Thoma Getman on How Evangelical Christians Became Zionists

This is another video from the Washington Report on Middle East Affair’s conference on the Israel lobby held in March of this year, 2018.

I realise that many of the people, who read my blog are atheists or agnostics, who have little interest in religion. However, I’m posting this because America is a much more religious country, and Christian Zionism has played a huge role in support for Israel. It is also influential over here, and many of this country’s Christians also support Israel for the same reasons, although they may not be aware of them.

Introduction

Introducing the talk, Dale Speransky defines Christian Zionism as the belief that the foundation of Israel is the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, and so deserves unqualified report. Trump’s decision to relocated the American embassy to Jerusalem has been ascribed to the power of the Christian lobby for Israel, who have an extremely powerful supporter in Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence. But it is questionable how powerful the Christian Zionists are, just as there are theological questions about whether Christian Zionism is a legitimate interpretation of scripture. There are also questions about how it got started, where it’s going, and who is challenging it.

Thomas Getman Thomas Getman is partner in a private consulting group that specializes in international, United Nations and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) affairs. He got his start in fighting for just in South Africa, and then discovered the issue of Palestine. He works primarily for World Vision on Palestinian issues in the West Bank.

Getman states that he started working for the Palestinians because he was told by Tutu, Boesak and others that if he really wanted to do something for human rights, he should go and support them. He confesses that he is grateful for their advice, because he was an Evangelical Christian Zionist but didn’t know it. He gives as reasons for hope the sayings ‘Those who lay traps get their feet caught in them’, and ‘Those who do things in the dark, get brought into the light’. He states that we are not just talking about theology and credal orthodoxy, we are also talking about social justice.

Christian Zionism Recent Theological Development

Orthodox Christianity, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Evangelical, goes back to the creedal formulations of the 4th century. Zionism, Christian and Jewish, only goes back to the 19th and early centuries, and was a minority belief in seven Biblical dispensations in history. He describes this as a real stretch of cherry-picking. It desires the movement of all Jews to all of Israel, in order to hasten the End Times. It has been popularized by the Left Behind fictional series. This is about the sudden disappearance of Christians, presumably to heaven, followed by an apocalyptic war against the Antichrist, which is succeeded by the 1,000 year peaceful reign of the Messiah. Everyone is judged on their faithfulness to God’s plan, 2/3 of the Jews are killed and the rest convert to Christianity.

According to Zionists, the millennial reign started in 1948 and 1967. Zionism becomes dangerous when it is aligned with empire and ethno-religious nationalism. Ethical guidance takes a back seat. Most theological circles consider it heresy. It is also now not widely embraced by Evangelicals, rabbinic Jews or mainstream Christians. Unless it’s embraced without thought and a real understanding of the issues. Billy Graham said he was agnostic about the End Times. But silence in the mainstream church has allowed Palestine to be defined by Zionists. The Presbyterian theologian Dr. John Wagner, a former Zionist himself, defines it as ‘a movement within Protestant now Catholic fundamentalism that understands the modern state of Israel as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of political, religious and financial support.

Christian Zionism, Millennialism and Colonialism

Christian Zionism preceded Jewish Zionism by 50 years. It began with British literalists cherry-picking verses to apply to a physical state for diaspora Jews. This ultimately brought about the state of Israel, which is now ascribed to an act of God. This nationalistic perspective is key to understanding the troubling geopolitical and theological fire fanned by the Jerusalem announcement and the visit by the vice-president. It explains the damaging replacement in Israel of rabbinic, social justice Judaism, with secular Jewish Zionism. There is a joint marriage of convenience for image protection by the Jewish-Christian lobby.

It is the rationalization of colonization and partisan politics, influenced by religion, to exclude the rights of one group over another. He quotes one of the leaders of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation about whether the foundation of Christianity leads to the exclusion and rule of one group over another, or whether it brings everyone to the promise of our father Abraham to found many nations. The lobby is the combining of forces between the Israeli government and American Christian Zionists. AIPAC is an agent of minority gentile sentiment, not just Jewish support. It’s destined for failure, and is bad for Israel as well as America’s place in the free world.

Christian Zionism has its roots at least as far back as the 16th century European Reformation, in a literal interpretation of vernacular translations like the King James Bible and the Schofield Reference Bible, with its notes and references. It led to several centuries of anti-Semite persecution of Jews, the Holocaust, and the mid-20th century fictional works of The Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind. The modern movement can be traced to the early 20th century with eccentric British restorationists, who lacked formal theological training, who lobbied for the establishment of the Jewish state in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. They were led by John Darby, in the middle of the 19th century when the Middle East became central to the colonial interests of Britain, France and Germany. These Christian Zionists were some of the strongest supporters of Theodore Herzl. Herzl’s appeal to the British was partly an understandable anger for the persecution of Jews in previous centuries. But it was also undergirded by misunderstood scripture. The evangelical preachers Billy Sunday, E.L Moody and other promoted the Schofield Reference Bible dispensationalism to convert people through the fear of the End of the World.

The British bartered away Palestine with the 1917 Balfour Declaration. In 1919 the King Crane report cautioned about the dispossession of the local population, but this was suppressed or ignored by President Wilson. The Palestinians also believed they would achieve their liberation through alliance with the Ottomans. Balfour and Lloyd George were predisposed towards Zionism, but with mixed racist motives about White British superiority. Their goal was to advance British imperialist interests, and Zionism partly reflected this into the middle of the last century.

American Christian Zionism, Israel and Ronald Reagan

Billy Graham founded Christianity magazine, which, despite his mistaken anti-Semitic comments to Richard Nixon, reflected his social justice, abolitionists roots, and had a series of progressive editors partnering with the Anglican anti-Zionist scholar, John Stott. His NGO sponsored trips to the Holy Land. The impact of the Holocaust was a legitimate concern as well as guilt about US capping and turning away of refugees. The UN resolution of 1947 was supported by Harry Truman partly due to his own dispensationalist beliefs but also because he was concerned with the forthcoming elections and financial support from pro-Israeli donors. The Palestinians were ignored as the 66 per cent majority, who owned 90 per cent of the land.

Christian Zionism was strengthened with the foundation of Israel in 1948, which was taken to be due to God’s personal intervention, with expectation of the End Times’ Battle of Armageddon, as well as the influence of AIPAC’s predecessor, the American Zionist Council. It was also strengthened by the return of Jews to what they considered ‘the eternal, undivided capital’ in 67. This in turn encouraged the teaching of dispensationalist theology by Dallas seminary and smaller seminaries throughout the south and the Bible belt.

The more secular Israeli Labour Party had few relations with Christian Zionists prior to the election of Likud’s Menachem Begin in 1977. Begin, however, saw the necessity of this theo-political match, and courted the leaders of the Religious right in preachers such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others, who captured the television viewing of most Christians, and the booming Zionist churches in the South. In 1979 Begin presented Falwell with a private jet to affirm their support of Israeli policies, like the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s nuclear site, but also to spread the Zionist action plan. The election of Ronald Reagan, who had been converted to Christian Zionism, helped cement it at the centre of the Republican party in the White House, along with several speakers of the House.

Opposition was voiced by liberal ministers and scholars, and even John McCain called Fallwell and Robertson ‘agents of intolerance’. Jewish Zionists had few encounters with Christian Zionists until 2000. Even though Christians saw the events of 1967 as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, it took political necessity to drive the two together, helped by Jewish lack of faith in the Zionist Christian distasteful End Times creed. 9/11 sealed this marriage, as both Jewish and Christian Zionists feared Muslims. This hastened the growth of Evangelical Zionism.

Growing Opposition to Christian Zionism

In current times, and especially with the election of Trump, an encouraging opposition movement to Zionism has grown up among religious and political entities. As the Zionist lobby became more prominent through Jewish and Christian groups like John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, three factors were apparent.

1. The Lobby served to undermine peace, and increase, and even encourage, violence.
2. Their utterly unbiased, one-sided utterances and massive funding have been opposed by Jews as well as Christians.
3. The United States is seen as an agent of injustice, rather than an honest broker of a just settlement of the conflict.

The Lobby’s goal to stand shoulder to shoulder to gain significant influence in Washington by depicting Israel positively is becoming more and more difficult and counterproductive. The Israeli Lobby is being seen as an agent of the foreign power in part because of Netanyahu’s decline, and Donald Trump’s ignorance and intrusion. More open debate is happening on university campuses, especially as BDS has caused panic efforts in Congress and Knesset to limit First Amendment freedoms and print and broadcast media pro-Israeli editorials and news bias show real signs of change. Greater understanding is occurring about oppressive theology and Christian complicity in illegal neo-colonial activity.

There is an increasing awareness of severe demonization of Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Treatment of other minorities within Israel is stirring up opposition within the region, especially because of the horrors of Gaza, the expulsion of African refugees and the church tax bank issues. Many more people, including the young, are travelling with social justice agencies to traditional holy sites in the Holy Land, but they’re spending a lot more time than traditionally in the West Bank talking to the Livingstones, who are demanding liberation.

Christians with Jews and Muslims against Zionism

Polling and experience suggest that Evangelicals, and especially millennials are more pro-immigrant, less islamophobic, and increasingly concerned with the negative impact of occupation and annexation. There is a growing appreciation and solidarity with influential progressive and modern Zionists, for instance +972, Lara Friedman, Rabbis For Human Rights and mainstream Israeli combatants for human rights seeking help with their PTSD. Some progressive dispensationalists are embracing more of the true prophetic Biblical declarations about responsibility to the marginalized poor, blind and oppressed, the strangers in the land. Genesis 12 has been the basis of much Zionist propaganda, that ‘God will bless those, who bless you’ to Abraham, and above all, ‘the people you curse, he will curse’. The fact is, that promise wasn’t made to Israel. It was made to Abraham, the father of all of us. Zionists forget that.

There is a change in sensitivity. Increasingly, people are understood to have been chosen, as in the old children’s song, ‘All the children of the world, red and yellow, Black and White’. Getman’s evangelical colleagues now say ‘Jews, Christians and Muslims are precious in His sight’. The more liberal, social justice denominations and believers including many Jews, align themselves with the 2006 statement on Christian Zionism by the Jerusalem Patriarchs of the traditional faiths. They declared ‘We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the Bible’s message of love, justice and reconciliation’ and the American National Council of Churches adds ‘The theological stance of Christian Zionism adversely affects justice and peace in the Middle East.’ Unusually, on February 22nd, in response to the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, 25 well-known Evangelical leaders expressed concern about ‘unprecedented actions that may jeopardise lives and the future security of the Holy Land’. Getman considers this too timid, and says he hopes they were more concerned about Palestinian suffering, but this opens the door for more dialogue.

It is therefore questionable how much contemporary American theology, electoral politics and legislation are being driven extensively by the heretic dispensationalist understanding of Eretz Israel. Further evidence of it being challenged comes from the actions of Evangelical organisations like the Sojourners, Evangelicals for Social Action, faith-based operational aid agencies, some of whom have people on their staff in prison. Other faith groups are partnering with J-Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, New Israel Fund, operational agencies as well as the think tanks such as Middle East Institute and the Foundation for Peace; also great films like God On Our Side, Road to Apartheid, Occupation of the American Mind, Gaza Gaping Wound, Gaza in Context and so on. Social justice Evangelicals are working to rehabilitate their brand, or, if necessary, to desert it, to differentiate from the Hagees, Pences and mores of the World, which has the potential to affect the autumn elections. Members of Congress, who have expressed quiet opposition to Israeli policies have become more vocal about the treatment of children, such as Betty MacCollum’s bill on the treatment of child prisoners and M.C. Price and Welsh’s Action on Hunra.

Conclusion

Getman concludes that many progressive leaders are helping to sharpen our thinking regarding Christian Zionism, for the God they portray looks to be militaristic, xenophobic, genocidal, and would not be sufficiently moral enough to conform to the Fourth Geneva Convention. So has God turned from love and grace to be a great ethnic cleanser? Martin Buber the great ethicist said in his declaration of opposition to ‘Hatred is bound to ruin us. Guilt and complicit are twins hard to separate. Those who pull the trigger and those who pay for the guns are inextricably bound. The Anglican theologian Naim Ateek states ‘We must oppose Christian Zionism by asserting one clear principle – any religion that does not promote justice, truth, peace, love, forgiveness and reconciliation among people has lost its rudder and is undeserving of respect. Their religion and their teachings are destructive rather than a liberating force in the world. I would place Christian Zionists in this group’. And Getman states that, having seen their effect in Jerusalem and other places in the world, he would too.

German then goes on to answer a couple of questions. The first is about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Christians and western NGOs. And the second is about what it says about Christians United for Israel that their executive director is Ehud Barak’s cousin, and isn’t a Christian. Getman laughs, and says in shows the evil that collects around political issues, rather than moral and ethical issues.

Returning to the first question, Getman says that he believes the NGOs are being stifled, they’re being silenced and arrested as a cooling effort to scare people. NGOs are a major target, and some of Getman’s people have been arrested on trumped-up charges that are so counterintuitive as to be ridiculous. They talked to their lawyer, an Israeli Jew, who said ‘We must speak out more about this atrocity because these folks are as innocent as the day is long but the Israeli government finds them an easy target and it can be used to stifle advocacy’. And when marketing plays an enormous role for operational agencies or for churches, this can have a huge impact.

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