Christian Zionism: Theology shmology. We're talking about another culture war punching bag

EDITOR’S NOTE: How often will we receive these missives from Ira Rifkin? Who can say? As for me, I am hoping for once a month. (tmatt)

I’m back — for which I apologize to those readers who hoped to be rid of me. What I will not apologize for is my good fortune to have, so far, outwitted the health-care industry. This despite what I consider some lamebrain screw ups by a few of its practitioners.

Not that I’m totally ungrateful. Medical surgeons possess extraordinary mechanical skills. Just like the best computer technicians and car mechanics. The problem is that health care has become way too specialized, leaving some practitioners unable to consider the patient as a unified field. Drug “A” may be great for gout, but how does it interact with statins? Can beta blockers negatively impact kidney function? You get the idea. Think holistically because your doctor may not. Ask questions. Do your own research.

But enough. Last I checked Get Religion was still about the business of journalism about religion. So consider this our segue.

The occasion for my return is a review of a new book on Christian Zionism that ran in the liberal American Jewish publication The Forward. For reasons beyond all sound judgement, some of the more anarchistic voices at GR thought I might want to offer an opinion. Clearly a setup, but how could I refuse?

The review in question ran under a challenging headline: “Why Everything You Think You Know About Christian Zionism Is Wrong,” and was penned by Rafael Magarik, an English professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The book was produced by religion and foreign policy maven Daniel G. Hummel, who is associated with Upper House, which for lack of a better term I’ll call a sort of a Christian think tank at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Hummel titled his book, “Covenant Brothers: Evangelicals, Jews, And U.S.-Israeli Relations.”

I have not read Hummel’s book, and I probably won’t (over the years I’ve read my fill on the subject, both pro and con). Nor, I’d wager, will most of those who already have a firm opinion about the intent, value or theological underpinnings of contemporary Christian Zionism.

Which is entirely the point of Magarik’s review — a verbal dart aimed at the vast majority of liberal Jews (in Israel and elsewhere), and equally liberal Christians, not to mention Muslims of all ideological stratums, who look upon Christian Zionists with utter political disdain.

Here’s the top of Magarik’s piece. It pretty much sums up the whole of his argument: 

 Evangelical Christianity remains one of the few topics about which it remains permissible, and possibly even praiseworthy, for a Jewish liberal to know nothing. Take evangelical attitudes toward Israel. Almost every time the subject comes up, someone will explain that Christian Zionism conceals, under a cloak of philo-Semitism, a nefarious agenda. Christian Zionists support Israel, supposedly, to hasten the end-times, when, as Bible professor Candida Moss writes, “Jews must convert or die.” Political scientist Elizabeth Oldmixon explains that evangelicals are part of “movement in Christianity that’s as old as Christianity itself,” and want to hasten “a millennium in the future,” in which “the Jews, will convert” or be damned.

This narrative is very popular with liberal and leftist Jews. Benjamin Koatz writes of Christians United For Israel’s “esoteric anti-Semitism” and that Christian Zionists believe Jews “will be prodded into conversion by the horrors of anti- Semitism... [or] God will inspire revelation in our hearts at the last moment, allowing us to proceed willingly into rapture.” The same logic underlies Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb’s article, “Anti-Semitism Behind the Christian Zionist Lobby.”

I’m not about to defend the various persons mentioned by Magarik, or authenticate his portrayal of their positions. Read them on your own if you feel the need.

I am, however, quite familiar with the some of the names Magarik mentioned, as well as the often fierce debate over Christian Zionism within the Jewish world.

Generally speaking, Magarik is correct about the lack of knowledge among Jews — of all stripes, by the way — about Christian Zionism. My decades of journalistic involvement with the issue, I believe, exempt me from his charge. You can either believe me or dismiss me as ignorant of my own ignorance. Call me out in the comments section if you think the latter.

Personally, I’m no fan of most conservative expressions of Christian Zionism. My opposition is entirely political. Like so much else about religion and Israel these days, theological debates have been rendered superfluous by the vicious progressive-traditionalist culture war sinking Western culture.

Christians can argue all they want over the merits of Christian Zionist theology, but of what use is that to someone — meaning me — who does not believe in the Christian narrative?

In other words, Christian Zionist support for Israel, and I believe even for those Jews politically open to it, is entirely transactional. Nothing unusual in that at all, is there, in our Trumpian age?

 I’ve been around Christian Zionists — in Jerusalem as well as Orlando, Los Angeles, and elsewhere— who were all about quietly converting unsuspecting Jews to the wholly Christian belief that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. So I have my suspicions about that side of the movement.

But it's the movement’s whole-hearted backing of what I view as the worst tendencies of right-wing Zionism, and the contribution it's made to turning Israel’s national security into a culture war punching bag, with a major assist from President Donald Trump, that upsets me more.

I understand that many Christians believe it their religious obligation as missionaries to spread the Gospel. It’s part of the pluralistic marketplace of ideas.

I also understand that some Jews are willing to accept Christian Zionist support because they view Israel as a besieged nation in need of powerful friends; I do not think them entirely wrong. But as I said at the start of this post, just don’t leave the big decisions solely to the experts. They too often know less than they let on.

Question everything in medicine, religion and politics.

Will you see more of me here? Good question.

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