“Zionism” and A Missed Opportunity
When I initially heard Sen. Cruz’s comments at a recent event highlighting Christian persecution in the Middle East, I supported his words completely. I even voiced my support on this site in the comment section. Upon reflection, I have come to believe that he perhaps missed an opportunity to share a balanced approach when it comes to Christians and their attitudes towards Israel. Currently, there are two very polarizing viewpoints whose adherents are very vocal and usually drown out those who hold a more balanced view. I do not seek to criticize Sen. Cruz in this diary, I can understand why he did what he did. This is more a discussion of the two problematic extreme views within Christianity on this subject and what I think in hindsight I would have liked Sen. Cruz to have said.
The first extreme viewpoint originates primarily from the theological Left, though there are more than a few on the theological right who also adhere to it. These are the folks who use “Zionist” as a pejorative for anyone who believes Israel has a right to defend itself against its’ enemies. This gross misuse of the word has resulted in many not even knowing what it means. As a refresher course, I will remind everyone that Zionism is a political/religious ideology. Simply supporting a nation’s right to defend itself based on geo-political and/or republican principles does not make one a Zionist.
What also concerns me about those in this camp is the thinly veiled Anti-Semitism that is often expressed. Christians should never be in support of generational racial hatred and violence. Our own past experience in this country with racism and bigotry should be a stark reminder of how wrong any such belief system is.
The second extreme viewpoint originates primarily from the theological right by those who adhere to a pre-millenial dispensationalist view of Christian eschatology ( a viewpoint developed in the 1830′s that somehow gained traction). These individuals do adhere to a form of Christian Zionism in which the state of Israel plays a prophetic role in their view of eschatology. These individual use the word “anti-Semetic” the way the former group uses “Zionist.” They call anyone who dares to criticize the actions of the Israeli government “anti-Semetic.” Some even deem it some sort of sin.
This is quite problematic and against what the Bible teaches regarding the fallen state of man. There is no such thing as a perfect human being, ergo there is no such thing as the perfect nation. To somehow claim that Israel is above any criticism or reproach is just plain theologically inaccurate. No nation is infallible, not one. To act as if this is so is tantamount to heresy.
Another problem is that these individuals often vilify or criticize any effort towards peace in the Middle East based on their dispensational point-of-view. Sadly, in their minds every gruesome act makes them almost giddy as they think it will usher in their view of Biblical prophecy.
So where does that leave us as conservative Christians? I offer a few humble proposals. First of all, we need to divorce all eschatological viewpoints with how we approach Israel. For me, this is easy as I do not believe in dispensationalism. However, this may be very difficult for Christians who have been raised believing this philosophy. Regardless, it is critical that this occur.
Second, we must acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself against its’ enemies and support it strongly. It does not take a foreign policy expert to recognize that supporting the Middle East’s only stable democracy is a wise decision. However, we should not act as if the Israeli government is without error. Honest and respectful critique should be encouraged and welcomed within conservative Christian circles. Those who provide such a critique should not be labeled anti-Semitic or made to feel they have committed a mortal sin.
Lastly, we must support the efforts of peace in the Middle East. We should not be silently (or openly) agitating for more hatred and violence. I believe it is the Christians who hold the key to opening the door to peace in the region. Whether Arab, Palestinian, or Jew, Christians in this area share a common faith in Christ. We must encourage partnerships among these various ethnic groups centered around their common faith. Only then can healing and forgiveness begin to take root and grow. I am not naive, I know there are outside groups who have no desire for peace and would thwart any such partnership. But one of those groups should not be conservative Christians.
I do hope Sen. Cruz has another opportunity to speak to the Christians in the Middle East. In this second chance, I would hope that he would outline some of the balanced principles listed above. Our fellow Christians in the Middle East need to know they have our support and that we are open to hearing about their plight. We should not allow the two extreme viewpoints be a representative of conservative Christianity in America.