Anglo-American Christian Zionism: Implications for Palestinian Christians

Article excerpt

Since 2006, a great deal of popular media and scholarly attention has focused on politically mobilized support in the United States for the State of Israel. In February of that year, John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, unveiled Christians United for Israel (CUFI), an organization intended to be a Christian counterpart to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which describes itself as "America's pro-Israel lobby." CUFFs emergence signaled a renewed presence of Christian Zionism on the national stage of American politics and religion.

The next month, an essay on "The Israel Lobby" by foreign policy scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt landed with a thud in the realm of U.S.-Israel and Jewish-Christian relations. (1) Observing that "the Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel's rebirth is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda," Mearsheimer and Walt argued that it has "managed to skew foreign policy ... far from what the national interest would suggest," while presenting Israel's interests as "essentially identical" to America's own. Awareness of CUFI was widespread; reaction and response to Mearsheimer and Walt were serious and sustained. (2)

How can we adequately explain the sources of American affinity for the State of Israel? Those seeking to change the trajectory of U.S. foreign policy since 1948 need to understand the foundations and motivations of those policies. When questions turn to the activity and influence of Christian Zionism on the U.S. political scene the concern is heightened among Palestinian Christians. How is it that the supposed co-religionists work so consciously against Christians in Palestine and throughout the Middle East? Why do they cultivate theological justifications for the policy primacy of Israel?

Popular explanations for the popularity of Christian Zionist perspectives in the United States range from anti-Semitic theories of Jewish society manipulation to simplistic analyses of power politics to crude observations about popular American belief in the rapture. I have grown convinced, however, that rather than manifesting a manipulation of American interests, popular American affinity for the State of Israel draws from the taproot of Puritan apocalyptic hope embedded in American identity and national vocation from the pre-revolutionary period to the present. I define Christian Zionism as political action informed by specifically Christian commitments, to promote or preserve Jewish control over the geographic area now containing Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. It is best understood as a political application of Anglo-American apocalyptic hope.

Here I discuss how this peculiar form of apocalyptic hope is itself based in an Anglo-American Protestant tradition of Judeo-centric prophecy interpretation, a scriptural hermeneutic developed in the context of English Protestant polemics against both Catholicism and Islam. These 16th and 17th-century interpretations of scripture and history find echoes in contemporary Christian Zionist dismissals of Palestinian Christian concerns.

The Need to Challenge Christian Zionism

Although not explicitly named, Christian Zionism is referred to in the ecumenical call of "A Moment of Truth," the Kairos Palestine document. The authors indicate awareness that "certain theologians in the West try to attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our [Palestinians'] rights" (2.3.3). They call the churches of the world to "revisit fundamentalist theological positions that support certain unjust political options with regard to the Palestinian people." The churches are asked "not to offer a theological cover-up for the injustice we suffer, for the sin of the occupation imposed upon us. …