The campaign for Jews to partner with Christian Zionists has intensified since the formation of Christians United for Israel in 2006, a powerful political entity which now claims 426,000 members, 40 events per month, a growing network on college campuses, and Hispanic and African American outreach.
A few minutes into his State of the Union address in January 2003, President George W. Bush said with a slow and deliberate cadence, “there’s power, wonder-working power–in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.” For some watching this speech, the phrase evoked a particular sensory response. For me, it was a memory of the sights, sounds, and even smells of the hardwood floors and old pews of a small Southern church, and the echoing of the slightly off-key refrain of the much beloved gospel hymn, “There is power, power, wonder-working power, in the blood of the Lamb.”
Bush is not the first or last politician to tap into a cultural narrative of one group of listeners while the rest of the audience remains oblivious–it happens all the time, with lingo directed to different cultural or interest groups. I happened to catch this one because I grew up in evangelical churches and speak that language. Christian Zionism is a language in which the terminology and many bible verses may sound the same as Judaism yet the meaning and outcome are something entirely different. Christian Zionists lingo even differs substantially from that of other Christians, most of whom object to Christian Zionist theology and their distortion of biblical text to predict human events.
Less than two months after Bush’s 2003 speech, U.S. troops invaded Iraq, a preemptive strike that was vocally supported by a significant percentage of Jews for earthly reasons. Christian Zionists also widely supported the war, but often promoted it in the language of end times prophecy.
Between the First and Second Gulf Wars, a constant stream of books on the end times incorporated Saddam Hussein into the prophecy timeline. One in my collection includes satellite photos of Saddam’s rebuilding of Babylon, a city whose destruction is required as a part of the end times. “When God destroys Babylon, He will destroy all the evil in the world,” stated a prophecy writer from the historic Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
Kay Arthur, of the Women’s Council of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus, described the smoke from the fires of the destruction of Babylon in her bestselling 1995 book, Israel My Beloved. Many Christian Zionists believed that attacking Saddam would trigger “Ezekiel’s War” or the war of “Gog and Magog,” as it is described in prophecy literature.
Iran, the Final War
In 2003 John Hagee Ministries, Inc. marketed a three-sermon series titled “Iraq the Final War,” in which Hagee promoted the war with a blend of both earthly and prophecy-based reasoning. The back cover of the audio cassette case states, “The war between American [sic] and Iraq is the gateway to the apocalypse.” Hagee warned his audience that they should be prepared to be raptured from the earth, leaving behind everyone else to suffer through the wars of the end times.
The apocalyptic scenarios that Hagee promised in 2003 did not come to pass. Since then, Hagee has refocused on Iran, repeatedly promoting a preemptive strike on the nation, including in the pages of his new book released this summer, Can America Survive: Ten Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation.
In Part One of his new book, “A Nuclear Iran,” Hagee focuses on temporal geopolitical issues, claiming to have inside information from world leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, on Iran’s capabilities to launch various weapons of mass destruction. Then Hagee transitions into prophecy mode, stating on page 56, “Russia and Iran will be committed partners until the end of time. According to the prophet Ezekiel, they will unite their forces and invade Israel at some time in the future.”
Alternating between current geo-political issues and end times prophecy, Hagee describes “Ezekiel’s War,” in which he claims that Israel will be attacked by “Persia (Iran), Ethiopia, Libya, Germany, and Turkey–all being led by Russia.” (A Chinese army of 200 million attacks later.) In the midst of this attack, Jewish Israelis will begin to turn on the Antichrist and his “peace treaty,” a partnership previously embraced. In Hagee’s future-looking scenario, as war unfolds the United States will abandon Israel to its fate, so that when a surviving remnant of Jews are saved from destruction, they will know that it is Jesus alone who saved them. Hagee states on page 243:
Note carefully that the Jewish people at this point in time do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The Bible is very clear that this will happen at the end of the Tribulation, when the Jewish people… “will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for his firstborn.” - Zechariah 12:10.
This is not what rabbis envision when they read Zechariah (with the exception of the growing contingency of Messianic Jews). Despite these differences in interpretation and worldview, many Jewish leaders have chosen to participate in events like CUFI’s “Nights to Honor Israel.” Endorsed and promoted by Jewish leaders, Hagee’s organization, and other Christian Zionist organizations like it, have become the international face of Zionism for many around the globe, as well as a major political force. As CUFI Executive Director David Brog states, “When it comes to politics, Christian Zionists may well be more influential than the Jewish community, at least when there is a Republican in the White House.”
CUFI’s fifth annual summit in D.C. this past week succeeded in drawing a significant number of internationally recognized Jewish figures, including Ambassador Michael Oren, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Mortimer Zuckerman, and live video feed of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Recently, CUFI has taken pains to overcome the resistance of those Jews who are hesitant to partner with them and a number of articles in support of CUFI (including a positive review of the CUFI Summit in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal by former Zeek publisher Bob Goldfarb) have appeared in the pages of Jewish journals, blogs, and several books directed toward Jewish readers. Without suggesting that any particular article was directly influenced by CUFI, the sum total of these efforts appear to be part of a concerted campaign to overcome Jewish resistance to political partnership with Christian Zionists.
Promoting the Partnership - The Talking Points
The talking points used to attempt to overcome the objections of Jewish communities to partnering with Christian Zionists are as follows:
1) Their activism is not an attempt to fulfill prophetic prerequisites or hasten the second coming of Jesus;
2) They are not trying to block peace initiatives;
3) They are not trying to proselytize Jews;
4) They are promoting Holocaust education and battling anti-Semitism;
5) They represent 50 - 70 million American evangelicals therefore providing support Israel can not afford to reject; and
6) Christian Zionist theology and the “restorationism” which preceded it is “philo-Semitic” in contrast to the supersessionism of other streams of Christianity which has resulted in anti-Semitism. (Supersessionism is the belief that the church superseded and replaced God’s covenant with Israel.)
When those talking point haven’t produced the desired result, there is always good old fashioned guilt to quiet the objections. These talking points include the claim that Jews who resist partnering with Christian Zionists are putting liberal social values ahead of Israel’s well being, or that they have outdated and unfounded prejudices against partnering with Christians in general.
Each one of these talking points requires a detailed rebuttal and extensive supporting documentation, something that I will be addressing in this and other publications over the next few months. This task is made more difficult by the fact that Christian Zionism is truly a different language and worldview, and one that is difficult to understand without knowledge of their end times narratives. Following is a short overview of the first talking point, the claim that Christian Zionists are not trying to move the hands of the prophetic clock.
Genesis vs. Revelation
On April 25, 2010 a CUFI Night to Honor Israel was held at the Family Worship Center in Lansdale Pennsylvania, featuring Morton Klein and CUFI director Robert Stearns. Prior to the event David Brog, the Jewish executive director of CUFI, was interviewed by the Jewish Exponent, and asked if Christian Zionists have theological ulterior motives. The article reported Brog as stating that, “Most Christian Zionists base their support [for Israel] on the words of the Hebrew Bible and guilt over Christian anti-Semitism, rather than on the book of Revelations [sic] in the New Testament.”
On April 22, 2010, just three days earlier, Pastor Hagee had drawn about 3,200 people to the Lancaster Convention Center, also in Eastern Pennsylvania, for the beginning of the John Hagee Ministries, Inc. “Rally and Prophecy Seminar.” Under the auspices of his John Hagee Ministries, Hagee is holding theses events across the country this year, teaching his prophecy interpretation of the book of Revelation.
Lancaster Online reported Hagee’s statements on Israel:
“God made a covenant with Abraham 3,500 years ago, a blood covenant that there will be one Jerusalem then, one Jerusalem now, and one Jerusalem forever,” Hagee said. A blood covenant is more binding than family ties, he said, because of the “precious blood of Jesus, the kinsman redeemer.” The land belongs to Israel because of the covenant and “any country who tries to change that will get the judgment of God,” Hagee said. “It’s like sticking your finger in the eye of God.”
I contacted CUFI spokesperson Ari Morgenstern to ask why we should not be concerned about Hagee’s end times prophecy. Morgenstern responded that I “jump to the incorrect conclusion that because Pastor Hagee is concerned with Christian eschatology, his Zionism must be connected to the ‘end of days.’ Believing that something will happen, and believing that you can or should cause it to happen, are two very different things.’’
Morgenstern explained that Hagee is a dispensationalist, which means he believes, like other Christian Zionists, that “the return of the Messiah is on a fixed, divine timetable that they are powerless to change.” He pointed out articles, including one in the Baltimore Jewish Times, in which editor Neil Rubin states that at the CUFI Summit, “not one peep was heard publicly about end time scenarios” and also Eric Fingerhut’s JTA article in which Fingerhut vouches for Christian Zionists support based on Genesis 12:3, ( I will bless those who bless you…) not eschatology.
Fundamentalists vs. Pentecostals and Charismatics
Classical dispensationalism did indeed dictate that humans could not move the hands of the prophetic clock. This has been the end-times theology of many American fundamentalists since the late 1800s, and is the foundation for American Christian Zionism. It is a subset of, but not synonymous with, premillennialism or the belief that Jesus will return prior to the millennial kingdom. In the end-time narrative of dispensationalism, believers will be raptured (taken instantaneously from the earth) prior to the wars of the end times and the horrors of the reign of the anti-Christ. Jews, in this narrative, will regather in Israel, where a remnant will survive purification and repentance during the wars of the end times and accept Jesus as Messiah. These events are to trigger the beginning of the 1000-year reign of Jesus over an earthly kingdom.
Because dispensationalists believed that the future was beyond their control, for decades they chose to wait passively, to be separatists and shun the political process. However, since the 1970s, there has been a significant transition of fundamentalists into political activism, through what we now call the Religious Right. The late Jerry Falwell, for example, was a fundamentalist who at one time shunned participation in politics but later founded the Moral Majority. For some, this has created a contradiction between their stated theology and their actions. If one has strong beliefs that the world as we know it is about to come crashing to an end, why get involved in politics?
For the Pentecostal and Charismatic stream of Christianity, this conflict dates back even further. In addition to being born again, these believers have a secondary conversion experience in which they are “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and receive supernatural manifestations or gifts including glossolalia (speaking in tongues); “healing,” the ability to expel demons; and the gift of prophecy. These gifts are to be used to bring about a great revival and renewal of the church in preparation for the end times. Pentecostals and Charismatics now comprise the majority of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Classical dispensational theology dictates that these supernatural gifts for humans ended after the New Testament period. Many fundamentalists (as well as many other evangelicals) reject charismatic belief, creating a large doctrinal divide between the two camps. However, because of their shared battle against modernity and liberalism in the twentieth century, large numbers of Pentecostals have joined fundamentalist dispensationalists in embracing their end times theology. Pentecostals have addressed the inherent contradiction between the passive and active role of the church with a slight adjustment in the timeline, adding a victorious end times revival that would “prepare the way” for the second coming.
Hagee is from a Pentecostal background. He left the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination, in 1975, and has since become an influential national leader among independent (nondenominational) Charismatics. The vast majority of CUFI directors, leaders, and host churches are also charismatic. CUFI, like many other Religious Right organizations, represents a remarkable trend in the ascendance of the Pentecostal/Charismatic stream to religious and political power, aided by their international missionary work and domination of the religious broadcast world. It is the fastest growing stream of Christianity worldwide and rapidly emerging from the limiting shackles of fundamentalist doctrine.
Charismatic Christian Zionism
Charismatic Christian Zionists teach that they are indeed empowered to prepare the way, even Hastening the Coming of the Messiah, as the title of one personal manifesto proclaims. This manifesto was written by Johannes Facius, the charismatic Christian Zionist leader who headed one of the largest organizations dedicated to moving Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel. His book is advertised with the phrase, “Should our response to Biblical prophecy be merely passive or can we actually help in fulfilling what is written?” The answer is affirmative, that humans can “influence the time of the coming of the Messiah.” The foreword of the book is by Hagee’s late mentor, Derek Prince, who complained that many contemporary Christians have “a passive attitude toward the return of Christ.” The year that he founded CUFI, Hagee dedicated his 2006 book Jerusalem Countdown to Derek Prince.
These Christian Zionists promote fulfilling and advancing prophecy through “fishing for Jews” or encouraging Jews in making aliyah to Israel, providing support for the development of settlements, and other concrete human actions. This is why CUFI director Billye Brimm tells audiences, “God prophesizes things in the Bible, but it takes men working with him to bring it about. It takes you!” The personal ministries of a number of CUFI leaders provide financial support for West Bank settlements, including the adopt-a-settlement program in which CUFI director George Morrison’s church was the first participant. That program was initiated by Christian Friends of Israeli Communities to counter the Oslo Accords, and is described by leadership as working to fulfill biblical prophecy and to make it harder for disengagement from the West Bank.
One of the primary means of hastening the messiah is proselytizing, or fulfilling the mandate that all the world must hear the gospel. Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals and an independent charismatic, was part of a massive program to reach all of the globe with the gospel by the year 2000, an effort which included many thousands of missionaries and, as Ted Haggard wrote, by 1997 involved 40,000,000 people in an interconnected global prayer network. One of the targeted groups was Jews. Charisma magazine, published by CUFI director Stephen Strang, recruits churches to support Messianic ministries and missions to Jews in Israel, including Maoz Israel, a Messianic ministry in downtown Tel Aviv, endorsed by Hagee and CUFI directors Robert Stearns, and Michael Little (and also Pat Robertson). Despite the small size of this Hebrew-speaking Messianic congregation, Maoz Israel advertises that it has distributed over 2,500,000 dollars of financial aid to Israel’s Messianic believers in six years. One of their current projects is the publishing of evangelical literature in Hebrew, with over 85 titles already published.
Christian Zionism is filled with what appears to be contradictions, particularly if one is not familiar with the narratives. Why do Christian Zionists support attacks on countries that they view as a threat to Israel, if they believe that the apocalyptic wars against Israel are imminent and necessary to bring about the beginning of the Christian Millennium? Why, if they love Jews and Israel, do they teach their children a “fishers and hunters” narrative in which a second wave of worldwide anti-Semitism and isolation of Israel must take place to force Jews to repent? This seems to make no sense.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon was the keynote speaker at Epicenter 2010 in Philadelphia in June, hosted by prophecy writer Joel Rosenberg and headlined as “Building a global movement of Christians come what may.” Ya’alon, who also spoke at a major U.S. Religious Right gathering in May, was given three standing ovations for his speech, which included the claim that liberals are joining Islamic extremists in an assault on Israel’s legitimacy. The Christian Zionist narrative provides a biblical justification for the expansionist goals of some Israeli politicians, but there’s a catch.
In preparation for the conference Rosenberg wrote a directive titled “Five Specific Ways That Christians Can Bless Israel” and called for political contacts and also outreach to local Jewish communities and travel to Israel. Rosenberg states,
“The central problem is the White House and State Department are trying to force Israel to divide Jerusalem and divide Judea and Samaria.” However, Rosenberg exposes an underlying conflict for Christian Zionists, an excited anticipation that Israel’s relationship with the U.S. may be fraying in fulfillment of prophecy. “Prophetically, I believe Israel will eventually be isolated from all countries in the world, especially as we approach the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38 & 39. Eventually, the Lord will wean Israel off of every nation – including the U.S. – so that the Jewish people only have Him to turn to and depend upon. That said, however, the Scriptures are clear in Genesis 12:1-3 and elsewhere that those who bless Israel, He will bless, and those who curse Israel, He will curse. We want our countries to be blessed by God, to experience repentance and revival and to be blessings to the rest of the world.”
This apparent contradiction is also visible when Israel suffers violence and terrorism. The outpouring of support from Christian Zionists is vocal, but there is a silver lining for those who believe their task is made easier when Israelis are under duress. Those who support the rapidly growing Messianic ministries in Israel state that their outreach can be more productive in times of trouble. For instance, Messianic Rabbi Scott Sekulow traveled to Israel with a “disaster relief “evangelist from Texas in 2001 and reported back to his Atlanta-based ministry, “The on-going and unpredictable violence created a climate of fear in Israel – but at the same time, this climate of fear opened the door for unbelievable evangelism opportunities for our team.” Typical of these efforts, the evangelists presented an “open letter of apology to Jews from Christians” as part of their approach.
Scott Sekulow is the host of the radio show Messianic Hour and brother of Jay Sekulow, head of the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson as a counter to the ACLU. Jay Sekulow and a group of leading charismatic evangelicals from around the world, including Ted Haggard, met with Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2005 to develop plans for a “Christian Center of Galilean Heritage.” Today the founders and advisors list for the Galillean Resort and campus planned for the northwest shore of Lake Kinneret, includes Jay Sekulow, John Hagee, CUFI directors Gary Bauer, Michael Little, Robert Stearns, and an array of evangelist to Jews along with Israeli rabbis and leaders.
At another Israel-focused event in late May, Mike Bickle’s International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City held their Israel Mandate conference, led by Messianic leaders and CUFI director Robert Stearns. Their mission is described as teaching to Christians, particularly youth, “the dynamic relationship between the end-time outpouring of the Spirit on the worldwide Church and God’s plan for Israel’s salvation… It is essential that we, as Gentile believers, understand what God is doing and what He requires from us in response. One of Israel’s greatest needs is for the Church to mobilize 24/7 worldwide intercession for the release of Jesus’ power upon Israel.”
What this means in plain English is that Bickle and his colleagues are training a generation of young warriors who they believe will still be present on the earth during the Tribulation (much like the Tribulation Force in the Left Behind series). This is the cutting edge of a international charismatic youth movement that teaches not only empowerment, but a mandate to move the hands of the prophetic clock.
On June 6, shortly after the Israel Mandate conference, Stearns hosted Yuli Edelstein, Israeli Minister of Information and Diaspora, on a conference call with 500 Christian Zionist participants, focused on the Gaza flotilla incident, with no mention of the end times. Mike Bickle asked Edelstein to suggest concrete political actions that could be taken, and following Edelstein’s response, Stearns thanked Bickle for working to “cultivate a heart for Israel in the nations and specifically the next generation.”
Yes, Christian Zionists have a “heart for Israel” and many lovingly dedicate their entire careers to this cause. You can see it in their glowing faces, their tears, and their joy at Christian Zionist events. But this is “tough love,” a desire to save Jews from themselves and simultaneously bring about the Christian Millennium. The words “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” refer to prayers for a peace that they believe will only be attainable when Israel “returns to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” In this language, returning to God means accepting Jesus as Messiah.
Impacting the Peace Process
Beyond splitting theological hairs, there is a more obvious reason to be concerned about the end times prophecy narrative of Christian Zionists. Although I’m not buying it, assume for a moment that John Hagee’s fifty years of teaching end times prophecy is not his motivation for forming CUFI. Regardless of the motives of Christian Zionist leaders, millions of people worldwide have been taught to view current events through the lens of a prophecy narrative. For instance, any peace treaty prior to Jesus’ second coming is described as a demonic trick of the anti-Christ, a man who Hagee describes as a homosexual, partially Jewish, and possibly a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Do we really believe that this does not impact the willingness of Christian Zionists to support a human peace for Israel?
On October 12, 2007,Glenn Beck interviewed John Hagee, including a “lightning round” of questions.
Beck: Is the anti-Christ alive today?
Hagee: I believe he is.
Beck: End of the world as we know it, five years, 10 years, 20 years?
Hagee: I don’t think we’ll get past 20.
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