By Nick Gier
Every grain of sand between the Dead Sea, the Jordan River
and the Mediterranean Sea belongs to the Jew [sic].
—Ed MacAteer, Christian Zionist
We don’t care what the Israelis vote! We care
what God says! God gave that land to the Jews.
—Jan van der Hoeven, International Christian Embassy
Jerusalem is 100 percent Israeli.
—Naftah Bennett, Israel’s Education Minister
[Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque] has got to go. It is a blot in our land.
—Bobby Brown, American Jewish militant
Republicans join the Israelis in proclaiming that Jerusalem is the “eternal and undivided” capital of Israel, but they are undermining any hope of lasting peace in the Middle East. When Trump recently made this the official U.S. position, he ripped off the disguise, which Americans diplomats have worn for decades, that we are neutral mediators between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Vice-President Pence is a Christian Zionist
The word “eternal” is a theological, not political, word. The former is non-negotiable, but latter is open to discussion, unless it, too, is infused with theology. In a recent speech to some diplomats in May, Vice-President Mike Pence declared that “the establishment of Israel in 1948 was a prophecy literally come to pass.” He stated further that a prosperous, democratic Israel is “a sign of God’s faithfulness,” because “God himself has fulfilled his promise to his people.”
According to University of Wisconsin professor Dan Hummel, this is dangerous language, because “defining Israel and the Middle East in explicitly religious terms presents a holy war framework of clashing religions in a region that is already racked by sectarian violence and extremism.” According to Christian Zionists, war is inevitable because the Bible predicts that at Armageddon, a mountain in Palestine, there will be “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14).
Jerusalem is Divided West and East, and by Three Religions
In his rash decision Trump explained that he was simply recognizing “reality,” but the fact is that Jerusalem is a divided city, between the western sector where the Israeli parliament is seated and the mainly Arabic eastern sector, where the Palestinians want to establish their capital. The status of Jerusalem was supposed to be settled by careful negotiations, not American fiat.
Jerusalem’s Old City is also divided among Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is where Christians believe Jesus was buried; the Dome of the Rock is where Muhammed is said to have ascended into heaven; and Jews pray at the “Western Wall” of their ancient temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.
Muslims Hold the Key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The most amazing fact about the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is that two Muslim families are in charge of the site. Christians were always in conflict about the control of the church, and 1,400 years ago, Caliph Umar ibn Khattab made an agreement with Byzantine Christians that Muslims would hold the keys to the church. For centuries Christians have visited and prayed there unobstructed because of this unusual but wise arrangement. A Muslim family in Southern India performs a similar function at a contested Hindu temple there.
Jerusalem Church Leaders Condemn Trump’s Decision
Thirteen church leaders in Jerusalem—Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Roman Catholic, and others—have written an open letter to Trump criticizing his decision, which they say will cause “irreparable harm.” “We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”
Pence’s trip to Egypt and Israel has now been put on hold because of backlash from Trump’s decision. He was to focus on the persecution of Egypt’s Coptic Christians, but their Pope Tawadros II announced that he will not receive Pence, because Trump’s decision “did not take into account the feelings of millions of Arab people.” (The Copts are among millions of Arab Christians.) Pence was also not welcome in Bethlehem, which is under Palestinian control.
Pence Keynotes Christians United for Israel
Pence’s Christian Zionist identity was fortified in a recent keynote speech at meeting of Christians United for Israel. Former administration officials have wisely refrained from directly engaging with Christian Zionists, so Pence’s appearance plowed new and dangerous grounds.
Christians United for Israel, three million members strong, was founded in 2006 by John Hagee, an early supporter of Trump and pastor of a megachurch in San Antonio. Hagee’s church alone has raised $1 million for resettling Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has also contributed money to this illegal construction.
According to a 2013 Pew survey only 17 percent of American Jews believe that “the continued building of settlements in the West Bank is helpful to Israel’s security.” Some of the settlers are not Zionists or right-wing in orientation. For example, Lawrence Shafer moved his family to the West Bank settlement of Ariel because he could not afford to live in Israel proper. He told Bill Moyers that a house “inside Israel costs three times what it costs in Ariel.”
Christian Zionists Very Different from Jewish Zionists
Christian Zionists differ significantly from the original Zionists, secular Jews who, at the end of the 19th Century, envisioned a socialist state in historical Palestine. The communes called kibbutzes, the first established in 1909, are some of socialism’s most successful experiments, and today Israel operates very efficient state-owned enterprises, including its largest employer Israel Aerospace Industries with 16,000 workers.
Christian Zionists: More Extreme and Numerous than Jewish
Christian Zionists, comprising about 25 percent of the nation’s evangelicals, believe that the Second Coming of Christ is necessarily connected with the reestablishment of Israel. According to their interpretation of the Bible, Christ, after a cosmic battle in which the anti-Christ is defeated, will rebuild the Jewish temple, and rule the world from Jerusalem. This leaves no room for the Muslims, who must be destroyed, or for those Jews who refuse to become Christians. William Eugene Blackstone, an early Christian Zionist, is the only major spokesman who graciously excused the Jews from conversion.
A 2013 Pew Research poll showed that 82 percent of white evangelicals believed that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews. Remarkably, only 40 percent of American Jews held this view. The average American, regardless of belief, was at 44 percent, while Catholics were the lowest at 38 percent. Only Orthodox Jews polled higher at 84 percent. On the question of whether Jews and Palestinians can live together peacefully, only one-third of Jews said no, but 50 percent of white evangelicals replied that they could not.
No Jew Should be Worried about Christian End Times
According to a Harris Interactive poll, only 52 percent of American Jews believe in God. A Pew survey found that 32 percent of them admit that they have no religion at all. These Jews obviously have no reason to fear Christ’s armies taking over Jerusalem, and Orthodox Jews are also safe in their own views of their Messiah, who obviously would not destroy them. Most non-Christians do not know that Muslims believe that Jesus as the Messiah will return to rule in Jerusalem, and he will unite the world under the banner of the one true, non-trinitarian God.
Many Jews must feel a certain satisfaction that gullible American Christians are willing to spend millions of dollars helping their co-religionists have their own homes, and support politicians who want ever more money for Israel’s weapons. They should also see the rank cynicism in people who would take their land and capital city and sacrifice their non-converting brothers and sisters in the name of Christ.
Two Views of “The Land of Israel”
On the question of what Christian Zionists believe constitute the “Land of Israel,” the answer is at least all the land captured in the 1967 War: Jordan’s West Bank, the Gaza strip, and Syria’s Golan Heights. It must be stressed that permanently occupying these lands is illegal under international law, and the UN Security Council has passed a Resolution 242 to this effect. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies.”
Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk explained the U.S. position after the “Six Day War” of 1967: “We never contemplated any significant grant of territory to Israel, and on that point we and the Israelis to this day remain sharply divided. I’m not aware of any commitment the United States has made to assist Israel in retaining territories seized in the Six-Day War.” Every U.S. administration, except the current one, has urged Israel to give up its illegal occupation of Arab lands in return for peace with the Palestinians.
More grandiose and threatening to Mideast peace, is the call for a “Greater Israel,” which would include Lebanon, Syria, parts Turkey and Iraq, a vision based on a mythical Davidic kingdom. Christian Zionists have God’s “word” on this plan: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18).
First Christian Zionist Congress in 1985
When the First Christian Zionist Congress met in 1985, one of its first resolutions was a call for “all Jews living outside Israel to move to Israel.” I cannot help but compare this with Thomas Jefferson’s suggestion, one that Abraham Lincoln also supported, to send all of America’s slaves to Liberia. The implicit desire in both proposals is a desire to rid the country of Blacks and Jews.
The Congress participants offered another resolution that urged Israel to annex the West Bank. In her book Prophecy and Politics, Grace Halsell describes one voice of dissent: “An Israeli Jew, seated in the audience, pointed out that an Israeli poll showed that one-third of Israelis would be willing to trade territory seized in 1967 for peace with the Palestinians.” A representative from the International Christian Embassy declared: “We don’t care what the Israelis vote! We care what God says! And God gave that land to the Jews!”
A Long-Standing Campaign to Destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque
There has been a history of violence by both Palestinians and Israelis, but one story has not been given much press attention. Since the 1967 war, Jewish militants have attempted to blow up Islam’s holiest site: the Al Aqsa Mosque with its grand Dome of Rock. Some of the attackers, rabbis among them, have been arrested and imprisoned, but the idea has not been generally condemned. Some of the militants are guest speakers at American fundamentalist churches, and their plan for a purely Jewish Jerusalem has been enthusiastically embraced and financed.
American Evangelicals Speak Out against Zionism
David Gushee and Glen Stassen, professors at evangelical Mercer University and Fuller Theological Seminary respectively, have published their own interpretation of the biblical passages used by Christian Zionists. From them here is the crucial passage: “This is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:4). These people include Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the last of whom claim a direct lineage from Abraham’s slave wife Hagar. One could argue that the devotees of these religions worship the same God. For example, Jesus spoke Aramaic and he would have addressed God as Aalah, the linguistic equivalent of the Arabic Allah.
Gushee and Stassen, who write “as evangelical Christians committed lifelong to Israel’s security,” are firm in their condemnation of Christian Zionism: “Your belief system underwrites theft of Palestinian land and oppression of Palestinian people, helps create the conditions for an explosion of violence, and pushes U.S. policy in a destructive direction that violates our nation’s commitment to universal human rights. In all of these, American Christian Zionism as it currently stands is sinful and produces sin.”
Trump Welcome Signs Sponsored by Christian Zionists
When Trump arrived in Israel early last year, he was greeted with billboards reading “Trump is a Friend of Zion” and “Trump: Make Israel Great.” Many may have thought that they had been financed by prominent Israelis, but instead they were paid for by Christian Zionist Mike Evans. True to form and preparing for the End Times, Evans has been, since 1977, sponsoring summer camps in the U.S. and Israel designed to convert young Jews to Christianity.
Nick Gier of Moscow taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read many of his articles on religion at www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/religion.htm. He can be reached at [email protected]