Factsheet: Christian Zionism

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Image credit: Cole Keister

By researchers at Inform

Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have a right to return to Israel. Christian Zionism, a millenarian movement within many Christian denominations, often from a Protestant evangelical perspective, follows the belief in the Jewish right of return, based upon the Old Testament covenant made by God with Abraham

Background

Christian Zionism is broadly understood as the belief that the Jewish people have a right to return to Israel. It sees Jews as the descendants of biblical Israelites and heirs to the covenant between God and Abraham.

The fulfilment of this biblical promise is viewed by Christian Zionists as being the prerequisite for Christ’s return to earth. It is a millennial movement that draws adherents from different Christian denominations, but in particular socially conservative evangelicals.

The most commonly quoted Bible verse relating to this covenant is Genesis 12:3, when God tells Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The term “Christian Zionist” was first used by Theodor Herzl at the First Zionist Congress in 1897.

Who are Christian Zionists?

The biggest number of Christian Zionists is in the United States — more than 30 million, according to the author and academic Tristan Sturm. The majority belong to “Bible Belt” evangelical churches in the southeast and south central United States.

Christian Zionism is a belief system without a formal structure. However, there exist high-profile leaders and established bodies that seek to represent the views, aims and objectives of Christian Zionists. These include:

BELIEFS

What are the Christian Zionists’ beliefs?

Christian Zionists are premillennial dispensationalists who believe that the return of Jews to their homeland heralds the beginning of the biblically prophesied “End Times”.

The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was viewed by Christian Zionists as being the historical event of greatest importance in heralding the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. 

Christian Zionism holds that the return of Christ will be heralded by the “rapture” — in which true believers will be taken to meet Jesus in an otherworldly realm. However, for the majority, the rapture will be preceded by the return of Jews to the Holy Land, and the conversion of Jews to Christian belief.

After the rapture, there will be a period of seven years in which the world is plunged into turmoil, violence and misery caused by natural disasters, by war and by dictatorial regimes.

Jesus will then return to earth with his true believers to reign for 1,000 years. During this period of Christ’s rule Jerusalem will serve “as the capital of the entire world”.

Dr Tristan Sturm writes: “Jews are seen as the Chosen People of Earth and are, therefore, to be unwaveringly supported as God’s army soldiering toward the apocalypse. Protestant Christians, on the other hand, are understood as the Chosen People of Heaven and a post-millennium Earth”.

How do Christian Zionists’ practices differ?

While the majority of practices fall within the evangelical Protestant tradition, some Christian Zionists consider themselves “proto-Jews on earth”, Sturm writes, and engage in such practices as observance of the Saturday sabbath.

Christian Zionist congregations have partnered with Israeli settler communities for which they raise funds to improve the healthcare and education of residents. Congregations and groups organise guided tours to the Holy Land. 

Controversies

The conversion of Jews to Christianity is considered by many Christian Zionists to be a vital element in the beginning of the “End Times”. 

The Jewish scholar Yaakov Ariel has argued: “Especially in America, Christian Zionists have turned into a pro-Israel lobby that uses its political power to promote policies favourable to the interests of the Jewish state.”

Christian Zionists have actively lobbied for both the return of Jews to modern-day Israel and for an end to the existence of the territories administered by the Palestinian Authority. They “oppose the Middle East peace process because they oppose a physical division of Jerusalem or of Israel”, according to Dr Clifford Kiracofe, a former adviser to the US Senate.

Christian Zionist groups that fund Israeli settler communities have been criticised by the United Nations Security Council for providing support to settlement communities that are considered illegal under international law.

In 2006, the Anglican, Catholic, Syrian Orthodox and Lutheran churches’ leaders in Jerusalem published a letter, known as the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism, which outlined their opposition to Christian Zionism as a “false teaching”. The letter states that the alliance of Christian Zionists with political leaders has led to “unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world”.

Although the Christian Zionist agenda upholds the nation of Israel, Yaakov Ariel writes that it inherently views “the Jews as the people who fail to recognise and accept the true Messiah and have thus deprived themselves of both eternal life and sound moral guidelines”.

Inform is an independent educational charity providing information about minority religions and sects. This is an edited version of a longer research article

Academic experts

Yaakov Ariel, Professor of Religious Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill, USA
Dr Tristan Sturm, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast

Sources

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