By Shelley Neese, The Jerusalem Connection
Interfaith Zionism is emerging a power-force in American politics as Zionist Christians and Jews are crossing the proverbial aisle to collaborate in support of Israel. To outsiders, Jews and Christians seem strange bedfellows—Jews, traditional loyalists of the left and evangelical Christians, the conservative base of the right. Jews, persecuted by the church for centuries and Christians, tainted by a persecutor’s history. Jews who believe the Messiah has not yet come and Christians who believe the Messiah is Jesus who came once and will come again. Skeptics of this new Jewish-Christian alliance question its seemingly tenuous nature.
The common criticism is that Christian support of Israel is based on apocalyptic visions. According to this argument, Christian Zionists care little about the welfare of Jews; they support Israel only to realize the scenario of Armageddon when all Jews die or convert. C. E. Carlson, a known critic of Christian Zionism, claims “Christian Zionism is the most blood thirsty apostasy in the entire history of Christianity or any other religion.”
Christian Zionists rejoice in the fulfillment of prophecy (i.e. the creation of Israel and return of the exiles). They do so with no hidden agenda to push Jews towards their doom. Christian Zionists’ support of Israel is motivated primarily by repentance, thankfulness to the Jewish people, and obedience to God’s word, three sincere motives that expose the “Jewish heart” of Christian Zionists.
Rabbi Irving Greenberg, a pioneer in Jewish-Christian dialogue, once remarked that he did not care what religion or denomination you belonged to, as long as you were embarrassed about it. Christians have plenty to be embarrassed about. For nearly 2,000 years Christians made a habit out of affirming Christianity by negating Judaism.
Anti-Semitism started early in the church out of a desire to separate Christianity from Judaism. As the Roman Church gained power this desire for distinction evolved into oppression. At best Jews were forcefully converted; at worst they were burned at the stake.
Persecution of Jews was justified on the erroneous Christian teachings that blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. According to the anti-semitic theology of the day, God revoked His covenants with Israel because of Jews’ rejection of the Messiah and therefore the church replaced Israel as benefactor of God’s promises.
These Christian teachings of contempt fed the fires of anti-Semitism for centuries, making possible the crusades, inquisitions, and pogroms. It took the horrors of the Holocaust to finally bring Christians to their knees, transforming minds and hearts.
In spiritual humility, Christian Zionists repent of past sins committed against the Jewish people. They have started a revolution to erase anti-Semitism in the church by correcting erroneous teachings. The Gospel is an instrument of love, not hate. By standing in support of Israel today, Christian Zionists aim to turn afflictions of the past into blessings of the present.
Old accusations of Jews being Christ-killers have given way to thanksgiving to Jews for the Bible, Mosaic Law, and Jesus Christ. Pro-Israel Christians also want to repay the Jewish people for passing down the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Jesus, born a Jew, lived an observant Jewish life. According to the New Testament, Jesus kept the Sabbath and celebrated Jewish feasts and festivals. The prophets, patriarchs, and apostles were all Jewish; John Hagee, national chairman of Christians United for Israel, always quips “there wasn’t a Baptist in the bunch.” Paul, another observant Jew, notes the importance of Christians recognizing their roots: “you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others (Abraham’s seed) and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root (Abraham’s faith), do not boast over the branches…You do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Romans 11:17-18).
Fundamental Christian sacraments such as communion and baptism are Jewish in origin. For Christians, understanding Judaism and its connection to Christianity makes the words and purpose of Jesus all the richer. Loving the Jewish people out of thankfulness is not a theological stance but a moral one, because without Judaism there would be no Christianity.
More important than all of these, Christian Zionists are obedient to their biblical responsibility toward the Jewish people. Genesis 12:3 is the cornerstone of Christian Zionism: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you.” Isaiah 40:1-2 is its call to action: “Comfort, comfort my people…speak tenderly to Jerusalem” (Isaiah 40:1-2). The commands to bless and comfort Israel are given to all peoples but, according to Paul, Christians have additional obligations: “For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (Romans 15:27).
Christian Zionists obey the scriptures using their pocketbooks, prayer, and political power. In October 2006 at the Night to Honor Israel in San Antonio, Texas, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) donated 7 million to Jewish humanitarian causes. Each year Christian Zionists give millions of dollars to help Diaspora Jews make Aliya. Thousands of Christian intercessory prayer groups meet regularly to pray for Israel, heeding the command: “You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth” (Isaiah 62:6-7).
Christian Zionists also possess power in their numbers. While Israel is facing enemies that openly aspire to its destruction, Christian Zionists use their political voice to ensure Washington stays true to Israel. This past July, 3,000 Christians converged in Washington to lobby their senators and congressmen on pro-Israel legislation. Christian Zionists believe the command to bless Israel is God’s foreign policy statement. Their message: If America is to continue receiving blessings, it must continue to bless Israel.
Christian Zionists wear no mask. They harbor no ulterior motives; they are not war-mongers or cultists. The worst they can be accused of is being philo-semitic, too fervent in their religiosity, or taking the Bible too literally. Ambiguity in Interfaith Zionism is unnecessary. Jews and Christians do not have to get bogged down on every domestic political issue or religious belief in order to be partners in a powerful coalition. They have only to agree on the point of collaboration: Israel. In that respect, Christians and Jews are natural allies as they confront anti-Semitism, challenge radical Islam, and support Israel’s fight against terror.
Shelley Neese is Managing Editor of The Jerusalem Connection.