Mixing prophecy and politics
Christian Zionists are growing in influence - even as they fight for policies their critics say work against peace in the Mideast. For these believers, it's all about fulfilling biblical prophecy.
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For many Christian Palestinians, Christian Zionism is disturbing because its conclusions work against their deep desire: justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.Skip to next paragraph
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Many local Christians come from families who became refugees or were displaced within Israel when the state was created in 1948. Naim Ateek's family were driven from their comfortable home in the town of Beisan by the Jewish army when he was 11.
Eventually becoming an Anglican pastor, Father Ateek says he struggled, wondering how to keep faith alive among his congregation under the hardships of military occupation. How were Christians to think about "the God of Israel"? Is God pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, or is He a God of justice for all?
After an in-depth study of the Bible, he wrote "Justice and Only Justice," in which he explores the scriptural basis for a God of inclusiveness. God's law requires justice for both peoples, Ateek says, and there won't be peace until that is accepted by both sides.
"If I as a Christian am not about truth, justice, peace, and reconciliation, then what is my ministry?" he asks in an interview in his book-lined office.
Ateek joined with local leaders from the 15 Christian denominations here - from Greek Orthodox to Quakers - to found an ecumenical movement, Sabeel ("the Way" in Arabic), which now works to counter extremism on both sides of the conflict.
It further inflames the situation, local Christians say, when other Christian groups provide resources to build and strengthen Jewish settlements on land confiscated from Palestinians.
For example, after the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord, which called for steps toward removal of Jewish settlements, Ted Beckett of Colorado Springs, Colo., formed Christian Friends of Israeli Committees. CFOIC enables US churches to support settlers through tours, funding special projects, and ongoing partnerships. About 60 settlements have identified projects for church support, and an "adopt-a-settlement" program encourages ongoing ties.
Sondra Baras, an Orthodox Jew who heads the program here, says she takes about 10 tour groups a month to settlements. "The Evangelical community is standing with us in such a strong way, and through financial support and visits have brought such a message of encouragement to those living here," she says.
This spring, Sabeel tried to provide a counterweight to such developments by holding a conference called "Challenging Christian Zionism." Some 500 Christians from 31 countries came to Jerusalem to discuss ways to check the growing influence of Christian Zionism. They heard also from Jews concerned about its impact.
"When political conflicts are framed as theological wars, we lose the ability to deal with them - the only solution is the final one," warned Jeff Halper, a professor of anthropology at Ben-Gurion University.
Christian Zionist ties to Jewish fundamentalists are disturbing to many Israelis, the majority of whom are secular, added Dr. Halper. The most explosive possibility relates to the prophecy that the Jewish temple will be rebuilt on the Temple Mount, where Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque now sit. Some Christian Zionists in America "are becoming quite involved financially and otherwise in the so-called Temple movement," says Weber.
When he talks to Christian Zionists about the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, some say, " 'Well, this is all prophesied - it's bound to happen,' " Weber says. Some suggest perhaps an earthquake will clear the mount. One predicted that "in an Arab-Israeli war a surface-to-surface missile aimed at Jerusalem will miss and hit the Dome of the Rock."
It's this kind of perspective that worries knowledgeable observers. Such mixing of prophecy and politics "could start World War III," says Dr. Marty.