What Is Christian Zionism?Ten Questions and Answers
by Irving Wesley Hall
1. When you speak of Christian Zionists, can you give us some American examples?
That's easy because the Christian Zionist movement is almost 100% "Made in the USA." It was a fringe movement inside American Christianity until the 1970's. Nowadays it is hard to name one prominent televangelist who isn't a Christian Zionist.
Many leading Republican politicians pursue its agenda as well. The Reverend s Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell are Christian Zionists-or dispensationalists-as their theology is called. But we can get into that later.
Prominent Christian Zionist politicians include Republicans Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed, and President George W. Bush.
2. You mean all of those men agree on religion?
They may have differences. All Christians do. But they agree on at least three theological points with powerful political implications:
1. Unconditional support for Israel's hawks,
2. The imminence of the final war of Armageddon, and
3. The belief that born-again Christians will go to Heaven without dying in what is called the Rapture.
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First they agree that Christians have an overriding obligation to support the policies of the Zionist state of Israel. Zionism is the ideology of Israel as a racially pure Jewish state established on colonized Arab land. Zionism justifies the Jewish state's continual territorial expansion. It encourages Jews from all over the world to immigrate to Israel and settle on land seized from the native Arab population.
That's why dispensationalists are called Christian Zionists.
Second, Christian Zionists agree on the inevitability of Armageddon, most likely through a worldwide nuclear war that will kill the majority of us living on earth. Most Christian Zionists expect Armageddon in their lifetimes after most Jews have "returned" to Israel. The ingathering of the Jews in the Holy Land is the critical event in an elaborate "End Times" scenario that dispensationalists piece together from verses lifted from several books in the Bible. We can get into that later.
Third, these folks expect to escape the horrors that they believe are predicted in the Bible. Based on several misinterpreted Bible passages they believe their born-again elite will be whisked away to Heaven in an event they call the Rapture. We can discuss the passages if we have time.
3. How many Americans agree with this Biblical interpretation?
Tens of millions of Christian Evangelicals accept some of the tenets of dispensationalism, although they may not accept all or even know the word.
But, before we go on, I want to emphasize two points.
First, the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world disagree with this interpretation of the Bible. It does not represent the views of American Catholics, most American Protestant denominations, or all American Evangelicals.
Second, these interpretations of the Bible not only represent a radical break with traditional Christianity, but they are also relatively new.
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Israel was founded only sixty years ago.
Nuclear Armageddon gained currency after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The horrible idea that God plans to destroy the world in this way was first popularized by Hal Lindsey in his best seller, Late Great Planet Earth, thirty-five years ago.
Anglican minister and Bible scholar Stephen Sizer points out that the publication of Lindsey's book in the early 'seventies and the subsequent business success of fire-and-brimstone TV preachers launched modern Christian Zionism.
The televangelists' audience has been estimated to be larger than the circulation of Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times combined.
One survey found 60-70 million or 20-25% of Americans believe in the Rapture. Unqualified support for Israel among Americans is highest among Jews and Christian Evangelicals. One poll found 39% of Americans believe that when the Bible describes the earth being destroyed by fire it means the inevitability of a worldwide nuclear war.
4. What is the connection between organized Christian Zionism and Zionism?
They've been joined at the hip since Israel's 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel tripled it territory through the military conquest of its neighbors and became an occupying power over millions of native Palestinians.
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When hawkish Israeli leaders like Benyamin Netanyahu visit the United States they brief Christian Zionist leaders. Reverend John Hagee boasts that his followers sent millions of dollars to relocate Russian Jews to lands stolen from Palestinians. Despite the violence in the Middle East, American Christians sustain Israel's tourism industry. The government of Israel reportedly gave Reverend Jerry Falwell a private Lear Jet.
When Ariel Sharon's army invaded the Palestinian territories in 2002, President George W. Bush publicly demanded that Israel withdraw. Bush had both political authority and financial leverage, because the United States gives 3 billion dollars in mostly military aid to Israel every year -more than to any other country.
However, Ariel Sharon thumbed his nose at Bush, and the president backed down.
Why? Christian Zionist preachers mobilized their flocks to flood the White House with hundreds of thousands of letters and emails supporting Israel's Biblical right to drive out the native Palestinians.
Pat Robertson recently suggested that God punished previous Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with an incapacitating stroke because Sharon withdrew some Jewish settlers from Gaza.
5. Are you saying a minority of American Christians are dictating United States foreign policy?
In the Middle East, yes-with the help of the so-called Israel Lobby or American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. The Christian Zionists do not represent most American Christians, and the Israel Lobby doesn't represent the interests of most American Jews or the majority of Israeli citizens.
Most Christians, Jewish Americans, and Israelis support a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel,
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If you doubt the power of the Christian Zionist and Zionist lobbies, just look at the recent lopsided Congressional vote in support of Israel's devastating aggression against its democratic neighbor, Lebanon. You can be sure that AIPAC's wealthy donors will punish the nine Congress people who refused to go along.
To understand the power internationally of this American alliance, just recall how long the United States defied unanimous world opinion in the United Nations for a ceasefire in Lebanon. The U.S. threatened its veto power for 34 days to allow Israel to pulverize Lebanon's Muslim and Christian communities.
If you want an example of this alliance's "Judeo-Christian values" look at the over one million unexploded cluster bombs that Israel sowed in Lebanese homes, villages, and farms. These will continue to kill and maim Lebanese farmers and children for decades.
6. So what's the difference between the mainstream Christian interpretation of the Bible and that of Christian Zionists?
We probably have time for only three examples. Listeners can find a list of scholarly books on my website www.notinkansas.us for more.
First, dispensationalists believe that all the verses in the Bible are not only literally true, but equal in significance. Second, Christian Zionists, unlike Biblical scholars, confuse Biblical prophecy with prediction. Third, televangelists display a willful ignorance of centuries of serious Christian scholarship.
As I mentioned, dispensationalism represents a uniquely American and offbeat approach to Scripture. The most convincing critics of Christian Zionism are devout Christian scholars, some of them former dispensationalists.
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First, the belief that every word in the Bible is literally true is relatively new historically. It gained prominence in the 1920's with the coining of the new word "fundamentalism" around the Scopes "monkey trial" in Tennessee.
More important, dispensationalists-just one school of fundamentalists-assert that every word or phrase in the Bible is potentially of equal value to every other. Any verse can be cherry-picked to create a brand new End Timer narrative that violates both the letter and spirit of the original contexts.
For example, an obscure passage in Daniel or an allegorical reference in Revelation is given greater weight than the Golden Rule or Sermon on the Mount. It's as if an inexperienced chef thumbed through a cookbook and selected a few ingredients from many recipes. The result could be a deadly concoction.
Second, televangelists and pop writers like Hal Lindsey and the authors of the Left Behind series break with centuries of Biblical scholarship when they assert that prophecies made thousands of years ago by ancient sages fell into a time warp just for modern preachers.
Today's Christian Zionists carefully select prophecies out of context and transform them into predictions--something entirely different. They claim that these Scriptural passages mysteriously waited thousands of years for a few dozen wealthy American televangelists to manipulate in order to explain current events as part of some secret and hair-raising divine plan.
Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel did not pretend to be Nostradamus. Biblical prophets were God-fearing social critics of the religious and political leaders of their time. Their prophecies were comparable to the warnings of many Americans in 2001 that if the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq our troops would wind up in a quagmire, stir up Muslim hatred, and inspire many more terrorists.
If the Bush Administration had only listened to us, then. . . Well sometimes folks listened to the Biblical prophets and sometimes they didn't.
Most Biblical scholars consider the Bible a closed system. All prophecies were fulfilled or avoided within the Bible's own framework. In fact Christians have traditionally used the fulfillment of prophecy and the performance of miracles as proof of divine inspiration.
Third, these TV preachers are ignorant of the rich tradition of Bible scholarship. They preach as though the Bible were written in English under God's direction simultaneously with the events described. Christian scholars have proved incontrovertibly that the Bible is a collection of stories, many from pre-literate oral traditions from all over the ancient world.
Scrolls and documents underwent countless transcriptions by unknown agents and changed through translations from Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin based upon the contemporary meanings of words that reflected the social structures of the times. Even the latest New International Version of the English-language Bible underwent hundreds of changes, some significant, as a result of ongoing scholarship. Clearly the changed passages could not have literally true both before and after.
7. So what kind of people originally devised this approach to Scripture?
The fathers of dispensationalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (there were no women) were mostly lonely misanthropes. Each man was convinced that he alone understood the true meaning of the Bible. Every other Christian in the world was not only wrong, but deluded by Satanic forces.
John Nelson Darby, an Irishman who preached in the United States after 1830, is considered the founder of the system. Reverend Edward Irving promoted the Rapture around the same time. Cyrus Ingersoll Scofield codified the separate earthly and heavenly paths of Jews and Christians in the early 1900s. His Scofield Bible is the dispensationalists' classic reference work.
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As the dispensationalist system evolved over time each new interpreter claimed to have been the first to discover the true meaning of the Bible. He rarely gave credit to those from whom he had inherited his ideas. As Reverend Stephen Sizer notes, this was especially the case with Hal Lindsey.
Because the founders of the doctrine condemned all other Christians as apostates in league with the Devil, they were especially attracted to the doctrine of original sin. That's the essence of "dispensationalism."
What is a "dispensation"?
According to the Scofield system, a dispensation is one of seven periods in the Bible in which God orders the Jews to do something that the deity knows they will not do so that He will have to punish them. The seven cycles or dispensations (most in Genesis) include the banishment from the Garden of Eden, Noah's worldwide flood, the several exiles of the Hebrew people, and the punishment of the Jews for rejecting Christ.
This negative view of both human nature and God explains why dispensationalists prefer the vengeful God of the Old Testament to the loving God of the New Testament. These fundamentalists find the "Shalt Nots" of Leviticus more appealing than the "Blesseds" of the Sermon on the Mount. They love the primitive "eye for an eye" rather than the enlightened "turning the other cheek."
This explains why Christian Zionists are so eager to post the punitive Ten Commandments in public places. What was the last time you heard of fundamentalists agitating to post the Golden Rule?
Unfortunately for us Americans, these "Judeo-Christian" values are easily manipulated by a Republican administration whose wealthy supporters profit from war and preach fear, mistrust, and vengeance instead of Christian love, respect, and forgiveness.
The idea that all the bad things human beings are doing to the planet and each other are part of God's plan, and that good people can escape the consequences by flying off to heaven at the last moment is very dangerous.
Traditional Christians want to halt global warming, end the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and use the money to address deepening world poverty that breeds terrorism.
Not the Christian Zionists. They say "Bring 'em on!"
8. Where in the Bible do they find the Rapture, Armageddon, and support for Israel's policies?
The Oxford Bible Encyclopedia was compiled by the most reputable Christian scholars in the world. There is no entry for "Rapture." Lutheran scholar Barbara Rossing points out that the Rapture would require Jesus to return not once but twice. The Rapture is based on a misreading of the description of the second coming in Thessalonians and Matthew ignorance of the meaning of the Greek word for "meet."
In her wonderful little book, The Rapture Exposed, she describes the Book of Revelation as part of an allegorical tradition long familiar to serous Biblical scholars. Any attempt to read into Revelation any predictions, especially about 21st Century events is not only ridiculous, but violates the Bible's last book's optimistic message of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, symbolized by the victorious Lamb.
Christian Zionists cite several early passages in Genesis to justify 21st Century American support for Israel's illegal conquest and occupation of Arab lands and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Most of the world's Christian denominations condemn these policies as contrary to the teachings of Jesus.
There is a tragic irony that many Palestinians are Christians. Some still speak Aramaic, the native language of Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the world would be a living hell if all of us demanded to own the real estate that God "granted" our ancestors four thousand years ago.
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Israel's claims hinge on an ambiguous promise Jehovah made to Abraham in Genesis. However "recovered" dispensationalist Dewey Beegle, Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary, pointed out that the boundaries of the "promised land" shifted dramatically in the Old Testament.
The promise was conditional and the conditions were never met. The Hebrew word that is translated into English as "forever" appears elsewhere to mean a much shorter period of time. Does "descendants" include European non-Semitic Jews?
Several events in the Old Testament suggest the original promise was fulfilled. Furthermore, both Jesus and Paul replaced the notions of the "Chosen People" and the territorial "promised land" with the domain of universal Christianity.
Until the advent of modern Zionism, Judaism itself accepted the assimilation of Jews into Gentile society all over the world. Most Holocaust survivors did not want to immigrate to Palestine, and most of the world's Jews clearly do not want to live in Israel. They oppose the expansionist Zionist settler movement and want Israel to live in peace with its neighbors within fixed borders.
9. So you reject the charge that critics of Christian Zionism and Zionism are anti-Semitic?
As far as I know, I was the first high school teacher to make the Holocaust a fixed part of a public school curriculum. That was forty years ago.
Actually Christian Zionism is profoundly anti-Semitic and has been from its infancy. Christian Zionists believe that no Jews will ever go to heaven unless they become born-again Christians.
There is only one reason why dispensationalists contribute millions to send the Jews back to Israel. According to their bizarre "prophetic" playbook, if the Jews don't go back to Israel, where they will be killed, the Christian Zionists can't go to heaven without dying.
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According to the dispensationalist End Time scenario, the Jews must blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount, rebuild their own temple, make a pact with the Devil, and worship him for three-and-a-half years.
Then Jesus will return and slaughter the Jews, and many million Gentiles, in the battle of Armageddon. Of the 12-15 million Jewish people now in the world, only 144,000 will survive. These Jews will all convert to Christianity.
Now that's a Holocaust fantasy that would turn Adolf Hitler green with envy!
The Christian Zionists are the most powerful anti-Semitic movement in the world. By contrast, until the foundation of the state of Israel, Islamic countries have traditionally been hospitable to Jews and Christians.
For instance, in his recent speech to the United Nations, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised both Moses and Jesus as prophets. 25,000 Jews live peacefully in Iran today and practice their religion with government encouragement. Despite their small numbers, there is a Jewish seat in the Iranian parliament.
10. Don't the Zionists in Israel and AIPAC know about Christian Zionist anti-Semitism?
Of course they do. The Christian Zionist scenario is no secret. Simply watch the televangelists or read their best sellers. The Zionist movers and shakers of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee know this crackpot scheme by heart.
Why do Zionists overlook the fate that Christian Zionists have in store for them? Political expediency. For the Christians, Jews are sacrificial lambs. For the Jews, Christians, are useful idiots.
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I don't equate Zionism with Judaism or Christian Zionism with Christianity. Wealthy Zionists and Christian Zionists are cynically using each other for selfish political and financial purposes.
Both Zionist American and Christian televangelist millionaires have huge investments in the military industrial complex and other sections of corporate America. They benefit from Bush's tax policies and his fear-based military adventures abroad.
In exchange the Republicans benefit at election time.
By focusing Christian voters exclusively on lifestyle and religious issues at the ballot box (like Israel, abortion, and homosexuality), the Republicans have conned millions of Americans into voting against their own economic and political self-interest. Tax cuts for rich Jewish Americans and millionaire televangelists channel public funds away from universal health care, investment in education, and expanding social security.
Borrowing from the rest of the world to finance eternal wars for Israel against so-called "Islamic Fascism" is rapidly destroying our economy. The brutal wars of attrition in Palestine Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and, possibly, Iran cost us more than ten million dollars an hour.
The United States currently borrows from Japanese and Chinese bankers $2.2 billion dollars a day just to pay the interest on the deepening trade and budget deficits. Massive military spending and the wholesale transfer of wealth to America's very rich now comprise 2/3rds of the world's savings.
Clearly the imminent world economic collapse will dwarf the "depression" of the 1930's. And most of America's Christian and Jewish working people will suffer in ways we can barely imagine. Will they blame God or neo-conservatives and televangelists?
Christian Zionism is an insane death cult. Israel's militarism may eventually prove suicidal. Unfortunately everyone in the world has been hijacked into these folks' dark cult.
Israel is the only nation in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons. Its arsenal contains hundreds of nuclear warheads that can be launched from air, land, sea, and underwater. What if a Zionist crazy seizes power in Israel?
The United States has long possessed enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the world. Imagine a Christian Zionist president who believes he is above the law with his finger on the trigger? Supposing God tells him he should attack Iran with nuclear weapons without consulting Congress or the American people?
The Christian Zionist-Zionist-corporate Republican agenda threatens us all. The forces behind the alliance are small but very powerful. When most Jewish Americans discover the depth of Christian Zionist anti-Semitism, they will denounce its spokesmen.
When most Christians who support George W. Bush's policies take the time to examine the methodology of dispensationalism they will reject this pernicious theology as so many Evangelicals have already done.
Time is short. Christian Zionists in the United States and Zionists in Israel can easily produce a self-fulfilling prophecy that will destroy all of humanity and reduce God's sweet earth to a smoking cinder.
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