My point yesterday about the assumptions of many Christian writers who defend Zionism, and attack younger evangelicals for their liberal views on this issue, is made quite well by Luke W. Moon’s final sentence in his article I cited: “American evangelicals should think very hard about whether they want to give up the opportunity to be a blessing to the nation that blessed us with Jesus Christ.” Wow! If we do not support the modern secular state of Israel then we are missing out on the opportunity to bless the Jews!!!
My response to this sentence is really quite simple: “Are you kidding me?”
I write as one who freely dialogues with rabbis, has some great relationships with Jews and really does believe that the modern state of Israel should exist politically. I also support the broad-based support for Israel against terrorism and extremism. I also write as one who believes that the history of Christianity reveals a tragic response to the Jews that has been anything but consistent with regards to the teaching of Christ, who was himself a Jew.
My problem in this particular debate, however, is that I have not baptized this important dialogue, or my support for the secular state of Israel, with Zionism. This is especially true when it comes to the religious versions of Zionism that link this movement to prophetic Scripture!
What exactly is Zionism?
Zionism is a nationalist movement of Jews and Jewish culture that has supported the creation of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the Land of Israel. The particular kind of Zionism that Luke Moon, and other evangelicals like him, supports is a distinctly religious variety that supports the Jews in upholding their Jewish identity, opposes the assimilation of Jews into other societies and advocates the return of Jews to the Land of Israel as a (the) means for Jews to be a majority in their own nation, and thus to be liberated from discrimination, exclusion, and persecution that have historically occurred throughout the Jewish diaspora. These various forms of Zionism emerged in the late 19th century in central and eastern Europe as a national revival movement. Soon after this emergence most leaders of the movement associated their main goal with creating a state in Palestine, then an area controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
What I find disingenuous on the side of pro-Zionists like Luke W. Moon is their almost cavalier way of linking Zionism with the Bible as if there was no need for distinctions and nuances within this debate. I am not a Zionist. But I am also not anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. I am deeply engaged with the greater inter-religious process of Jewish-Christian ecumenism. I believe that we have made great strides, especially in learning how to read the New Testament better because of our openness to particular Jewish insights into the writings of Jesus and Paul.
One excellent example of this very point is The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford, 2011), an NRSV Bible with notes from Jewish scholars under the editorship of Professor Amy-Jill Levine, professor at Vanderbilt University, and Marc Zvi Brettler, professor of biblical studies at Brandeis University, This exciting collection of Jewish reflections on the New Testament is a treasure and it fosters fresh insights in biblical studies that can encourage peace and understanding. The world of biblical interpretation is better because of this serious work.
But back to Luke W. Moon and this evangelical debate. What we really need here is more honesty and less emotional appeal. Every such article ought to include a “seal” saying: “Be careful, this article reflects the broad presuppositions of a certain group of Christians who have a definite historical and interpretative agenda.”
My personal problem is that I do not think we can be peacemakers in the Middle East by only heeding the agenda of Zionism, at least not the Zionism of an extremely religious variety which is promoted (or assumed) by so many American Christians. Luke W. Moon may be one voice for this cause but he is not alone. Christian Zionism is alive and well within evangelical churches and institutions but thankfully it is shrinking in influence over time. This is why Luke Moon wrote his article and why I bothered to bring it to your attention.