Evangelical Theology & American Politics in the Middle East

On September 12th, following the tragic news of the murder of Ambassador Stevens, together with members of his staff, sheltering in the US Consulate in Benghazi, a grief stricken Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton asked a simple question. A question that was on the lips of many Americans: “How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?” Andrew Bacevich, writing in Newsweek, asks,

“Why the Arab anger against the United States? Why the absence of gratitude among the very people the United States helped save, in the very countries Americans helped liberate? The way Secretary Clinton frames the question practically guarantees a self-satisfying but defective answer.”

The question, he argues, is predicated on three propositions that are regarded as sacrosanct by most US politicians and policy makers.

“First: humanity yearns for liberation, as defined in Western (meaning predominantly liberal and secular terms). Second: the United States has a providentially assigned role to nurture and promote this liberation… Third: given that American intentions are righteous and benign (most of the time) – the exercise of US power on a global scale merits respect and ought to command compliance.”[i]

I would add a fourth proposition, assumed as self evident, especially among Evangelicals, that, as God’s ‘chosen people’ the security of the State of Israel is synonymous with US interests in the Middle East and her God ordained role.

The problem is that the Arab world and Muslims, in particular, do not only not share these propositions, they repudiate them theologically. It is not that they do not aspire to political freedom from despotic rulers and oppressive governments. The Arab Spring has shown that many do indeed hunger for freedom. The problem is, observes Bacevich, “that 21st century Muslims don’t necessarily buy America’s 21st century definition of it – a definition increasingly devoid of moral content.”

Freedom of speech is assumed sacrosanct even if it offends those of other religions. Whether the movie, Innocence of Muslims was indeed responsible for sparking Muslim outrage and the subsequent violence against US interests is irrelevant. The promotion of the film by Fundamentalist Christians and their antipathy toward Islam certainly is.  What we tend to ignore, while Muslims cannot forget, it the simple fact is that for more than 100 years, Christians in the USA and Europe have sponsored, defended, funded and sustained the Zionist enterprise in preference to developing normative relations with the Arab world.

Why else, for example, after 45 years, does Israel continue to occupy territory in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine?

Why has Israel been able to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, disregarding every international treaty, while Iran is threatened with pre-emptive attack for undertaking nuclear research? Why has Israel been the subject of more UN Resolutions than any other country in the world? And why has the USA vetoed virtually every single one of them? Why when the USA has been the pioneer of the ‘Two State’ solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, based on the rule of international law and 1967 borders, did it then deny Palestinians UN recognition?

Why is there such a close relationship today between Evangelicals in America and the State of Israel?  The roots of this relationship lie within the Protestant Reformation which brought about a renewed interest in the Old Testament and God’s dealings with the Jewish people. After nearly 1500 years, a new assessment of the place of the Jews within the purposes of God was emerging. We only have time for a cursory look at some of the individuals and movements who have shaped our political involvement in the Middle East

2. Adventism and the End of the World

The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a dramatic paradigm shift from the optimism of postmillennialism to a deeply pessimistic premillennialism, following a sustained period of turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic.[ii] There was the American War of Independence (1775-1784), the French Revolution (1789-1793) and then the Napoleonic Wars (1809-1815).

In 1804, Louis Napoleon had been crowned Emperor in the reluctant presence of the Pope. In 1807 he plotted the division of Europe with the Czar of Russia and began a blockade of British sea trade with Europe. Two years later he arrested the Pope and annexed the Papal States. He then began the systematic destruction of the Roman Catholic Church in France, seizing its assets, executing priests and exiling the Pope from Rome. By 1815, Napoleon’s armies had fought, invaded or subjugated most of Europe and the Middle East, including Italy, Austria, Germany, Poland, Russia, Palestine and Egypt.

His plan was to create a United States of Europe, each state ruled by a compliant monarch, subject to himself as ‘supreme King of Kings and Sovereign of the Roman Empire’.[iii] Numerous preachers and commentators speculated on whether Napoleon was indeed the Antichrist.[iv] Charles Finney, in1835 speculated that ‘If the church will do all her duty, the Millennium may come in this country in three years.’[v] Joseph Miller narrowed the return of Christ down to the 21st March 1843, while Charles Russell more prudently predicted that Christ would set up his spiritual kingdom in the heavenlies in 1914. For many years, Russell’s popular sermons linking biblical prophecy with contemporary events were reproduced in over 1,500 newspapers in the USA and Canada.[vi]   This sectarian speculation came to be embraced by mainstream evangelicalism largely through the influence of John Nelson Darby and others associated with a series of prophetic conferences held in England and Ireland from 1826 to 1833.[vii]

3. John Nelson Darby and the Rise of Dispensationalism

John Nelson Darby was a charismatic figure with a dominant personality. He was a persuasive speaker and zealous missionary for his conviction that God had a separate plan for the Jewish people apart from the Church. The churches Darby and his colleagues planted with the seeds of Premillennial Dispensationalism in turn sent missionaries to Africa, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand and, ironically, to work among the Arabs of Palestine. From 1862 onwards his controlling influence over the Brethren in Britain waned Darby spent more and more time in North America, making seven long sea journeys in the next twenty years. During these visits, he came to have an increasing influence over evangelical leaders. His ideas also helped shape the emerging evangelical Bible Schools and ‘Prophecy’ conferences, which came to dominate both Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in the United States between 1875 and 1920.[viii]  For sake of brevity, I am going to bypass the role of British politicians and Church leaders in the emergence of Zionism, relations with the Arab world and most significantly in the Balfour Declaration. Instead I want to focus on the role of evangelical theology in the USA.

4. The Rise of Dispensationalism in America (1859-1945)

During the Colonial period and even beyond the Civil War (1861-1865), American Christianity, was essentially postmillennial in outlook. Strengthened by the Wesleyan Holiness movement,[ix] there was a strong focus on evangelism, personal morality and civil responsibility.[x] The Revolutionary War provided a stimulus to popular apocalyptic speculation and by 1773, King George III was being portrayed as the Antichrist and the war a ‘holy crusade’ that would usher in the millennium.[xi] In parallel with Britain, the late 18th and early 19th Century also saw an explosion of millennial sects including the Shakers, Mormons and Millerites. Influenced by the French Revolution and the destruction of the Papacy in France, historic Premillennialism gradually became more popular. Between 1859 and 1872, resulting from his extensive tours throughout America, and reinforced by the trauma of the Civil War, Darby’s premillennial dispensational views about a ‘failing’ Church and revived Israel came to have a profound and increasing influence upon American Evangelicalism. It resulted not only in the birth of American Dispensationalism[xii] but also influenced the Millenarianism associated with the Prophecy Conference Movement, as well as later, Fundamentalism.[xiii] Darby’s influence on end-time thinking was ‘perhaps more than that of anyone else in the last two centuries.’[xiv] In the absence of a strong Jewish Zionist movement, American Christian Zionism arose from the confluence of these associations, evangelical, premillennial, dispensational, millenarian, and fundamentalist.[xv] Those most closely influenced by and associated with Darby were James Brookes, Arno Gaebelein, D. L. Moody, William E. Blackstone and C. I. Scofield.[xvi]

5. William Blackstone: Recognition of Zionism (1841-1935)

William E. Blackstone was an influential evangelist and lay worker for the Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as a financier and benefactor. He also became an enthusiastic disciple of J.N. Darby.[xvii] In 1887 he wrote a book on biblical prophecy entitled Jesus is Coming, which by 1927, had been translated into thirty-six languages. The book took a premillennial dispensational view of the Second Coming, emphasizing that the Jews had a biblical right to Palestine and would soon be restored there. Blackstone became one of the first Christian Zionists in America to actively lobby for the Zionist cause. Blackstone took the Zionist movement to be a ‘sign’ of the imminent return of Christ even though its leadership like Herzl were agnostic.

Blackstone interpreted Scripture in the light of unfolding contemporary events, something which Charles Spurgeon warned of as ‘exegesis by current events’.[xviii] No longer were Christian Zionists expecting Jewish national repentance to precede restoration; it could wait until after Jesus returned. Although popular with proto-fundamentalists, the book became more widely known in 1908, when a presentation edition was sent to several hundred thousand ministers and Christian workers, and again in 1917 when the Moody Bible Institute printed ‘presentation copies’ and sent them to ministers, missionaries and theological students.[xix] Jesus is Coming became the most widely read book on the return of Christ published in the first half of the 20th Century.[xx]

In March 1891, Blackstone lobbied the US President, Benjamin Harrison and his Secretary of State, James G. Blaine with a petition signed by 413 prominent Jewish and Christian leaders including John and William Rockefeller. The petition called for an international conference on the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. The petition, which became known as the Blackstone Memorial, offered this solution:

‘Why not give Palestine back to them [the Jews] again? According to God’s distribution of nations it is their home, an inalienable possession from which they were expelled by force…Why shall not the powers which under the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Servia to the Servians now give Palestine back to the Jews?’[xxi]

Although President Harrison did not act upon the petition, it was nevertheless pivotal in galvanising Christian and Jewish Zionist activists in the United States for the next sixty years. Justice Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Justice of the US Supreme Court, who led the Jewish Zionist movement in the US from 1914, became a close friend of Blackstone and for twenty years they laboured to convince the American people and in particular, successive Presidents, to support the Zionist agenda. During that time, Blackstone sent Brandeis ‘very large sums of money for support of Zionist work.’[xxii] Responsible for disbursing millions of dollars of dispensational funds entrusted to him for missionary work, Blackstone promised Brandeis that if he should not be raptured with Blackstone, he was to use the funds for the relief of Jews who would come to believe in Christ and need supporting as missionaries throughout the world during the millennium.[xxiii]

In 1917, Blackstone was excited by the developments in Palestine following the defeat of the Turks and the triumphal entry of the Allies into Jerusalem. In January 1918, he spoke at a large Jewish Zionist meeting in Los Angeles and declared that he had been committed to Zionism for 30 years.

‘This is because I believe that true Zionism is founded on the plan, purpose, and fiat of the everlasting and omnipotent God, as prophetically recorded in His Holy Word, the Bible.’

During his lifetime, Jewish Zionists honoured Blackstone more times than any other Christian leader. On one occasion, Brandeis wrote, ‘you are the Father of Zionism as your work antedates Herzl.’[xxiv] In 1918, Elisha Friedman, Secretary of the University Zionist Society of New York, similarly declared, ‘A well known Christian layman, William E. Blackstone, antedated Theodor Herzl by five years in his advocacy of the re-establishment of a Jewish State.’[xxv] What Blackstone expressed in his speeches, books and petitions, Cyrus Scofield was to systematise in his Reference Bible.

6. Cyrus Scofield: The Canonising of Zionism (1843-1921)

Scofield may be regarded as the most influential exponent of Dispensationalism, following the publication of his Scofield Reference Bible by the Oxford University Press in 1918.[xxvi]

Yet while biographical works on the early Brethren, such as J. N. Darby and dispensationalists like D. L. Moody abound, Scofield remains an elusive and enigmatic figure.  As a young and largely illiterate Christian, Scofield was profoundly influenced by J. N. Darby’s writings. Scofield popularised Darby’s distinction between God’s plan for the Jews apart from the Church, basing his reference notes on Darby’s own distinctive translation of the Bible.[xxvii] The combination of an attractive format, illustrative notes, and cross references has led both critics and advocates to acknowledge Scofield’s Bible to have been the most influential book among evangelicals during the first half of the 20th century.[xxviii] Craig Blaising, professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary acknowledges, ‘The Scofield Reference Bible became the Bible of Fundamentalism, and the theology of the notes approached confessional status in many Bible schools, institutes and seminaries established in the early decades of this Century.’[xxix] Sandeen observes, ‘The book has thus been subtly but powerfully influential in spreading those views among hundreds of thousands who have regularly read that Bible and who often have been unaware of the distinction between the ancient text and the Scofield interpretation.’[xxx]

Scofield’s influence extended well beyond his published writings. In the 1890s during Scofield’s pastorate in Dallas he was also head of the Southwestern School of the Bible, the forerunner to Dallas Theological Seminary, which became Dispensationalism’s ‘most scholarly institution’.[xxxi] The Seminary was founded in 1924 by one of Scofield’s disciples, Lewis Sperry Chafer, who in turn became Scofield’s most influential exponent.

7. Arno C. Gaebelein: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Arno Gaebelein is probably the most complex and controversial of the early dispensationalists, principally for his views on prophecy, the Jews and Zionism. Gaebelein is distinguished for being the source of the prophetic notes in Scofield’s Reference Bible.[xxxii] He was also a regular speaker at the Niagara Prophecy Conferences, and lectured at Dallas Theological Seminary.[xxxiii] In 1893, Gaebelein began publishing a periodical in Yiddish, Tiqweth Israel – The Hope of Israel Monthly. A year later Stroeter came to work with him and edited an English version called Our Hope which was for Christians. The specific purpose of this periodical was to acquaint them with the Zionist movement and proclaim the imminent return of Christ.[xxxiv] Gaebelein’s prophetic interpretations, for example, led him to deduce that NATO was to become the ten kings of the revived Roman Empire.[xxxv]

Gaebelein has also at times been accused of anti-Semitism.[xxxvi] For example, in response to the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a spurious work alleging to be the secret plans of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to undermine civil authority, destroy Christianity and take over the international economy, Gaebelein wrote:

‘… they certainly laid out a path for the revolutionary Jews that has been strictly and literally followed. That the Jew has been a prominent factor in the revolutionary movements of the day, wherever they may have occurred, cannot truthfully be denied, any more than that it was a Jew who assassinated, with all his family, the former Autocrat of all the Russians; or than that a very large majority (said to be over 80%) of the present Bolshevist government in Moscow, are Jews: while along other lines, in the assembly of the League of Nations, the Jew’s voice is heard, and it is by no means a plaintive, timid, or uninfluential one—the Jew is the coming man!’[xxxvii]

Two months later Gaebelein wrote about the ‘Jewish Leadership in Russia.’ claiming that forty-four out of fifty of the Bolshevik leaders were of Jewish origin. Weber describes this apparent contradiction as ‘ironic ambivalence’, suggesting that premillennial prophetic views like those of Gaebelein, ‘enabled them to give credence to the Protocols (and thereby sound anti-Semitic) even though they had been and remained staunch opponents of anti-Semitism.’[xxxviii] Gaebelein clearly had no illusions as to the origin or motives of the Zionist movement, which he regarded as ‘apostate’, yet he could also write about, ‘the return of the Jews to Palestine in unbelief is before us in modern Zionism, therefore it is the most startling sign of all the signs of our times.’ [xxxix] In the pages of Our Hope[xl] Gaebelein frequently reported with enthusiasm the development of the various Zionist colonization societies in Palestine, supported the efforts of Herzl and informed a still largely ignorant and complacent American Christian community how prophecy was indeed being fulfilled in Palestine. Although dispensationalists in the early 20th Century continued to see in such events as the rise of communism, the Balfour Declaration and rise of anti-Semitism, evidence of the imminent return of Christ, there was a gradual decline in the ‘intellectual prestige of Fundamentalism.’[xli]

8. Anti-Semitism and American Liberal Christian Zionism (1918-1967)

In the period from 1918 right up to 1948, increasingly secular arguments were made for the Zionist cause, with a ‘decreasing use of explicitly theological vocabulary.’[xlii] American foreign policy was increasingly determined by the need to maintain good relations with the strategic oil-rich Arab nations at the very same time America was engaged in a race to prevent Soviet hegemony. As the American political establishment began to show less enthusiasm for Blackstone’s Memorial, the Jewish Zionist movement discovered more influential friends among liberal church leaders who had greater leverage with the Presidency and were more interested in Jewish rights than converting them and fulfilling prophecy. Naim Ateek observes,

As the British Empire waned, the Zionist state cleverly and shrewdly connected itself with the rising American Empire and gradually was able to occupy strategic positions within all of its governing branches – the Congress, Pentagon, State Department, and the White House.

In the early 20th Century, following the devastating toll of the First World War and then the Great Depression, Fundamentalism in America became more and more preoccupied with refuting liberal theology, the social gospel and Darwinian evolution than with prophetic speculation. In a detailed history of the rise of 20th Century American Fundamentalism prior to 1970, Erling Jorstad traces the rise of the Christian right with its anti-Communist and xenophobic agenda, yet without a single reference to Israel.[xliii] Similarly, in George Marsden’s historical overview of the rise of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in America, he observes that despite some evidence of anti-Semitism, in the early 20th Century there seemed little interest in contemporary Israel among conservative evangelicals.[xliv] Others such as David Rausch have traced in more detail the rise of anti-Semitism within early 20th century Christian Fundamentalism.[xlv]

For example, in 1919, aware that the British and French were undermining his goal of self-determination in Syria, Woodrow Wilson sent Charles Crane, a wealthy American Arabist as head of the King-Crane Commission to investigate the wishes of the indigenous people. Reservations expressed by Arab leaders and expatriate Americans led Crane’s Commission to recommend the abandonment of American support for a Jewish homeland, that further Jewish immigration be severely restricted and America or Britain govern Palestine. While Crane went on to help finance the first explorations for oil in Saudi Arabia and the Yemen, his admiration for Hitler’s Germany ‘the real political bulwark of Christian culture’, and of Stalin’s anti-Jewish purges in Soviet Russia, led his biographer to describe his later life as dominated by, ‘a most pronounced prejudice … [and] … unbridled dislike of Jews.’ Crane tried to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to shun the counsels of Felix Frankfurter and to avoid appointing other Jews to government posts. Crane ‘envisioned a world-wide attempt on the part of the Jews to stamp out all religious life and felt that only a coalition of Muslims and Roman Catholics would be strong enough to defeat such designs.’ In 1933, he even proposed to Haj Amin Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, that the Mufti open talks with the Vatican to plan an anti-Jewish campaign.[xlvi] The reasoning behind opposition by American missionaries to the founding of the State of Israel is a complex one. In 1948, weeks before the State of Israel was declared, Bayard Dodge who had founded the American University in Beirut, retired to Princeton in New Jersey. In April 1948, he wrote a watershed article in The Readers Digest entitled, ‘Must There Be War in the Middle East?’ Kaplan describes it as the ‘definitive statement’ of American Arabists on the birth of the State of Israel.

‘Though he cautioned, “Not all Jews are Zionist and not all Zionists are extremists”, for Dodge the Zionist movement was a tragedy of which little good could come… Dodge’s argument against Zionism rests, not on the politics of the movement, but on the Arabs’ opposition to it, which in Dodge’s view made the Zionist program unrealistic and therefore dangerous. Years and decades of strife would, Dodge knew, follow the birth of the Jewish State. As a result, wrote Dodge, “All the work done by our philanthropic non-profit American agencies in the Arab world – our Near East Foundation, our missions, our YMCA and YWCA, our Boston Jesuit college in Baghdad, our colleges in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus – would be threatened with complete frustration and collapse … so would our oil concessions”, a scenario that Dodge said would help Communist Russia. Dodge then quoted a fellow “American Middle East expert” as saying that “they [the Russians] intend to get many thousands of Russian Communist Jews into the Palestinian Jewish State.”’[xlvii]

Kaplan argues that Dodge’s views were representative of the wider expatriate and missionary community who believed the US, British and Russians morally and politically wrong to railroad the partition of Palestine through the United Nations.

Richard Crossman who was a member of the Anglo-American team investigating the Palestine crisis in 1947, observed that the American Protestant missionaries, ‘challenged the Zionist case with all the arguments of the most violently pro-Arab British Middle Eastern officials.’[xlviii] Kaplan concludes, ‘the American community in Lebanon was almost, to a man, psychologically opposed to the State of Israel.’[xlix] In his memoirs, Harry Truman also claims his post-war State Department specialists were opposed to the idea of a Jewish State because they either wanted to appease the Arabs or because they were anti-Semitic.[l]  During the 1930s and 1940s, both prior to and after the founding of the State of Israel, the principal allies of Zionism were liberal Protestant Christians such as Paul Tillich, William F. Albright and Reinhold Niebuhr who founded the Christian Council on Palestine in 1942.[li] Niebuhr, who was Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, defended his Zionism on pragmatic rather than religious grounds. Jewish persecution in Europe combined with restrictive immigration laws in America led Niebuhr to recognise the ‘moral right’ of the Jews to Palestine in order for them to survive as a nation.[lii] In 1946, he testified before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in Washington on behalf of the Christian Council on Palestine. While acknowledging the conflicting rights of Arabs and Jews in Palestine, he argued:

‘The fact however that the Arabs have a vast hinterland in the Middle East, and the fact that the Jews have nowhere to go, establishes the relative justice of their claims and of their cause … Arab sovereignty over a portion of the debated territory must undoubtedly be sacrificed for the sake of establishing a world Jewish homeland.’[liii]

In 1958, by which time he was at odds with most other liberal Protestant leaders, Niebuhr continued to insist on a wider definition of Christian Zionism. In, ‘The Relation of Christians and Jews in Western Civilization’ he wrote,

‘Many Christians are pro-Zionist in the sense that they believe that a homeless people require a homeland; but we feel as embarrassed as anti-Zionist religious Jews when messianic claims are used to substantiate the right of the Jews to the particular homeland in Palestine.’[liv]

Apart from wishing to see Arabs ‘compensated’, Niebuhr did not appear to support the view that Palestinians also ‘require a homeland’.

9. The Rebirth of American Evangelical Christian Zionism.

For Evangelicals, the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 came to be seen as the most significant fulfilment of biblical prophecy,[lv] and ‘the greatest piece of prophetic news that we have had in the 20th Century.’[lvi] The 1967 ‘Six Day War’ marked a further significant watershed for evangelical Christian interest in Israel and Zionism. Billy Graham’s father-in-law Nelson Bell, then editor of Christianity Today, expressed the sentiments of many evangelicals when, in an editorial for the magazine he wrote,

‘for the first time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives a student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible.’[lvii]

In 1976 a series of events brought Christian Zionism to the forefront of US mainstream politics. Jimmy Carter was elected as the ‘born again’ President drawing the support of the evangelical right. In Israel, Menachem Begin and the right wing Likud Party came to power the following year. A tripartite coalition slowly emerged between the political Right, evangelicals and the Jewish lobby. In 1978, Jimmy Carter acknowledged how his own pro-Zionist beliefs had influenced his Middle East policy.[lviii] In a speech, he described the State of Israel as,

‘a return at last, to the biblical land from which the Jews were driven so many hundreds of years ago … The establishment of the nation of Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and the very essence of its fulfilment.’[lix]

However, when Carter vacillated over the aggressive Likud settlement programme and proposed the creation of a Palestinian homeland, he alienated the pro-Israeli coalition of Jews and evangelicals who switched their support to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 elections. Reagan’s election as President gave a considerable boost to the Christian Zionist cause. His election:

‘…ushered in not only the most pro-Israel administration in history but gave several Christian Zionists prominent political posts. In addition to the President, those who subscribed to a futurist premillennial theology and Christian Zionism included Attorney General Ed Meese, Secretary of Defence Casper Weinberger, and Secretary of the Interior James Watt.’[lx]

‘White House Seminars’ became a regular feature of Reagan’s administration bringing leading Christian Zionists like Jerry Falwell, Mike Evans and Hal Lindsey into direct personal contact with national and Congressional leaders. In 1982, Reagan invited Falwell to give a briefing to the National Security Council on the possibility of a nuclear war with Russia.[lxi] In a personal conversation reported in the Washington Post in April 1984, Reagan shared his personal convictions to Tom Dine, one of Israel’s chief lobbyists working for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC):

‘You know, I turn back to the ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if – if we’re the generation that is going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of these prophecies lately, but believe me they certainly describe the times we’re going through.[lxii]

While subsequent Presidents have not shared the same dispensational presuppositions of either Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, they nevertheless have maintained, however reluctantly, the strong pro-Zionist position of their predecessors.[lxiii]

10. The Significance of Contemporary Christian Zionism

Like Elisha, Pastor John Hagee appears to have assumed the mantle of Jerry Falwell who died in 2007.  Hagee is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church, an 19,000 member evangelical church in San Antonio in Texas. He is also CEO of Global Evangelism Television which broadcasts his programmes on 160 T.V. stations, 50 radio stations and eight networks into an estimated 99 million homes in 200 countries worldwide on a weekly basis. In 2006 he founded Christians United for Israel with the support of 400 other Christian leaders. Last year he admitted:

“For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the evangelical community over television. The bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits “I believe the Bible,” I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have the Christians over a barrel, you might say.”[lxiv]

The assumption Hagee makes, that Bible-believing Christians will be pro-Israel, is now the dominant view among contemporary evangelicals. In March 2007, Hagee was a guest speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. He began with these words:

“The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the State of Israel…”

As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, his speech did not lack clarity. He went on to warn:

“It is 1938. Iran is Germany, and Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat and stand boldly with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… Think of our potential future together: 50 million evangelicals joining in common cause with 5 million Jewish people in America on behalf of Israel is a match made in heaven.”[lxv]

At the July 19th, 2006 Washington DC inaugural event for Christians United for Israel, after recorded greeting from George W. Bush, and in the presence of four US Senators as well as the Israeli ambassador to the US, Hagee stated :

”The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West… a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ.”[lxvi]

Are we therefore surprised when Muslims wrongly assume that such views reflect Christianity as a whole?  So how significant is this movement in America?  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates there are 20-40 million Christian Zionists in America. The Unity Coalition for Israel draws together over 200 different organizations and claims 40 million active members. Other influential Christian Zionist organisations include the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem (ICEJ), Bridges for Peace (BFP) and Christian Friends of Israel (CFI. Together with Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and the Unity Coalition for Israel (UCI), these organisations make up a broad coalition which is shaping not only the Christian Zionist agenda but also influencing US foreign policy in the Middle East today. Their political agenda is multifaceted. They are actively engaged in:

  • Lobbying the White House and Congress on behalf of Israel.
  • Funding the emigration of Russian Jews to Israel through organisations such as Exobus and ICEJ.
  • Twinning evangelical churches with illegal Jewish settlements through organisations like Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (COIFC).
  • Campaigning to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to ensure it is recognised as the exclusive, undivided eternal capital of the Jewish people.
  • Denigrating the democratically elected Palestinian leadership and thwarting their aspirations to statehood.
  • Vilifying pro-justice Christian leaders who challenge Zionism and demonising peace and justice networks and NGOs  within the mainline churches.

 11. Conclusions: The Way Forward

Is there any sign that the re-election of President Barak Obama on Tuesday will result in any change in US Middle East policy or will we simply try harder to impose our definition of peace and our version of democracy? Bacevich observes that our mistake is in,

“viewing history as ultimately a good-news story. If the good news appears mingled with bad, the imperative of the faithful is to try harder. Forget about Baghdad and Kabul: onward to Damascus and Tehran.”

Naim Ateek insists, there is no such thing as “benevolent empire”.[lxvii] Because of the special relationship, Israel has become an integral part of the American Empire. The economic, military and political bonds are so intertwined they are unbreakable, regardless of whether the Democratic or Republican party are in power. It is therefore impossible at present for the US to be an honest broker in the peace process.  Are we therefore surprised at the violence and antipathy directed toward the United States in the Middle East? Secretary Clinton rightly observed that Ambassador Stevens along with other US diplomats, put their lives at risk “because they believe that the United States must be a force for peace and progress.” Bacevich asks,

“But in the face of decade upon decade of contrary experience, what could possibly convince Libyans or Egyptians, Iraqis or Iranians, Afghans or Pakistanis that such faith in America’s idealism has any basis in fact?… The United States has aligned itself all too often with the forces of despotism and oppression… And this tendency has persisted even on Secretary Clinton’s watch; just look at the response to the Arab Awakening’s appearance in Bahrain.”

He concludes with a challenge that we must take seriously if we are to avoid being held responsible, for the extinction of the indigenous Christian community right across the Middle East.

“If we Americans think we have something to teach others, lets do it as exemplars – that is, assuming we are willing to close the yawning gap between the values we loudly profess and the way we actually behave.”[lxviii]

Surely this must be our primary task if we as Evangelicals are ever to have a significant impact in the Middle East again for the sake of the gospel and the extension of Christ’s kingdom.

 ©   Stephen Sizer

2 November 2012

 


[i]   Andrew Bacevich, ‘How it Happened’ Newsweek, 24 September 2012, pp.25-27.

[ii]   A small number of 19th Century Postmillennial theologians did continue to espouse a form of Jewish Restorationism but only as a consequence of Jewish people coming to faith in Jesus and being incorporated within the Church. These include Charles Simeon (1759-1836) and David Brown (1803-1897), who was Edward Irving’s assistant at Regent Square and who wrote The Second Advent (1849) and The Restoration of Israel, (1861). Erroll Hulse also identifies with this position, The Restoration of Israel, (Worthing, Henry Walter, 1968). Since the Restorationist movement became dominated by Covenant premillennialists and dispensationalists from the early 19th Century, this thesis has concentrated on their contribution. The previous chapter has explored the early intimations of proto-Christian Zionism within the Reformation and Puritan period which was dominated by Postmillennialists. See Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Israelology, The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, (Tustin, California, Ariel Ministries, 1989), pp14-122.

[iii]   G. H. Pember, The Great Prophecies of the Centuries concerning Israel and the Gentiles, (London, Hodder, 1902), pp236-241.

[iv]   J. N. Darby, ‘Remarks on a tract circulated by the Irvingites’, Collected Writings, edited by William Kelly (Kingston on Thames, Stow Hill Bible and Trust Depot, 1962), Doctrinal. IV, 15, p2; Andrew Drummond, Edward Irving and His Circle (London, James Clarke, n.d.), p132; Janet M. Hartley, ‘Napoleon in Russia: Saviour or anti-Christ? History Today, 41 (1991); Richard Kyle, The Last Days are Here Again, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker, 1998), p71.

[v]    Charles Finney, Lectures on Revival, (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1960), p306.

[vi]    Clouse, Hosack & Pierard, op.cit., p116.

[vii]  Rowland A. Davenport, Albury Apostles, (London, Free Society, 1970).

[viii]  Wagner, op.cit., p. 89.

[ix]    Timothy L. Smith, ‘Righteousness and Hope: Christian Holiness and the Millennial Vision in America, 1800-1900,’ American Quarterly, 31.1 (Spring 1979).

[x]  Richard Kyle, The Last Days are Here Again, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker, 1998), pp77-98.

[xi]  Ibid. p81.

[xii]  Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, (Chicago, Moody Press, 1966).

[xiii]  Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930, (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1970); Reuben Archer Torrey, The Fundamental Doctrines of the Christian Faith, (New York, Doren, 1918); The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, (Chicago, Testimony Publishing Co., 1910-1915).

[xiv]  Kyle, op.cit., p104.

[xv]  David Rausch, Zionism within Early American Fundamentalism 1878-1918, a Convergence of Two Traditions, (New York, Edwin Mellen, 1979), p2.

[xvi]  Wagner, op.cit., p89.

[xvii]  Beth M. Lindberg, A God-Filled Life: The Story of William E. Blackstone, (Chicago The American Messianic Fellowship, n.d.).

[xviii]  Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, (London, Passmore & Alabaster, 1893), p100.

[xix]  Rennie, op.cit., p48; Rausch, op.cit., p264.

[xx] W. M. Smith, ‘Signs of the Times’, Moody Monthly, August (1966), p5; Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 1995); Tribulation Force, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 1996); Nicolae, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 1997); Soul Harvest, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 1998); Apollyon, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 1999); Assassins, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 1999); The Indwelling, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 2000); The Mark, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 2001): Desecration, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 2002): The Remnant, (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 2002). Sales of the Left Behind series now exceed 32 million copies. See Nancy Gibbs, ‘Apocalypse Now’ Time, 1 July 2002, p45. Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (London, Lakeland, 1970) has reputedly sold over 18 million copies in English.

[xxi]  Reuben Fink, America and Palestine, (New York, American Zionist Emergency Council, 1945), pp20-21, cited in Sharif, op.cit., p92.

[xxii]  Merkley, op.cit., p92.

[xxiii]  Ibid.

[xxiv]       Currie, op.cit.

[xxv]  Cutler B. Whitwell, ‘The Life Story of W.E.B. – and of “Jesus is coming’”, The Sunday School Times, January 11, (1936), p19, cited in Rausch, op.cit., p265.

[xxvi] C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1917); The New Scofield Reference Bible, edited by E. Schuyler English (New York, Oxford University Press, 1967); The Ryrie Study Bible Expanded Edition, (Chicago, Moody Bible Institute, 1994); The New Scofield Study Bible, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1984); Scofield Study Notes, (QuickVerse, Parsons Technology, 1994).

[xxvii]       Bass, op.cit., p18. See also Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1958), p369.

[xxviii]      Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1977), p15; Sandeen, op.cit., p222.

[xxix] Craig A. Blaising ‘Dispensationalism, The Search for Definition’ in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, The Search for Definition, edited by Craig A. Blaising & Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids, Michigan,  Zondervan, 1992), p21.

[xxx]  Sandeen, op.cit., p222.

[xxxi] Gerstner, op.cit., p46.

[xxxii]  Arno C. Gaebelein, The Conflict of the Ages, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1966).

[xxxiii]  Rausch, op.cit., p261.

[xxxiv]  Rausch, op.cit., p292.

[xxxv]  Our Hope, 55 (1948-49) p673, cited in Kyle, op.cit., p128.

[xxxvi]  Timothy P. Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming, (New York, Oxford, 1979), p154.

[xxxvii]  Arno C. Gaebelein in Our Hope, 27 (April 1921) p601, quoted by Rausch in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 23/2 (1980) p108.

[xxxviii]  Timothy P. Weber, ‘A Reply To David Rausch’s “Fundamentalism and the Jew”’ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 24/1 March (1981) pp68-77.

[xxxix]  ‘The Fourth Zionistic Congress: The Most Striking Sign of Our Times’, Our Hope, 6, September (1900). p72, cited in Rausch, op.cit., p247.

[xl]  Rausch claims this periodical had a unique and formative ministry within the Proto-Fundamentalist movement. See Rausch, op.cit., p225.

[xli]  Merkley, op.cit., p72-74.

[xlii]  Ibid., p114.

[xliii]  Erling Jorstad, The Politics of Doomsday, Fundamentalists of the Far Right, (Nashville, Abingdom, 1970).

[xliv]  George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1980).

[xlv] For a detailed analysis of how Christian teaching has shaped American attitudes toward the Jews see, Charles Y. Glock and Rodney Stark, Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism, (New York, Harper & Row, 1966); David A. Rausch, Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and Anti-Semitism, (Valley Forge, Trinity Press International, 1993).

[xlvi]  Robert Kaplan, The Arabists, The Romance of an American Elite, (New York, The Free Press, 1993), p71.

      [xlvii]  Ibid., p80.

      [xlviii]  Ibid., p81.

      [xlix]  Ibid., p185.

[l]  Ibid., p185.

[li]  Merkley, op.cit., pp141-145.

[lii]    Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nation, 21 February (1942), pp214-216 and 28 February (1942), pp253-255, cited in Sharif, op.cit., p113.

[liii]   US Department of State, ‘Hearings of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry’, 14 January (1946), p147. Cited in Sharif, op.cit., p113.

[liv]  Reinhold Niebuhr, Pious and Secular America, (New York, Scribner’s, 1958), pp86-112, cited in Merkley, op.cit., p141.

[lv]  Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze, (Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity, 1992), p92; Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth, (London, Lakeland, 1970), pp43, 53-58; Hannah Hurnard, Watchman on the Walls, (London, Olive Press, 1950), pp11-12.

[lvi]  Louis T. Talbot & William W. Orr, The Nation of Israel and the Word of God!, (Los Angeles, Bible Institute of Los Angeles, 1948), p8.

[lvii]  Donald Wagner, ‘Evangelicals and Israel: Theological Roots of a Political Alliance’ The Christian Century, November 4, (1998), pp1020-1026.

[lviii]  Jimmy Carter, The Blood of Abraham, (London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985).

[lix]   Speech by President Jimmy Carter on 1 May 1978, Department of State Bulletin, vol. 78, No. 2015, (1978), p4, cited in Sharif, op.cit., p136.

[lx]    Donald Wagner, ‘Beyond Armageddon’, The Link, New York: Americans for Middle East Understanding; October-November, (1992), p5.

[lxi]  Halsell, Prophecy., op.cit., p47

[lxii]  Ronnie Dugger, ‘Does Reagan Expect a Nuclear Armageddon?’ Washington Post, 18 April (1984).

[lxiii] George Bush, Speech to the American Jewish Committee, May 3, (2001), http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/US-Israel/presquote.html

[lxiv] John Hagee, The One Jerusalem Blog,  25 January 2007. http://www.onejerusalem.org/blog/archives/2007/01/audio_exclusive_12.asp <Accessed March 2007>

[lxv] “Christians for Israel” Editorial, The Jerusalem Post, 14 March 2007. http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1173879085796&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull <Accessed March 2007>

[lxvi]   http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2008/02/28/19911/hagee-mccain-endorsement

[lxvii]  Naim Ateek, ‘Who commands our allegiance, God or Caesar?’ Cornerstone, Issue 59, Winter 2010/2011.

[lxviii] Bacevich, op.cit.

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