I remember what unbolted me from being held to some aberrant views of the Middle East. It was the power of a good story well told. I’m talking about John LeCarré’s The Little Drummer Girl. This was in the early 1990s. I had asked a literary friend to recommend just one seriously intelligent contemporary storyteller. I was, you see, in a novel-slump. At the time, nothing but the classics were working for me. Where was the power of a good contemporary story?
Ever read John LeCarré? my friend asked. No. Where should I start? Try The Perfect Spy. I did. I was hooked and began reading LeCarré regularly (thank you David). Sometime around then I read Drummer Girl. The novel, first published in 1983, opened my eyes to the Jewish – Palestinian conflict in a way that nonfiction had never done. That troubling story was so masterfully told that I knew there had to be a good deal of truth behind it. I felt compelled to find out what that was, so I set out on a path of research that unexpectedly faced me with a lot of difficult choices.
Central to them was this one. I could either keep believing ideas about the Middle East that I was beginning to see were bogus or I could ditch them. You might say, Well, Charles, what was the problem? We should always ditch our faulty beliefs. But it’s not always so easy as flipping a switch, is it? I had picked up those ideas over the years from the American media and, in the interest of full disclosure, from some Christian pulpits and books as well. I had trusted those sources, especially the latter one, and it was hard to admit they could have been wrong. Besides, what would friends think of me, or colleagues, or people at work, if I could no longer agree with such popularly held views?
This blog is not the place to take you through an exploration of the jungle of my mind to show you why I eventually ditched faulty ideas I held about the Middle East. (I admit that there may be more to go.) I just want to do two things here. One is to acknowledge that it was the power of a good story well told, The Little Drummer Girl, that set me on that path. Having now done that, I want to say a few words about the political theology of Christian Zionism. This was an idea about America and the Middle East I had been flirting with, but eventually left to other lovers.
Christian Zionism is hugely popular in many American churches and institutions, even though it is most likely that the ordinary person in the pew – those not part of the leadership – have never heard of the phrase “Christian Zionism.” Or if they have heard it, they probably know little, if anything, about it as a political theology. To them, it is most likely just a way to “support Israel,” such as through good works programs and monetary donations.
To hastily simplify here, the theology is comprised chiefly of a variety of Old Testament verses from the prophets and from God’s promises to Abraham. These verses are used by pastors, ministers, and other Christian leaders to argue that the modern state of Israel absolutely must get all the support it can from the United States and that Christians faithful to the biblical narrative will support this effort. The linchpin used to defend the theology is Genesis 12:3: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.
A great debate among Evangelicals has been whether the theology is biblical. Stephen Sizer’s book Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon?, published by IVP, is the most definitive critical engagement with the theology that I know of. Anyone interested a very detailed history of the theology, and its religious and political implications, should read it. We could spend many posts unpacking all the existing pros and cons. Instead, after having done an extensive amount of research, here is the conclusion I came to:
Christian Zionism can easily become a theology of violence and war, and as such it has no space for diplomacy and negotiations to bring peace in the Middle East.
This was tough to admit, and it may be even tougher for Christians and churches that support Israel with good works projects. The problem is not in good works – where they are good works indeed.
The problem is in the theology when it tries to become a foreign policy, for there is a terribly disturbing political militancy at work in theology of Christian Zionism, and ordinary Christian supporters of Israel may not be aware of this or of its looming, tragic implications. That is, the theology is always on the lookout for signs that history is nearing Armageddon.
The most dramatic of these signs to date, according to the theology, has been the return of the Jews to their biblical homeland. The next major turning-point event would be the second coming of Christ. So the history of the world, again, according to the theology, is currently experiencing the time between these two events.
The question must then be asked: What, according to the theology, needs to be occurring during this in-between period? Since conflict and war in the Middle East need to be increasing preceding the second coming of Christ exist, the modern state of Israel and its neighbors need to be at war with each other, leading up to Armageddon. In the next post I will explain why I believe followers of Jesus should steer clear of this foreign policy.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer