Christian/Evangelical Zionism – The New Theological Swearword

As mentioned earlier, I believe that frequently the victimization narrative being promulgated in the name of the Palestinians is a clever, even cunning, propaganda approach designed to undermine Western support of the State of Israel.  In his fine book, A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations, Benjamin Netanyahu offers and substantiates this analysis. This propagandistic ploy has largely been working, except among those who either bury their heads in biblical sand and are therefore impervious to all contemporary situations and arguments,  or those informed souls with the access and the will to discover that the narrative being constructed is in many, although sadly, not all cases, a distorted fantasy.

These propagandistic narratives are a kind of rhetorical slight of hand whereby the “magician” (that is, the proponent of the constructed narrative) directs your attention where he/she wants it, while hiding from your view what’s really going on. As one minor example, the Security Wall controlling access of Palestians to Israeli locations is presented as an Israeli instrument of victimizing the Palestinians. What is not stated is that the wall was erected in response to weekly, and sometimes daily terrorist bombings in the Jewish state, and that since these security measures were taken, those bombings are virtually extinct.  Yet many people don’t think of that when they evaluate Israel’s policies. It is so easy to manipulate people by hiding context from their view.  And this is just one of the devices in the Palestinian propaganda bag of tricks.

But another parallel campaign has been going on coterminous with this constructed victimization narrative: it is a constructed theological narrative, whereby the State of Israel and those Christians who support it are theologically delegitimized. What we have here is an ongoing campaign to stigmatize what is termed “Christian Zionism.”

Rivers of ink could be spilled to deal with this phenomenon, but I will have to limit myself to a few observations. I direct you to to a case in point, a quotation from a 2003 document from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, titled “Christian Zionism Distorts Faith and Imperils Peace,” which touches notes found throughout treatments which stigmatize Christian Zionists and Christian Zionism.  Read these excerpts slowly, paying special attention to how the author, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, portrays Christian Zionists  and what he implies about them.  This is like detecting a magician’s trick by doggedly watching his/her hands. Look!

We are here – in Beirut, Cairo, Damascus – to listen and to learn.

In our listening thus far, already we have heard of a new peril that travels from some Christians in the west to this land – what might be called “evangelical Zionism.” This is the belief, held by a group of Christians especially in North America, that the modern state of Israel, including its territorial ambitions, has a direct biblical mandate providing a justification for its political and military actions.

This is an horrific straw man argument. Christian Zionism predates the founding of the modern State of Israel by over 100 years, and its convictions are separate from opinions about military action.

Rev Granberg-Michaelson goes on:

A few personalities in North America – such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham, have made statements about such beliefs, and also about the nature of Islam, that have attracted wide attention.

You need to hear what we, and millions of other Christians in the United States, think about these perspectives. First, understand, please, that proponents of “evangelical Zionism” are the extremists. And like extremists everywhere, they attract media attention.

I would guess – and this is only a guess – that four out of five Americans would regard the statements of such personalities as ill-informed, ill-advised, and irresponsible. Within American political and religious life, such figures and views are regarded as voices on the fringe, on the “far right”. But from what we have heard thus far in our time with you and with the churches in these lands, it would seem that many believe such voices speak for all US Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a classic ad hominem argument. It is one of the standard ploys of the Anti-Christian Zionist crowd, linking Christian Zionism to stigmatized and unattractive figures, such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Jerry Jenkins of the Left Behind series, and Hal Lindsey, so that Christians, especially of the mainline churches,  will avoid the theological position because they do not also want to be labeled strange, fringe, ill-advised, irresponsible, Islamophobic and extremist.  This is a deplorable form of argument. Notice what is entirely lacking here is any engagement with the biblical texts upon which people base their views.

And he continues:

Evangelical churches in the United States are often vibrant and growing. But they include a wide diversity. Only a portion are influenced by those with a right-wing political agenda, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. The majority, while generally conservative in their views, are more moderate, and reject political extremism. And a smaller but growing number of evangelicals have a more progressive outlook, believing that the Bible calls us clearly to address the needs of the poor, the marginalized, and to seek peace and reconciliation – all essential to being faithful disciples of Jesus. (Found online August 31, 2012 here).

Don’t miss how strongly he insinuates that Christian Zionists neglect addressing the needs of the poor, the marginalized, substituting preoccupation with an eschatological calendar and land conquest for  seeking peace and reconciliation. What nasty, biased rhetoric! And utterly untrue as a generalization about Christian Zionists!

Christian Zionism: Some Political Figures

In the first chapter of A Durable Peace: Israel and its Place Among the Nations, Benjamin Netanyahu speaks of Christian political figures and religious figures, too numerous to mention, back into the 18th centur, who articulated aspects of the Christian ZIonist position. Political figures include U.S. President John Adams, who said “I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent natiion, for as I believe . . . once restored to an independent government and no longer persecuted, they would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character,” to which we Jews would say, “Thank you, I guess!” Notice though these tone of restoration and the assumption that that restoration would be of the Jews to Judea.  When he was 25 miles from Jerusalem in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte exclaimed,”Israelites arise! Now is the moement. . . to claim your political existence as a nation amog nations!”

Many British political figures also rang in on these matters, a century or more before the Jewish state came to be. Lord Shaftesbury, who also fought against slavery and for the reform of child labor laws,  wrote in 1838 that he was “anxious about the hopes and destinies of the Jewish people. Everything [is] ripe for their return to Palestine. . . . the inherent vitality of the Hebrew race reasserts itself with amazing persistence . . . but the great revival can take place only in the Holy Land.”  Another Christian Zionist. But indifferent to the plight of the poor and suffering? Hardly! A disciple of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell?  Impossible!  The reality of Christian Zionism does a better job matching the biblical text than it does the propaganda of its opponents. Lord Shaftesbury was the premier social reformer of his generation. A superb new book about him and others of the pre-Herzl Christian Zionists may be found here.

Lord Lindsay wrote in 1847, hoping that the Jews “may once again take possession of their native land.” And many other political figures, on both sides of the Atlantic, expressed similar sentiments on the basis of the biblical identity and rights of the Jewish people.  Notice, this was written sixty years prior to the first Zionist Congress, and one hundred years prior to the founding of the State.  This is not trendy theological kitchiness: this is conviction based on some familiarity with history and tbe biblical text.

Again, there were many more  figures whom space forbids our examining in detail, and Netanyahu names some of them. Included among them were William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft–none of them flighty, fringe, ill-advised, irresponsible, Islamophobic extremists.

Christian Zionism: Some Religious Figures

Not only political figures, but religious figures as well agitated for a Jewish return to Zion prior to the founding of the Modern Jewish State. Netanyahu names a few of them, minor and major.

In 1819, Levi Parsons, whose namesake nephew later served as Vice President under Benjamin Harrison, spoke in a meeting at Old South Church in Boston, an address printed in 1821. With Pliny Fisk one of the first two American missionaries to Israel was At that meeting he said something quite prophetic:

Admit there still exists in the breast of every Jew an unconquerable desire to inhabit the land which was given to their Fathers; a desire, which even a conversion to Christianity does not eradicate. . . . Were the Ottoman occupation of Palestine to vanish, nothing but a miracle would prevent their [the Jews] immediate return.

How did he know this? From his reading of Scripture. It would be nearly 100 years before the Ottoman Empire fell, and the 1917 discussions of its disposition led directly to the Balfour Declaration which was to smooth the way for the inevitability Parsons foresaw a century before. And there are many others, not wild eye fanatics, nor military saber rattlers, nor indifferent to the plight of suffering people, who likewise longed for the day of Israel’s return.

Already mentioned on this blog was Presbyterian missionary scholar Samuel Henry Kellogg (1839-1889).  Writing in 1883, years before the Theodor Herzl’s Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, and a lifetime before the founding of the State of Israel, Kellogg looked at Ezekiel 37 and ventured a guess concerning how it would look when the Jews returned to the Land.  Here is what he said:

In the prophecy of Ezekiel we have, in the vision of he valley of dry bones and its interpretation, a very full account of the final restoration of Israel.  According to the representations of that vision, the restoration is to take place in successive and perfectly distinct stages.  Thus, while the prophet saw that before the giving of life to the dry bones which symbolized the house of Israel, before even the clothing of them with flesh and sinews and skin there was first of all, ‘a noise and a shaking, and bone came to bone,  each bone to his fellow.’  That is, he saw, in the first place, a preliminary organization, the necessary antecedent to all that followed.  If this feature of the vision means anything, it would seem that it can mean nothing else than this:  that a tendency to external organization in the scattered nation, was to be looked for, antecedent and preparatory to their actual reinstatement in their land, and their conversion to God by the power of the Spirit of life.  Something of this kind, therefore, according to the prophet, was to be expected as one of the initial stages of the restoration process. [Kellogg, Samuel Henry.  The Jews, or Prediction and Fulfillment: an Argument for the Times. Anson D.F. Randolph and Company, 1883].

The facts are, that the founding of the Modern State followed precisely the pattern Kellogg discerned in the prophecies of Ezekiel! And this man was another Christian Zionist whose life of service to the poor in India (on three separate tours of duty, on third of which he died at the age of sixty), underscores the falsity of the stigmatizing labels laid nowadays on Christian Zionists.   He was the author of a well known Grammar of the Hindi Language (2nd ed., 1893), of a still well-regarded commentary on Leviticus, and other works as well. No lightweight!

Perhaps the most famous of the American restorationists, who foresaw and sought to expedite the return of the Jews to the Land, was William Eugene Blackstone, a fully remarkable man (October 6, 1841 – November 7, 1935)  an American evangelist and Christian Zionist and author of the proto-Zionist Blackstone Memorial of 1891.  But before then , he wrote (in 1878) the Premillennial popular text Jesus is Coming. This book sold multi-millions of copies worldwide and was translated into 48 languages.

The Wikipedia reference to his name tell us this:

He initially focused on the Restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land as a prelude to their conversion to Christianity, out of a pious wish to hasten the coming of the Messiah; but he increasingly became concerned with the deadly, Russian, government-instigated pogroms and believed that it was necessary to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  He was, furthermore, persuaded that neither the European nations nor the United States would accept as many Jews as needed to escape from Europe.

This was another prophetic man who, like Herzl, saw far in advance where matters were heading for the Jews of Europe. I direct you to that Wikipedia article that you might read about this remarkable man, whom we might well call “The Christian Herzl.” See the article here.

I direct you also to Netanyahu’s book, A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations, which, on this subject as others has much to teach us that blows away the smoke blown into our eyes by modern propagandistic rhetoric and theological politics.

 

 

 

About Stuart Dauermann

The blog of Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, teacher, mentor, radio talk show host, denizen of Los Angeles, and a visionary with a long career in Messianic Jewish activism. You can hear Rabbi Dauermann as he hosts Shalom Talk, a weekly radio show, and even listen online at ShalomTalk.com. Rabbi Dauermann spends time traveling nationally and internationally, and throughout the year is in Israel as a Scholar in Residence at the MJTI Jerusalem Center. He has plenty to say about Jewish-Christian relations, the need for shalom in the world, and the agenda of Messiah, the Son of David.
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