Jewish settlers resisting government orders to leave their homes this week in the Gaza Strip have an ally in Christian Zionists in America who say Israel’s “disengagement” plan doesn’t square with Bible prophecy.
Jim Vineyard, an Independent Baptist pastor, said he first read Genesis 12:3 as a new Christian more than 40 years ago and over the years, “I have believed God would bless people who were a blessing to the Jews and God would curse people who were a curse to the Jews.”
“That’s the only place that a born-again Christian can be,” Vineyard, pastor of Windsor Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, said in a recent radio interview. “That’s the only alternative that you have.”
Vineyard is founder of Yedidim of Israel, which describes itself as a collaboration of 7,600 independent Baptist churches in America opposing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to evacuate Israeli settlements and withdraw troops from areas occupied in 1967 during the Six Day War as a step toward establishing a Palestinian state.
In April Vineyard helped organize 2,500 supporters in a rally near President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, where Bush and Sharon were meeting at the time.
In June he was part of a delegation of more than 100 Americans, including eight Baptist ministers, to visit residents in Gush Katif, the largest bloc of Jewish communities slated for evacuation. One journalist described the area, with thousands of displaced settlers and supporters awaiting an anticipated showdown, as “a sort of Gaza-settlement version of the Alamo.”
Vineyard’s is one of a number of Christian organizations who oppose the pullout, part of President Bush’s “roadmap for peace” in the Middle East, on biblical grounds.
Christian Zionism grew out of a theological movement popularized in the early 20th century called premillennial dispensationalism. It predicts literal fulfillment of teachings like the Rapture, Battle of Armageddon, Antichrist and role of a revived state of Israel in the Second Coming of Christ.
According to a 2003 article in The Christian Century, Christian Zionists insist that all of historic Palestine, including Gaza and northern Samaria, must be under the control of the Jewish people to set the stage for events they believe are prophesied in Bible books like Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Revelation.
“Gaza has been a part of the Land of Israel since biblical times,” says the Zionist Organization of America, the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States. “The last thing the world needs now is yet another totalitarian, anti-American terrorist state. Yet that is exactly what a Palestinian Arab state in Gaza would be.”
“The Bible is clear that the area of Gaza was part of the land promised by God to the children of Israel,” adds Jerusalem-based Bridges for Peace. “It is in the area given to the tribe of Judah.”
Christian Zionism has significant support within Protestant fundamentalism, including the Southern Baptist Convention, and is the theological underpinnings for the wildly popular “Left Behind” books and movies by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
Several Jewish organizations enjoy a cozy relationship with the movement, despite the irony that it teaches that Jews in the final days will have two options: either convert to Christianity or be incinerated at Armageddon.
But not all Christian Zionists are protesting the current disengagement plan. Some note that the Bible places conditions on Israel’s occupation of the land, and the current situation could be a temporary punishment for disobedience and sin.
“From a biblical perspective this land is indeed Israel’s, including Gaza, but we have not yet arrived at the age of redemption,” wrote Malcolm Hedding, executive director of the 25-year-old International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
“A sovereign God is working out His sovereign will through this whole process and we must stand alongside Israel, praying for her and believing that the powers of darkness do not have the upper hand in this conflict,” Hedding said. “Peace in the Middle East is not determined by Israel or even her enemies or the devil but by God Himself.”
And some Zionists go even further, supporting the evacuation as a way to enhance Israel security through pursuing peace.
“For Israel, the pullout can mark the resumption of its quest to establish secure, internationally recognized borders, the start of serious investment in underdeveloped regions of the nation, and the reaffirmation of democratic rule of law,” said Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish Zionist group. “For the Palestinians, the evacuation offers a chance to improve the lives of over a million people, demonstrate good governance, and build the foundation for a future state. And for both sides, the path is being cleared for the return to peace negotiations.”
CNN on Wednesday reported the Gaza pullout was moving quickly, despite some resistance and sporadic violence. About 9,000 Jewish settlers are being ordered to leave the 140-square-mile of coastal land, which is also home to about 1.3 million Palestinians.
Vineyard said in the radio interview that Bush’s roadmap for peace came out of the Saudi-funded Jim Baker Public Policy Institute at Rice University in the president’s home state of Texas. Bush advisers Colin Powell and Condaleeza Rice supported the plan, while Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney opposed it.
Rather than stage a public “catfight,” Vineyard said, Cheney and Rumsfeld believed evangelical preachers with ties to Bush would oppose the plan so vigorously that it wouldn’t pass. In a meeting, however, Bush managed to “sell” the plan, “and the preachers folded–that’s poker terminology, so we had the roadmap for peace plan.”
Donald Wagner, who teaches at North Park University in Chicago, says Christian Zionists distort historic evangelical and orthodox theology.
“The biblical hermeneutic of Christian Zionism distorts biblical texts by reading them out of their canonical and historical context, making them seem more like such fictional works as the ‘Left Behind’ series than the whole Word of God,” Wagner wrote. “The Christian Zionist worldview elevates Israel to a political entity not accountable for keeping Torah or obeying the norms of international law.”
Christian Zionists, he says “have traded the mantle of the biblical prophets for an idolatry of militarism and the nation state.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.