June 20, 2003
TO:  Churches for Middle East Peace's Email Network
FROM: Corinne Whitlatch, CMEP's director
RE:  CMEP newsletter on Christian Zionists

Those of you on CMEP's postal network will receive this in the mail along with the May 14 letter to the President and members of Congress that was signed by the Heads of CMEP's member churches and organizations.

Late June 2003                      by Corinne Whitlatch, Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace

There are many sources for news and views about what's going on in the Middle East and what's ahead.
Some followers of Pat Robertson's 700 Club are looking at weather patterns. The Christian Broadcasting Network reported that May's damaging tornados were a repercussion of U.S. pressure on Israel that put the "covenant lands of Israel at risk."  According to CBN, a researcher has proven that "when Israeli settlements are touched, there are also occurrences of hurricanes, tornados, and major problems in the American economy."

This forecast may seem foolish to most Americans and irrelevant to the serious business of crafting foreign policy.  However, the Christian-evangelical community along with its Christian Zionist wing is a significant constituency for the Bush Administration and Republican-majority Congress.  Joining with some hard-line Jewish groups, Christian Zionists have launched "The Committee for a One-State Solution" with an eight-state billboard campaign to stop the Road Map and its goal of a two- state resolution of the conflict. The locations for the billboards were selected (according to the chair of Americans for a Safe Israel) in states where the Republican presidential win was slim, in order to make President Bush aware "that a disaffected Christian Community can adversely affect" the coming presidential campaign.

It is crucial for all advocates of a political and diplomatic solution -- based on applying the rational elements of international law and negotiation -- to counter the message of the Christian Right.  For those of us, including Churches for Middle East Peace, whose political activism is also grounded in a faith-based commitment to justice and peacemaking as Christians, there is an additional responsibility to say publicly that there is an alternate Christian perspective to that of Christian Zionists.

This is the title of an internet petition circulated by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye opposing the Road Map and a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Beginning with "Save the Settlements," the text asserts that the "peace plan rewards terrorists," talks about "tiny Israel giving its Bible land to terrorist regimes," and  "dividing Jerusalem and giving a portion of the city and our holy sites to an Islamic terrorist organization that has killed Americans."

Unashamedly playing on internal Administration disputes, the petition asserts: "The State Department has been giving Israel's land to the PLO for more than a decade." Another example comes from television preacher Pat Robertson. In May, he asked his supporters to mount a nationwide protest against the State Department and demand the dismissal of William Burns, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East.  Some State Department officials believe there is a campaign by conservatives to accuse the diplomatic corps of being disloyal to Bush.

Also seeking to discredit the State Department was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.  In his April 2 remarks at the gathering of Ralph Reed's Stand for Israel, he said, "The moral ambiguities of our diplomatic elites notwithstanding,  Israel is not the problem; Israel is the solution."

The diplomatic problems of implementing the Road Map will be compounded for the President by domestic politics. The Christian conservatives, a core constituency for President Bush, are passionately pro-Israel and deeply distrustful of the European Union and the U.N. who are part of the "Quartet" sponsors of the Road Map. On Capitol Hill, the religious right has joined forces with the neoconservative wing of the Republican party and pro-Israel Democrats to form a broad coalition of lawmakers who don't want Israel pressured to make concessions.

As Secretary of State Powell headed to the Middle East in May, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), who sits on the House International Relations's Middle East subcommittee, said "America is not a neutral party in the negotiations in the Middle East. We are not, nor do we aspire to be, an honest broker. America stands with Israel."

According to CQ Weekly, a reputable Capitol Hill publication, one of AIPAC's (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) legislative priorities is Congress' "codification" of the major changes that Israel seeks in the Road Map.  Such legislation could be in the form of a non-binding resolution or attached to an appropriations bill that would restrict the Administration's ability to fund peace-related initiatives.

News reports often use the political term "Christian Right," "Christian fundamentalists" or refer generally to "conservative Christians" or "Evangelicals." Yet, not all who fall within those groupings hold to biblically-mandated support for Israel.

The term "Christian Zionist" is probably most accurate, even though "Zionism" itself is a concept that emerged in the late 19th century among Jewish intellectuals out of the ferment of nationalist, socialist and utopian ideas that swept through Europe at the time.  The Zionist movement sought and achieved the founding and development of a Jewish homeland (now Israel) in Palestine, then a part of the Ottoman Empire.  Now, many Zionists, both Israeli and American-Jewish, support ending Israel's  occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. Not so with Christian Zionists. Central to Christian Zionism is the belief in the abiding relevance of the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Some of the organizations associated with Christian Zionism are: the Christian Coalition of America, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, National Unity Coalition for Israel, Christian Broadcasting Network, Christians for Israel-U.S., Gary Bauer's American Values and The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

Christian Zionists may identify themselves as evangelical Christians, but not all evangelical Christians agree with their uncritical support of Israel.  In July of 2002, nearly 60 prominent evangelical theologians and heads of organizations wrote to the President, voicing an even-handed policy towards Israelis and Palestinians that affirms two states, "free, economically viable and secure."  They asked that the President vigorously "oppose injustice, including the continued unlawful and degrading Israeli settlement movement," which they characterized as "the theft of Palestinian land."

Regarding theology, they wrote, "Significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions - of both Israelis and Palestinians - on the basis of biblical standards of justice. The great Hebrew prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, declared in the Old Testament that "God calls all nations and all people to do justice one to another, and to protect the oppressed, the alien, the fatherless and the widow."

U.S. Christians travel to the Holy Land as pilgrims and are a major segment of the tourism industry. They visit the holy sites but most have virtually no contact with Arab Christians themselves. Arab Christians hold strongly negative views of Christian Zionism, which is considered by some to be an instrument of Western colonialism and American imperialism. The zealous support given Israel's claim of sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and the building of settlements in "Judea and Samaria" by these Western Christians angers both Christian and Muslim Palestinians.  Some evangelical churches have supportive relationships with settlements.

Among Palestinians, there are the traditional churches - Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic - and the so-called "reform" churches established in the 19th century - Lutherans and Episcopalians or
Anglicans.  They work ecumenically through the Middle East Council of Churches.  These Christians consider themselves, and are considered by the Muslims, to be an integral part of the Palestinian community, even though they are a minority of less than 2%.  .

From his Jerusalem office, Bishop Munib Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, has written that "Christian Zionism is the enemy of peace in the Middle East."  The Rev. Naim Ateek, director of  Jerusalem's Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theological Center, has called pre-millenialism a "heresy" and Christian Zionism a "menace."

When the Washington Post commits a full page of its Sunday opinion section to a religious topic, it clearly has political significance.  On February 2, the headline was "It's the Dawning of the Age of Apocalypse."  American Studies professor Melani McAlister wrote about the very popular "Left Behind" fictional series - the last four have topped the best-seller lists.  She writes of the "stark political spirituality at the heart of the stories, which can fairly be described as Christian Jihadist. It is the obligation of the 'Left Behind' Christians both to evangelize as many potential converts as possible and to join in battle on behalf of Israel against the armies of the Antichrist."

The term "Left Behind," along with "the rapture",  "pre-millennialism", "end-times" and "Armageddon" are parts of the terminology associated with this strain of  eschatology - which is the study of the "last things," the culmination of history and the second coming of Jesus Christ.

It is the political implications of these beliefs that troubles Churches for Middle East Peace. McAlister writes that "Left Behind" authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins undercut the very notion of Middle East peace, from Israel to Iraq. With the Antichrist posing as a peacemaker and campaigning for world disarmament, such things as arms control or peace processes are fig leaves for those planning world domination.  That Israel is the epicenter of Armageddon, the final battle, is made clear to the "Left Behind" readers.

With a theology that calls us to be peacemakers, the approach of Churches for Middle East Peace is grounded in the National Council of Churches policy statement that was approved in 1980.  This "calls upon U.S.A. Christians to recognize the moral dimensions of political action, to give witness to God's justice, love and mercy, to build peace upon the foundation of justice."

The deep religious significance and spiritual value of the Middle East is affirmed for Jews and Muslims as well as for Christians. "Affirming the need for mutual respect and understanding, it [the NCC statement] acknowledges the reality of strife; it seeks to identify the sources of mistrust and prejudice and to lay the basis for reconciliation."

Catholic biblical scholar, Ronald Witherup, SS, in an article titled "Whose Land Is It?" wrote that: "We should acknowledge the perennial value of the Bible's teachings without asserting that the Bible applies directly to every moral situation in our own world.  This approach is both thoroughly Catholic and consistent with many other interpretive traditions, Protestant and Jewish…..We must begin with reality as it now exists. The situation 'on the ground' is what we must now confront.  There is no going back to an idyllic, pre-modern vision."

And it was the situation on the ground that compelled the statement of a delegation of U.S. Church leaders who visited Jerusalem, Jenin, Bethlehem and Beit Jala in May of 2002. "The word of the Spirit in our day is a call to all people of faith to be witnesses to the way of peace. That witness begins with unceasing prayer. It calls us to be reconcilers, to stand for truth, forgiveness, and justice in every place. Only thus may we sing to the Lord a new song."

"We believe that with hard work and good faith and courage, it is possible to bring peace to the Middle East…The Holy Land must be shared between the state of Palestine and the state of Israel, living at peace with each other and with every nation of the Middle East."
President George W. Bush, June 4, 2003

If the President stands by his words, if the Congress lends its support, and if Israeli-Palestinian leaders can end the cycle of violence, the hopes and prayers for Middle East peace could be realized. The Road Map for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace may be the focus for some time - with debates over the precise meaning of requirements and timing; with Congressional initiatives to block or support its implementation; with efforts to diminish or enhance the role of the Quartet; with despair or hope that the two-state vision might prevail.  One key question is: Will the President press Prime Minister Sharon on the Road Map's phase-one requirement that the government of Israel freeze all settlement activity and dismantle those erected since March 2001?

The advocacy guidance for Churches for Middle East Peace is customarily drawn from the policy statements of its members -- faith-based tenets of witnessing for peace and the call to be reconcilers - without broadcasting our personal or institutional identity as Christian. Now, relative to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, the identity of "Christian" must be reclaimed by the vast numbers of Christians who do not believe in the tenets of Christian-Zionism.  The linkage between Christianity and peace must be strengthened in the mind of policymakers.

CONGRESS:  Contact your Representative and two Senators by phone, fax, email or letter. The Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121 will connect you with any Congressional office. For information on members of Congress and to send comments to your members' Web-sites go to www.senate.gov  and www.house.gov. Encourage advocacy by your friends, family and members of your congregations.

- Identify yourself as a Christian supporter of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

- Urge Congressional support of the President and Secretary of State in implementing the Road Map and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

- Add to your message the related topic that is current: like urging support for the President putting pressure on P.M. Sharon to dismantle settlement outposts; or urging support for the Road Map's call for international monitors.

ADMINISTRATION:  Call the White House Comments line (202) 456-1111 to thank the President for pressing both Israelis and Palestinians to work for peace and an end of the occupation.

CAMPAIGNS: Contact Democratic Presidential campaign offices in your state and ask them to show support for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, and call for an end of the occupation.

Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Mission Service, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM) .  For further information, see www.cmep.org.