Friday, May 21, 2004

The Heresy of Christian Zionism

Why are we not hearing more about the atrocities committed in Gaza? Amnesty International has declared these actions by the Israeli Army to be war crimes. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the deaths and demolitions. The US abstained from the vote.

Why did the US abstain? As I have mentioned before, many Christians may not be conscious of it, but in the back of their minds is the idea that some have been taught that on the last day, in the battle of Armageddon, the "good guys" will be on the side of Israel. Having identified the Israelis as the "good guys," the obvious next step is to identify the Arabs as the "bad guys." I suspect that is the real reason for the apparent pro-Israeli bias on the part of the US.

Last month, the International Sabeel Conference met for five days in Jerusalem. The final statement of the Conference rejected "the heretical teachings of Christian Zionism" that, in its extreme form, "places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice."

Peace and Justice Ministries of the Episcopal Church has offered a report on the conference. There are a few items in this report of interest to everyone, but of special interest to Anglicans;

The tensions in the region also seeped into the conference in a dramatic way when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams decided not to attend and deliver a keynote address, reportedly at the urging of local religious leaders. Instead he sent his ecumenical secretary to read it. In making apologies, the Rev. Jonathan Gough said that the archbishop's priority "is to be able to act as a bridge builder" and that his attendance "could be misunderstood."
I have the deepest respect for Rowan Williams. He is a first class theologian. But his cautionary approach to things (backing down from the appointment of Jeffrey John as bishop, for instance) I find infuriating. Those at the conference were disappointed and angered by this slight. There is little doubt that his last minute cancellation "could be misunderstood."

Stephen Sizer gives us a glimpse of the history of Christian Zionism;

The Rev. Stephen Sizer, an Anglican priest who is chair of the International Bible Society in the United Kingdom, said that the thesis of Christian Zionism is that "every act taken by Israel is orchestrated by God and should be condoned-period." He said that its influence is immense, with estimates ranging to as many as 100 million people in the US. As a movement it goes back to early 19th century England when a commitment to restoration of the Jews to Palestine as an antecedent to the Second Coming and the end of the world began to take shape. Conservative British politicians like Lord Balfour were convinced that the purpose of history is to carry out the divine purpose but he was "entire duplicitous," said Sizer, because he never intended to take into account the people already living there. But he is responsible for giving Zionism a political legitimacy, especially in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 calling for establishment of a Jewish state.

Christian Zionists are ultra-literalists in interpretation of Scripture, they support Jerusalem as the eternal and exclusive capital of Israel, they favor rebuilding the temple and they express antipathy for Arabs who stand in the way of such a vision, Sizer said.
Rosemary Ruether, a familiar name among most Anglicans, reminds us that Christian Zionism is not found just among the fanatics; it is alive and well among the mainlines;

But Prof. Rosemary Ruether of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley warned participants not to assume that "this is a problem of fanatics and fundamentalists." She said that there is also subtle collaboration with Israel and a "sophisticated and unconscious Zionism in mainline churches." She deplored the tendency to think that good relations with Jews comes only by ignoring the Palestinians, therefore making them pay for sins against the Jews. "Christians in the West must look at ways to break that silence about Jewish election promises of land and restoration as part of a redemptive process."

She asked, "what is the appropriate repentance for Western Christians who bear the burden of guilt? Not collaboration with another injustice. One evil does not justify another."
Gershom Gorenberg offers a note of warning to those Israelis who might consider an allegiance with Christian Zionism as a positive development;

Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg of the Jerusalem Report said that Christian Zionism represents a classic anti-Jewish theology because, at the end of the script, Jews convert or die. He said that the Christian millenialists, who are looking for the return of Jesus to establish his kingdom, are not Zionists because they have no concern for the welfare of Jews. The goal is not peace, it's the end. In such a scenario, the Arabs become mere stage props in the drama. "We must get to a better place, even if it is not a perfect place," he added.
These fanatics, some of whom currently reside within the Bush administration, are hard-core fundamentalists. No amount of reason or bloodshed will sway them from their conviction that they are doing God's will. I know. Many of my relatives are among this group. The GOP made the mistake of forming an alliance with these extremists, thinking they could use them as tools. It is questionable as to who is using whom, at this point. I pray that Israel does not make the same mistake.

NPR reports that the Israeli Army will continue the destruction of Palestinians in Gaza. International outrage has not even slowed them down. Why should it, as long as they've got Uncle Sam in their back pocket?


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