Christian Zionism

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Christians have had an important part in supporting the Jewish people's restoration to "Zion." Within the millenarian tradition the conviction that the Jews would return to Palestine became an important dogma. As premillennialism gained ground during the nineteenth century, forming the core of the early fundamentalist movement, adherents not only believed that the Jewish people would return, but also vocally supported the right of the Jews to be restored to their former homeland.

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Even before Theodor Herzl's Der Judenstaat fundamentalist - evangelical William E Blackstone advocated the reestablishment of a Jewish state and circulated a petition urging the United States to return the land of Palestine to the Jewish people. The Blackstone Petition of 1891 was signed by 413 outstanding Christian and Jewish leaders and through the State Department was distributed to the principal nations of the world. During World War I, Blackstone urged a new petition on Woodrow Wilson, and in 1918 he was invited to address a Zionist mass meeting in Los Angeles.

Other Christians, such as Herzl's close friend William H Hechler, worked diligently to promote political Zionism as the ultimate solution to the Jewish question. Hechler tried to encourage heads of state (including the Turkish sultan who controlled Palestine) to support Herzl's proposals, and he accompanied Herzl to Palestine in 1898 to meet with the kaiser. The active support of such Christian Zionists in many countries influenced political action, and even the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was the product of religious as well as political activity. Individual Christian Zionists came from a broad spectrum of theological traditions. Even liberal Protestantism, which has historically opposed Zionism, contributed clergymen through organizations such as the Christian Council of Palestine during World War II.

Nevertheless, because of their premillennial eschatology fundamentalist evangelicals have been particularly supportive of the restoration of the Jewish people to Israel and of Israel itself in the twentieth century. In his periodical Our Hope, Arno C Gaebelein advocated from 1894 to 1945 that the Jewish people would not only return to Palestine, but that they had an inherent right to that land as well. When Israel became a state in 1948, prophetically minded Christians viewed it as a miracle of God. In the 1960s liberal Protestantism called for the "internationalization" of the city of Jerusalem, but the fundamentalist evangelical declared that the Bible gave it to the Jewish people. After the 1967 Six Day War the National Council of Churches denounced Israel's annexation of the old city of Jerusalem. In contrast, fundamentalist evangelicals rejoiced and insisted that God had seen to it that the Jewish people had come out on top in spite of world oppression and obstacle.

On October 30, 1977, Billy Graham enhanced decades of support for Israel by addressing the National Executive Council meeting of the American Jewish committee and calling for the rededication of the United States to the existence and safety of Israel. At the Bicentennial Congress of Prophecy in Philadelphia the year before, a proclamation in support of Israel had been signed by eleven prominent fundamentalist evangelicals. It then quickly received seven thousand additional signatures and was presented to the ambassador of the State of Israel. Statements of support have also appeared in full page newspaper advertisements, several in the New York Times.

Such unequivocable Christian Zionism has not gone without attack. It has been criticized even within evangelicalism as an erroneous political philosophy based on a spurious interpretation of the Bible which dictates that modern Palestine is the Jew's own special piece of real estate. These critics argue that Christian Zionism totally ignores the rights of the Palestinian Arab people and that the Jews forfeited their title to the Promised Land through unfaithfulness long ago.

D A Rausch
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

H Fishman, American Protestantism and a Jewish State; D A Rausch, Zionism Within Early American Fundamentalism.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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