With some friends here and in eastern Canada, I have embarked on a project to do with Christian Zionism. OK, Christian Zionism: what is it?
It’s what the United Church of Canada, in a report prepared for its triennial General Council in the summer of 2012, called “false theology”–a very strong statement from the United Church, which usually is content to let 100 flowers bloom. You can read the whole report at
There are two kinds (at least) of Christian Zionism (hereinafter CZ): explicit and implicit. Explicit CZ first. It is the eschatological (end-times) belief of a large number of Christian fundamentalists, all biblical literalists, mostly Americans, intimately connected with the Republican-affiliated “Tea Party,” and backed by Texas oil money. Here’s their scenario.
We are eagerly awaiting the second coming of Jesus, at which time it will be clear to all and not only to those with eyes to see and ears to hear (cf. Matthew 11:15, 13:9) that he is the true Messiah, and that those Jews who in his own historical time did not accept him as Messiah were mistaken. But before he comes, all Israel (i.e., all the Jews, or as many as possible) must be “gathered in” (cf. Isaiah 49:5-6), i.e., must return to the land of Israel. Then the Lord will “come to his temple” (cf. Malachi 3:1), and the battle of Armageddon (cf. Revelation 16:16) will take place. One third of the Jews will see the light, accept Jesus as Messiah, and be saved; the remaining two-thirds will reject him, and be damned. And so will history come to an end.
The coming of the Lord to his temple, it should be noted, would require the rebuilding of the temple on its original site, which in turn would require the destruction of the Dome of the Rock which currently stands there. The Dome of the Rock is the jewel of Muslim architecture (check it out on the web), built in the seventh century of our era. Let us take a brief moment to imagine what would be the response of the Muslim world to this destruction of the third-holiest site in Islam. [Brief moment.] Right. Mayhem and catastrophe writ large.
So this is what the CZ folk say. What do other Christians, mainstream Christians, say? This is not immediately clear. One strong stimulus to our project occurred in May 2012, in a conversation I had with Tom Woodley, president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (cjpme.org). In a conversation about CZ, he asked me this very challenging question: “That’s what they (CZ) say about the end-times: what do we (mainstream Christians) say?” In other words, that’s their story–what’s our story?
I did a little survey about this, asking friends of mine, active mainstream Christians, about how they understood the end-times; nobody responded in a way that was more than vague. People mentioned accountability, and the day of judgment, and the mystery of it all; but no-one offered a narrative that could be set against the CZ narrative.
It has to be admitted, in fact, that the mainline churches have no generally understood and agreed-upon theological/biblical narrative that can compete with and effectively counter the false teaching of CZ. In theological terms, we have no functional eschatology.
This is where we get to the second kind of CZ, implicit CZ, the CZ of the dear people in the pews, whose views of Israel and the Middle East is for the most part an amalgam of Bible stories from Sunday school, residual western guilt about the Holocaust, and the many references to Israel in scripture and hymns (“Saviour, since of Zion’s city I through grace a member am ….”) which they cheerfully listen to and sing Sunday after Sunday. Essentially they conflate biblical Israel with the contemporary State of Israel, which, not surprisingly, doesn’t leave any room for a consideration of the Palestinians.
Quite apart from the theological angle, it is also a matter of concern for Canadians concerned about justice and peace in the Middle East that CZ organizations, many of them headquartered in Ottawa, are actively supporting the federal government’s lopsided favouring of Israel. You can read about this in a very scary book, Marci McDonald’s The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada (Toronto: Random House, 2010). Stephen Harper is at least politically a Christian Zionist; whether he actually believes the CZ scenario is not clear. But what is clear is that he has made Canada “the best friend of Israel” to the point that Israelis joke that Canada is a better friend to Israel than Israel is to itself. The suffering of the Palestinians, which has been going on since the expulsion of 750,000 of their number from their historical homeland in 1947-48, finds no response from the government of Canada.
Integrally related to the challenge of CZ is its hijacking (not too strong a word) of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Various entities within the CZ movement encourage and subsidize travel to the Holy Land, under the rubric of “pilgrimage,” in co-operation with the Israeli tourist authorities. In fact, these “pilgrimages” are carefully managed exercises in propaganda. Only Israeli guides are employed, and contact between the pilgrims and Palestinians is carefully avoided. On some occasions, when some such pilgrims have accidentally encountered Palestinian Christians, it has been reported by the Palestinians that the visitors have told them that they should immediately leave “Israel” (i.e., East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel) in order to make room for more Jews to be “gathered in”; and if they protest that they and their families have lived there for generations, even centuries, have been told that they have no right to continue there now that the time of ingathering has begun.
In consequence, we see a major concern of this project to be, in co-operation with existing “alternative tourism” programs, and with Palestinian Christians, a reclamation of Christian pilgrimage for the sake of justice to the Christian heritage of the people of the land. You can check out one such program, that of the Alternative Tourism Group, at atg.ps/
Accordingly, we made an initial proposal to national staff of the Anglican and United Churches of Canada, and received a warm and supportive response. The co-ordination of the project has now been entrusted to Canadian Friends of Sabeel (sabeel.ca), based in Montreal, the Canadian support group for Sabeel itself, a Palestinian Christian liberation-theology institute in Jerusalem. Our hope is that it will have the following outcomes:
* an invitational consultation, in Vancouver, in the spring of 2014, for those who already have a substantial acquaintance with the theology of CZ and its political perniciousness–at which the participants would be asked to develop the outline of a competing biblical-theological narrative
* a wide-open conference, in Ontario, in the fall of 2014, for anyone at all interested in the topic
* the production of resources (my own priority would be a bulletin insert that could go into every church bulletin in the land) acquainting active mainstream Christians with CZ and its implications
I used the phrase “political perniciousness” a few lines back. Is that anything more than theological prejudice on my part? Indeed it is. The American CZ folk send millions of dollars a year to the Israeli government to be used to subsidize the “settlements” (read: colonies, cities) illegally built, according to international law, on stolen Palestinian land. So the CZ movement is actively working to prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. This is why it is such a dangerous movement. I don’t mind people believing nutso theology in the privacy of their own homes; but when it comes to have the kind of political effect, the effect on the lives of actual people, that this movement does, a strong response in opposition is called for.
So, over to you. Happy to have your feedback and your interest.