Christian Zionism: An Overdue Reality Check
On Monday, thousands of Christians from every state in the union will gather in Washington, D.C. for the seventh annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Summit. CUFI is the largest pro-Israel organization in the country, with well over one million members. And our Summit is one of the largest grassroots policy events held in DC. Yet we still often find ourselves laboring against anti-Christian myths that should long ago have been debunked.
Starting with the sublime and then working our way back to the merely ridiculous, we in CUFI continue to be accused of entering the political process to stand with Israel for the most outlandish of reasons: to speed Armageddon and the second coming of Jesus. Really? The very persistence of this claim demonstrates the prevalence of anti-Christian bias among significant segments of American opinion.
Let’s do a little Theology 101. Christians, like Jews, believe in the concept of a Messiah. Christians believe that he is named Jesus, that he’s already appeared on earth, and that he’ll be coming back a second time. Jews still await His first visit. Christians, like Jews, also believe that the Messiah’s arrival will be accompanied by much bloodshed. The Hebrew Scriptures first described the “birth pangs” that will accompany the coming of the Messiah.
Now let’s be clear—there is a group of people who believe that if they expedite the return of the Jews to Israel they can speed the coming of the Messiah. And these people are called… Jews. Yes, the idea that man can speed God’s Messianic timetable is actually a Jewish idea. This belief isn’t why most Jews support Israel, and it isn’t used to discredit Jewish Zionism. But it exists.
By contrast, most Christians reject the idea that human agency can alter God’s Messianic timetable. Without delving too deeply into Christian eschatology, the overwhelming majority of pro-Israel Christians are premillenial dispensationalists; for them it’s a matter of black letter theology that man is powerless to speed the second coming by so much as a second. If these Christians believe they cannot speed the second coming, then why do they get out of bed and go to pro-Israel rallies? Why do they sell their cars or take weekend jobs (we’ve had members do both) to come to Washington and attend our Summit? Clearly, the motive has to come from elsewhere.
And indeed it does. When you peel away the layers of myth, it turns out that religious Christians support Israel for the same reasons that religious Jews support Israel. It starts in the book of Genesis, where God promises the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. But what starts in the Bible does not end there. Christian Zionism is informed by an understanding of the long tragedy of Jewish history and the need for a Jewish state. And Christian Zionism is buttressed by a view of Israeli history that sees Israel’s struggle for survival and security as just.
But wait, skeptics will ask, if Christians don’t want to speed Armageddon then why do they so zealously support settlement construction and oppose peace talks? Are these policies not aimed at sparking a conflict that will bring Armageddon? And thus a misunderstanding of Christian theology feeds a misunderstanding of Christian policy.
Yes, many Christian supporters of Israel do believe that all of the land of Israel—including the West Bank—belongs to the Jewish people. And, as Open Zion has noted, CUFI’s founder, Pastor John Hagee, has preached from the book of Joel that the nations who “divide the land” will face divine judgment. But why does the analysis stop here? Why are so many so quick to presume that Christians cannot morally apply their theological beliefs to current events?
What our critics should do—and continually fail to do—is their homework. At CUFI’s creation, our founders made an important and controversial decision. They concluded that no matter what their personal views, they do not wish to sit in the safety of America and tell the Israelis what to do. Israel is a democracy, and a rather vibrant one at that. CUFI’s mission is to support the democratically elected government of Israel rather than dictate to it. Every single policy initiative we’ve undertaken has fit within these strict parameters.
When it comes to Christian Zionism, the gap between perception and reality continues to yawn wide. CUFI members are accused of holding theological views we don’t hold. We’re accused of pursuing policy we don’t pursue. Perhaps our seventh DC Summit can be an occasion for our critics to begin debating the very real differences that exist when it comes to Israel, rather than shadow boxing with their own straw men.