Pat Robertson's most recent incendiary rhetoric has hit the nation's headlines again. He told the viewers of "The 700 Club" that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's massive stroke could be God's divine retribution raining down on him for giving up Israeli territory. Mr. Robertson was referring to the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the forced relocation of thousands of settlers from the territory engineered by Sharon in his quest for peace with Palestinians.
Even though very well deserved excoriation for yet another gem from Mr. Robertson has come from all different directions, alarmingly absent is the understanding of why he said what he said.
There is a big picture here that has eluded the public's radar screen. Mr. Robertson's verbal gaffe is only a tiny tip of the massive iceberg called "Christian Zionism."
Even if you are not familiar with Middle East politics, you probably can surmise from his statement that this conservative Evangelical leader is ardently pro-Israel in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the troubled region.
You may be a bit puzzled to find that the most fiercely loyal of the pro-Israel supporters in America are not found in the Jewish community, but among Evangelical Christians especially given the backdrop of their history of anti-Semitism.
Also mystifying may be that the pro-Israeli stance does not follow the usual pattern of the social political agenda promoted by conservative Evangelicals. The notion of "restoring Christian principles" back to America is the driving philosophical force as evident in the politics of "family values", which I certainly sympathize with to a degree with some major caveats, but how and why has the conflict two continents away made its way to the forefront?
The answer lies in Biblical prophecy. To be more specific, it comes from the conservative Evangelical interpretation of Biblical prophecy.
They believe that the critical harbinger to the Second Coming of Jesus is the return of the Jews once scattered around the world. They view the birth of Israel after World War II as the resurrection of ancient Israel, and the fulfillment of end times prophecy.
But according to their reasoning, the prophecy has been only partially fulfilled, since the nation's borders do not match those of ancient Israel because of the presence of the Palestinian population whom they view as "trespassers" who should be subject to expulsion, not peaceful co-existence with the Jews.
As extreme and sacrilegious as it may sound, it is a mainstream position held in the conservative Evangelical community as evident in the Christian Coalition's strong support of Israel and self-identified "Christian Zionists" whose influence has intensified especially since 9/11 in the Bush Administration and Republican Congress.
The Evangelical church that I used to attend organizes regular trips to Israel, not just for pilgrimage, but to rally behind the Israeli side. It finances a "ministry" to provide winter clothes and other goods to Israeli solders positioned in and around the occupied territories, but its silence on the plight of the Palestinians is deafening. They refer to the Israeli Jews as the "chosen people of God" and the Palestinians "Satan's pawns" and "God's enemies." The church does not belong to a fringe group, but is widely recognized as a mainstream Evangelical congregation.
What it comes down to is the apocalyptic quest to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
To Mr. Robertson and conservative Evangelicals, Ariel Sharon's move to withdraw from the Gaza Strip amounts to blasphemy which has resulted in the delay of Jesus' coming.
Well, there are many things wrong with this picture, and I don't know where to begin. Let me see if I can spell out a few points before I lose you.
* This particular interpretation of Biblical prophecy is based on a systematic theology known as "dispensationalism." Before John Nelson Darby (1800-1892) came up with this particular movement, nobody before him promoted this brand of Biblical prophecy. Apparently from the first century and to when Darby came up with this idea in the 1800's, nobody was smart enough to figure this thing out.
* The most often used verse to back the pro-Israel political stance is what God said to Abraham roughly five thousand years ago - "I will bless those who bless you. I will curse those who curse you." What God said to Abraham 5,000 years ago somehow applies to the modern state of Israel. That is quite a leap for Christians who pride themselves in the tradition of literal interpretation of Scripture.
* Evangelical Christian political activists lobby heavily the Congress and President Bush to stand with Israel and thus thwart Satan's plan to prevent the second Coming of Christ. How for thousands of years God has managed to conduct his business and fulfill his own prophecies without the generous and kind assistance from the United States Congress and the Bush Administration is beyond me.
Here is a question that I have been seeking an answer for in light of the apocalyptic quest to hasten the second coming of Jesus Christ. Foretold in end times prophecy is a rapid world-wide moral deterioration, but yet conservative Christian political activists fight hard to "restore Christian principles and values" in America. If they were successful, wouldn't a morally righteous America delay the second coming of Jesus?
I gotta go and brace myself for divine retribution now.
Christian Zionist sites. See for yourself.
* Christians For Israel
* Israel My Beloved
* Stand For Israel
* I Stand with Israel
Articles critical of Christian Zionism
* Mixing prophecy and politics
* Challenging Christian Zionism
* Christian Zionism, Evangelicals and Israel
Technorati tags: Israel, Pat Robertson, Christian Zionism, Biblical Prophecy, Dispensationalism