Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Professor Mark Chmiel on Christian Zionism


In her study entitled The Question of Zion, Jacqueline Rose stated that “it has become commonplace for critics of Israel responding to the charge of anti-Semitism to reply that it is Zionism, not Jewishness, which is the object of their critique. This simply displaces the problem, leads to silence. As if that were the end of the matter and nothing else remains to be said. Bizarrely, the result is that while Israel barely leaves the front page of the daily papers, Zionism itself is hardly ever talked about.” [italics in original, p. xii]

And when Zionism is typically talked about, it is Jewish Zionism that is the focus. The invaluable contribution of Stephen Sizer’s book, Christian Zionism, is that he discusses in detail a lesser-acknowledged kind of Zionism, one that, he claims, predated political Zionism by 60 years (p. 254). Sizer, chairman of the International Bible Society in England, reveals a Christian Zionism that, for its own distinctly theological reasons, supports Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. One got a glimpse of such confident convictions when, in February 2006, American televangelist Pat Robertson attributed Ariel Sharon’s stroke as a punishment from God for giving up the Gaza Strip. In Robertson’s worldview, God’s wishes cannot be trumped by mere political expediency. Sizer’s first chapter is a detailed survey of Christian Zionism’s roots, focusing on its sect-like origins in Britain in the early 19th century and then considering the Christian Zionism increasing influential role in the United States mainstream. What is significant is that some influential British government figures were raised in this kind of Christianity committed to the restoration of Jews to their former land. Thus, Christian sentiment joined the interests of the British empire, as evidenced in Arthur Balfour’s 1919 letter to Lord Curzon: “…the Four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires or prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land…” (quoted on 64-65). Christian Zionism moved to the United States in the second half of the 19th century where its adherents made bold applications of biblical prophecies to the future of Jewry. Eventually, American Christian Zionism produced distinct varieties of support for the Jews to return to their God-given land, from apocalyptic Zionism (the best-selling and sensationalist writings of Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye) to the Messianic camp (most notably in the Jews for Jesus movement).

Sizer’s second chapter analyzes seven distinct doctrines of Christian Zionism. Among the examined that pertain directly to contemporary struggles in Israel’s domination of Palestine are the beliefs that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, that the ancient temple must be re-established (complete with animal sacrifices), and that an imminent, devastating Armageddon will commence before Jesus intervenes to save a select few.

Sizer’s third chapter explores the practical contribution of Christian Zionism to the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. He examines six different ways in which doctrines of Christian Zionism are translated into specific political actions on behalf of Israel. Since all of the land (with unspecified borders) was given by God to the Jews, then it is incumbent upon Christian churches, ministers, and political action groups to back the annexation of Palestinian land and support the Jewish settlements built thereon. Other Christian Zionists see any kind of diplomacy as an affront to God, as Sizer quotes one Christian Zionist activist: “We need to encourage others to understand God’s plans, not the man-inspired plans of the UN, the US, the EEC, Oslo, Wye, etc. God is not in any plan that would wrestle the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount area and the Mount of Olives, and give it to the Moslem world. Messiah is not coming back to a Moslem city called Al-Quds, but to the regathered, restored Jewish city of Jerusalem” (p. 250).

Sizer helpfully summarizes his work in chapter four, identifying four specific kinds of Christian Zionism today—covenantal premillinianism, Messianic dispensationalism, apocalyptic dispensationalism, and political dispensationalism—and how they vary on issues like Jerusalem, the temple, and Armageddon. A glossary dealing with such terms is provided, which the non-specialist reader will find useful in seeing that, like its Jewish counterpart, it is more accurate to speak of Christian Zionisms. And while Christian Zionists may have some theological disagreements with each other, they stand united on supporting an expansionist Israel with its corresponding ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

Mark Chmiel is adjunct professor of Theological Studies at St. Louis University and of Religious Studies at Webster University. (author of Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership) Published in Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2006

You can purchase copies of Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? from IVP or Amazon.