By Matija Šerić
After the war between Israelis and Palestinians broke out on October 7, American evangelicals were among Israel’s most vocal supporters. In mid-October, 90 prominent pastors and other Protestant leaders issued an “Evangelical Declaration of Support for Israel.”
Citing the “just war” tradition, the statement affirmed Israel’s “right and duty to defend itself against further attacks.” Evangelical leaders across the United States expressed sympathy, as The New York Times reported, “for a country with which many of them feel intense spiritual, cultural and political ties.” However, the unconditional support of the US evangelical community for Israel is not based only on theological motives of love towards the Holy Land. It is a bizarre theological and political phenomenon of Christian Zionism.
For Christian Zionists, supporting Israel is based on Israel’s role in the End Times as prophesied by the Bible. It is Jesus’ Second coming to Earth, the bloody last battle at Armageddon and the beginning of Jesus’ reign over the world from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. According to this scenario, war is not something to be avoided, but something desired by God in order to fulfill biblical prophecies. According to Zionists, warfare between Jews and Arabs is collateral damage in the service of a higher cause. Christian Zionists look forward to a war to end all wars and a consequent Christendom that will conquer evil and bring peace. Only those who accept Jesus as their savior will be saved. Unbelievers, including Jews and Muslims, will not survive.
Fiery sermons of Christian pastors
John Hagee, the controversial Texas televangelist and founder of the influential Christian Zionist organization Christians United for Israel in 2006, has long been one of Zionism’s most powerful advocates. On October 15, Hagee preached at the Free Chapel Evangelical Center in Gainesville, Georgia. Speaking in front of a mural depicting the events of the Book of Revelation, he claimed that the epic showdown at Armageddon, or Mount Megiddo in Israel, would be “the bloodiest battle ever recorded in the history of the world.” He claimed that the Bible foretold that the armies that “come against Israel” from China, Russia or Iran “God cursed”. After that, he predicted, “there will be 1,000 years of perfect peace, no presidential elections, no fake news, none of this nonsense.” Instead, there will be “one king and one leader, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. One law, that shall be his law.”
These days, Hagee is not alone in preaching about the role of the Jews in the End Times. In fact, many Protestant pastors do that. The largest television religious network in the world and the megaphone of Christian Zionism, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, presents the current war between Hamas and Israel as part of End Times prophecy. Popular preacher Greg Laurie told the faithful that the recent events are a “super-sign” that the “prophetic ticking of the clock that marks the return of the people of Israel to their homeland” has begun.
Definition of Christian Zionism
According to David Brog, author of the book “With Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State”, Christian Zionism can be defined as Christian support for the Zionist cause – the return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland of Israel. Christian Zionists believe that the return of the Jews to Israel is in accordance with biblical prophecy and is necessary for Jesus to return to Earth as king. They are partly motivated by the Bible and the words of the prophets.
In addition, they support Israel because they want to “repay the debt of gratitude to the Jewish people for the appearance of Christ and other foundations of Christianity” and support a political ally. Christian Zionists interpret both the Torah and the New Testament as prophetic texts describing future events about how the world will one day end with the Second coming of Jesus. Israel and its people are central to their vision. They interpret passages from the books of the prophets Ezekiel, Daniel and Isaiah as hints of the coming Christian era.
Many Christians read the New Testament Book of Revelation as a prophetic text about what the world will look like at the end of time. Christian Zionists claim that the Book of Genesis says that God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel. They insist that if America, as a country, does not “bless” Israel (offer its government unconditional support), God will curse America.
Christian Zionism dates back to the Reformation. It gained stronger support in England during the 17th century. English evangelical Christians presented this idea to Jewish circles in the 1840s. During the 1880s, an English Anglican priest, William Hechler, founded the Christian Zionist Committee to help relocate Russian Jewish refugees to Palestine after a series of pogroms.
In 1884, Hechler wrote a pamphlet entitled “The Return of the Jews to Palestine According to the Prophets”. A few years later, he became friends with Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern Zionist movement, after reading his book “The Jewish State”. He joined Herzl to rally support for Zionism. The term “Christian Zionist” was first used by Herzl at the First Zionist Congress in 1897. Hechler even arranged a meeting between Herzl and the German Emperor William II. to discuss the idea of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. The two remained close friends until Herzl’s death in 1904.
The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was perceived by Christian Zionists as a historical event of the greatest significance, leading to the fulfillment of prophecies from the Bible. In the Zionist perspective, the Jews restored their ancient homeland just as prophesied in the Bible.
An important moment in the history of Christian Zionism occurred in 1979, when the Moral Majority organization was established. It was founded by American Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell and was made up of conservative Christian political committees who succeeded in mobilizing like-minded people to vote for conservative candidates of the Republican Party. With nearly six million members, the Moral Majority became a powerful voting bloc during the 1980s and was responsible for Ronald Reagan’s victory in the 1980 election. One of the Moral Majority’s four founding principles was “support for Israel and the Jewish people everywhere.”
In 1980, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was founded. It is a very powerful Christian Zionist organization based in Jerusalem. That same year, Falwell, who gave televised sermons watched by millions, said of Israel: “I firmly believe that God blessed America because America blessed the Jews. If this nation wants its fields to remain white with wheat, its scientific achievements to remain notable, and its freedom to remain intact, America must continue to stand with Israel.” Falwell disbanded the Moral Majority in 1989, but conservative Christians have remained vocal advocates of Israel even though they lacked a formal structure for pro-Israeli political activity.
The dispensationalist basis of Zionism
Dispensational Christianity accepted by Zionists is a way of interpreting the Bible accepted in some Protestant churches (Evangelicals, Baptists, Pentecostals, charismatic movement) according to which Christianity did not replace Judaism but restored its lost elements.
According to the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and most other churches, the Jews ceased to be the chosen people after they rejected Jesus and the Jewish people were replaced by the Church – replacement theology. But Israel plays a central role in the dispensationalist view of the end of the world. Dispensational Christians believe that the Jewish people, not the church, are the ones to whom Israel was promised in the Bible. In their opinion, Christianity was not created to replace Judaism but to restore it. Dispensationalism has eclipsed replacement theology as the dominant form of Christian thought in contemporary America. Jews who are suspicious of Christian Zionist motives are usually unaware that many Christian supporters of Israel have abandoned replacement theology.
Pastor Hagee specifically condemned replacement theology: “We believe in the promise of Genesis 12:3 concerning the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. We believe this is an eternal covenant between God and the seed of Abraham to whom God is faithful.”
Evangelical ideologue Pat Robertson echoed this statement while touring Israel during the Israel-Hezbollah war, saying, “The Jews are God’s chosen people. Israel is a special nation that has a special place in God’s heart. He will defend this nation. So, evangelical Christians stand with Israel. That’s one of the reasons I’m here.” Pastor Hagee claims that he and other Christian Zionists support Israel because they owe a debt of gratitude to the Jewish people, not because they want Jews to convert to Christianity. The Jewish people gave the world Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the prophets. “The Jewish people do not need Christianity to explain their existence. But Christians cannot explain our existence without Judaism. The roots of Christianity are Jewish.”
Strong Zionist support for Israel
Christian Zionists provide strong political and financial assistance to Israel, which can be seen through the actions of the US government and private initiatives. They have donated large sums of money to support Israel, including paying for the settlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia to Israel. Thus, Pastor Hagee raised more than 4.7 million dollars for United Jewish Communities.
Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help poor Jews around the world move to Israel. When Israel’s tourism industry was in crisis between 2000 and 2003 due to the conflict with the Palestinians and islamic terrorism, Christian tourists from the US visited Israel in droves. Televangelists such as Pat Robertson and Benny Hinn visited Israel during this period and promoted travels. Another pro-Israel group, the Christian Israel Public Action Campaign, sponsored four missions to Israel. American Christians have also helped the Israeli economy by attending “Shop Israel” days in the US where Israeli merchants come to America and sell their products.
Christian Zionists – more passionate Zionists than Jews
Christian Zionists are more conservative than many Jews regarding the Palestinians. They are in favor of Israel keeping all its settlements in the West Bank. They opposed Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. They also criticized the Israeli government’s policy of handing over parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians. Christian Zionists, like Israeli right, believe that Israelis should never cede any part of Israel to the Palestinians because Israel was given to the Jews by God.
After former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon implemented an evacuation plan from the Gaza Strip and then fell ill a few months later, Pat Robertson claimed that his illness was “God’s retribution for giving up part of biblical Israel.” When asked about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to evacuate settlements in the West Bank, Robertson said: “It’s an absolute disaster… I don’t think the holy God will be happy to see someone give up their land.” Christian Zionists actively lobbied that territories administered by the Palestinian Authority cease to exist. They “oppose the Middle East peace process because they oppose the physical division of Jerusalem or Israel,” claims Dr. Clifford Kiracofe, a former adviser to the US Senate. The Christian Zionists were repeatedly criticized by the UN Security Council as an obstacle to the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Strong influence of Christian Zionists on Republicans
Christian Zionists have great influence over Republicans in the US. The influence on the Democrats is smaller but exists. The largest number of Christian Zionists is in America – more than 30 million, according to author and academic Tristan Sturm. Most belong to evangelical churches of the “Bible Belt” in the southeastern and southern part of the USA.
When President Donald Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the spring of 2018, even he acknowledged that most Americans, including American Jews, opposed the decision. However, Trump made the move for his evangelical supporters, who were delirious. Pastor Hagee claimed that it was he who convinced Trump by telling him at a White House dinner that Jesus was returning to Jerusalem to “set up his throne on the Temple Mount where he will sit and rule over a thousand years of perfect peace.” Hagee, who described the day of the embassy move as “nothing short of a divine miracle,” personally blessed the embassy in Jerusalem.
Christian Zionists often attack Democratic Party politicians for not supporting Israel. In his recent sermon, Hagee thunderously accused President Biden of “treason,” without giving a specific reason. He also urged his audience to “vote for someone who at least loves America.” For Christian Zionists, the Israeli government’s shift to the right after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power is no cause for alarm. They do not see Netanyahu’s moves as a threat to Israeli democracy or to the Palestinians, but a positive development. According to their interpretation, the creation of existing and the construction of additional Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which they call the biblical names of Judea and Samaria, is the fulfillment of God’s plan for the return of the Jews to Israel.
According to a 2022 Pew Research Center poll, white evangelicals “are the religious group most likely to express a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the Israeli government (68%).” Similar views are held by the black evangelical community.
Suspicion of American Jews
Despite their support for Israel, many American Jews have little sympathy for Christian Zionists. This discomfort is based on occasional Christian anti-Semitism, replacement theology, evangelical proselytizing, and disagreement over political issues. Christian Zionists argue that Jews have no reason to doubt their motives for supporting Israel because they do not believe they can hasten the Second coming of Christ. In the Gospel of Matthew, it is recorded that Jesus said of his return: “About that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but only my Father.”
While most American Jews are politically liberal, Christian Zionists are mostly conservative Republicans who are, for example, against abortion and homosexual marriage and support prayer in schools. Most Jews are particularly concerned about the efforts of the Christian right to weaken the separation between church and state. The director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, was outspoken and said that if the Christian Right’s domestic agenda ever came to fruition, it would turn American Jews into “second-class citizens in our own country.”
Rejection of Zionism by most Christian churches
For most Christians, the city of God has nothing to do with Jerusalem and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, it predicts the sack of Rome (410) and is quoted in the teaching of St. Augustine, whose rejection of millennialism was adopted by the Council of Ephesus (431). That is why neither Orthodox nor Catholic Christians accepted Zionism in any form. The Roman Catholic Church does not support the theological premises underlying the Millennialist Protestant Restoration and has generally opposed Jewish administration of Christian holy sites in Palestine.
Theodor Herzl had an audience in the Vatican with Pope Pius X in 1904 and then asked for his support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Pope Pius X declared: “We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem, but we could never authorize it. The soil of Jerusalem, if it was not always holy, was consecrated by the life of Jesus Christ. As the head of the Church, I cannot tell you anything else. The Jews did not recognize our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people.” After Herzl explained that his project of creating a Jewish state was not religious but secular, the pope replied “Does it have to be Jerusalem?”
While rejecting the theological foundations of Christian Zionism, the Holy See was concerned that Christian holy sites might come under the administration of a Jewish state whose religion does not recognize Jesus. The Vatican had correct relations with the Ottoman Empire and later with the British administration. Following the publication of the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, the Holy See advocated Jerusalem to be a special “international city”, as stated in the encyclical Redemptoris nostri cruciatus.
Up until the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church openly lobbied against Zionism (including the church in the USA). Due to theological tensions, the State of Israel and the Vatican established formal diplomatic relations only in 1993, and this was a recognition of political reality, not a theological act. In 2006, the leaders of the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Syrian Orthodox and other Palestinian churches published a letter (Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism), in which they expressed their opposition to Christian Zionism as a “false teaching”. The letter states that the alliance of Christian Zionists with political leaders has led to “endless cycles of violence that undermine the security of all the peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world.”
Christian Zionism is one of the most incredible and bizarre political and theological phenomena of all time. It is bizarre that Christians unconditionally support the State of Israel in its political moves towards the Palestinians, who often have nothing to do with Christian or general humanist norms. Some Zionists go so far as to interpret all the moves of the State of Israel as the moves of God himself. Most importantly, Christian Zionism is theologically incompatible with Judaism, which has a negative view of Jesus Christ – the central figure of Christianity. According to Judaic theology, Jesus of Nazareth was neither the Messiah nor the Son of God. Jews believe that the way Christians view Jesus is opposed to monotheism, the belief in the absolute unity and uniqueness of God, which is a central pillar of Judaism. They consider the Christian worship of Jesus to be idolatry, which is strictly forbidden in Judaism. Judaism’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah is based on Jewish eschatology, which holds that the coming of the Messiah will be associated with events that have not yet occurred, such as the rebuilding of the Temple, the Messianic age of peace, and the gathering of all Jews in Israel. Historically, most Jewish writers and scholars considered Jesus to be the most harmful “false prophet,” and Jewish rabbis’ views of Jesus remain negative. Judaism has never accepted any of the biblical prophecies that Christianity attributes to Jesus or the miracles of Jesus. Despite the aforementioned Jewish rejection of Jesus, this does not prevent Christian Zionists from continuing to fanatically worship the State of Israel.