A commonly held belief is that certain popular trends in American culture almost always find their way to the UK. But one seldom hears of religious trends being exported across the Atlantic. Is this about to change? Will the recent surge in pro-Zionist Evangelical Christianity in America’s mid-west, the ‘Bible Belt’, filter into the UK too?
Last year a new forum, initiated by the UK based Exploits Ministry, took place in London to revive Christian Zionism in the United Kingdom and was attended by a range of organisations – both Christian and Jewish. Christine Darg, head of the Exploits Ministry, believes that the time has come to “rekindle the unique relationship Britain has had with the Jewish people over the last couple of hundred years.”
Primarily associated with Evangelical churches, the concept has its roots in the Old and New Testaments, where proponents claim that it states categorically that every inch of Biblical Palestine must belong to the Jewish people as one of the pre-requisites for the return of Jesus to earth. Christian Zionists believe that Armageddon, an apocalyptic battle between good and evil, will take place when Jesus returns.
Darg cites divine sanction for her belief that all of Israel should belong to the Jewish people: “Our souls are vexed as we see the news media continually missing the point because they do not know the Lord’s counsel. The establishment of Israel in 1948 and Jerusalem becoming the Jewish capital again in 1967 were not political acts. They were acts of God Almighty. Any group or any nation that works against this covenant property, the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, is coming against the eternal purposes of God. Israel’s restoration to this land is just as awesome and miraculous as accounts in the Bible.”
But why rekindle Christian Zionism now? Darg states: “We are in a critical season and at a crossroads in this country, which is a test case for the challenge of Islam. America and the world now face a fanatical band of Islamic terrorists who believe it is their God’s will for them to kill Christians and Jews. This is a clarion call to be Biblically correct and not politically correct.” The Christian Zionists’ theory seems to be that Islam is the false global religion of the Antichrist which is threatening Jewish and Christian life, along with Israeli expansionism, thus further delaying Christ’s return.
Although Exploits’ forum was hailed as a success by those groups in attendance, there are a number of prominent Christian voices in the UK, many from the Evangelical community itself, hostile to the notion. Neil Dallas, a Baptist Evangelical Minister from Hackney, believes that Christian Zionists are an impediment to peace in the Middle East: “Christian Zionists, particularly American ones, cause a lot of trouble in the Middle East. They simply hinder the peace process by disregarding Palestinians. 1948 and 1967 were political acts, not acts of God. I have seen nothing in the Scriptures to support their views.”
Christian Zionism has its largest following among the Evangelical community in the US, where it is claimed that the concept has infiltrated the White House itself. It is rumoured that many in the current Bush administration, including Bush, subscribe to the concept. Although none within Bush’s inner circle have openly spoke of their support for the idea, it has been alleged that much of US foreign policy during Bush’s tenure has reflected a definite propensity towards Christian Zionism. Brian Klug, a senior research fellow and tutor in philosophy at Oxford University, claims that George W Bush is very much influenced by Christian Zionism. He said: “My impression is that Christian Zionists within the Bush administration have exercised a degree of influence on US foreign policy in the Middle East. George W Bush himself is drawn to Christian Zionism and I think the concept has reinforced his political direction.”
There is indeed a definite sense that Christian Zionists, inside and outside the White House, exercise a massive influence in US politics. According to the late American Evangelical Pastor Jerry Falwell there are an estimated 70 million Evangelical Christian Zionists in the US, making them the single largest religious group in the country. This voting power has been collectively employed on a number of occasions.
In 2002 Steven Zunes, editor of US Foreign Policy in Focus, revealed that the White House had u-turned on its condemnation of Israel’s offensive in the West Bank at the behest of 100,000 emails from Christian Zionists – mobilised by powerful lobby groups, such as Christians for Israel – who threatened to stay at home on election day if Bush refused to renege on his stance. The president obliged and a Republican led Congress swiftly adopted a number of resolutions supporting Israel and blaming the situation on the Palestinians.
The White House’s original condemnation of Israel, coupled with Bush’s rhetoric supporting a two-state solution, would suggest that Christian Zionist vote power, rather than an ideological inclination towards Christian Zionism, are at the core of Republican support for Israel. The complexities of the theological aspects of Christian Zionism are intensified when considering the position of Palestinian Christians, who make up around 3% of the population in the Palestinian territories. Sabeel, an organisation that represents Palestinian Christians, take the view that Christian Zionism is essentially un-Christian. Sabeel co-ordinator Jennifer Oldershaw called Exploits’ event to rekindle Christian Zionism a “sad day for Christianity”. She added: “Christian Zionism is basically un-Christian and Christian Zionists read the Bible in a way that we don’t. Palestinian Christians have no truck with Christian Zionists, and fully support a two-state solution. Palestinian Christians suffer in the same way that Muslim Palestinians do. Christian Zionism perpetuates a black and white view of Christianity, and of Zionism, and is ultimately prolonging the suffering of all Palestinians.”
The irony of the concept sees Jewish Zionist and Christian Zionist groups unite, despite holding vastly divergent views on the idea of Zionism. Jewish Zionism is a concept that emerged in the latter part of the nineteenth century among secular Jewish intellectuals, such as Theodor Herzl, and sought to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire. However, Orthodox Judaism and Jewish Zionism, contrary to Christian Zionism, reject Jesus as the Messiah and reject any notion of his return. But this didn’t stop a number of Jewish groups, such as The Jerusalem Summit, attending Exploits’ forum.
Simon Elliot, former Jewish Society Chair at the London School of Economics, believes that the issue is not clear cut: “There are a number of different views about Christian Zionism within Jewish circles. Firstly, the idea of Biblical Palestine is something that Christians talk about more than Jews. Secondly, there is the feeling among Jews, and others, that Israel is being used to fight the West’s battles in the region. At the moment, the Israeli government seems happy to do this, for various reasons. However, they would be more uncomfortable fighting a battle for the supposed return of Jesus, because things weren’t that great for us when he was here. But Christian groups, particularly ones in the US, do pour a lot of money into Israel because of their religious beliefs, such as Christian Zionism. There is an argument that we should take money from wherever we can get it.” As for Bush, Elliot believes that he has been good for Israel and good for Jews: “Since Bush has come to power, Muslims aren’t killing Jews anymore, they are killing each other. And if his support for Israel is down to his religious views, then fair enough.”
But Brian Klug, who is also a co-ordinator for Independent Jewish Voices, an organisation of Jews that seeks to counter what its members see as an unhealthy climate of debate regarding Israel and Zionism, believes that certain Israelis are playing a “dangerous game.” He said: “Certain Israeli organisations, in order to further their own agenda, are playing a dangerous game by humouring Christian Zionist groups. Christian Zionism is not sympathetic to Judaism and is not going to move the peace process forward. Christian Zionists simply seek to superimpose religion onto a political situation.”
If, as the Bishop of London Richard Chartres argues, the West is entering a “post-secular age”, then it is possible that religious concepts will at some stage interchange with political ones. However, Neil Dallas is sceptical of a renaissance of Christian Zionism in the UK: “I can’t see Christian Zionism taking off in the UK, or making some sort of a comeback, mainly because, here, Evangelicals are more concerned with trying to live the life that Jesus did: helping the poor, praying and serving humanity. We are happy to leave the rest to God.”
Simon Elliot and Neil Dallas are pseudonyms.
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This post was written by Ravender Singh Sembhy