Criticism of Christian Zionism is not an attack on the country of Israel, explains Gary Burge, a professor of New Testament studies at Wheaton College. Photo: Neale Adams
Christian Zionism is a theologically-based belief about how the world will end that would likely be dismissed as a strange doctrine few Anglicans would be concerned about—if it didn’t affect Canadian and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Gary Burge, a professor of New Testament studies at Wheaton College, near Chicago, told two public meetings held in the Vancouver area in October that the problem Christian Zionism creates is that it promotes a one-sided view of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Israel always gets a free pass,” Burge told his audiences, first at the College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford and later at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale in Vancouver.
The Canadian Friends of Sabeel, an organization that promotes the perspective of the Palestinian Christian Community, sponsored the gatherings. The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center is based in Jerusalem. It is associated with 10 national “Friends” groups besides the one in Canada.
Christian Zionism is promoted mostly by a group of fundamentalist evangelical writers who maintain that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 are in accordance with biblical prophecy.
In 2013, General Synod passed a resolution that committed the Anglican Church of Canada “to explore and challenge theologies and beliefs, such as Christian Zionism, which support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.”
Burge at both meetings said Christian Zionism was based on interpretations—or misinterpretations—of the Book of Revelation and other biblical passages. Christian Zionist preachers see the founding of modern Israel as a signal that the end of the world is near. To be on the right side of a coming apocalypse, nations and their people must support Israel unquestioningly.
Christian Zionism is one reason Americans show greater sympathy for Israel, and far less for the plight of Palestinians, Burge said. Speaking from a liberal evangelical viewpoint, Burge listed passages from scripture that, he said, discredit the theology of Christian Zionism. The ethical demands of several prophets in the Bible requires just treatment of all people—particularly orphans, widows and “foreigners.” He argued that in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul’s writings reject “territorial theology.”
A supporter of Israeli and Canadian foreign policy at the St. Mary’s meeting asked Burge, “How can there be peace, reconciliation and justice and two states side by side, when all the Arab nations refuse to accept Israel’s right to [be] a state at all, continue to raise the next generation to hate Israel from kindergarten on, and would probably kill any leader [as] they did with Anwar Sadat who would seek to make peace with Israel?”
Burge replied that he felt Arab intransigence was “really overplayed.” Egypt and Jordan are Arab states that co-operate with Israel, he said. “But there are countries like Lebanon and Syria that have real political grievances, and until those get resolved with Israel—like the Golan Heights—you’re never really going to have real reconciliation with those two.”
Burge insisted that criticism of Christian Zionism is not an attack on the country of Israel. “Israel has the right to exist like any country,” he said, adding that he felt most Arab countries accepted that the Israeli state was the “current reality.”
Also speaking at the two gatherings was Prof. Ron Dart of the University of the Fraser Valley. Dart traced support for Zionism in Canada from the mid-1800s to the present day. Christian Zionism has been located on the West Coast, in Alberta, and in Ontario. Some members of the Conservative Party have accepted the doctrine, which explained, in part, the Harper government’s strong pro-Israel stance, he said.
“Many of the [Conservative] MPs…have grown up in conservative evangelical backgrounds with that very strong commitment to defending the Jewish people. Of course, you want to say, ‘Who wouldn’t? The Jewish people have suffered in the Diaspora.’ But to support them to the exclusion of the Palestinians and others raises obviously some of the serious problems that we face today,” said Dart.
The two meetings, which attracted about 200 people in total, were preliminary to a larger conference on Christian Zionism that will take place in Vancouver April 23 to 25, and will feature Burge and Dart along with Palestinian and Jewish speakers.
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Neale Adams is a freelance writer in Vancouver. He was former editor of Topic, the newspaper of the diocese of New Westminster.
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