrees of support to Jewish Temple Mount organisations committed to achieving it.
Since Christian Zionists are convinced there will be an apocalyptic war between good and evil in the near future, there is no prospect for lasting peace between Jews and Arabs. Indeed, to advocate Israel compromise with Islam or coexist with Palestinians in a ‘land for peace’ deal is to compromise the promises of God and identify with those destined to oppose God and Israel in the imminent battle of Armageddon.

The Significance of the Christian Zionist Movement

Christian Zionism as a movement is very diverse, ranging from individual Christian leaders whose denominations have no stated position on Zionism,to major international evangelical organizations which are unapologetically Zionist.
Some have an explicit political agenda, such as Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, which also enjoys diplomatic status in several Central American countries. Both have disavowed or redefined the Christian gospel and identify with right-wing Israeli opinion, lobbying the US government to continue to finance Israel’s expansionist agenda. Other organisations such as Jews for Jesus and the Churches Ministry among Jewish People (CMJ) are primarily evangelistic or messianic but also espouse Zionism on biblical grounds. Exobus and the Ebenezer Trust are representative of organisations specializing in facilitating the transportation of Jews to Israel from Russia and Eastern Europe, while Christian Friends of Israel Communities encourage churches to adopt Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories.
Contemporary Christian Zionist leaders include Derek Prince, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey, Mike Evans, Charles Dyer, John Walvoord and Dave Hunt, These individuals have achieved considerable influence in popularising an apocalyptic view of the future legitimising Zionism among Western Christians. That their teaching also warrants the description ‘Armageddon Theology’ is evident from the provocative titles of many of their recent books.
Christian Zionism is pervasive within mainline evangelical, charismatic and independent denominations including the Assemblies of God, Pentecostal and Southern Baptists as well as many of the independent mega-churches. Crowley claims they are led by 80,000 fundamentalist pastors, their views disseminated by 1,000 Christian radio stations as well as 100 Christian TV stations. Doug Kreiger lists over 250 pro-Israeli organisations founded in the 1980s alone.
Estimates as to the size of the movement as a whole vary considerably. While critics like Crowley claim, ‘At least one out of every 10 Americans is a devotee’, advocates such as Robertson and Falwell claim the support of 100 million Americans with whom they communicate weekly.] Dale Crowley’s own estimate is that there are between ‘25 to 30 million’ pro-Israeli Christians in America, a number that is growing. Robert Boston, for example, in his biography of Pat Robertson, argues that his Christian Coalition, with an annual budget of $25 million and over 1.7 million members, is ‘arguably … the single most influential political organisation in the U.S.’ At the other end of the scale, the National Unity Coalition for Israel brings together 200 different Jewish and Christian Zionist organisations including the International Christian Embassy, Christian Friends of Israel and Bridges for Peace and claims a support base of 40 million active members. These organisations, in varying degrees, and for a variety of reasons, some contradictory, make up a broad coalition which is shaping the Christian Zionist agenda today.
Without the sustained political support of Christian Zionists in America, and significant government funding, it is doubtful whether the State of Israel would have remained in existence since 1948, let alone continued to occupy and settle the West Bank since 1967.


A Critical Assessment of Christian Zionism

The fundamental question Christian Zionists must answer is this: what difference did the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ make to the traditional Jewish hopes and expectations concerning the land and people? Clarence Bass crystallises the issue with a series of more specific rhetorical questions:

‘It is legitimate to ask whether Dispensationalism is not orientated more from the Abrahamic Covenant than from the Cross. Is not its focus centred more on the Jewish kingdom than on the Body of Christ? Does it not interpret the New Testament in the light of Old Testament prophecies, instead of interpreting those prophecies in the light of the more complete revelation of the New Testament?’

Christian Zionists appear to believe that the coming of Jesus Christ made little or no difference to the nationalistic and territorial aspirations of 1st Century Judaism. As a result, the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), representing the indigenous and ancient Oriental and Eastern Churches, regard Christian Zionism as a deviant heresy. They assert, for instance, that 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. They claim the movement represents a tendency to:

‘... force the Zionist model of theocratic and ethnocentric nationalism on the Middle East ... (rejecting) ... the movement of Christian unity and inter-religious understanding which is promoted by the (indigenous) churches in the region. The Christian Zionist programme, with its elevation of modern political Zionism, provides the Christian with a world view where the gospel is identified with the ideology of success and militarism. It places its emphasis on events leading up to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.’

In its apocalyptic and political forms especially, Christian Zionism distorts the Bible and marginalises the universal imperative of the Christian message of equal grace and common justice. Bishop Kenneth Cragg summarises the implications of its intrinsic ethnic exclusivity:

‘It is so; God chose the Jews; the land is theirs by divine gift. These dicta cannot be questioned or resisted. They are final. Such verdicts come infallibly from Christian biblicists for whom Israel can do no wrong - thus fortified. But can such positivism, this unquestioning finality, be compatible with the integrity of the Prophets themselves? It certainly cannot square with the open peoplehood under God which is the crux of New Testament faith. Nor can it well be reconciled with the ethical demands central to law and election alike.’

Such literalist assumptions preclude any possibility of an alternative reading of the Bible, history or a just and lasting outcome to the Middle East peace negotiations. Instead, Christian Zionism shows an uncritical tolerance of Rabbinic Judaism and an endorsement of the Israeli political Right. At the same time it demonstrates an inexcusable lack of compassion for the Palestinian tragedy and the plight of the indigenous Christian community. In doing so, whether intentionally or otherwise, it has legitimised their oppression in the name of God while committing the Jewish people themselves to an apocalyptic future far more horrifying than even the Shoah.

References:

[1] Stephen Sizer, unpublished PhD, Christian Zionism, Middlesex University, 2002.
[2] Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land, Israel or Palestine?, revised edition (Oxford, Lion, 2002).
[3] Walter Riggans, Israel and Zionism, (London, Handsell, 1988).
[4] Grace Halsell, ‘Israeli Extremists and Christian Fundamentalists: The Alliance’, Washington Report, December (1988).
[5] Don Wagner, Anxious for Armageddon, (Scottdale, Herald Press, 1995), p80.
[6] Grace Halsell, Forcing God’s Hand, (Washington, Crossroads International, 1999).
[7] Marvin Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1990).
[8] David Pawson, When Jesus Returns, (London, Hodder, 1998).
[9] Sarah Honig, ‘Adopt-a-Settlement Program’, The Jerusalem Post, 2nd October (1995).
[10] http://www.bridgesforpeace.com/publications/dispatch/lifeinisrael/Article-12.html
[11] Derek Prince, The Last Word on the Middle East, (Fort Lauderdale, Derek Prince Ministries International, 1982); The Destiny of Israel and the Church, (Milton Keynes, Word, 1992).
[12] Jerry Falwell, Listen, America, (New York, Doubleday, 1980); The Fundamentalist Phenomenon, (New York, Doubleday, 1981); Merrill Simon, Jerry Falwell and the Jews, (Middle Village, New York, Jonathan David, 1984).
[13] Pat Robertson, The Secret Kingdom: Your Path to Peace, Love and Financial Security, revised edition (Dallas,1992).
[14] Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth, (London, Lakeland, 1970); The 1980’s Countdown to Armageddon, (New York, Bantam, 1981); Israel and the Last Days, (Eugene, Oregon, Harvest House Publishers, 1983); The Road to Holocaust, (New York, Bantam, 1989); Planet Earth 2000 AD Will Mankind Survive? (Palos Verdes, California, Western Front. 1994); The Final Battle, (Palos Verdes, California, Western Front, 1995).
[15] Mike Evans, Israel, America’s Key to Survival, (Plainfield, New Jersey, Haven, n.d.).
[16] Charles Dyer, The Rise of Babylon, Signs of the End Times, (Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale House, 1991).
[17] John Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1962).


Toying with God's Message
The heresy of Christian Zionism
Stephen Sizer