Christian Zionism Explained
What is “Christian Zionism?” Well, there is no headquarters or all-inclusive organization, so I can’t speak for or about ALL Christian Zionists. However, I grew up in a church and denomination that I later realized was steeped in Christian Zionism (and probably still is). I discovered over my years in the American academic world that very few people know about Christian Zionism.
The definitive book about evangelical Christian Zionism is by Timothy Weber and is titled “On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend” (Baker Academic, 2004). I know Tim personally and can testify that he is a fine scholar of Christian, especially evangelical, history and theology.
So, what is “Christian Zionism.” A very broad definition is: Christians who believe that a Jewish state in what has been called Palestine is God’s will and that biblical Christians should always support the Jewish state of Israel and that God will bless them for it.
As I said, I grew up in a church and denomination steeped in Christian Zionism although I never heard that phrase used. My formative years were during the early years of Israel’s existence as an independent, Jewish state occupying what had been called (and still is called by many people) Palestine. (Technically, “Palestine” is the geographical area that is also sometimes believed to be a geo-political entity. “Israel” is today, since about 1948, a nation state that exists specifically for Jews, although it has many Palestinian citizens, that occupies much of the land of Palestine.)
We passionately loved Jews, all Jews, because we believed them to always be God’s chosen people. We believed that God blesses those who bless Jews and punishes those who oppress them. We believed that the birth and existence of the Jewish State of Israel was a fundamental event in Christian eschatology, foreshadowing the Second Coming of Christ who would “rapture” true Christians from the earth and then turn his attention to Jews and Israel. We believed that eventually the Jewish Temple would be rebuilt in Jerusalem and that all Jews would accept Jesus as their messiah. We believed that Judaism is not a false religion; we rejected belief in the church as “the New Israel” and did not believe that the Christian church superseded Judaism and Israel. Most of us did not go so far as to say that God has two covenants for salvation—one for Jews and another one for gentiles—but our disposition towards Jews and Israel inclined that way.
American conservative evangelicals, especially “dispensationalists,” have long been Israel’s strongest non-Jewish supporters. I have known some who even go so far as to call any criticism of the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “anti-semitism.” Christian Zionists typically have very little sympathy for Palestinians unless they are Christians and good citizens of the State of Israel (which many are).
To illustrate: When I co-led a group of Pentecostal-charismatic Christians on two “Holy Land Tours” in the 1970s we insisted that our guides and even bus drivers be Israeli Jews, no Palestinians. When we visited homes of Israelis we insisted that they be Jewish, not Palestinian. We were appalled at the Arab control of the Temple Mount and the existence of the Al Aksa mosque on it. We prayed every day for Israel and for the Jewish people. We were not moved by the clear evidence, seen by our eyes, of mistreatment of Palestinians in massive “camps.”
At least one of our Jewish guides answered our questions very honestly and said without regret that he hoped that all non-Israeli Palestinians would move, even under political, economic and military pressure, out of Israel and Palestine into Jordan. He believed that Jordan was where they belonged even if they were born and grew up in Palestine. He believed, and most of our group agreed, that the West Bank belonged to Israel.
For him and for us, all of this was based on a certain interpretation of the Bible that focuses on God’s promise of the whole land of Israel (including all of Palestine) to the Jewish people as their “Promised Land.”
History tells us that conservative, evangelical Christians were instrumental in the creation of the Jewish State of Israel—long before the 1948 establishment of it.
Is what I’m describing as “Christian Zionism” a small ideology embraced by very few people? I don’t think so. And right now, in October, 2023, former president Donald Trump’s unclear statements about Israel and Hezbollah, for example, are causing many evangelical Trumpists to waver in their support of him. Zionism is perhaps the only thing they like about the Democratic Party.
Many people have tried to blame anti-Semitism on Christianity because of many Christian churches’ supercessionist theology of the church as “the New Israel of God.” They are ignorant about the millions of American dispensationalist Christian Zionists such as those with whom I grew up who loved and love Jews, whoever and wherever they may be, and who love the Jewish State of Israel and still regard it as a part of God’s plan for world redemption.
When I was growing up my stepmother, a passionate Pentecostal Christian, made a point of patronizing Jewish professionals (e.g., doctors) and business people. She was typical of many Christian Zionists who would not hear a word of criticism aimed at the government of Israel including, for example, my criticism of Israel’s destruction of homes of families of Palestinian terrorists.
None of what I wrote above relates directly to the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, except that it may help explain why many American (and perhaps other) conservative Christians pray fervently for Israeli victims but not for Palestinian victims. Many of them truly believe that Gaza (as a geo-political entity) and the West Bank and the Palestinian state (as geo-political entities) should not exist. They believe that ALL of Palestine should belong to Jews with the possible exception of private property held by Palestinian Christians who live, for example, in and around northern Israeli towns such as Nazareth. They are not sympathetic with even those non-Jewish citizens of Israel who complain that they are treated by the Israeli government as second-class citizens.
Now, admittedly, Christian Zionism comes in varieties and degrees. But the above is a rough sketch of its ethos and theology. You should know about it.
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