With the visit of President Barack Obama to Israel-Palestine this week, understanding something of the background to one of the world’s most complex situations is of paramount importance. The latest issue of Mission Catalyst looks at aspects of the history and theology that weave together to produce today’s ongoing crisis. My Catalyst editorial is reproduced here.
“The last 110 years has seen a major migration of Jewish people to the land of Palestine. This came about following centuries of hatred and persecution in Europe, culminating in one of the greatest sins in human history, the holocaust, and the extermination of 6 million men, women and children with unbelievable barbarity.
This migration led to the creation of the State of Israel, and over the course of those years the Palestinian Arabs who lived in the land for centuries became increasingly marginalised, and many would say persecuted. Arabs are mainly Muslim, but most of the Christians in the region are also Arabs, and amongst them are many with whom we at BMS are privileged to partner.
Israel enjoys broad support from the West, born of post-holocaust sympathy and guilt, and the desire for this never to happen again. But there are also geo-political realities. Israel is an indispensible ally to the West, and especially the US, in a region where most of the world’s oil comes from.
Moreover, in the USA there is an influential Jewish lobby who will protest against any American Government who adopts anything other than pro-Israel policies.
Finally, there is the theological system known as Christian Zionism, especially strong in the United States amongst right-wing Republican Christians, and the focus of this edition of Catalyst (Issue 2 2013).
Though there are many variations, broadly Christian Zionism sees the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land, and the re-creation of the State of Israel as the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and a necessary precursor to the return of Christ. Many see the State of Israel as coterminous with the Israel of the Bible therefore anything that curtails Israel’s occupation of the land is working against God’s purposes.
Christian Zionism stems from the work of John Nelson Darby in the 19th century, and his dispensational theology, which argued that Christ would return when Israel was gathered in. On Christ’s return the rapture would occur – believers would be taken and others would be left behind to face the tribulation. This system was popularised through the extensive use of the Schofield reference bible, and in the US in the 1970s in the influential but largely discredited “Left Behind” series of books by Tim LaHaye.
So, our questions. How are we to understand modern day Israel in the light of Scripture, not least passages such as Romans 9-11? Though the Jewish people have suffered monstrously through the years, what is to be said about today’s persecution of the Palestinian population? What would peace, justice and security look like both for the Palestinians and for Israel?
In the pages of this edition of Catalyst (linked above) you’ll find the voice of a Christian Zionist, and another who opposes Christian Zionism. You’ll hear a Palestinian Arab brother in Christ, and a Jewish Messianic sister in Christ, a respected Israeli secular historian and the voice of a Jewish Rabbi who loves his people, loves his homeland yet longs for justice for the Palestinians people.
Read these, then in the years to come, read some more. Ignorance is not an option".