04-34. On Confronting Christian Zionism—From the Presbytery
The Presbytery of Chicago respectfully overtures the 216th
General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
to actively oppose Christian Zionism and to develop a plan to
communicate the theological and political ramifications it engenders
within our denomination, in the mass media, and among U. S.
government officials. Specifically, we call upon the General
Assembly to do the following:
1. Issue to all churches in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
a pastoral letter on Christian Zionism and the ongoing conflict
in Israel and Palestine and make this letter available on the
PC(USA) Web site.
2. Inform current government officials of the Christian alternatives
to Christian Zionism.
3. Continue to commend and promote the PC(USA) list of resources
found in the September/October 2003 issue of Church &
Society, entitled “Israel and Palestine: The Quest
for Peace,” so that Presbyterians can and will become
knowledgeable of the present day Middle East situation and have
a better understanding of its history and people.
4. Educate Presbyterians about the Reformed principles for
interpreting Scripture in light of the gospel and the rule of
love of God and neighbor, as affirmed by previous General Assemblies.
5. Continue to cooperate with other denominations and like-minded
groups to promote an understanding of peace in the Holy Land.
6. Urge our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related colleges and
seminaries to address this issue.
We are called by Scripture to love God and all our neighbors.
Christian Zionism promotes a theology that justifies grievous
violations of basic rights of people who are also made in the
image of God and is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Its teachings invite contempt for fellow Christians in the Middle
East, and foreclose decent human relations with many Evangelical
Christians in our own American society and in our churches.
The implications of this issue need to be understood and to
be given much broader attention by our denomination.
The term, “Christian Zionism,” is used to refer
to the use of passages of biblical prophecy out of context to
influence political and religious leaders to accept the State
of Israel as a necessary condition of the return of Jesus Christ
and the eschatological end of time (Armageddon), when Jews and
others will be given the option to either convert or perish.
Christian Zionism fails to relate to or defend Palestinian
Christians who are fleeing their homeland because of Israeli
occupation, economic closures, continuing confiscation of land
and settlement construction, military aggression and now the
“Wall.” Christian Zionism is actually anti-evangelical
in that it undermines the presence and witness of the indigenous
Middle East Christians, whether in the Holy Land itself or throughout
the Middle East. Christian Zionism creates a false image of
Christianity, one that is militant, western, and Zionist; and
the repercussions often affect the continuity of indigenous
Middle East Christians. Our Palestinian Christian partners urge
us to speak out on this issue, notably the churches of the Middle
East, the Middle East Council of Churches, the Sabeel Ecumenical
Center, and others, as well as our good friends, the leaders
of these bodies: the Reverend Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Center
in Jerusalem, the Reverend Riad Jarjour, general secretary of
the Middle East Council of Churches, and the Reverend Mitri
Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, who
last year served as a mission partner in residence on the Worldwide
Ministries Division staff of the PC(USA).
Christian Zionism has become a divisive voice in American
churches that turn prophetic texts of the Bible into apocalyptic
scenarios for the end times in a predictive and reductionist
form of prophecy. The Christian Zionist message jams the airwaves
every day on Christian radio and television and follows a theological
approach to the Bible called “premillennial dispensationalism,”
a theme that emerged in the early 1800s and was promoted in
the U.S. by the Reverend John Nelson Darby. The 1995 novel Left
Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and the subsequent
series of novels that pick up on this view and focus on events
leading to the end of history and the return of Jesus, found
a profitable market among millions of North America readers,
thereby finding popular but largely uninformed support. Influential
members of the current U.S. government endorse Christian Zionist
positions as a basis for U. S. foreign policy. Christian Zionists,
aligned with the minority Jewish settler group, take positions
on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that are contrary to the
position of the Israeli government and of most Israelis, opposing
a two-state solution and supporting transfer of all Arabs out
of Palestine. Finally, pre-millennialist interpretations that
underlie Christian Zionism ultimately exclude any validity of
the continuity of efficacy of God’s covenant with the
Jewish people themselves, and ultimately are anti-Semitic.
Jesus rejected efforts to speculate on the future by saying
it was not for them to know the “times or the seasons”
that God has chosen (Acts 1:6-11).
Christian Zionism is contrary to the Reformed principles of
interpreting Scripture that call us to read Scripture in light
of the gospel; and to interpret Scripture in light of the one
commandment of God that summarizes all other commandments, love
for God and for all our neighbors.
Our denomination is part of a coalition of Christian organizations
called Churches for Middle East Peace. Its “Theological
Reflection #1” describes the effect of the Zionist claim
as the active dispossession of Palestinians of their land. Adding
our voice to this specific issue will strengthen our joint efforts.
The 215th General Assembly (2003) reaffirmed the actions of
previous General Assemblies that support peace in the Middle
East; further, the 2003 resolution urged pastors, lay leaders,
sessions and individual members of the PC(USA) to avail themselves
of study resources that help them understand the history, nature,
and dimensions of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians
(Minutes, 2003, Part I, pp. 622-23).