“Zion’s Christian Soldiers”
On October 6, 2002, the popular American investigative TV program, 60 Minutes, introduced its viewers to Christian Zionism in a segment they entitled: “Zion’s Christian Soldiers.” Outspoken former Moral Majority founder, The Rev. Jerry Falwell, was the primary guest. Correspondent Bob Simon interviewed Falwell, asking his opinion on a variety of subjects related to Middle Eastern affairs. How he replied astonished many, infuriated many more. By week’s end his words would be published and republished in every major news venue around the world, most notably in those countries where Islam is the dominant faith: “I think that Muhammad was a terrorist,” he said. “I’ve read enough of the history of his life, written by Muslims and non Muslims, to say that he was a violent man of war.”
Those who looked beyond the controversy caused by Falwell’s words to the theme of the show itself learned that millions of American Christians – 70 million was the figure Falwell used  – give unqualified support to the modern state of Israel based largely on a belief that it came into existence as the fulfillment of biblical promises which set the stage for the now imminent second coming of Christ.
They learned, too, that Christian Zionists represent a powerful political force in America. Simon noted, as just one example, a letter-writing campaign organized by Falwell and others in April of 2002 which took President Bush to task for asking the Israeli government to withdraw their tanks from the West Bank city of Jenin following one of the most violent weeks of the intifada. Over 100,000 letters and emails flooded the White House. While it can’t be determined for sure whether this is what made the difference, what is sure is that soon after the letters arrived President Bush backed down. “There’s nothing that brings the wrath of the Christian public in this country down on this government like abandoning or opposing Israel in a critical matter,” noted Falwell.
This program highlighted something that Israel watchers have long known: the political clout of those who call themselves Christian Zionists – even though the numbers aren’t as large as Falwell maintains. A recent poll taken by “Stand for Israel,” (an organization headed by former Christian Coalition director, Ralph Reed) noted that only two thirds of the American evangelical community (those who would claim to be “born again” - the whole of which constitutes the 70 million claimed by Falwell) say that they support measures being taken by the Israeli government against what the poll takers defined as “Palestinian terrorism.” (A question that skewed the results simply by the way it was asked). And not all of these two thirds would necessarily be comfortable with the label “Christian Zionist.” 56% of those who voiced support for Israel put down political reasons for their perspective, while 28% list “end times” (which is often noted as a foundational teaching of Christian Zionists) as a primary motivating factor, The picture is cloudier than “Zion’s Christian Soldiers” would like us to believe.
Whatever the numbers there is no doubt that this is an influential movement whose impact reaches beyond the boundaries of its core constituency. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the majority of American Christians who give uncritical support to Israel today have been influenced in one way or another by the tenets of Christian Zionism, whether they buy the package or not.
A Matter for Concern
This is a concern for us as a denomination for several reasons:
Christian Zionists have consistently used their considerable political clout to attempt to block any negotiated settlement between Palestinians and Israelis that could lead to a just peace.
Statements made by previous General Synods show that we have done what we could to encourage a reconciled peace, affirming both the deep yearning of Jewish people for a “safe haven” in their historic homeland after centuries of anti-Semitic persecution and Palestinian longings for a homeland of their own, noting in particular the tragic displacement which they endured (and are still enduring) as the result of the establishment of the Jewish state and subsequent wars. Circumstances and the information available to us regarding the nature of the conflict have changed since General Synod last spoke directly to this issue (1989), but our commitment to supporting a solution that reflects Biblical standards of justice with reconciliation as the ideal outcome remains unchanged.
As people who live under the divine authority of Holy Scripture, faithful disciples of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we believe that it is important that we carefully examine and, when necessary, critique, the teaching of any movement that claims to speak on Christ’s behalf when there is evidence that such teaching is negatively impacting the lives of our neighbors.
We are called to honor Christ in all we say and do. When fellow members of the one Body of Christ act in such a way that Christ’s name is dishonored, we cannot remain silent. The Church waited too long to speak out against those who twisted scripture to justify slavery or anti-Semitic pogroms against Jewish neighbors. Too much is at stake in the current conflict in Israel/Palestine for us to make the same mistake here.