Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Against Christian Zionism

An excerpt from the UK Methodists' 2003 Guidelines, this was adopted wholesale from a Church of Scotland document:

2.4.2        Christian Zionism
A response to the Replacement position and its arguably horrific consequences, (the Holocaust), is found in various forms of Christian Zionism, which range from the post war acceptance of the Jews having somewhere to go for safety, to the much stronger, affirmation that it is actually the sovereign will of God that his chosen people return to their homeland.  The former would state the principles of the basic right to life enshrined in the scriptures and Christian traditions, whilst the latter would find in the promises of the Torah, the prophetic writings etc., the literal word of God to return his people to the land.  A more fiercely prophetic strain of this view is found in the various Dispensationalist positions developed over the last hundred years or so.  These see the return of the Jews to the land as a harbinger of the last days before the return of the Messiah.  For them this is a major spiritual portent, rather than a political debate about human rights.  The Christian Zionist position can be summarised in three basic tenets:
·         the uniqueness of the  Jewish people and their continuing place in salvation history;
·         the importance of the Jewish Theology of berith and eretz; (ie of Covenant and Land) which inextricably links the Jewish people to the land of Israel;
·         the post-holocaust psyche, and the ongoing significance of Jerusalem.
For many however, this visionary approach has not always been accompanied by a sense of critical realism and the "what" has often been obscured by the "how".  The result has been a tension between a perceived "God given" gift of the land to one people, and the suffering this continues to cause to another, a proportion of whom are Christian.
 Note: here they are claiming that there is no Christian basis for Christian Zionism. They point not to the Bible, but use the Hebrew term which may be alien to Christians, and therefore alienate them from identifying this as a shared scriptural tradition.

2.4.3        Liberation /Universal  Models
Historically, liberal Protestantism has tended to be anti-Zionist and universal in its concept of covenant grace, and it is a late 20th century development of this view which forms the third broad category of mainstream Christian thought.  This third position often stands as a reaction to the previous one, finding an unacceptable face of "chosenness", which means the rights and hopes of another people are trampled upon and the standards of peace and justice enshrined in the scriptures are denied, even by those who call on the name of the God who initiated them in the first place.  This fatal inconsistency in the face of real and ongoing suffering has caused many to question and reject any concept of a particularised divine provision, and leads them to see the need instead to denounce the holocaust and any post-holocaust suffering as equally abhorrent to any concept of a loving God.  Many respond to this by having recourse to a model of Liberation Theology where hope is fused with political and pastoral concerns to form a critique which can be highly politicised and even confrontational.
 This is in fact the current Methodist model, but sources indicate that early Wesleyans were Christian Zionists. Far from being a "broad" stream, left-leaning churches have been losing ground for decades to evangelical churches and secular erosion.

2.4.5 A wider and possibly more eirenic model of Liberation, makes the point that even if God were indeed returning the Jews to the land, they were never meant to live there as oppressors or overlords, but rather as caretakers who reflect and embody the love and grace of the God who called them.  Many of these themes are echoed by a Jewish response to Liberation Theology, which sees the same liberating influence for all humanity in the great events of Israel's history.  The Exodus, the Passover, the teachings of the prophets and the subsequent moral guidance of the rabbis all point to an inclusive humanity which shares in the riches of a spiritual tradition and is not abused by it.
This is an attempt to appear in a middle ground, but as it characterizes Israelis as "oppressors or overlords", it's not much nicer. The remarks on Jewish teachings are a liberal interpretation, and completely fail to convey the ages of longing, expressed in liturgy and text to return to the land of our fathers. The Jewish tradition encompasses a particular people with a universal message of morality for all mankind, but does not mean that we have to give up sovereignty in our homeland.

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