The following article originally appeared on the FrontPage Magazine website, and is reproduced with permission.
The National Council of Churches (NCC), which will never specifically criticize any radical Islamist movements no matter how murderous, has found itself concerned about Christian Zionists in America. In fact, according to the NCC, Christian Zionist support for Israel is the main stumbling block to tranquility in the Middle East. The threat posed by these Christian zealots is so worrisome that the NCC has just released a special brochure called “Why We Should Be Concerned About Christian Zionism” to warn its 35 member denominations.
“The danger of this ideology is that it is a manipulation of Christian scripture and teaching,” fretted Antonios Kireopoulos, the NCC’s interfaith spokesman. “Unfortunately it has influence in American churches, to the point where many well-meaning Christians are swayed to support particularly destructive directions in U.S. foreign policy with regard to the Middle East.” Not typically concerned about upholding orthodox theology, the NCC even claims that Christian Zionists violate the “traditional teachings of the church.”
Essentially, the NCC is accusing Christian Zionists of being as blindly parisan toward Israel as the NCC and the wider Religious Left were to Marxist liberation movements like the Sandinistas 20 years ago. Or perhaps the more recent comparison would be to the Religious Left’s preoccupation with and unqualified support for Palestinian liberation, to the exclusion of dozens of other ethnic and separationist movements around the world.
As the recent NCC news release summarized: “’Christian Zionism’ is a dangerous movement that distorts the teachings of the Church, fosters fear and hatred of Muslims and non-Western Christians, and has negative consequences for Middle East Peace.” Naturally, the NCC aims to portray pro-Israel evangelicals as mindless zealots who are eager to precipitate the End Times, not to mention bigots and paranoid ignoramuses.
And perhaps some Christian Zionists actually are, but no more so than mind-numbing pro-Palestinian activists from Religious Left groups who are blind to the hatred and violence that guide much of Palestinian public life, and who pretend that Palestinians are merely passive victims of Israeli aggression, backed by the United States. The most foolhardy Christian Zionist would intuit the reality of the Middle East conflict better than most of the anti-Israel Religious Left.
The NCC pamphlet claims that Christian Zionism is a 19th century innovation. It largely equates Christian Zionism with Dispensationalism, a 19th century theological viewpoint originating largely with the Plymouth Brethren of Great Britain, who catalogued a series of events, including the restoration of the Jews to Israel, that would precede the Second Coming. Even if all Christian Zionists did subscribe to this school of Dispensationalism, it is a school of thought older than the far more recent and far more destructive ideology of Liberation Theology that bedazzled the Religious Left – including the NCC – from the 1960’s through the 1990’s. At least Dispensationalists never aligned themselves with monstrous and genocidal tyrannies, as Liberation Theology’s groupies often did with their fawning affection for Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, and countless other Marxist despots.
Christian Zionism actually dates back at least 400 years, to the English Puritans, who were philo-Semites, and who sometimes asserted that the Jews’ return to Zion was instrumental to the Millennium that God would eventually establish on earth. Oliver Cromwell’s invitation for the Jews to return to England after their 400 years of banishment thanks to King Edward I, was one fruit of this Puritanical philo-Semitism. The Puritan vision that informed much of America’s founding helped to transmit at least some of this Zionism throughout American religious culture.
The NCC and most American liberal Christians, as inheritors of the Puritan tradition, were themselves Zionists of a sort, who strongly supported the restoration of Israel in 1947 and for the next 20 years. It was only the radicalism of the 1960’s, compounded by the 1967 war, which allowed the Religious Left to abandon its roots and portray Israel and its American/Christian supporters as imperialists. The NCC’s new pamphlet asserts that today’s Christian Zionists in America are dangerously organized into “well-funded political action groups whose aim is to prevent any negotiations that may lead to a two-state solution to the (Middle Eastern) conflict.”
If so, American Christian Zionists, despite their ostensible power and wealth, have largely failed to prevent U.S. support for a Palestinian state and U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority. What actually frustrates the NCC is that pro-Israel sentiment in the U.S. – which includes but is far from restricted to evangelicals – has prevented the U.S. from forcing Israel into surrender and a disastrous settlement. A 2003 Pew poll showed that U.S. white evangelicals favored Israel over the Palestinians by 54 percent to 6 percent, compared to general American support, which tips toward Israel by a robust 41-to-13 percent. Mainline Protestants and Catholics favored Israel by two-to-one margins. More than 60 percent of evangelicals thought Israel would play a role in the Second Coming, along with 21 percent of Mainline Protestants and one quarter of Roman Catholics.
That Americans as a whole, and not just ostensibly kooky evangelicals, are more partial to Israel than the Palestinian cause is informed not just by Israel’s role in the Bible but by modern history. Democratic Israel is seen is a miraculous regathering of an ancient people into a successful nation state. The Palestinians, who have never had a nation, often seem more enthusiastic about destroying their Jewish neighbors than creating a country of their own.
Maliciously, the NCC’s pamphlet alleges that Christian Zionists advocate “enmity towards Muslims and non-westernized Christians” and ignore Christian teachings about “justice and peace-making.” But the NCC and the Religious Left blithely ignore the plight of Muslims and Christian minorities who suffer under atrocious regimes in the Middle East. What about justice for them? How will peace ever be possible so long as Palestinians retain their dream of liquidating Israel?
Whomever one wants to blame for the lack of peace in the Middle East, Christian Zionists hardly bear the blame.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.