An Ethical Critique of Christian Zionism

An Ethical Critique of Christian Zionism
[1] As an Arab Palestinian Evangelical Lutheran Christian who grew up as a refugee, questions about the land and theology of Palestine/Israel are not just theological or philosophical exercises to me. They involve all that I am and all that I hold sacred in my life as a Palestinian Christian. I have had to come to terms with these questions personally at an early age in my faith journey to make sense of my own family’s history.

[2] My father was one of the 6,500 refugees driven out of Beersheba in 1948, and my mother was from West Jerusalem. She remembers fleeing her home after the Haganah told her family to go and it would be safe for them to return soon, only to look back and see they had bombed her house and it was engulfed in flames. Their families became part of the 800,000 Palestinian refugees that were driven from their homes, more than 200,000 of whom left before May 1948 or before any of the more organized neighboring Arab armies came in.

[3] I grew up in the Old City of Jerusalem, through the 1967 war which led to the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, which has dominated our lives since then. Occupation continues to violate basic human rights.

[4] The worst part for me, however, was that some of my own Christian sisters and brothers from all over the world began justifying what happened as a part of God’s plan. I still remember my first encounters with what I would now call a Christian Zionist who came to tell me that I should be thanking God because the scriptures were being fulfilled in the Six Day War. Then he told me to open the Book of Daniel and read how the small horn will win over all the other horns. This led me to wonder.

[5] Fitting these questions together with my sense of a just and loving God became a driving force in my life, and led me to study Hebrew, the Old Testament and, eventually, to seminary. I have spent my life trying to expose these destructive theologies and to stand for a new, more inclusive, loving theology of this Holy Land and what God is about here.

Christian Zionism Defined
[6] There are many understandings of Zionism and Christian Zionism. To me, Christian Zionism is grounded in an interpretation of the Bible that supports the ingathering of all Jews to Israel and their exclusive claim to the whole land of Palestine based on God’s gift of the land to Abraham and the Jewish people as the “chosen people.” There are several layers and aspects to this, with two most important interlocking concepts:

[7] (1) The general equating of Biblical Israel with the modern nation-state of Israel results in the belief that the nation of Israel must be supported, protected and allowed to expand into all of historic Palestine. Such a perspective, drawn solely from the religious writings of the ancient Israelites – writings also, of course, shared by Christianity – leads inevitably to the total bypass of all principles, concepts and laws pertaining to land ownership and the invalidation of more contemporary deeds, customs and international laws.

[8] (2) The belief that the emergence and success of the modern state of Israel is a welcome harbinger of eschatological prophesies that culminate in the Second Coming of Christ, the rapture and Armageddon, in which true Christians will be saved and two/thirds of all who don’t believe will be condemned to eternal damnation.

Reframing a Theology of the Promised Land
[9] Although most see this as very complex question, there is, actually, one simple answer to the question, “whose land is it anyway?” In a word: “God’s.” The first verse of Psalm 24 sums up one of the main themes of the Bible: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world, and those who live in it.”

[10] God is the creator and owner of all that is, including the land. God can do whatever God wants with the land, even this Holy Land, because whoever lives in it, as in Leviticus 25:23, are just “aliens and tenants.” God can give the land, as written in Genesis, to Abraham: “All the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Gen 13:15).

[11] God makes conditions for living on the land, as written in Deuteronomy: “Justice and only justice you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut. 16:20.)

[12] And God can take it away, as written in Leviticus: “You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances…otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation who was there before you.” (Lev 18:26-28)

[13] God gave the land as pure gift to Abraham and Sarah in the context of a covenant relationship. There were clearly responsibilities that went along with the promise. “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:2).

[14] Abraham and Sarah were blessed “so that” Israel would become a blessing to all families on the earth and a “light to the nations” to open the eyes of the blind and set people free from their darkness (Is. 42:6-7). In the covenant with Abraham and the selection of Israel as the “chosen people,” God was doing a new thing: creating a new vision of what it means to live as God’s people in community. God “chose” the people of Israel to show the world how to live by faith and shalom/salaam, with justice, equality, righteousness and love for God and one another.

[15] In the Exodus story, for example, we see God’s emphatic “No!” to the wealth, monopoly, and oppression of Egypt’s monarchy. God intended for the landless, enslaved Hebrew people to have a homeland, “one …flowing with milk and honey.” God led them out of the bondage of Egypt to be a new community, founded not on the world’s values of wealth, power and the heavy-handed authority of military might, but on God’s values of justice, love and righteousness.

[16] Once in the land, however, the Israelites began to turn back to the world’s values of wealth and power. Against the prophet Samuel’s warnings, they chose to have a king and to invest that king with great powers. The result was that unrighteousness, idolatry and injustice ruled the land. The prophets warned that shunning the covenant responsibilities would bring about their destruction, but the people did not listen. In exile, when the people were landless and homeless once again, the prophets’ message changed to offer forgiveness and hope through the promise of returning to the land.

[17] This time, instead of coming in to conquer those in the land, they came back to the land seeking to live together with those from other nations who were already living there.

[18] This evolution shows that God values justice, love and righteousness above the status of any one people. Perhaps the Biblical message is intended to be different for different people at different times. For those who are landless and have no hope or home, God will bring them to homelands and blessings. But those who have land, exploit it and covet more will lose their land. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote in a Sojourner’s article updating his ground-breaking study The Land, “the bible itself is primarily concerned with the issue of being displaced and yearning for a place….The very land that contained the sources of life drove kings to become agents of death. Society became the frantic effort of the landed to hold on to turf, no matter what the cost.”

[19] He notes that this theme is at the heart of so many conflicts in today’s world: “Is this not what the arms race is all about? The debate in our time is over how many weapons one has to have to keep from losing the land. Into the discussion intrudes the awareness that such self-defense may in fact be a way to lose the land, not to guard it. The royal ideology always believes there is a way to keep the land without the Torah. But the Torah is uncompromising in its conviction that those who covet the land (in violation of the Torah) are going to lose it.”

[20] This foreshadows the key ideas Jesus embodies to the world. In Mary’s Magnificat, we hear of the mighty who will be brought low and the empty who will be filled (Luke 2:46-55). We hear of those who seek the best place at the table humiliated and the humble called forward to abundant and unending welcome. (Luke 14:1-14 Matthew says that it is the meek – not the rich and powerful – who shall inherit the earth. (Matt 5:5) And, of course, we hear the words of Jesus: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

[21] The prophet Isaiah clearly prophesies that God’s people are to stretch their minds and hearts to all peoples. “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Is. 49:6; Is. 42:6-9; Is. 56:6-8) He foretells a day when “on this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food” (Is. 25:6) and calls on Israel to be “a house of prayer for all nations.” (Is 56:3-8)

[22] The Book of Jonah shows God’s care and mercy for a nation other than Israel, even one of Israel’s archenemies.

[23] Christians believe this goes even further with Jesus, who becomes the new covenant. Jesus, who ate with sinners, worked with tax collectors and rallied against the hypocrisy and the injustice of the wealthy and powerful, embodied a God who welcomed all to the table and into the vineyard.

A Theological Ethic of Common Sense: By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them
[24] It is painful to me that in this Holy Land, scriptures and religion have been terribly used, abused and twisted to justify violence, injustice and hate, by all three religions. No religion has a monopoly on hate, nor on truth, and we would be a lot better off if we acknowledged that and developed a way of living together, rooted in common values of the equal worth and dignity of every human being.

[25] Martin Luther had for his bottom line, his ethic and theology of common sense: “Was Christus triebet?” For Luther, the scriptures carried in them the transformative, radical grace and love of Christ, and this was his “canon within a canon.” The story of Jesus shows us an ethic of transformation: from death to life, from sickness to healing, from oppression to freedom, from guilt to forgiveness, from inequality to justice and from hatred to peace and shalom. There is an obvious tension between justice and mercy that permeates our mysterious existence, yet it is encompassed in the transformative power of Christ in our midst, and we always live toward this. My Christ is not a warrior sent to kill and condemn but Christ of the cross, who came to love and redeem all people.

[26] Zionism (including Christian Zionism) focuses exclusively on certain aspects of the Biblical story even though they so grossly contradict the rest of the story. The Bible is not a one-act play; it is a dynamic, complex narrative that shows God’s intent to transform the world and its people into a new community of shalom/salaam/peace.

Contradictions and Implications of Christian Zionism
[27] In the summer of 2006, some of us heads of local churches issued the “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism” rejecting the tenets of this movement:

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

[28] Specifically, these are the problems with Christian Zionism as I see it:

A Distorted Theology of Creation and Redemption:
[29] Christian Zionism is rooted in a destructive theology of creation and redemption. God created all people equally, in God’s image, and we are equally deserving of the same rights, dignity and respect. I believe that with God, there is no longer Jew or gentile, male or female, for on the cross Christ loved and reconciled the whole world to God’s self. The history of salvation shows the clear movement in our understanding from belief in a tribal God to a more universal, inclusive God, not just from the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament, but within the Hebrew scriptures themselves. The prophet Ezekiel, for example, gives a vision of the Israelites living in the land after exile along with those who were already there: “So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel…” (Ez 47:21-22).

Equation of the Modern State of Israel with Biblical Israel:
[30] The assumption that the modern state of Israel today equates to Biblical Israel of ancient times is very problematic. The Jews came to this land because they were persecuted by the European nations. The modern state of Israel is a full member of the international community of nations, having accepted the major tenets of international law and conventions.

[31] The prophets – and indeed, Decalogue – are filled with demands that we live with justice. Christian Zionism completely ignores the reality of the injustice occurring in Palestine/Israel, or it goes to extreme permutations to try to disprove it. Christian Zionism completely marginalizes Palestinian Christians and ignores any justice issues about land ownership of those who were displaced from their land by the creation of the modern Israel. It identifies God’s blessings solely through the Jewish people while ignoring and alienating the Palestinian Christians – and Muslims – and the underlying issues of justice and oppression which are so blatantly commonplace for them.

Promotion of Militarization, Violence and War, Especially Seen in American Foreign Policy:
[32] Christian Zionism tends to promote conflict and militarization rather than Biblical concepts of love, peace and non-violence. Many embraced the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 as a welcome sign that Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ might be upon us. In this theology, the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism.

[33] Specifically in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, most Christian Zionists denounce any division of the land between Palestinians and Israelis, so that any just peace with the Palestinians – including the two-state solution that is part of all peace plans of the past decades – would be impossible. Christian Zionists also tend to overlook or even excuse the blatant and well-documented violence of many settlers against Palestinians.

[34] Though Christian Zionism has been with us a long time, it has become so powerful a force in the U.S. that it seems to guide foreign policy decisions. CNN found in polls quoted in 2006 (a report from the Council for the National Interest, 26 Oct. 2006) that 31% of Americans surveyed strongly or somewhat believe in the idea that “Jews must have all of the promised land, including all of Jerusalem, to facilitate the second coming of the messiah.”

Hate and Racism:
[35] Christian Zionism results in rabid Islamaphobia and some of the worst racism we have seen in years. There is a deliberate attempt to stereotype all Muslims as espousing the extremist and hateful beliefs of radical Islam, which is as misleading as it would be to stereotype all Jewish people as using the violent and racist behavior of the most extreme settlers.

Undermining and Isolation of Palestinian Christians:
[36] There is no place for Palestinian Christians in the Christian Zionist framework. When Christian Zionists flood into Jerusalem, it is usually for Jewish feast days to support Israel. Many go from store to store trying to convert my Palestinian Muslim shopkeeper neighbors, in very arrogant and rude ways. Palestinian Muslims and Christians have good relations; we have lived here together for years. We share the same land, culture, language and future. When these Christian Zionists come into town and act this way, it confuses our relationship to them, and increases tension between us. Instead of building up the Body of Christ, this undermines one of the local expressions of the worldwide Christian communion.

Fueling the Growing Extremism and Chaos in the Middle East:
[37] The Palestinian/Israeli conflict is the key conflict in the Middle East, and until this is resolved, there will be growing instability throughout the region. The Arab world looks at this conflict and sees the West talking about democracy, freedom and diplomacy, yet excusing Israel from following any United Nations resolutions or international and human rights protocols. Despite these failures to comply with international law and UN resolutions, the US continues to give Israel more than $3 billion a year, which funds this illegal occupation and all of its consequences.

[38] If we were to resolve this conflict, it would take the oxygen out of the fires of extremism. If freedom, democracy and human rights continue to be reserved for “friends” of the West, this chaos will only get worse. More and more, Muslims see this as a religious war against Islam and Muslims themselves, as some Palestinian Muslims see their land taken and justice denied now on the basis of religion. This leads them to see Christians as an enemy, when it is really a matter of politics and land. This all feeds the fires of extremism and the cycle of violence. We moderate Christians must speak out so Muslims know that not all Christians believe in the theology of Christian Zionism.

[39] This is God’s land, and God put Christians, Jews and Muslims here together – all merely aliens and tenants on the land. God would have us be equal partners, living together, side by side, as loving neighbors with mutual respect and equal rights. Using Biblical writings to make exclusive claims on this land will only bring more violence, division and conflict. I believe the best hope for peace is two viable, equal states based on the 1967 Green Line and international law; a shared Jerusalem; a negotiated solution to the refugee problem and an end to settlements. The security, well-being and freedom of one people directly affect the others, and it is only when we realize this, and grant equal rights and freedom for all that we will know a lasting peace. It is just as Isaiah said: “For the effect of justice will be peace, and the result of righteousness, security and trust forever” (Is 32:17).

[40] The church leaders’ statement concludes with a call to Christians and others to renounce violence, injustice, occupation and militarism and to affirm and embrace the sacredness and right of each human life to live in salaam/shalom/peace:

We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as well as peace and security in the entire region.

We call upon all Churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land.

Therefore, we commit ourselves to the following principles as an alternative way:

We affirm that all people are created in the image of God. In turn they are called to honor the dignity of every human being and to respect their inalienable rights.

We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.

We affirm that Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. We reject all attempts to subvert and fragment their unity.

We call upon all people to reject the narrow world view of Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.

We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.

With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.

God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.

“What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

This is where we take our stand. We stand for justice. We can do no other. Justice alone guarantees a peace that will lead to reconciliation with a life of security and prosperity for all the peoples of our Land. By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace – and working for peace makes us children of God.

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19)

[41] For more resources about exploring Christian Zionism, see and