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. Jimmmy

    How about supporingt Israel because they are a democratic country in the midst of a cesspool of dictators and religious nutjobs? How about supporting Israel because they are only country in that region that has the US's back? All you boo hooing about the poor palestinians need I remind you how they danced in the streets on 9/11.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:48 am |

      people don't deserve their chance to show they have changed? or should we still hate Germans for causing this problem

      September 23, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • William Demuth


      If I throw all the Republicans out of New York, and THEN have a vote where the democrats win, can ANY rational man say we are a legitimate democratic government.

      I actually dislike BOTH sides, but saying the Jewish claim is more valid than the Palestinian claim is just bigoted.

      Better we just nuke the country and leave it a radioactive wasteland for 25,000 years.

      By then the few survivors hsall have ou the stupidity behind them.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  2. WFO

    Religions are the great blindness spoken of in the bible. More emphasis (too much) is placed on following the religion, rather than understanding what Jesus wanted of us. Christianity has become nothing more than a political platform. I'm not even a Jesus freak, and this is so plain to see. Nearly every church has the likeness of a corpse hanging in the back of it, to ~guilt~ you into following along. It's obvious that Jesus would never want us to worship his murder, or even use it to manipulate people into christian service. His point was made in his words, not in his death.

    The entire philosphy pivots around the saving of self. This coming from a religion that claims to be "selfless" and loving of all humans. I wonder how many people would participate in this belief if there were no promise of heaven? Just God saying "follow my laws out of respect for who I am ... that has to be good enough for you. Respect my word simply because I ask it of you". Haa! The pews would be covered in dust.

    A whole bunch of christians have an enormous surprize coming to them if that rapture ever really occurs. Jesus will probably just turn around and split ... "all you people have done since I was last here is develope better weapons ... you're not ready for me ... I'll be back when you get your heads out of your behinds ... later skaters!"


    September 23, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  3. Andrea M

    Why would anybody actively want the rapture? In case you haven't noticed kids, you're actively yearning to DIE. Regardless of if heaven is real or not, the whole point is wanting the entire human race to die off wholeheartedly so you can have a shot of getting off the planet. Become a friggen astronaut if you want to escape earth so badly. Failing that, suicide seems like a logical way to allow yourself a private rapture without messing with the rest of humanity who are totally content to make the most of the life they're currently living. Personally, I do not agree with the existence of Israel in the first place. You can't just show up all freshly persecuted, waive a book around and kick people off their land cause the book from thousands of years ago says you can. It's the equivalent of people claiming to be wizards a few millenia in the future kicking the British off their islands because Harry Potter says so. The fact that we have to bow to Israel despite being our own sovereign nation sickens me. If you can't stand on your own two feet as a nation and need everybody else to prop you up, you don't deserve to be a nation. If Monaco, San Mariano, and assorted other micro-nations can do it, everybody should be able to do it.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Deus Capite

      "It's the equivalent of people claiming to be wizards a few millenia in the future kicking the British off their islands because Harry Potter says so" Andrea! Love it! Well said.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:54 am |

      harry potter? my gandalf worshipers would never allow a lowly wizard to rule our land and we will blow our selves up so we can return as white wizards.
      and by the way I really hope that if there is a rapture i live to see it! i am going to die either way but i feel comfort knowing that no one else will live with out me

      September 23, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • ckelley

      Andrea for President!!

      Seriously, you made me laugh so hard the mouse moved all around and it took me a while to find the post again so I could comment on it. Well done 🙂

      September 23, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  4. Average Uninformed Obese American

    I support Isreal right or wrong! Increase the billions sent to Isreal by borrowing more from the Chinese!!! Oh, and free Pollard!!!

    September 23, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  5. Phil

    How in the world could anyone elect a man who's religion dictates his foreign policy?????

    September 23, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Dan

      How in the world could you NOT elect someone who let his religion dictate his foreign policy?

      September 23, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Deus Capite

      Phil - totally agree. Most peaceful countries in the world are those whose leadership does not have to pretend to be religious (or worse yet – fully embrace religion as part of political agenda). Look at scandinavian countries .. very socially responsible and comfortable place to live in.

      I don't see much difference in one head of state stating that "god told me to invade this country" (i.e., Iraq) and another who wants to establish a caliphate state between western africa and mesapotamia. Same same....

      September 23, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Easily Dan

      September 23, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Am-Pm

      I definitely agree with you !!..

      September 23, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  6. WJK

    I cannot wait for the rapture.... then we will get rid of these self righteous extremists and then we can all live in peace.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Nobody you know

      Sadly, since they are almost all hypocrites, it isn't going to help much.

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


      September 23, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  7. Mike Reidy

    Everyone has an opinion. What really matters is what i choose to believe.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  8. Deus Capite

    Sorry folks, to believe that rapture will happen and some dude will come down to fix it is just plain immature, juvenile, unrealistic, and after all – DANGEROUS!

    Look around, majority of damage done to today's societies are done by people who believe that there is a life for them after this one (wars, persecution of those who don't agree with the stance, environmental disregard, etc.).

    The 3 major religions that keep on squabbling need to also consider other citizens of this planet ... what about hindus, buddhists, other non-abrahamic religions?

    This whole religion fear instilling talk is just plain NONSENSE! It's ruining our life on this planet which is now... there is no heaven or hell people! Wake Up!!! You have been manipulated for centuries by the people in golden robes and flexible position on what's real.


    September 23, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Dustin

      I totally agreee

      September 23, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • William Demuth

      It is no differnt than believing you are Napoleon, or hearing voices in your head that no one else hears.

      Crazy is crazy is crazy.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  9. Sindhi

    Because Zionist wear bikinis, and show nudity on televisions like US and Europeans, she (Israel) is liked and supported, so that any citizen from US and Europe goes to Israel they may find same entertainment and rights as they have in their so-called countries where they kill Travis like person in the name of Pursuit of Happiness. Sarfaraz Karachi (Sindh)

    September 23, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  10. Richard Parrilla

    Attention all Jews! Netanyahu DOES NOT speak for you. People like him are trying to use the persecution they went through during Hitler as an excuse to persecute others! America should be above that nonsense and support a NO PERSONAL DRAMA foreign policy.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Sindhi

      Great brother Richard (from Pakistan)

      September 23, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  11. J.P.

    The angel Moroni of the Mormon faith has descended and turned otf my halo.....thank you Moroni...now I too can sleep at night! For better men than I..."...we'll leave a light on for you!"

    September 23, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  12. just politics

    I don't think Rick Perry really believes what he's saying. But he knows that evangelicals don't trust mormons. He's just securing the social conservative base for the republican primary.

    If he wins the primary, watch how quickly he shuts up about religious matters and focuses on secular issues to court moderates and independents.

    This is all political rhetoric to beat Mitt Romney in the primary.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  13. Bill

    Its amazing to me that the "religion editor" does not understand that no christian, pro-Israel or otherwise, believes that support for Israel or anything else would "provoke Christ's return". For Abraham Foxman, who has made anti-Israel statements in the past, would he have turned down Corrie ten Boom's offer of protection from the Nazis because he did not like her motives? Would he say "no, I would rather go into the hands of the gestappo than let this person help me"???

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

      Why do you say that "no Chrstian" would believe this? Christiains believe a very wide variety of things and I have certianly heard some of them making statements that are consistent with what has been stated here. You may be able to characterize "the majority of Chistians" but I don't think you should be making pronouncements about what is not believed by ANY Christian.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  14. Chris

    I'm a Catholic and I am all for free and independent Palestine!

    If those Christian Zionists knew how badly the Palestinians are treated by Israelis and how opressed they are, and denied right to buy land for homes, get education, or employment then maybe they would RETHINK their blindsided support for Israel. Put the Bible down, and read some independent reports from European news organizations – forget about FoxNews or even CNN reporting for that matter.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  15. Bob

    There is no other group in the world who is friendlier to Jews than American evangelicals, whether "Zionists" or not. I am not an evangelical, but this is just a fact. The real scandal here is why more Jews don't gladly accept that friendship. Historically, Jews have needed all the friends they can get but they don't seem to know a friend when they see one. This is a sign of some kind of neurotic paranoia and it's sad and self destructive.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • William Demuth

      Pehaps because you blame them for killing Christ, and you insist they will ALL burn in hell for not contowing to JC.

      You guys are just Nazi's with the arms of the swastika straigtened out.

      Fool the Jews once, shame on you
      Fool the Jews twice, shame on them.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Bob

      William, you are a completely ignorant bigot. Anti-semitism is not found anywhere in evangelicalism. It is found in traditional Catholicism and older forms of Christianity, where it is really a deep cultural phenomenon. Why? Because Catholicsim basically believes that the Church has supplanted Israel as the "new Israel", but evangelicals believe the Jews still have a role to play. Yes, evangelcials believe you don't go to heaven without Christ but that applies to everyone, not just Jews. And it's a religious belief, so you're a bigot if you demonize it.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • William Demuth


      What a joke.

      You damn the race to hell, and I am the bigot?

      Get therapy, you are mentally ill.

      September 23, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Bob

      "I" damn them to hell? I'm not even a Christian! Where did you see something that indicated I was? The fact thay you read all your prejudices and assumptions into what someone else writes proves that you have a gigantic neurotic chip on your shoulder.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • William Demuth


      You are childishly foolish. Your posting that Evangelicals are freindly to ANYTHING other than their cult ideologies is absurd

      History is CLEAR, and having personally seen the truth, I am sickend by anyone who refuses to see it.

      Evangelicals condemn, harrass, torment, torture and even kill anyone who dosen't want their beliefs. They are a sick group and a threat to modernity and freedom.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  16. KareemCheez

    Why can't Jews and Muslims just sit down and iron out their differences like good Christians?

    September 23, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • J.P.

      That is the best one so far...well done!

      September 23, 2011 at 10:38 am |

      Oh that was very funny, thanks for morning laugh 😉

      September 23, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • reACTIONary


      September 23, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • jesuswasaninsidejob

      Because no one wants the bad rep christians have of burning jews at the stake, sending their children to fight Muslim soldiers in the chrildrens crusade, Christian justice of drowning people first to be sure they are not a witch. Salem witch trials. Ethnic cleansing of the Native Indians, spreading disease, slavery, satanic hypocrisy, jesus is really the devil, christians invented the guillotine, iron maiden, torture rack, medievel torture bazaar, and christians blew up the wtc on 911 to wage another holy war against Islam. They are insane and the world needs a final solution for the christian small minded. They are incharge of brainwashing, hate freedom, are monopolistic and use the ignorants they brainwashed as humans shields against the world. And by your comment I can see you are a brainwashed ignorant fool.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • jesuswasaninsidejob

      Because there is no such thing as a good Christian.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • KMW


      This is wonderful.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  17. just politics

    I don't think Rick Perry really believes what he's saying. But he knows that evangelicals don't trust mormons. He's just securing the social conservative base for the republican primary.

    If he wins the primary, watch how quickly he shuts up about religious matters and focuses on secular issues to court moderates and independents.

    This is all political

    September 23, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  18. Connie Dobbs

    Rick Perry is actively trying to end the world. WHO THE HELL VOTES FOR THE END OF THE WORLD?

    September 23, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • mpouxesas

      Stupid people do...

      September 23, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  19. Dave

    Brainwashed simpletons.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  20. Vorps

    Our national foreign policy should NOT be dictated by the idiotic beliefs of a fundamentalist religious group who believes that whoever solves the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is the anti-Christ.

    That's just ridiculous.

    RON PAUL 2012!

    September 23, 2011 at 10:37 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.