By Carl Medearis, September 21st, 2011 12:27 PM ET
This week at the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has promised to ask for recognition of a Palestinian state. If he does, the United States will veto. Why?
Largely because of something we’ll call Christian Zionism, an American theological movement that preaches a Christian obligation to help Jews reclaim the biblical Promised Land.
I travel constantly, speaking about the Middle East to evangelical Christians across America and Europe. I lived in Lebanon for 12 years and churches invite me to talk about how to love their Muslim neighbors.
Often before I get invited to speak at churches and Christian conferences, I go through an awkward period of questioning, an interview that feels more like an interrogation.
Pastors and conference leaders want to size me up to make sure I’m “safe” for Christian audiences. The interrogation usually goes something like this:
“Carl, we love your books and your message. You have a lot of insight on how Christians can be more Jesus-like to our Middle Eastern neighbors. We hope you’ll talk a lot about that!”
Translation: Please, for the love of God, don’t say anything controversial about Israel or the Palestinians.
Though they are too polite to ask, what those pastors and conference leaders want to know is what is my position on Israel. For them, the modern Jewish state is a direct fulfillment of Bible prophecy, the catalyst for a series of events that will culminate in the return of Jesus.
As the Palestinians press ahead in their bid for statehood, prepare to hear from this crowd. These Christians number in the tens of millions and they go into a state of frenzy every time a politician so much as winks at the idea of Israel giving up a few settlements or withdrawing to pre-1967 borders.
They’ll tell you their concern has nothing to do with their particular interpretation of the Bible and everything to do with America and Israel’s national security interests.
Don’t believe a word of it.
When it comes to U.S. policy on Israel and the Middle East, Christian Zionism is the elephant in the room.
Christian Zionists believe that when God told Abraham 4,000 years ago, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” he was making a promise that extends to the modern state of Israel. Any nation that “curses” Israel will face God’s judgment.
Not all evangelical Christians believe this, but the ones that do are the loudest voices in the media, and they lead huge organizations.
Television evangelists like Pat Robertson and John Hagee mobilize millions of Christians every year to write to their congressmen demanding that Israel be allowed to expand settlements indefinitely. They seem to oppose every peace deal that comes to the table.
There’s a reason for this. In their minds, the modern Israeli state is not only a fulfillment of biblical prophesy. In a bizarre twist that leaves most outsiders dumbfounded, Christian Zionists say the Bible predicts that Jews and Palestinians will forever be at war until Jesus returns.
They say the only person that will bring peace before the end of the age is—wait for it—the devil, in the form of the anti-Christ.
When you hear some Christian politicians say, “The land belongs to Israel”, what they’re really saying is if America blesses Israel – that is, if it gives uncritical support to the Jewish state – God will bless America. If America curses Israel, God will curse America.
When it comes to Israel and her neighbors, many Christian Zionists believe that peacemaking is the devil’s work.
They may forget that it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
One of the reasons Jesus was crucified was because of his refusal to embrace a nationalist agenda. But Christian Zionism blesses military action by the modern state of Israel, under the banner of “national security,” including the demolition of Palestinian homes to pave the way for new settlements.
So how would Jesus vote this week if he had a seat at the U.N.?
Surely love, compassion, justice and peace-making would top his lists of concerns for all involved. Maybe he would give a new parable – the Parable of the Good Palestinian – offending all who would hear.
Rather than allowing obscure Old Testament promises to dictate our foreign policy, what if we stuck to the clear commands of God – love your neighbor, your enemy and the foreigner in your midst – which appear in Exodus, Leviticus and three of the four gospels.
Many Christians in America think of Jews and Christians as “us” and anything that sounds Muslim or Arab as “the other.” But the call of Jesus is to be more loving towards the “other” than towards the people we think of as “us.”
This command works both ways. When I’ve had audiences with leaders in the Hezbollah or Hamas, I tell them the same thing: That Jesus said to love your enemies. Who are your enemies? Israel.
It’s true that there are elements of Palestinian society that do not want peace, no matter the price. They need to be isolated and dealt with.
The same goes for elements of Israeli society that don’t want peace. The good news is that extremists are a minority on both sides of the conflict.
People ask me all the time what I think about Israel and end-times theology, and how the Palestinians factor into that. Here’s my answer: If your end-times theology trumps the clear commands in Scripture to love neighbors and enemies, then its time to rethink your theology.