Palestinian Church Leaders' Statement on Christian Zionism
This historic statement signed in August 2006 by the four heads of churches in Jerusalem, His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal and Bishop Munib Younan, had its origins in a declaration written 20 years earlier by a working group of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC).
In April 1986, the MECC Executive Committee addressed the growing menace of Christian Zionism in a research paper which condemned 'the misuse of the Bible and the abuse of religious sentiments in an attempt to sacralise the creation of a state and legitimate the policies of a government'.1 In a letter written to members of the World Council of Churches, the MECC General Secretary sought their cooperation in dealing with what they saw as a misrepresentation and dangerous distortion of the Christian faith. His letter stated,
In the Middle East where religion plays an increasingly significant role in determining the future relationships between peoples and nations, there is no room for ill informed and biased 'Christian Zionist' ideologies that are dangerous [End Page 213] distortions of the Christian faith. Christians everywhere must reject all concepts of superiority of particular people over other people within God's creation … (This is) ... a fundamental disservice also to Jews who may be inspired to liberate themselves from discriminatory attitudes and thereby rediscover equality with the Palestinians with whom they are expected to live God's justice and peace in the Holy Land…For Christian Zionists the state of Israel and its policies enjoy the privilege of being beyond any form of human sanction.2
The research was initiated by the founding of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem in 1980 and the First International Christian Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1985. The MECC research paper was later expanded and published under the title of 'What is Western Fundamentalist Christian Zionism?' by the Revd Dr Donald Wagner who served as a consultant to the task group.3 The document concluded:
As such, they represent the consistent tendency to force the Zionist model of theocratic and ethnocentric nationalism on the Middle East ... (rejecting) ... the movement of Christian unity and inter-religious understanding which is promoted by the (indigenous) churches in the region. The Christian Zionist programme, with its elevation of modern political Zionism, provides the Christian with a world view where the gospel is identified with the ideology of success and militarism. It places its emphasis on events leading up to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice today.4
Wagner's own book, Anxious for Armageddon, published in 1995, was probably the first to assess the destructive impact of Christian Zionism as a movement on the indigenous Church in Israel and Palestine.5 As Christian support for Zionism became more influential and powerful, not least in US political circles, other writers began to address the phenomenon in more detail.6
Growing concern within the Palestinian Christian community led to the decision by the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre to address Christian Zionism at their Fifth International Conference held in Jerusalem in April 2004. A statement endorsed by over 500 participants from over 30 countries declared Christian Zionism to be a heresy.7 The statement included the following,
We reject the heretical teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these extremist policies as they advance a form of racial exclusivity [End Page 214] and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ.8
The proceedings of the conference, which included 32 papers, were published under the title Challenging Christian Zionism in 2005.9 Following the Sabeel conference, several participants formed the Institute for the Study of Christian Zionism (ISCZ), based at the Centre...