Mideast action at U.N. casts spotlight on Christian Zionism
Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry says his Christianity commands him to support Israel.
September 23rd, 2011
08:12 AM ET

Mideast action at U.N. casts spotlight on Christian Zionism

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - As the Palestinians push for statehood recognition this week at the United Nations, perhaps no group has spoken out more against the gambit - or has been more outspokenly supportive of Israel - than Christian Zionists.

"As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel," Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said in New York on Tuesday, after delivering a speech blaming the U.N. and President Barack Obama for the Palestinian statehood push.

A U.S.-based group called Christians United for Israel, meanwhile, this week organized a campaign of more than 45,000 e-mails of support to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"As you stand before the representatives of so many hostile nations," the e-mails said, "we want you to know that you are not alone!"

The Christian Zionist drumbeat against the Palestinian statehood push at the U.N. has grown so loud that some prominent Christians penned an "Open Letter to America's Christian Zionists," arguing that the movement is damaging prospects for Mideast peace.

While it's clear that they are becoming increasingly importantly players in the global debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what is less clear to many Americans is exactly who Christian Zionists are and what they believe.

Even many American and Israeli Jews, who would presumably welcome a group that emphatically supports Jews and the Jewish state - some Christian Zionists go so far as to celebrate Jewish holidays and to make repeatedly trips to Israel - are uneasy about Christian Zionist support.

Some Jews wonder whether evangelicals should be embraced as allies at a time of growing Israeli isolation or shunned as covert proselytizers interested in the Jewish state only for its perceived role in provoking Jesus' second coming.

Some prominent Christian Zionists promote the idea that the Jews' return to Israel, which became a Jewish state in 1948, is a sign of the fast-approaching Rapture, when the righteous will ascend to heaven while others are left behind.

The Rapture, many evangelicals believe, will usher in an apocalyptic period that will culminate in Jesus' return. And some Christians believe that keeping Israel in Jewish hands will help expedite that end-times scenario.

These Christians, called dispensationalists because they believe history is divided into different eras, or dispensations, "believe the Jews need to go back to the land of Israel before or immediately after the Rapture and create a commonwealth," said Yaakov Ariel, a religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina.

"This is not believed to be the great Davidic Kingdom that would be ushered in by Jesus' second coming," Ariel said of the Jewish state, "but it is a stepping stone in that direction. Dispensationalists believe they can help pave the way for that."

Activists, academics and religious believers disagree about how influential this kind of apocalyptic thinking is in factoring into Christian support for Israel.

A growing number of prominent Republican figures, including Perry, presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, have couched support for Israel in ways that place them in the Christian Zionism camp, say those who study the movement.

That includes David Brog, Executive Director of Christians United for Israel, the biggest American Christian Zionist group, who says that even Mitt Romney, a Mormon, can probably be described as a Christian Zionist.

At the same time, Brog argues that Christian support for Israel has little to do with a perceived role for the Jewish state in provoking Jesus' return.

"Many Christians think the birth of Israel is a sign that we may be nearing the second coming, but it has nothing to do with their support for Israel," he said. "These Christians know they can't change God's timetable."

"It's theologically impossible for Christians to change God's timetable," for the end times and for Jesus' second coming, he said.

Brog, who is Jewish, says most evangelical support is based on Abraham's words in the Old Testament that those who bless Israel will be blessed and that those who curse Israel will be cursed.

And Brog believes that Christian sympathy to the millennia-old struggles of Jews, from their harsh treatment under Roman rule to the Holocaust, has provoked a kind of Christian guilt that has resulted in support for certain Jewish causes.

"A strong theme in Christian Zionism is a sense of a debt of gratitude that has been ill repaid," says Brog, whose organization counts 750,000 members. "The Jewish people have given us the patriarchs and the first family of Mary and Joseph and every written word of the Bible, and how have we repaid that debt?"

"With the crusades and the Inquisition and Martin Luther, who wrote this horrific anti-Semitic book."

But the founder and National Chairman of Christians United for Israel, a Texas-based evangelist named John Hagee, has written Israel-centered books that hinge on apocalyptic themes, with titles like "Jerusalem Countdown" and "Final Dawn Over Jerusalem."

Ariel, the University of North Carolina professor, says that Hagee, along with Christian Right leaders like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, have all framed support for Israel in the context of apocalyptic theology.

Christian Zionism first caught on in the United States around the turn of the 20th century, when fundamentalists reasserted the literal truth of the Bible in the face of new, science-inspired ways of reading Scripture.

Those fundamentalists - the forbears of today's evangelicals - began identifying the biblical Israel with the modern notion of a Jewish state.

Shalom Goldman, a research professor of religion at Duke University, says American Christian identification with Israel goes back even further, to America's founding, when the country was seen as a historical exception, a kind of modern-day Israel, or Zion.

"Israel is the metaphor by which America created itself," Goldman said. "So many American churches incorporate the word Zion, and it has to do with the self-concept of America."

Goldman argues that it's this broader historical and cultural identification with Israel that underlies Christian Zionism. He estimates that a more apocalyptic view of Israel explains the thinking of a small fraction of Christian Zionists.

"Right now, Christian Zionism is identified with the ideology of the end times but it's not an accurate identification," he said. "The idea is so sexy and sensational that it gets all the attention but it's a small segment of Christians."

Still, many Jews are queasy about evangelical support for Israel because they believe Christians have ulterior motives.

"There's an uneasiness in the community with evangelical support," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

But Foxman said that he has made his peace with Christian Zionism. "As long as the support is not conditioned on American Jewish support for the conservative Christian political agenda or on us converting,," he said," they can be my guest."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Israel • Politics

soundoff (462 Responses)
  1. James

    I feel that politics has no place with God, those who understand and live by God's laws. find that politicians always have hidden agendas, they say they are Christians, since our founding fathers were, but they continue to live a life of lies. As a Christian who's life revolves around the almighty, I find this country falling into the pits of hell and not looking back at what made this country great. As a Christian I look at the Jewish people as chosen by God and the people of God, but they to disobeyed him and they created the mess they're in. Jesus came and gave us the chance of eternal life as long as we seek him and live our lives as he did and do what is right and love one another, remember God means love, we should focus on trying to keep our salvation in tact and try to show others what life really means. Politicians need to embrace the word of God and see what a mess they have created and then maybe they'll understand how to fix it.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • William Demuth


      I wish these postings had photos associated with each user.

      I would like to be able to show my children the face of a dangerously indoctrinated bigot.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Jason K

      "keep our salvation in tact"? Are you an Armenian? If so, stop comparing yourself to "christians". They are a cult even to them. Salvation is from God, not a decision for man to make, nor does God take it away. If received its due to His pre-ordained grace before the foundations of the world were laid, and He will not blot out your name from the book of life. Also, if you believe in the bible, do you not realise that God has raised up every nation for a time and a particular purpose and then destroyed them afterwards? Read Daniel some time, there was Babylon, Medio-Persia, Greece (Ptolmys and Selucids after the divide), and then Rome. The US served its purpose and is not in the process of its decent, pray it falls like Rome into obscurity and lot like Babylon or Persia to the sword.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • bill

      With friends like you Jews don't need enemies. You have a strange concept of "love"

      September 25, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  2. RichXX

    This is why I will not vote for Perry. His fundamentalist evangelical religion dominates his decisions. And as president he is supposed to represent all of us, not just the fundamentalist evangelicals.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • xRedfoxx

      Actually you are safe voting for Perry. He wadn't this religous until he decided to run for president. It's like he all of a suddent turned into a preacher or something. Now he's backing off on his leaving the union comments that I heard first hand since I was in attendance. If he gets elected, all of this grand-standing will disapear.....

      September 23, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  3. cllgstdnt

    I'm Christian, and I have a hard time believing anyone who calls upon killing an entire population or race. I think this article is trying to paint right wingers a bad picture. I'm also pretty appalled at all these anti-Christian comments saying that we're trying to secretly kill of Jews and such. I mean, how awful do you have to get?

    September 23, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Vorps

      No, it's not. I am a right-winger, and I am tired of fundamentalists taking over the Republican party. It's time we elect someone like Ron Paul.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • ckelley

      Thank you, Vorps! I'm not a right-winger but not totally against them. I would glady vote for the right one – and for me, the right one is NOT a Fundamentalist.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  4. xRedfoxx

    Wow.....why are we all skipping over the old covenant vs the new covenant?

    The fact that we make national policy over one's definition of the Bible is scary. What happens when we get a Muslim or Buddhist in the Whitehouse?

    Can we choose to support our allies based on national security pleeeease. Whether it be Israel, England, Germany, etc....


    September 23, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Vorps

      I agree. Evangelicals present 3-4 million in our country only, so why are they deciding our national foreign policy over their stupid and ridiculous beliefs?

      September 23, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  5. InZane4all

    Politicians need to stop claiming God for themselves. You honestly think these people are the lords workers? These people only look out for one thing: Themselves!!! Greed, Power and Corruption have blinded their minds. It is no longer about moving forward as a civilization, but rather, moving forward with as much materialistic BS as possible. These people don't think. They value more material than themselves, yet, in an instant (let say Natural Disaster) all these things can be wiped out, just like that.

    I respect the country of Israel and it's people, but I will not support something that was created through lies and deceit, and I hope the day will come when this great nation hopefully returns to it's Golden Era, but I highly doubt it...

    Start opening your minds to something greater than just what the media is reporting.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  6. Rubbercrutch

    Fear mongering religious zealots supporting terrorists. "The End of the World" brought to you by religion. Idiots.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  7. AZGuest

    I think that this issue has been politicized for long enough and I don't understand the Christian Zionists getting engaged at all. It seems un-Christian to me to support a position of denying a peoples their statehood and their own lands, which they owned prior to outsiders creating an Israeli state after the Holocaust/WWII.

    Besides all of that, our veto stance at the UN, which from my perspective is done for fear of Jewish voters, lobbies, and business interests, is contradictory to the message President Obama gave to Cairo during his campaign. It goes a long way to squander the Arab nations' goodwill that we worked so hard to restore after the disastrous foreign policy of GWB.

    What a shame! As Christians we ought to support peace and tolerance. Instead, in America fundamentalist outcrops of Christianity have been used to discriminate against a variety of citizens and minority groups (including women/women's rights). This is not at all in the spirit of our founding fathers, nor in the spirit of the bible and its message.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  8. Obama joe

    Check the bible Mr. Perry. "The children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth."

    Read more: http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/2283/Israels-Punishment.htm#ixzz1YmnAuF5s

    September 23, 2011 at 10:29 am |

      Read YOUR Bible ... We have ALL sinned and come short of the glory of God.....Roman's 3:23....For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  9. Buddy

    My mother in law is a christian zealot and she actually told me and I think she truly believes that there were no people living in modern day Israel prior to the return of the zionists. She also refuses to consider anything not put forth by religious source.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • William Demuth

      But is she hot?

      September 23, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Jason K

      Tell her to read Josepheus. There were native jews living there from the Roman Diaspora all the way until Israel Shochot (spelling) came down from Russia and started the first settlements when the Czarist Pogroms against Jews started. If not for them, the foundations of Israel would haven never been laid. They only left because they were being exterminated and thought they'd fair better in their homeland living alongside the arabs. AND they mostly did live in peace with them for year until the 1920s and 30s. Also, most of the anti-semitic movement in Arabs was the responsibility of the Ottoman Empire, and later the British who each owned the region known as "The Middle Lands" (Palestine – Latin) during those times. The Bible only contains one part of the history of Israel and deals with nothing after AD 90.

      September 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  10. wearejustparticles

    This is funny to me, no one believes in UFO's and aliens but no problem believing in Jesus or God , holy ghost etc. Jesus could walk on water but couldnt handle 3 nails?

    September 23, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Jason K

      I believe in both actually. Also, Yeshua could handle a lot more than three nails, but that was not the task set before him by his father God. He will not be a meek lamb when next he comes.

      September 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  11. Anyonymous

    I guess the author doesn't understand that "Zionist" or "Zionism" aren't really terms that are considered respectful, and it usually means the person using them disagrees with the people they're referring to.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Anonymous

      This is definitely not necessarily true. It totally depends on who is saying it, their tone, and the context within which they're saying it. The details matter here.......

      September 23, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • mpouxesas

      Not directly responding to you Anyonymous, but this was a start...now...Christian Zionist?? that is almost a contradiction in terms. I know that for most americans this means nothing since here in the US we are so isolated from the rest of the world in so many ways...culturally, geographically, and so on. But for MANY christians judaism (or jewish religion) and christianity are incompatible concepts...Secondly, enough already with israel...it has gotten all the reparations it wanted from the world. Israel cannot continue playing the victim here. After all it is israel that is OCCUPYING palestine ...what the heII ?

      September 23, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  12. InZane4all

    Ridiculous!!! Absolutely disgusting. This is a way to brainwash people into two things: One: To accept Israel as our lord and masters and Two: To give Rick Perry the christian vote.

    I feel, as a human being, everyone has the RIGHT to live. Israel has gone against everything Jesus, their lord and savior, was against. They have spat in the lord's face for too long and use their religious beliefs to justify their atrocities. Let me make it clear, I don't have anything against jews. I am against anything that uses the lords name in vein as an excuse (i'm not religious either, but do believe in a creator) to execute and kill thousands of people.

    CNN, stop manipulating people. Only 25% of the truth is being told here (if any)....

    September 23, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • TheTruth72

      One: I believe it is still God's land.
      Two: I'm 27 and still not a registered voter.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • mpouxesas

      @thetruth72: Just a piece of advice...if you are dumber than I, please DO NOT vote.
      Thank you.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • AdamCJ

      Well put! I am sick and tired of hearing about Isreal. For such a small population in relation to the rest of the globe they sure do have their hands in all areas of the banking/political system. Its disgusting. This isn't racism, this is simply a fact: that the Zionists are in control because we stupid citizens of the world allow it. Youtube Wolf Blitzer and see where that takes you...hes got an agenda and is suportive of Isreak, but has not much to say about Palestine. This Zionism is showved down our throats using emotion before reason. The holocaust has NOTHING to do with this issue. The holocaust was terrible and disturbing that such an event could even happen on this planet, however, it is WRONG to use things like that to justify Isreal's treatment of Palestinian neighbors.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • AdamCJ

      Well put! I am sick and tired of hearing about Isreal. For such a small population in relation to the rest of the globe they sure do have their hands in all areas of the banking/political system. Its disgusting. This isn't racism, this is simply a fact: that the Zionists are in control because we stupid citizens of the world allow it. Youtube Wolf Blitzer and see where that takes you...hes got an agenda and is suportive of Isreak, but has not much to say about Palestine. This Zionism is showved down our throats using emotion before reason. The holocaust has NOTHING to do with this issue. The holocaust was terrible and disturbing that such an event could even happen on this planet, however, it is WRONG to use things like that to justify Isreal's treatment of Palestinian neighbors.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  13. downinfront


    September 23, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  14. Jessica, NJ

    The religious right in America wants the Jews to rebuild the Temple Mount so they (the Jews) can die in the Apocalypse and then the Christians can go to heaven. They say that the Jews won't be going to heaven. In other words they want to sacrifice the Jewish people to get to their salvation. Wow, what a bunch of users!

    September 23, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • William Demuth

      Well you guys did whack their beloved savior!

      They have been planing vengance for centuries!

      September 23, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • b_briane

      thats because many erroneously believe a false doctrine called pretrib rapture. WE are all going to be here when the antichrist unites the Arabic countries in a new empire that ends up pulling off the worst genocide in human history. The Messiah returns and destroys them all at a hill called armegeddon. about 1 year (or less) after the famed tribulation period, which is not 7 years long, rather the scriptures in Daniel say: 6.3 years. Pretrib rapture was invented by liars who wanted to pacify christians and lull them into selfishness and money worship. It has obviously worked.

      September 23, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • b_briane

      By the way, the Jews betrayed Jesus, Rome killed him, get the facts straight William Demuth, your ignorance is loud as hell

      September 23, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Jason K

      Actually, the bible says that 1/3 of all the Jews will come through the Tribulation just fine. The bible even lists a safe haven (City of Petra)and a start time and time frame (beginning with setting the image in the temple, and 3 days) for the Jews to get out. That's a lot more than the church existing on Earth have to look forward to (taking the Mark of The Beast, or Martyrdom).

      Sounds to me like the Jews still have the upper hand. Besides, the Rapture is not mentioned by name in the bible, nor is a definate time for it given. There are three possibilities. Pre trib (the one you are thinking over where they all get off scott free), mid trib (at the 3.5 year mark) and post trib (all the miserable people left alive after the 7 years of hell on Earth).

      September 23, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Jason K

      b_briane The Pharisacial sect wanted to and took up stones to kill him on more than one occasion in the gospels. Ultimately the didn't want to p!ss off Rome, and had them do their dirty work instead. If the Romans were there you can bet they would have tried to kill him much earlier. But it wasn't in the prophesy so it didn't come to pass.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  15. Religizz

    The religious right-wing Christian American dominionists want the all the jews to be in Israel so they're wiped out in one fell swoop while the righteous supporters of execution are whisked naked into heaven. Just as crazy as al-Qaida but way more powerful and insidious.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • AZGuest

      Now there's the truth spelled out. :O)

      September 23, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Jason K

      They call themselves "christian" but they are really just Catholics in disguise.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  16. Obama joe

    As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel------What a pseudo-Christian. Does he know God punished Israel? Does he has a clear directive to stand with GOD ?

    September 23, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  17. John D

    I get the impression, actually, that the increasingly one-sided Republican support for Israel is based on a growing anti-Islamic sentiment on the American right, and the assumption that all Muslims are terrorists. I think that's been way more important than dispensationalism.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Osama

      good call! thats exactly what it is, and they dont even raise the thought in this article...once they pave the way for these Fanatics to finish us off from the holy land, thats when they will move in and say "thanks for doing our dirty work for us!"

      September 23, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  18. tuffgong71

    Is peace worth it without justice? Can you have peace without justice. What about what is fair? When Isreal was created it displaced thousands of Palestinians from there homes. For years these people would protest by holding up and jingling keys to houses that they used to own and were kicked out of by the creation of the jewish state. I am not anti-semetic, I am pro-American, pro-peace, and pro-justice. How can we say the Jews deserve a state and the Palestines do not then expect peace?

    September 23, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Jason K

      Palestine is not a country or a people. It is a Latin word meaning Middle Land. It was the name Rome gave to Israel when it ruled over before, during, and after the time of Jesus Christ 600 years before Islam ever existed. After Jerusalem was sacked Rome and the Jews scattered in the great Diaspora it was resettled by various Arab tribes. At the turn of the 20th century the Russian Czars began the Jewish Pograms that led to settlors like Israel Shochot and others to return to their old home land because they had nowhere else to go. They built settlements and lived alongside Bedouin Arabs for 30 years. It was the Ottomans and later the British (the owners of the land during 1850s-1948) that began to fuel the fire between Arab and Jew with Great Brittain always supporting the Arabs even trying to disarm the Jews and enforcing a naval blockade forbidding Jews from fleeing Nazi Germany and other oppressed realms. The Yishuv fought back by uniting the settlements and taking a stand against the Arab mobs and later the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. It was a WAR, and Israel won. When you win land in war its called "spoils of war" you don't give it back. Fast forward to 1967, Those three nations again prepared to war and began plans to annhilate Israel. They pulled all of their "Palestinians" out of Israel before they attacked. Israel in 6 days destroyed significant portions of the military force of Egypt and Jordan and had pushed back Syria. Again, it was a war declared by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Israel won again. The "Palestinians" i.e. Egyptians, Syrians, and Jordanians wanted back in and Israel said that was fine so long as they acknowledged the Jewish State and their right to exist as a people. Some Arabs AGREED!!! Many did not and elected to go back to their other countries. Here's the kicker, THEY WERE NOT ALLOWED BACK IN! You want to know who created the "Palestine Problem"? Its none other than Egypt, Syria, and Jordan primarily. Read some history.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  19. Joe

    Listening to Perry is like watching a balloon that you release. It makes a tremendous noise and rises high in the air and then when all the hot air has escaped it collapses to the ground where some dog cr@ps on it.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Jason K

      That was so beautiful it brought a tear to my eye! (^_^)

      September 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  20. Neeneko

    What frightens me is how many apocalyptic Christian hold public office. How can one claim to support the betterment of the US or humanity when they are actively hoping for (or working towards) the end of the world?

    September 23, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Jessica, NJ

      They can't support the US that most of us want. Remember Ed Meese from the Regan administration? He wasn't worried about the over harvesting of trees because he just knew that God would come when they were all gone. He forgot that this kind of thinking killed all the ancient people of Easter Island.

      Ed Meese was pretty much the only one in office at that time that believed this but under Bush 2 most of them believed it. That's why they are currently not worried about the over use of natural resources. When they run out the rapture will be upon us and that is what they want. Scary...

      September 23, 2011 at 10:29 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.