The Christian Zionists

Last summer, Israel’s military, searching for Hezbollah terrorists, pounded Lebanon with cluster bombs, killing scores of women and children.

While political and religious leaders called for restraint, one man did not: Texas televangelist Rev. John Hagee.

He believes calls to restrain Israel violate the Jewish people. Hagee is on a crusade to educate all Christians, including Catholics, about what he calls a biblical imperative to support Israel’s actions. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hagee’s message sounds attractive to a number of Americans.

For instance, more than 3,000 Christians gathered in Washington, D.C., last month to hear Hagee praise Israel’s military campaign for doing God’s work in a “war of good vs. evil.”  Sens. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., were the most prominent Catholics there.

As our nation wages war on terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Hezbollah, we can expect to hear much more from religious leaders like Hagee. These leaders will call for all Christians to close ranks behind Israel as part of a biblical mandate. In the past, Protestants and Catholics have joined forces on key social and moral issues.

Can we, as Catholics, join forces with religious leaders like Hagee? Should we pledge our unconditional support to Israel for biblical reasons? 

To answer these questions, we need to take a look at the theology behind the national movement that turns out religious leaders like Hagee. It’s called Christian Zionism.

Christian Zionism, as a theological belief, holds that the people of Israel remain the chosen people of God along with the Gentile Christians. Consequently, Christian Zionists support Zionism since God favors Jews as his chosen people.

Take for example, Rev. Jerry Falwell, a well-known evangelical Zionist preacher, who echoes this point: “To stand against Israel is to stand against God. We believe that history and Scripture prove that God deals with nations in relation to how they deal with Israel.”

As an effect of Christian Zionists’ unconditional support for Israel, the belief of the dual covenant dogma emerged: a belief that God’s covenant with the Jews in the Old Testament will save them now just like the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ will save the Christians today.

Moreover, Christian Zionism evolves around certain prophetic texts of the Bible. They supposedly predict certain inevitable future events: the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Many Jews will eventually accept Jesus as their Messiah, and Israel’s struggle for existence will anticipate the great war of Armageddon at the end of time.

With the growing popularity of this movement, some Catholics wonder about the compatibility of Christian Zionism with Catholicism. Can the two agree or find common ground? The answer is an unequivocal No. Here’s why:

To begin, Catholics, like the first Christians, look exclusively to Jesus Christ for salvation. Christ created a New Covenant in his blood for the salvation of all. The New Covenant in Christ’s blood perfects, fulfils and surpasses the Old Covenant made to the Jewish people. This means the Jewish people no longer enjoy a special status based on ethnicity before God or others.

Christ’s New Covenant created a New People of God — the Church. The Catechism points this out: “He [God] therefore chose the Israelite race to be his own people and established a covenant with it. He gradually instructed the people. … All these things, however, happened as a preparation for and figure of the new and perfect covenant which was to be ratified in Christ … the New Covenant in his blood; he called together a race made up of Jews and Gentiles which would be one, not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit” (No. 781).

In light of the theological reality of Christ’s New Covenant, the dual covenant dogma crumbles. It ultimately contradicts one of the most basic tenets of Christianity: that salvation comes from Christ. Sacred Scripture read in view of Tradition affirms this: “For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved” (Acts: 4:12).

Flawed theology often leads to unorthodox pastoral practices. For example, Christian Zionist groups like “Christians United for Israel” have opted not to talk about Jesus Christ with the Jews they support. David Brog, the Jewish executive director of Christians United for Israel, confirmed this practice in an interview earlier this month.

“All activities of Christians United for Israel are strictly non-conversionary,” said Brog. “Christians who work with Jews in supporting Israel realize how sensitive we are in talking about conversion and talking about Jesus. So those who work with us tend not to talk about Jesus more, but talk about Jesus less.”

For any mature Catholic or Christian, this is absolutely unacceptable. In obedience to the Gospel, all Christians should witness to Jesus Christ in word and deed. “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation” (Mark 16:16), and “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).

We cannot keep silent about Jesus Christ or our faith in him. That’s non-negotiable. In a few words, what should we say to the invitation of joining forces with Christian Zionists?

No, thank you.

Legionary Father Andrew McNair is a theology professor at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, Rhode Island.