by Tony Campolo
The good news lately is that George Bush seems to have gotten things on track for peace in the Middle East. The bad news is that pressures from a powerful segment of the Christian community may derail his efforts. Evangelical Zionists, as they are now called, have organized a massive movement aimed at blocking certain steps necessary to resolve the crisis. Through their vast television audience, leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer have promoted unquestioning, total support for Israel at the expense of calling for justice for the Palestinians. They have convinced millions of Christians that Israel has dealt fairly with the Palestinians, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
Christian Zionists have ignored the illegal settlements that have been established on land appropriated to the Palestinians as part of the 1994 Oslo Peace Accord. While properly condemning the heartless and evil terrorist acts of Muslim extremists, they have turned a blind eye to the immoral destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages and the bulldozing of thousands of Palestinian homes. While they properly highlight the victimization of innocent Israeli school children by Muslim fundamentalists, they fail to give equal attention to the hundreds of Palestinian children who have been gunned down by Israeli soldiers this year. Yes, a lot of those kids threw rocks at trucks and jeeps carrying Israeli soldiers, but to respond to rock throwing with live ammunition is simply unconscionable.
These evangelical Zionists contend that because God's covenant with Abraham makes Jews God's chosen people, whoever supports Israel will be blessed, and whoever questions Israel will be cursed. Such thinking is one reason America devotes to Israel one-third of its foreign aid; enough to enable Israel to have the world's fourth strongest army. Don't get me wrong. I too believe America should support Israel, and that we should ensure the safety and security of its borders. We owe at least that much to a people that has been victimized by centuries of Christian anti-Semitism. Such support, however, does not mean that we should look the other way when Israel itself engages in oppression and injustice.
An important but little known basis for the Christian Zionists' almost unqualified support of Israel is the theology of John Darby, whose unique interpretation of the Bible declared that Jesus could not return to earth to establish God's Kingdom until the state of Israel was re-established and the Jewish Temple on Mt. Zion was rebuilt. These doctrines of the preconditions for the second coming of Christ have gotten wide circulation throughout the evangelical community over the last 75 years because they are subtly incorporated into the widely used Scofield Reference Bible, used by countless Sunday school teachers across America in preparing their weekly lessons.
Of course, nowadays Darby's theology is gaining an even wider audience through the Left Behind
books of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which have sold more than 40 million copies. It's important to recognize that prior to Darby, teachings about the restoration of Israel and the temple as preconditions for the return of Christ simply did not exist in Protestant or Catholic theology. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Aquinas and Augustine never even hinted at such ideas, yet evangelical Zionists now deem anyone who disagrees with Darby to be a heretic. Unfortunately evangelical Zionists are not content simply to teach their version of biblical prophecy. Instead, they seem determined to make it happen through their highly effective political action groups.
I believe it is time for the rest of Christendom to stand up to these people and declare that God's infinite love and requirement for justice extends to both Jews and Palestinians alike. We must open our eyes to both the pain and the excesses on both sides of this conflict, and refuse to be drawn into simplistic solutions that fail to hold everyone responsible for peace. If we don't, President Bush's road map for peace will soon fade into oblivion, and the blood of continuing violence in the Middle East will be on our hands.
For more on this topic, see Tom Sine's "On the Road Again…Praying & Lobbying for Peace in Jerusalem" in the upcoming September/October 2003 issue, out next month.