On Christian Zionism

I recently wrote an article for an up-and-coming publication by a friend of mine in Hong Kong.


In the Footsteps of Christ

Constructing a Narrative

I grew up on Biblical narratives of events long past, whether it was how Moses brought his people out of Egypt or of God’s covenant with Abraham to make his descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Such narratives are useful in conveying spiritual truths, such as the power and mightiness of God. Many Christians, however, have taken Biblical texts and superimposed them on contemporary realities. In particular, Biblical passages are erroneously employed to fashion an anachronistic vision for the modern state of Israel.

A prime example is the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, one of the largest Christian Zionist organizations in the world. In its position statements, the organization affirms that “the land of Canaan, for the purposes of world redemption, is the everlasting possession of the Jewish people” and the said nation-state’s creation is the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Jewish people.[1] It goes without saying that Christians should have unwavering support for Israel, since the nation-state is a demonstration of the “exclusive sovereignty and purposes of God over the nations in the course of human history.”[2]

A logical development to upholding this religious stance is to reprimand those who shed light on Israel’s moral and ethical imperfections, for it might cast doubt on the religious-nationalistic construction of Israel as willed by God; in other words, infallible. For instance, “alternate tourism”—tours that go beyond the normal pilgrimage to learn about the effects of the Israeli military occupation on Palestinians—is labelled as an effort to “delegitimize Israel and denounce its presence in Judea and Samaria.”[3] All in all, those who seek to expose the subaltern’s narratives are roundly vilified, some even wrongly accused of being anti-Semitic.

The consequence is that many Christians are (wrongly so) cowed and silenced, out of fear that they might be derided for not supporting democratic values and the Jews’ right to national self-determination, or even worse, being denounced for defying God’s will for the Jewish nation. Do these damning accusations hold merit and stand up to Biblical truths?

The Fallibility of Human Interpretation

Like all religious texts, the Bible can become a tool through which fallible humans claim and wield authority over others. Although Biblical prophesies and promises are useful for recognizing God’s authority and plan in the lives of individuals, they have oftentimes been misinterpreted to form naïve attitudes of how Christians should react to the current situation in Israel.

With much religious undertones, Christians are called to have a zealous declaration of Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of the Jews (least it be “national suicide” for the Jewish state), or to the continual expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria.[4] The dominant ideology hence emphasizes the religious significance of the modern Jewish state, while downplaying—and in some cases, moralizing—the ethical and moral pitfalls of the Israeli government.

The ramifications of this is evident in how we choose to turn a blind eye to actions that might jeopardize one’s religious and nationalistic claims, while paying due attention to those that adhere to our constructed historical narrative of the land.

Failing our Responsibilities

As responsible Christians, we need to educate ourselves on the lived realities of those living in the “Promised Land.” At the very least, Christian circles should initiate and foster open discussions on the current realities in Israel and Palestine, in particular from the perspective of the locals.

There is a pressing need for honest inquiries presently, given the wide popularity of Christian religious tourism in the Holy Land. Thousands of Christians descend upon Haifa, Jerusalem, the Galilee, and so forth, without really knowing the history and the context of the places they visit. A topical scan of Israel may reveal an Arab souq, good hummus, sandy beaches, and a whole bundle of holy relics, but rarely do these visits reveal realities of a more insidious nature.

Ask any typical North American Christian returning from the Holy Land of their religious tour. Chances are they are still basking in a post-pilgrimage halo, while ever more ignorant of the cramped refugee camps that dot the fields of Bethlehem, the discriminatory urban planning policies in the Negev, or the persecution faced by Messianic Jewish because of their faith in Jesus.[5] Nor would Christian tourists be told that Jewish artifacts are meticulously excavated to publicize religious nationalism, while many non-Judaic archaeological finds from other eras are conveniently neglected.[6]

Many present-day examples can be found, not in the least Silwan, where archaeological projects such as the City of David are being used to evict Arab residents, for the benefit of expanding Jewish settlements in the area.[7] Despite the many livelihoods destroyed in the process, Christian Zionists fastidiously employ convenient rationalizations for the settlement constructions that expediently brush away the claims of Palestinians.

Indeed, what undeniably amazes me is Christians’ justification of the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank as a “necessary measure” for ensuring that God’s prophesy is fulfilled.

This is evident during one particular Sunday service I attended in Jerusalem last December. When I entered the church, I was promptly given a card that duly noted for us to continue praying for prosperity and expansion of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. I was utterly shocked that the church would not only promote individuals to defy international law, but also essentially go against the moral conviction of a Christian who professes to follow Christ and have true love and empathy for Palestinians.

Alas, many Christians continue to follow seemingly-innocuous calls of support for Israel, while implicitly endorsing the destruction of Palestinians’ livelihoods so that Israel could continue to prosper and be “blessed by God.” All in all, the religious justifications for supporting Israel is indicative of how entrenched North American Christians are in dominant ideologies—ones that stifle the subaltern’s narratives and experiences.

Truly Following Christ’s Footsteps

I do not claim to be an authoritative figure on Middle Eastern politics, religious strife, or Christian doctrines, nor am I advocating for a certain political stance on the myriad of issues involved. However, what I do suggest is an honest examination into the lived experiences of those in Israel and Palestine—a search for a deeper understanding of the conflict that transcends religious dogmatism and hegemonic narratives.

If Christians truly want to see God’s will fulfilled, perhaps Israel could prove to be the hard-learned lesson for individuals to find within themselves the capacity to empathize with the “other.”

Jesus called us to follow in his footsteps, one that is marked by love and forgiveness. Our duty is not to support one political entity or another; rather our duty is simply to make disciples of all nations so that others can experience the same grace and love that God has shown us. Perhaps then, when we have truly followed Christ’s example, we will find a lasting peace in Jerusalem.

[1] Malcolm Hedding, “Position Statements: The ICEJ’s core beliefs,” ICEJ, http://int.icej.org/about/position-statements (accessed August 21, 2012).
[2] Ibid; David Parsons, “The Question of Justice: Biblical Zionism and Christian Palestinians,” ICEJ, http://int.icej.org/media/question-justice (accessed August 21, 2012).
[3] Estera Wieja, “One Man’s Lonely Battle with ‘Alternative Tourism,’” ICEJ, http://int.icej.org/news/special-reports/one-man%E2%80%99s-lonely-battle-alternative-tourism%E2%80%99 (accessed August 21, 2012). Malcolm Hedding, Vice-Chairman of the ICEJ’s International Board of Directors, roundly denounced a social justice conference held at the Bethlehem Bible College. Access full article here http://int.icej.org/christian-zionism-social-justice.
[4] Malcolm Hedding, “The Delegitimization of Israel: Why Christians must defend the nation of Israel,” ICEJ, http://int.icej.org/node/219834 (accessed August 21, 2012).
[5] Associated Press, “Messianic Jews say they are persecuted in Israel,” Ynet, June 22, 2008, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3558795,00.html (accessed August 21, 2012).
[6] Raphael Greenberg, “Towards an Inclusive Archaeology in Jerusalem: The Case of Silwan/The City of David.” Emek Shaveh: Archaeology in the Shadow of the Conflict, http://www.alt-arch.org/silwan.php#two (accessed August 21, 2012).
[7] Sophie Crowe, “In Silwan neighborhood, evictions and displacement,” The Palestine Monitor, November 30, 2011, http://www.palestinemonitor.org/?p=3165 (accessed August 21, 2012).


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