AN ANALYSIS OF CUFI
AND A DISPENSATIONAL CRITIQUE OF CHRISTIAN ZIONISM
Mark M. Hanna, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and World Religions
Talbot School of Theology and California Polytechnic State University
In February of this year, Pastor John Hagee inaugurated a new lobby, Christians United for Israel. He claims that over 400 pastors have joined his new organization and that they expect to act on behalf of more than 40 million evangelical Christians in the United States who support the State of Israel.
CUFI is inviting Christians to come from all 50 states to its first major gathering in Washington, D.C., July 18-19, for the express purpose of influencing the American government and its policies. It is urgent for Christians to become aware of its true nature and its actual agenda so they do not become misled into supporting a movement that is antithetical to biblical truth. It is not easy to write about the issues involved in this development, because very sensitive matters cannot be avoided. This also makes it likely that people who are locked into hardened positions will tend to misunderstand what I write and the spirit behind it. My deepest intention is to “speak the truth in love,” and I want to emphasize that it is not my intention to cast aspersions on people, whether ethnic groups or individuals.
An important part of the history of World War II was the action of the small French village, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, whose population of three thousand people saved the lives of five thousand Jews by hiding them in their community. I mention this as an example of the fact that non-dispensational Christians can be as concerned about Jews as Christian Zionist dispensationalists. The non-dispensational Huguenot villagers risked their lives because they believed that the Bible made the lives of all human beings valuable since they are made in the image of God. Although virtually all Christian Zionists are dispensationalists, there are many non-dispensationalist Christians who care deeply about the Jewish people and, like the residents of Le Chambon, would not shrink from risking their lives to protect them. They rightly feel that way about all innocent people who are threatened with genocide.
No morally conscientious person who has knowledge of the suffering of Jews, from the time of the Egyptian bondage recounted in the Bible, to the horrendous series of persecutions in Europe, to the Russian pogroms, and to the Nazi Holocaust, can fail to understand how desperate they became to find a place of security and rest from their fear-laden sojourn in gentile lands. If there were no other reason than compassion alone, it would suffice as a basis for concern and commitment to their security today.
Tragically, since the 1940s there have been two desperate peoples at the center of a vortex that could now erupt into a cataclysm of global proportions. The same moral conscientiousness that elicits heartfelt sympathy for Jews should evoke similar compassion for the indigenous peoples in Palestine who were dispossessed and displaced by the tortuous circumstances of the twentieth-century. Instead of focusing on questions of blame—of which there is plenty to go around—we need a frequent reminder of the fact that both the Jewish and Palestinian masses—in contrast to their leaders--have been victims of circumstances largely beyond their control.
If I were a Jew who had survived the holocaust, I would urgently yearn for a country of my own, defended by a powerful army, so that I would not have to live with constant fear. If I were a Palestinian who had lost my home and freedom as a result of the Zionist actions that created an Israeli state where I once lived, I would urgently yearn for its recovery. Does Christian love dictate that we should put ourselves in the shoes of only one or both?
In a surprising and candid admission, David Ben Gurion, reflecting on the plight of the Palestinians, said, “If my land had been taken away from me, I would become a terrorist, too” (reported in the 2006 article, The Israel Lobby, by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt). In that extraordinary expression of empathy, Ben Gurion showed more understanding of the Palestinians than most Christian Zionists have ever demonstrated. Both inside and outside of the State of Israel to this day, however, there are a some noble and courageous Jews who share a similar empathy and give tangible expression to it in their writings and actions on behalf of Palestinians.
Jews have memorialized “righteous gentiles” in the “Garden of the Righteous Among Nations” at Yad Vashem, near Jerusalem. It honors gentiles who saved Jews from the Holocaust at the risk of their own lives. There are also, in this sense, “righteous Jews” who show unexpected compassion and courage in reaching out to Palestinian Arabs, if not at the risk of their own lives, certainly at the risk of their reputation and social ostracism in the State of Israel.
I want to state in the strongest possible terms that I am intensely opposed to anti-Semitism. I am equally opposed to every effort to harm innocent Israelis or to dismantle the State of Israel. Let there be no mistake about my deepest sincerity in this regard. I am opposed to every effort to harm any innocent people, whether Jews, Arabs, or others. I also want to be very sensitive to the feelings and suspicions of both Jews and Arabs. I realize that due to their millennia of mistreatment, Jews are especially sensitive to anything that smacks of anti-Semitism. So whatever I have to say, I do not intend for it to bear even the slightest tincture of anti-Semitism.
Nevertheless, I believe that CUFI is unwarranted, both biblically and pragmatically.
I realize it is a bold claim to assert that CUFI is unbiblical, but I hope that anyone who seeks to be fair-minded and objective will at least consider the scriptural support I adduce for my thesis. That is why I am writing this paper and disseminating it far and wide to as many Christians as possible. Christians need to know the truth about CUFI. I have no axe to grind but faithfulness to the Bible, for conformity to the word of God is the way to bring glory to God.
THE FUNDAMENTAL ISSUE
Especially since the time of W.E. Blackstone and his book, Jesus is Coming,(1878), many Christians have uncritically accepted “Christian Zionism,” a perspective that has been widely propagated among dispensationalists for the last century-and-a-half. Many other Christians, however, have continued to cling to “replacement theology,” a view that holds that the church has “replaced” Israel, leaving ethnic Israel with no special role in God’s future program for the world.
The tendency for close-mindedness is endemic in both groups. Since my focus in this paper is on CUFI as an expression of Christian Zionism, I plead with my fellow dispensationalists to be open-minded enough to sincerely and carefully consider all the relevant biblical evidence against both. If the reader wants a quick overview of my salient points, he can turn to the fifteen summary statements toward the end of this paper. However, the justification for the concluding summary can only be gained by a careful reading of the full text of this paper.
I want to make it clear at the outset that I am for the existence and security of the State of Israel on the basis of compassion, shared values, and historical circumstances. But I am not for it unconditionally or at the price of depriving others of their dignity and civil rights. For over fifty years I have been profoundly opposed to all forms of anti-Semitism, and I still am. Nevertheless, the extreme position known as “Christian Zionism,” which is widely held by dispensationalists, is a perspective that I oppose on biblical grounds—even though I am a dispensationalist (which term refers to a theological position that maintains a fundamental discontinuity between Israel and the church and which contends that a redeemed, ethnic Israel will have a future kingdom in the land of promise [Gen. 15:18-21] under the rule of Christ in fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants granted by God in the Old Testament).
Christian Zionists believe that the State of Israel, which was founded in 1948, is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and, therefore, they believe that Christians should not only give Israel overriding favoritism but that they should actively promote the growth of its Jewish population and its retention of every square inch of land that she has occupied. There are solid biblical grounds, however, for maintaining that the State of Israel is not the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
One of the leading, early dispensationalists, Arno C. Gaebelein, stated categorically, in 1905, “Zionism is not the divinely promised restoration of Israel.” Nevertheless, I believe that the State of Israel, whose establishment during the church age was not prophetically necessary, is a preparatory, stage-setting factor for the future fulfillment of end-time prophecy. This is not why I am for its existence and security, however. For even if it had no future, prophetic role, there are viable extra-biblical reasons for supporting it. To consider this distinction between prophetic fulfillment and preparatory stage-setting to be merely terminological is to fail to understand the biblical basis for it and the practical consequences that ensue from it.
Even if the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 had been the fulfillment of biblical prophecy—which, I should emphasize, I categorically dispute--mere fulfillment does not entail divine approval.
There are scores of biblical prophecies, both those that have been fulfilled during the centuries up until A.D. 70 and those that are yet to be fulfilled in the future, that foretell the actions of evil men and nations. For example, the future world ruler (the “beast” of Revelation 13) is consummately evil, and believers in Christ during the Tribulation period are not to succumb to his attempts to impose his self-worship and tyrannical control on mankind. No case can be made for supporting the Antichrist on the basis that his rise is foretold in Scripture.
The fundamental question in my disagreement with Christian Zionism is not whether the State of Israel has a right to exist—for we both maintain that it does—but it is whether its existence is the fulfillment of Bible prophecy and whether it entails the approval of God. In other words, is the State of Israel the realization of the directive will of God or merely the permissive will of God? The answer to this question has far-reaching, practical consequences.
I recognize Pastor Hagee and the members of CUFI as fellow Christians and fellow dispensationalists. Nevertheless, as I will seek to demonstrate, they are inconsistent dispensationalists, for their thinking and actions are more appropriate to an Old Testament dispensation than to the New Testament dispensation of the church age. I am convinced that the New Testament does not support the pro-Israel bias of Christian Zionism, which CUFI holds and promotes. Nor do I believe that the contemporary State of Israel is the fulfillment or inauguration of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants. Biblical teaching compels me to view it, rather, as a divinely permitted but divinely unauthorized precursor of a future inauguration and fulfillment which will take place at the return of Christ to the earth.
Christian Zionism’s mistaken assumption that the State of Israel is the realization of the directive will of God is at the root of its misguided extremism. On that assumption
Christian Zionists have no qualms about promoting Israel’s political and military hardliners. CUFI is a Christian Zionist organization that intends to galvanize Christians to engage in vigorous political activism on behalf of the State of Israel. Inevitably, this entails indifference or antipathy to the Palestinians. It also subordinates the righteous standards of God Himself to the de facto idolization of the State of Israel—even though this would be vehemently denied by Christian Zionists.
In contradistinction to the foregoing assumptions and actions of CUFI, I find that the Bible opposes the extremism of Christian Zionism and, instead, teaches us that we should be impartial advocates of peace, freedom, justice, and love for all peoples, including Israelis and Palestinians. This is not optional for Christians, as the New Testament clearly teaches in many passages like Galatians 6:10.
I do not doubt the sincerity of John Hagee and the pastors who have joined him in founding CUFI. Nevertheless, I believe that their sincerity and zeal are misguided. I want to explain why. I also want to explain why CUFI is inimical to the mission of the church and a dangerous diversion from the biblical priorities that devolve upon every Christian.
THE PURPOSE AND GOALS OF CUFI
According to CUFI’s website, the purpose of Christians United for Israel is to become a powerful lobby in Washington, D.C. in order “to provide a national association through which every pro-Israel church, para-church organization, ministry or individual in American can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to biblical issues.”
Its short-term goals are: (1) “To develop a national rapid-response e-mail and fax communication to CUFI members in every state and congressional district for the imperative purpose of responding immediately with broad national support in defense of Israel on biblically based issues.”
(2) “To host a gathering of members of CUFI on July 18-19, 2006 in our nation’s capital for the purpose of introducing the association to senators and Congressmen, expressing our concerns for Israel’s security and our support of Israel’s right to the land by biblical mandate.”
(3) “To host an annual gathering every fall in San Antonio at Cornerstone Church during the Feast of Tabernacles celebration.”
(4) “To conduct a Night to Honor Israel during the Feast of Tabernacles Celebration.”
CUFI’s long-term goals are: (1) “To conduct a Night to Honor Israel in as many cities in America, Canada, and the nations of the world as possible.” (2) “To continue to increase our basis of support of Israel and the Jewish people around the world through the education of the Christian community concerning the Jewish contribution to Christianity and Israel’s biblical mandate to the land through Bible teachings and pilgrimages to Israel.”
In the analysis that follows I seek to explain why CUFI has no justification for its existence. My deep concern is that some readers might misunderstand my position. Some might think that I downplay the terrorism of radical Palestinians and other Muslims. I do not make any such concession whatever. Radical Muslims have engaged in atrocious terrorism and virulent anti-Israeli and anti-Christian actions. Unfortunately, the cycle of violence and reprisals will continue in the world until Christ returns to earth and brings everlasting peace. He alone is the hope of the world, for no one but Christ has the power and the goodness to permanently and completely solve mankind’s problems.
I. CUFI IS BASED ON A SERIOUS MISINTERPRETATION OF THE
BIBLICAL HIERARCHY OF VALUES
A. THE ERROR OF UNCONDITIONAL SUPPORT FOR THE STATE OF
This misinterpretation is demonstrated by Hagee’s categorical assertion, “Our support for Israel is without condition. We have a Bible mandate by St. Paul, by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, to be supportive of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, period” ( italics mine, The Jerusalem Post, interview with John Hagee at the recent AIPAC national convention in Washington; www.jpost.com ).
It grieves me deeply to see my fellow dispensationalists wittingly or unwittingly embrace a distorted view of biblical priorities. It could not be clearer that from Genesis to Revelation the character and glory of God always tower over and judges Jews, Gentiles, and the church (I Cor.10:32). This means that God’s attributes of righteousness, justice, love, and compassion constitute the touchstone for assessing mankind corporately and individually.
B. GOD’S UNIVERSAL JUDGMENT DEMONSTRATES THE BIBLICAL
HIERARCHY OF VALUES
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible makes it clear that mankind falls under the judgment of God for rebellion against Him and His spiritual-ethical standards (e.g., the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve, the flood that destroyed everyone but Noah and his family, the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel, and the future horrendous judgment on mankind described in the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation). We also find that God’s judgment falls on specific nations that are named in the Bible (e.g., the Egyptians, Canaanites, Assyrians, Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, et al).
Furthermore, we cannot deny that Christians, individually and corporately (churches) come under divine judgment (I Peter 4:17; I Cor. 11; Rev. 2-3). In all these cases, it is clear that neither mankind nor the church is exempt from divine judgment. Why, then, do Christian Zionists elevate the State of Israel over the spiritual and ethical requirements of a holy God?
The Bible is replete with instances of God’s judgment on Israel in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g., Israel’s forty-year wilderness wandering, her defeat at Ai, the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, her subjugation by the Roman Empire which eventually destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, slaughtering millions and creating another Jewish Diaspora, judicial blindness in part on Israel, and yet to come, a time of “Jacob’s trouble” in the Great Tribulation).
Christian Zionists typically assume that, since the time of Abraham, God’s primary point of reference for judging peoples is their treatment of the Hebrew people. That this is not taught in the Bible can be seen from such passages as Leviticus 18:24-28 which indicates that it was the gross sin of the Canaanites that brought divine judgment on them. The Israelites who were brought out of Egypt had had no direct dealings with them previously.
When mistreatment of Israelites was a factor in bringing divine retribution on other peoples, it was essentially a manifestation of the latter’s spiritual and moral corruption.
It is this same spiritual and moral debasement that has brought down nations that had no direct dealing with the Jewish people. This is the lot of “all the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17). Romans 1:18-32 specifically refers to the wrath of God being meted out on mankind, and it says nothing about the gentiles’ treatment of Israel. This clearly shows what is the most fundamental cause of God’s judgment on nations. A nation’s enmity toward God is the root; mistreatment of Jews and others is a fruit.
The significance of this is that it is not a people’s treatment of Israel but God’s character and holy standards that are the supreme touchstone. Christian Zionists have frequently maintained that every major calamity to befall the United States, especially since World War II, is due to some presumed American failure to give the State of Israel the specific support that is stipulated by Christian Zionists. Several Christian Zionists have written entire books with this misguided thesis (e.g., Israel: America’s Key to Survival,1983, by Mike Evans).
A very important entailment of the biblical hierarchy of values is that not only the gentile nations but Israel itself falls under the scrutiny and judgment of God. This means that Christian Zionism, with its unqualified support for the State of Israel, is anti-biblical.
C. CHRISTIAN ZIONISM’S IMPLICIT IDOLIZATION OF THE STATE OF
To hold that one should support the State of Israel “without condition” is an idolatrous elevation of the nation above the glory and character of God. Although the prerogative to mete out judgment on Israel is not ours but God’s alone, we are required to align ourselves with the ultimacy of God’s glory and character by resisting the temptation to exalt anyone or anything above Him.
Herzl and his fellow Zionists, secularists devoid of any spiritual motivation, made the establishment of an Israeli state a veritable idol. This was demonstrated in their recourse to various unethical means which they considered to be justified by the achievement of that end. Unfortunately few Christians have studied the history of Zionism, and, therefore, they find it hard to believe that an idealized Zionist Israel would have such a sordid past. It is precisely that past which turned most Jews in the world—especially Orthodox Jews--against Zionism during its initial phase. Anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews believe that the Tanach (the Old Testament) disallows the establishment of a Jewish state prior to the coming of the Messiah.
“The spiritual man makes judgments about all things” (I Cor. 2:15), including Israel. The context in I Corinthians 2 makes it clear that the standard by which spiritual judgment is made is the Spirit-inspired and Spirit-taught word of God: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us…, in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (2:12, 13).
It is nothing less than idolatrous to accept or approve any created thing, whether oneself or family or leader or ethnic group or nation or church or denomination or the State of Israel without condition. CUFI is inviting the judgment of God on itself by inordinately exalting the State of Israel. Christians should support Israel, but our support must be qualified—in the sense that we must discriminate between the rightness and wrongness of what it does and does not do as determined by the spiritual-ethical principles that derive from the glory and character of God as set forth in the Bible. We must approve that which it does in accordance with that touchstone and disapprove of that which deviates from it.
Christian Zionists who advocate unconditional support of the State of Israel are less ethical than some non-Orthodox Jews, inside and outside of the State of Israel, who condemn various decisions and actions of the Israeli government because they are morally wrong. They refuse to give it support without condition. What an irony! Their moral sense appears to be loftier than that of Christians who subscribe to Christian Zionism.
II. CUFI IS BASED ON A SKEWED INTERPRETATION OF
GENESIS 12:3, THE KEY RATIONALE FOR CHRISTIAN
A. ABRAHAM’S SEED
Contrary to the assumptions of Christian Zionism, there is nothing in Genesis 12:3 that entails unquestioning support of the State of Israel. Notice, first, that the passage in Genesis 12:3 says nothing about a political entity. It refers to Abraham and, by extension, to his seed. First and foremost the seed is Christ (Gal.3:16), and the collective seed consists, first of all, of all Jews and gentiles who are savingly related to him (Romans 4:9-18), and, secondarily it consists of Abraham’s physical progeny through the line of Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs. His physical seed consists of the Hebrew people, not a national state.
We are to bless people, not an ideology (Zionism) or a nation-state. The few times that Israel is referred to as a “nation” in the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words that are used signify a community, a group, a tribe, or an ethnic collectivity. The primary Hebrew word that is used to refer to Israel as a “nation” is the same term that is used to refer to the different ethnic groups that inhabited Canaan (Lev. 20:23). The same is the case with the New Testament, where the primary Greek word for “nation” refers to a “community” of people—e.g., in I Peter 2:9, the word “nation” has nothing to do with a political state. The phenomenon that we know as a nation-state is essentially a nineteenth-century development, as every scholar of political history knows. Historical-grammatical exegesis is designed to keep us from reading subjective and anachronistic meanings into Scripture.
B. THE JEWISH PEOPLE (HEBREWS) AND THE STATE OF ISRAEL MUST
The Jewish people, therefore, are to be distinguished from the State of Israel which was established on the Zionist ideology in 1948. Genesis 12:3 does not mandate blessing a State, for a political structure is not equivalent to the collective seed of Abraham in either sense of the term. For two thousand years there have been more Jews outside of Palestine than in it, and that is still the case today. Furthermore, the apostle Paul says that “a man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly” (Rom. 2:28) and “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6). That is, a Jew in the full biblical sense is one who has trusted in Christ as Messiah, Savior, and Lord.
Fulfilling the mandate implicit in Genesis 12:3 does not entail the acceptance or approval of Zionist ideology or that which is based on it. Zionism is a secular position whose tenets are anti-biblical. To encourage it and its fruits are to curse the Jews instead of blessing them. The essential and greatest blessing for Jews, as for Gentiles, is the Gospel of Christ (Eph. 1:3).
Most Christians know nothing about the Orthodox Jewish anti-Zionist groups that oppose the State of Israel. A list of nineteen of them can be found on the website, www.jewsnotzionists.org/groups.htm . Especially active are Satmar and the Neturei Karta (“Guardians of the City”). They all distinguish between Jews and the Zionist State of Israel, and they maintain that supporting the godless State of Israel invites a curse, not a blessing, from God. I do not agree with their contention that the State of Israel should be dismantled, but Christians should try to understand why they assert that “the Zionist conspiracy against Jewish tradition and law makes Zionism and all its activities and entities the greatest enemy of the Jewish people” (www.jewsnotzionists.org/nyt/nyt051893.html ).
These Orthodox Jewish groups present an impressive exegetical case from the Old Testament (the Tanach) for their claim that a good Jew cannot be a Zionist and a Zionist cannot be a good Jew. They have a passion for ethical virtues and they are opposed to the violence and oppression that Zionists have used to establish and maintain the State of Israel. They contend that the Messiah alone has the right to establish an Israeli state, which must be a theocratic nation based on wholehearted repentance.
David Brog’s very recent book, Standing with Israel (2006), is touted by some Christian Zionists as the most definitive and up-to-date book that presents the case for their chauvinistic support of Israel. Yet it does not include any reference to Orthodox Jews who historically and contemporaneously oppose the State of Israel. Brog seems to be oblivious of their position and arguments. Of course, he could say that since the book’s subtitle is “Why Christians Support the Jewish State,” it was not necessary to refer to such Orthodox Jews. But the omission is a glaring one, particularly in view of his attempt to expound relevant Old Testament passages, which he does exclusively from the standpoint of Christian Zionism.
Any book that purports to present a case for unconditional support of the State of Israel is significantly deficient if it does not address the position of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews. In the future, such a book, if it is to do justice to the issue, will also have to address the dispensational case against the errors of Christian Zionism that I and others advocate—a position unknown to Brog because it has not had the press enjoyed by Christian Zionism.
Evangelicals have been led down the wrong path by choosing to identify with the secular, political Zionism of Herzl rather than aligning their sentiments with anti-Zionist Orthodox Judaism which saw Herzl as a false messiah. What is so ironic about their ill-conceived decision is that on the most fundamental level evangelicals had nothing in common with the political Zionists but they shared both a profound adherence to the authority of the Old Testament and the priority of spiritual-ethical concerns with the anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews.
Despite the claim by Christian Zionists that they are not motivated by a desire to accelerate the fulfillment of prophecy since they recognize that the time of Christ’s return is fixed by God’s sovereignty, it is difficult to account for the formation and rapid increase of the Christian Zionist movement without this crucial interest. Brog denies the motive (pp. 80-81), but a more thorough investigation into the history of dispensationalism demonstrates the vital significance of their eschatological engrossment and its role in shaping the attitudes and actions of Christian Zionists from Blackstone to contemporaries like Lindsey, Falwell, Robertson, and Hagee. Of course, this is not to deny that there are other concerns and motives impelling them as well.
Although it is the case that Christian Zionists recognize that the time of Christ’s return is in God’s hands and cannot be determined by human actions, his second advent is always in the back of their minds. Prophetic fervor was catalyzed by the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, and Christian Zionists operate under a powerful sense of involvement in what they view as the most significant, climactic events of history. Without their specific prophetic scenario, Christian Zionists would hardly have the same zeal for carrying out their agenda in regard to the State of Israel.
The fallout from dispensationalist evangelicalism’s decision to support political Zionism has led to the muddling of both the meaning of the Gospel and to its perception by billions of people, especially 1.3 billion Muslims. This is unwittingly revealed by Brody’s use of the expression, “the Christian Zionist gospel” (p. 143). One looks in vain in the New Testament for such a notion or combination of terms qualifying the Gospel. Many proponents of Christian Zionism have clouded the simplicity of the true Gospel with another “gospel” which they are spreading “to an ever-expanding following” (p. 143).
Christ never commissioned us to propagate a “political gospel,” which is, unfortunately, the nature of the message that leaders in the Christian Zionist movement vigorously promote. This distorted gospel focuses on political Israel and its importance and glories. The true Gospel focuses on Christ and His importance and glories. Christian Zionists would like to claim that they have both, but no one can serve two masters. In spite of their (Next page: http://whtt.org/i