Monday, April 16, 2007

You might be a Christian Zionist

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, here's my attempt at a description of the modern movement, influential in many conservative evangelical circles, known as Christian Zionism.

You might be a Christian Zionist . . .
  1. If you think the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and its expansion in 1967 (West Bank, Gaza, Golan and East Jerusalem) are part of God’s prophetic plan for the End Times and added proof of Scripture’s accuracy.
  2. If you support the modern state of Israel largely for theological reasons.
  3. If you believe America has been blessed by God because of its support for the modern state of Israel.
  4. If you enthusiastically support the Israeli policy of building settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza as their way of laying claim to more of their entitlement.
  5. If you refer to the West Bank with the Biblical names “Judea and Samaria” rather than with phrases like “Occupied Territories.”
  6. If you oppose the founding of a Palestinian state within the borders of Israel and think the U.S. and U.N. should not pressure Israel to trade "land for peace."
  7. If you rejoice in the 6,000 or so Messianic Jewish Christians in Israel but give little or no thought to the 200,000 or so Palestinian Christians in Israel and the West Bank.
  8. If you believe the Last Days will witness the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple and the resumption of animal sacrifice.
  9. If you believe that one day Israel’s territory will extend, far beyond their present borders, reaching from the Nile to the Euphrates.
  10. If you believe that trouble in the Middle East between Jews and Arabs is inevitable, and that regional conflict must continue until the return of Christ.


Jim Deardorff said...

When is it "might be" and when is it more definite?

I would suggest the "might be a Christian Zionist" applies if any one of the ten is answered "yes." For two "yes" I would suggest "probably"; for three "yes" I'd suggest "with little doubt." Four or more then places the answer beyond reasonable doubt.

Jim Deardorff

Bruce Fisk said...

I agree, Jim. I stuck with "might be" simply because I was playing off the famous Foxworthy phrase. And also because I was trying to describe, rather than define, CZ. Your sliding scale sounds about right to me.

jbyron said...


Thanks for a list that not only gets to the heart of the matter but can serve as a conversation starter with students. I will, with your permission, use it in my classes.

I am glad to see that more NT scholars are beginning to speak out about the dangers of Christian Zionism. It is very unfortunate that most Evangelicals have no clue about the geopolitics of Israel/Palestine. I find it very sad that many Christians will support Israeli politics based on eschatology but assume that the terms Christian and Palestinian is an oxymoron. Just north of here there is a suburb of Cleveland (Parma Heights) that has seen an influx of Palestinians from the West Bank. They are predominantly Christian and part of the Diaspora from Bethlehem. But most of people never think about that aspect of humanity when they talk about the conflict.

On a humorous note, I wrote an article last summer criticizing people who were finding theological satisfaction in the war between Israel and Lebanon. Besides one or two who wrote to the seminary president demanding my removal, most people were receptive. But in February a student forwarded me link to the Jack Van Impe show which had a section featuring me and my article. It was hilarious to see myself chastised by him, but I also count it as a badge of honor to be on Jack’s bad side. 


Bruce Fisk said...

Glad you found the list helpful, John. You're most welcome to use it with students. And congrats for getting in Van Impe's cross-hairs. Where is your article published or posted?

I long for signs that ardent Christian Zionists are re-thinking their position. I fear they simply have too much invested in the system's hermeneutics and too much to lose in terms of constituents.

jbyron said...

The article was published in a local newspaper and others throughout the state of Ohio. I am not sure that it is linked anywhere. I think one my local fundamentalist fans sent it to Jack.

dcyates said...

First off, congratulations on your being awarded blogger of the month, Dr. Fisk.
Second, although I don't regard myself as a 'Christian Zionist'--far from it--according to you and jim deardorff, I would be labelled as one.
Of the items you listed (I guess I can only provide the numbers due to space limitations):
You might be a Christian Zionist if . . .
1). Nope.

2). Not a chance.

3). No way.

4). Enthusiastically? No.

5). No offence intended, Dr. Fisk, but you're kind of "loading" these questions. No, I don't refer to the West Bank as "Judea and Samaria," but there's no way I would refer to this region as "Occupied Territories" either.

6). Israel HAS traded land for peace and after having left Gaza were rewarded with rocket attacks the very next day and virtually every day since their withdrawal. The exact same thing happened after their voluntary withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Where's that promised peace?
And there's no way Israel should be pressured to allow a Palestinian state to form within its borders. If somebody swore a blood oath to kill you and your family, should you be forced to allow them to live in your home with you? Forgive me but that's patently absurd.

7). I do rejoice in the number of Messianic Jewish Christians living in Israel (may their tribe increase), AND ALSO care a lot about my Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ. Why should the two be mutually exclusive?

8). Not on your life.

9). I firmly believe that "Israel" has already extended her territories far beyond the Nile and Euphrates rivers and "even to the ends of the earth."

10). I truly hope and pray that Arab-Israeli conflict will end in favour of peace. Anything is possible and we must never underestimate what the Holy Spirit is capable of. But I can't help but notice that the general trend between them is: "Arabs attack Israel, Israel retaliates." I read it not too long ago and believe it to be more true than not: "If Palestinian militants lay down their weapons, there would be peace with Israel. If Israel lay down their weapons, they'd be slaughtered."

Bruce Fisk said...

Thanks, dcyates, for your comments. Just back from a month in the Middle East so I'm still jet-lagged. Allow me, please, a brief reply to yours.

First, I would not call you a Christian Zionist because your remarks do not seem (to me) to be driven by the theological framework central to CZ. Your support for Israel (and for Palestinians) seems driven, rather, by political considerations and personal observation. We likely disagree here and there but that doesn't make you a Christian Zionist.

Regarding specific points:

5. This illustrates my point. You do not think of the West Bank as "Occupied Territory" but this is apparently not because you believe the Jews have an eternal, divinely-granted title to this territory. As such, I would not call your view CZ.

6. Here again we have disagreements but they do not seem to be driven by our different eschatologies. I was glad to see Israel withdraw from Gaza and angered by the continued launching of rockets. The current street battle between rival gunmen is tragic and more reason for despair. At the same time, Gaza is now more of a prison than autonomous, viable Palestinian territory. And the withdrawl was done unilaterally and was not a "land for peace" deal. Sharon simply recognized that protecting a handful of Gaza settlers was costing far more (financially, militarily, politically, diplomatically) than it was worth. It also strengthened his hand to retain and expand settlements in the W.B.--settlements that are illegal according to the terms of U.N. Resolution 242.

Should Israel work sincerely with peace-minded Palestinians to promote a viable, autonomous Palestinian state? My answer is an emphatic Yes, though I am increasingly doubtful about the viability of this future state, given the route of the wall, the corresponding fragmentation of the Territories, the water supply and much more.

7. I share your warm regard for both Jewish and Palestinian Christians. My point is simply that CZ folk are generally ecstatic about the former and decidedly ambiguous about the latter.

9. Your redefinition of "Isael" is one more sign that you are NOT a CZ.

10. My own experience in the West Bank (or Palestinian Territories) leads me to a very different narrative. Israel's military presence affects the lives of Palestinians in countless ways: checkpoints, long delays, closures, land confiscations, house demolitions, travel restrictions, curfews, corporate punishments, the wall, and much more. Since the world tends not to classify these things as provocations or terrorism, Palestinian responses are seen as unprovoked "attacks" (your word) to which Israel is entitled to "respond." This is, in my view, a profound misconstrual of the conflict. I reject violence and repudiate Palestinian militancy, but I also repudiate the far deadlier militancy of the IDF. The conflict is a downward spiral; attempts to frame it as a linear progression ("Arab attacks and Israeli responses") are singularly unhelpful.

Finally, I would submit that the majority of Palestinians have every desire to live peacefully alongside their Jewish neighbors. Almost all Palestinians I've spoken to long for a genuinely fair settlement and an end to the violence. I would encourage all who can to travel in the West Bank, live with Palestinians, hear their stories and observe their lives up close.

dcyates said...

Thank you for your reply, Dr. Fisk. I trust your time in the Middle East was not only educational but also enjoyable. And I'm glad that you got back safely.

I'm also glad that you would not consider me a Christian Zionist, and you're quite correct, I do not support Israel due to, in my opinion, ultimately misguided theological concerns, but I am a strong supporter of Israel.

I support Israel because it is the closest to a Western democracy that currently exists in the Middle East. As such, it is a system that has greatly improved the average living standards of everybody living there. It's the only nation in the region considered a 'developed' nation, despite its recent founding. I remember reading "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" by the New York Times Foreign Affairs correspondent, Thomas L. Friedman. In it he was dealing specifically with the issues surrounding globalization but there is also an item in there that I think illustrates my point better--and quicker--than I could explain it myself. Friedman notes:
"My friend Laura Blumenthal, a feature writer for 'The Washington Post', who has been traveling in the Middle East while researching a book on revenge, visited Syria with her mother in the spring of 1998. She told me the following story: 'My mom and I hired a guide while we were in Damascus to take us around. His name was Walid. We eventually got into some very frank conversations. He told us that he liked to sit in his office at night, where he had a satellite dish, and watch Israel TV. As he described the scene, I pictured this man in this dark office, his eyes wide with fascination, watching this TV screen with people he hated but wanted to be like and was jealous of. He said, though, that of all that he watched on Israel TV, the thing that really bothered him was the yogurt commercials--the fact that the yogurt in Israel came in all these different fruit-coloured containers--pink and orange, like in America--while in Syria they were just black and white. He even, dejectedly, pointed out to us the Syrian yogurt containers on the street one day. He also said to us, "Our cornflakes wilt right after you put them in the milk, but I can see... that Israel's cornflakes are crunchy and don't wilt." Forget the Golan Heights, what really bothered him were the yogurt containers and Israel's cornflakes. One day he said to us, "It's not fair that we are a hundred years behind the Israelis and they just got here"'(p. 71).

Now I fully realize that the colour of yogurt containers and 'wiltability' of cornflakes are hardly the most important differences between Israel and her Middle Eastern neighbours, but as I'm sure you can appreciate, this is just the smallest of tips of the ice berg, and that last sentence is most telling.

You responded: "At the same time, Gaza is now more of a prison than autonomous, viable Palestinian territory."

But why should this be? The Palestinians of Gaza had a chance to do with their lives whatever they wished. Israel is a small nation surrounded by enemies and yet flourishes. There are plenty of examples of small nations, or even city-states, doing well for their citizens. What was keeping Gaza from numbering among the success stories? Now I know what I'm about to say is a terrible oversimplification, but I think it has largely to do with them being more interested in lobbing rockets into Israel than in setting up trade relations with other countries.

I deliberately make this admitted oversimplification because I think it speaks to a larger point. One of my wife's uncles has spent over twenty years as a missionary in Pakistan and is currently the director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia Biblical Seminary & School of Missions (Columbia International University; Columbia, SC). I've had the opportunity to speak with him on occasion and, if I understood him correctly, one highly significant aspect of Muslim theology is to bring the entire world under sharia law. Acording to Muslim understanding, Islam was supposed to spread inexorably and irrevocably across the planet. So, Islam losing Spain back to Christendom in the late 15th-century and the gradual diminishment of Muslim power and influence virtually everywhere else, reaching its 'climax' with the demise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WW II, was, to a large segment of Muslims, completely unacceptable. You may have heard Osama Bin Laden, in a video released after 9/11, speaking
of avenging the "humiliation of 80 years ago," refering to the victorious European powers dividing up between them what had remained of the Ottoman Empire. To the Muslim mind, what had been part of "dar al salaam" and was not any longer is their religious responsibility to win again to Muslim dominance and thus placed under Islamic law.

All this is to say, that it really doesn't matter how much land the Israelis allow the Palestinians, to a significant number of them, it simply won't be enough.

With regard to your disagreeing with my assessment of how conflicts start and proceed between the Palestinian 'militant groups' and Israelis, notice how many of those items are themselves defensive in purpose. Measures like checkpoints, curfews, closures, and the wall constitute Israel's response to a few too many Palestinians blowing themselves up in Israeli pizza parlours, dance clubs, and other areas well-populated by innocent civilians.

You stated: 'Since the world tends not to classify these things as provocations or terrorism, Palestinian responses are seen as unprovoked "attacks" (your word) to which Israel is entitled to "respond." This is, in my view, a profound misconstrual of the conflict.'

Dr. Fisk, all due respect (and I sincerely mean that), but how else can it be construed? It wasn't the IDF that crossed the Gaza border last summer and ambushed Palestinian militants, kidnapping some and killing more. I remember a few years ago reading of three hapless Israeli soldiers driving in a military jeep who inadvertently made a wrong turn past a check-point into the Palestinian-ruled town of Ramallah. It did not take long before a number of the town’s citizens realized who the inhabitants of the jeep were. Before the confused Israeli soldiers could turn their vehicle around to leave the area, dozens of young Palestinian males pursued the jeep on foot and tempers flared. Nevertheless, the Israeli soldiers had the presence of mind to realize they were in serious trouble and quickly sought refuge in a Palestinian police station. However, by then it was a large and angry mob chasing them, which then stormed the police station and attacked the young Israelis. The berserk mob also injured about thirty Palestinian police officers in the process, as they futilely attempted to protect the soldiers. All three were brutally attacked, two being lynched within the police station, the third thrown through a window and beaten to death by the mob which remained outside. All three bodies were horribly mutilated. Two then suffered the further indignity of having their bodies dragged through the streets to be put on display in the town square as the mob celebrated their dubious victory around the corpses.

You simply don't hear of such barbarity coming from the Israeli side and visited upon Palestinians. And, my goodness, it can't be because the mainstream media can be accused of being prevalently pro-Israel and so would otherwise bury such stories if they did occur.

Tim said...

D C Yates says the cycle of events goes thus: "Palestine attacks, Israel retaliates". How far back is he going, to decide the catalyst for the cycle of violence? Not as far as the Palestinans being ruthlessly driven from their homes and their homeland, clearly.

The future welfare of much of the world may hinge on the progress of this issue. Those who refuse to talk to a democratically elected government, however apparently brutal its past, do so because they don't want progress, they want the status quo. They'll jump at any excuse to avoid fair discussion. Progress means compromise. Some fundamentalists on both sides don't want compromise, so they don't want communication. There must be communication. Therein there must be no presumption of superiority, no presumption of a superior perspective, or of having the superior social system. No smugness, no conceit, no implicit prejudice. Just communication, at every opportunity.

tom said...

I was playing off the famous Foxworthy phrase. I find it very sad that many Christians will support Israeli politics based on eschatology but assume that the terms Christian and Palestinian is an oxymoron.
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