Christian Zionism has long been a powerful factor in the creation and maintenance of the state of Israel, but what exactly does it believe?
Dr Stephen Sizer examines the historical roots, theological basis and political agenda of a Bible-based worldview that today defends apartheid, denies justice to the Palestinians and only perpetuates conflict in the Middle East.
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The Revd Prof. Allan Aubrey Boesak, one of South Africa’s leading anti-apartheid campaigners, Professor of Black Liberation Theology and Ethics, University of Pretoria, and President, The Sankofa Institute for Pan African Leadership and Prophetic Ministry, has endorsed the Convivencia Declaration. In his letter to the Conveners he wrote,
I think this is an excellent, and absolutely necessary initiative at a time when the Israeli state is more violently and criminally desperate than ever before, but simultaneously when solidarity with and support for the Palestinian cause seem to finding new allies, despite, and perhaps because of the persistent assaults on Palestinians and their allies within and without the Jewish community.
Yes, you are right. We have long understood that the religious and biblical justification claimed by apartheid constituted a denial and perversion of the most basic tenets for faith and should be declared a heresy. In 1982 the world church joined us and it turned out to be one of the most efficacious actions taken against apartheid. Because we recognise such frightening similarities in the Israeli apartheid State and its pernicious ideologies and actions, I have been arguing for some time now that Christians, at least, should think of the support of Christian, Evangelical, Zionist biblical and theological justifications in the same way. I think this is an important part of the battle and a crucial avenue to pursue. In the World Communion of Reformed Churches we are working towards the same goal.
The Convivencia Alliance also recalls for me the United Democratic Front, the political movement that brought our people together across those artificial barriers of race, religion, colour, culture, and class and that was so successful in its mobilization of people in the struggle for freedom and justice in South Africa, and whose political agenda always included Palestine.Anyway, this is my longwinded way of affirming your recollection of our role in declaring apartheid a heresy, a perversion of the gospel and a blasphemy. I continue to argue that the ability to take a stand in the anti-apartheid struggle in those final stages of the 1980s was the litmus test of our spiritual and political integrity. Such is the case today with the cause of Palestinian justice. So I think that the Convivencia Alliance will be a powerful instrument to put that choice before people at this time. It will be an honour to join others in making a contribution to this worthy cause. Warmest greetings and God’s richest blessings upon you and the important work you are doing, Allan Boesak
This is a truly inspirational story of how a young conservative white evangelical Christian became a passionate life-long campaigner for Palestinian rights.
The book reveals the heavy price Don has paid for his commitment to justice, peace and reconciliation. Don clearly stands in the subversive but non-violent tradition of Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella.
I simply could not put this book down. It is a compelling, detailed, eye-witness commentary on the unfolding tragedy of Palestine over the past 40 years. It is also a searing indictment of the failure of the West, tragically with the complicity of the Church, to hold Israel accountable to its obligations under international law and repeated UN Resolutions.
Don does not mince his words, describing Zionism for what it has become, a “brutal Israeli Apartheid-settler colonial regime.” p. 20.
At the same time, the book records the pioneering role Don and others have played in galvanising mainstream Western Christian engagement in the Middle East and in particular, advocating for, and partnering with, Palestinian Christians.
I have known Don personally for over 25 years and it has been a privilege to accompany him on several significant journeys to Palestine. Indeed, his early writings were the inspiration for my own PhD which examined the history, theology and politics of Christian Zionism.
Although I am confident this book will sell many copies, I am sure that what matters more to Don will be the extent to which readers are motivated to engage in the struggle for truth, justice and peace. For this is also a practical book. It is a call to action, indeed, a ‘Cry for Hope’. In the concluding chapters Don helpfully draws attention to numerous resources and initiatives which will enable readers to advocate and connect with fellow Christians in Palestine.
There are so many excellent quotes. I’ll restrain myself to one: “Palestine becomes at once a metaphor and a living reality of a people rising from the ashes of defeat to claim what is rightfully theirs – justice and only justice.” p. 20.
After serving for five years as a pastor in a remarkable Black church, Donald Wagner comes to fully understand the original sin of racism. As his journey continues, he encounters another marginalised people the Palestinians and witnesses their struggle for justice and equality. Touched by their resilience and fight against injustice, he leaves the pastorate to assume full time work as an advocate for Palestinian political and human rights.
The memoir begins in mid-September 1982, with a gut-wrenching day interviewing survivors of the Sabra-Shatila massacre in Lebanon, as they wept and waited for the bodies of family members to be pulled from the rubble. Donald Wagner’s conversation with the local Imam ended with a challenge: You must return home and tell what you have seen. This is all we ask. Go back and tell the truth.” Glory To God in the Lowest is a metaphor for his counter intuitive journey with the victims of the “chosen people” in the “unholy land”.
I am sure I am not alone in acknowledging a deep debt of gratitude to Don for his unflinching example of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
‘Faithwashing’ refers to the use of interfaith relationships and alliances to deny Palestinian human rights and silence criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is centred on the idea that at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is centuries-old religious differences as opposed to a settler colonial project that continues to dispossess and disenfranchise Palestinians.
Michael Scott-Baumann’s book on the history of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the most useful I have read in a very long while. The book is a literary equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife. In 258 pages, broken up into ten easy to read chapters, the author provides much more than a concise history of the conflict. The value of the book is enhanced significantly by the inclusion of an index, a helpful glossary of key terms and people, a chronological time line and a bibliography for further study. The book will also prove useful for interactive group discussion as each chapter begins with key questions answered and concludes with personal testimonies to illustrate the human impact of the conflict.
Over seventy years old, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now the longest unresolved dispute in the hands of the United Nations. It is also the subject of more UN Resolutions than any other dispute in the world. Michael Scott-Baumann’s book explains the reasons why and puts in context the futile attempts at resolving the conflict, or indeed to diffuse the simmering tensions which all too frequently erupt in violence and death, invariably of Palestinian civilians.
This past year, during the pandemic, Rev. Naim Ateek, put together a collection of his writings including lectures, sermons, largely unpublished but mostly delivered at various universities, colleges, and churches over the years.
A number of them have been organized by topics and published in booklet forms. This is a work in progress. So far, six booklets have been published. They are now available through Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. The contents and titles of these booklets are as follows:
I was invited to review one of the booklets, “Cry Out, Do Not Hold Back! Finding the Church’s Prophetic Voice for Palestine”. Here is my video review recorded at the book launch.
I am delighted to commend Revd Dr Naim Ateek’s “Cry Out, Do Not Hold Back!”. It contains the distilled wisdom of over 50 years prophetic ministry. This is an immensely significant and urgent call (as well as loving rebuke) for the Western church to find its prophetic voice and speak truth to power over Palestine.
For far, far too long our church leaders has been silent about injustice in Palestine and in so doing have compromised their witness. They seem to care more about not offending Zionist friends than defending their sisters and brothers in Palestine. I know they are fearful of being accused of antisemitism. If so, it is their own fault for adopting, so uncritically, the IHRA definition of antisemitism. I call it a pseudo-definition because numerous lawyers have pointed out that it is not actually a definition. A definition by definition cannot be indefinite which the IHRA purposely and intentionally is. It is designed to silence criticism of Israel by equating antizionism with antisemitism.
It is telling that I know of only one Anglican Bishop who has publicly endorsed the Kairos “Cry for Hope: A Call for Decisive Action” published 18 months ago. Only one out of more than 100 in England.
In “Cry Out, Do Not Hold Back!” Naim explains how Christians, especially her leaders, have “quenched the Spirit and choked the prophetic”, caring more about personal interests than fidelity to God’s truth. Silence in the face of oppression and injustice leads to self-censorship and complicity.
Naim embodies what a prophetic ministry looks like. Lonely? Yes. Controversial? Most certainly. Impactful? Definitely. I remember in November 2005, participating in a Sabeel conference in Canada on MRI. The day before, B’nai Brith organised a press conference to dissuade Canadian clergy from participating. We went along and sat in the back row to find out what they were saying about us. I remember the spokesman asking “Who is Naim Ateek?” “where do they get their money from?” I felt like standing up and answering “We don’t have any!” One astute journalist asked a question. “Why did you have to fly three clergy from New York to convince Canadian clergy not to attend?”
They were not very subtle. Canadians don’t like Americans telling them what to do. Why go to such trouble and expenses? They were in panic mode because Sabeel was challenging their apartheid narrative. They clearly took Sabeel seriously, because, then as now, Sabeel is a prophetic voice standing peacefully and non-violently against oppression and injustice in Palestine.
At the heart of “Cry Out, Do Not Hold Back!” Naim provides short bible expositions, offering a clear, Christ-centred, theology of justice and peace. He shatters the illusion that somehow Jesus was apolitical.
The inclusion of the testimonies of contemporary Palestinian Christian leaders who, as faithful “martyrs”, have shown courage in challenging the injustice and oppression of Israeli apartheid, is also deeply inspiring. Naim also cites the prophetic words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Apartheid in the Holy Land”
“My heart aches. I say why are our memories so short. Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden?
Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice. We condemn the violence of suicide bombers, and we condemn the corruption of young minds taught hatred; but we also condemn the violence of military incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that won’t let ambulances reach the injured…
Israel has three options: revert to the previous stalemated situation; exterminate all Palestinians; or – I hope – to strive for peace based on justice, based on withdrawal from all the occupied territories, and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on those territories side by side with Israel, both with secure borders.”
I found “Cry Out, Do Not Hold Back!” particularly valuable in outlining the practical steps we need to take to recover our prophetic voice and so fulfil our God-given mandate. I will be using this valuable resource in future lectures and presentations. And I hope you will also.
Let me give the last word to Naim. This is how he concludes, “Cry Out, Do Not Hold Back!”.
“Achieving a just peace for the Palestinians can be done if we are willing to stand and face together the inter- nationally recognized illegal occupation. The challenge before our church leadership globally is to recognize the evil nature of this morbid occupation, and to confront it head on using the power of prayer and nonviolence. Let us remember the plea of Palestinian Christians expressed in the Kairos Palestine Document and addressed to the churches of the world, “Are you able to help us get our freedom back…?” This cry is a word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.”
We pray, Lord, to bless Pastor Dr. Naim Ateek, who has worked over the years to raise awareness about the reality of Palestinians, issues of liberation, and strive for fair peace and participate in international gatherings and haunted events. God bless this version and the different versions that narrate the reality of what is going on in the country.
“The very being of the church, the integrity of the Christian faith, and the credibility of the Gospel is at stake. We declare that support for the oppression of the Palestinian people, whether passive or active, through silence, word or deed, is a sin. We assert that Christian support for Zionism as a theology and an ideology that legitimize the right of one people to deny the human rights of another is incompatible with the Christian faith and a grave misuse of the Bible.” (2020 Kairos Palestine: ‘Cry of Hope’)
Carlisle Diocese passes historic motion endorsing the Kairos, ‘Cry for Hope’ in support of Palestinian Christians.
On Saturday 9th of October 60 members of the Church of England gathered together under the leadership of the Bishop of Carlisle, The Rt Revd James Newcome for their autumn Diocesan Synod meeting. Members included clergy and lay people. On their agenda was a motion passed by Solway Deanery, calling on the Church of England to be more proactive in its support and solidarity with Palestinian Christians.The motion, presented by Solway Deanery member Valerie Hallard, read as follows:
That This Synod: • Endorses the “Cry for Hope” expressed by Palestinian Christians and the ‘Global Kairos for Justice’ coalition (GKfJ); • Requests that the Faith and Order Commission produce a report which analyses and refutes any theological justifications, for example, those promoted by some Christian Zionists, for the oppression of Palestinians; • Instructs the Ethical Investment Advisory Group to provide guidance to the National Investing Bodies (NIBs) and Dioceses that will enable them to screen their investments and thereby make decisions regarding engagement with, and divestment from, companies which profit from the occupation.
What does the Bible say about apartheid? How has the Bible been used to justify supremacism, segregation and racial purity? How is apartheid easily refuted from the Bible? This presentation will provide some answers. The introduction gives a brief historical overview showing the lineage of European supremacism, slavery, segregation and apartheid. It also examines why apartheid has been designated a crime against humanity, and shows the similarities between the South African and Israeli variants.
Kumi Now are working to connect activists around the world with the organizations working on the ground in Palestine and Israel to bring a just and lasting peace based on international law and nonviolence.
All Palestinians regardless of their faith face similar challenges. However, Palestinian Christians face a specific kind of challenge from Christian Zionists who manipulate scripture to support the oppression of Palestinians. On August 22, 2006 Palestinian Christian churches addressed the threat of Christian Zionism with the “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism.” We mark the anniversary of the declaration by learning about Christian Zionism and learning what you can do so that together we can rise up.
Continue reading about Kumi Action and resources for download Kumi Now