A new generation discovers more reasons to stand with Israel
Christian support for Israel needs a face-lift—a much-needed makeover to meet the charged climate of the 21st century global arena.
Christian Zionism is not new; it has been around for centuries. Sometimes quirky, often romantic and wrong-headed, these eccentric believers lived out a dream to see Zion restored. Their visions seldom corresponded with the social realities of the time. Call them visionaries before their time, the 19th century settlers who relocated to then-Ottoman “Palestine,” were passionate but mostly without significant influence; not to mention few and far between. They were committed pioneers who gave their lives for a biblical promise of the rebirth of a nation long dead.
Today is a different story. The modern state of Israel not only exists (against all odds); it is the focal point of the complex and delicate geopolitical realities of the Middle East—and to some extent, global affairs. From my ongoing work over the past 20 years in the Jewish and Christian communities, which revolves around these pivotal issues, as well as Eagles’ Wings’ efforts to educate the next generation in them, I propose there must be a fundamental shift in the way we approach the Jewish people, Israel and Zionism.
Most evangelicals are familiar with the many biblical reasons for supporting Israel. These important pillars are eternal, foundational and serve as the basis for traditional Christian Zionism. However, I believe a new generation is rising—boldly declaring that support for Israel is not only, for believers, an essential biblical principle, but for humanity, a universal moral imperative.
Not Your Father’s Zionism
Adjust your gaze, for a moment, to view the current Middle East conflict through the eyes of your typical 25-year-old. They grew up in the aftermath of the failed Oslo Peace Accords and during the second Intifada. Their frame of reference does not pre-date the forming of a “Palestinian” people under a central leadership demanding autonomy under threat of violence. They experienced the terrifying images from 9/11 as teens. Think of how different flying on an airplane is today than it was just 11 years ago. Now imagine being born into this unsettled new world—always tottering on the edge of a terrorist red alert—and having this as your main context for understanding Israel.
They are three generations removed from the horror of the Holocaust and the miracle of Israel’s founding. These emerging leaders live in a post-Christian era in which religious and political figures are no longer committed to the idea that Israel’s right to the Holy Land stems from biblical history. Theirs is a world of complex, tenuous international realities, and if they are going to be supporters of Israel, their reasons for doing so are understandably going to reflect this.
Too often, our interest in Israel has hinged on the fact that she has served as a checkpoint on our prophetic time charts—an eschatological hourglass to measure how far we consider ourselves to be in the end times. In the past, Israel—and Jews as a whole—fit into our prophetic/apocalyptic timeframe, but we did not reach out to the Jewish people down the street, or offer support to the synagogue a few blocks away.
We have had no problem celebrating contributions from the lives of dead Jews like Father Abraham, King David, the Prophet Isaiah and apostle Paul, but have failed to connect with the plight of their descendants, such as David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir and Benjamin Netanyahu. Not anymore.
A new Zionism is rising that boldly declares that the justice of Israel’s cause can be thoroughly defended using universal moral principles as well as biblical texts. This is how emerging leaders are coming to see—and need, increasingly, to come to see—the Israel issue. As the majority of my cohorts and younger pro-Israel leaders would agree, I can honestly state that, even if I did not believe the Bible, but were simply a serious person with a strong moral compass, my convictions on the justice of Israel’s cause would be the same.
The Justice Issue
Unquestionably, our Maker, whose heart is for justice, has left His fingerprint upon us. Because we are made in the image of God, there is something within all humanity that longs for justice. This should principally be true of those who hold to a biblical worldview. The prophets were the mouthpiece of the Lord calling for justice, and unfolding God’s plans to execute it. Matthew says of Jesus, “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles” (Matt. 12:18, ESV).
If this is generally true at all times, it is especially true of young adults in the 21st century. This generation cares seriously about the environment, peace and social justice issues. The societal framework that Generation X (and certainly Y and Z) is looking through causes them to ask a different set of questions when they consider avowing their support to Israel. The next generation of church leaders doesn’t want just theory, or an inherited evangelical orthodoxy; they want a personal, tangible, truthful connection to something real.
If they are going to give their support to Israel, they must be able to connect their story to the overarching narrative of the Jews. This is how young people today process facts and events. They need to establish a cohesive form out of the fragments of history and experience. Significantly, this narrative comprises the entirety of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, but it will take seasoned leaders who “get it” to point this out to them.
Today, there is a global thirst for social justice. It is the buzzword of an entire generation. Everything from Darfur to the American unborn becomes a cause vying for the interest, compassion, time and money of this generation. Certainly, there is no shortage of wrongs to be righted in this world, and I thank God for the many different anointings that rest upon young people who are called to address specific areas of injustice. But if we hope to see Christian support for Israel survive and thrive, we must understand and impart the truth that nowhere is true justice more perverted today than in the understanding of Israel’s cause.
It is up to those who will embrace this new face of Zionism to expose the perversion of justice that’s buried by media lies and misconceptions surrounding the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
To this end, several truths must be emphasized: First, Israel is not the aggressor, but the victim of ongoing attacks by terrorists—in the media and in universities. Second, while the Palestinian people—the only refugee population to remain as such for over three generations—are victims, they are not victims of Israel, but of neighboring Arab nations that exploit them in order to paint Israel as the antagonist. Unless you think that Israelis are the ones making decisions in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Aman, Baghdad or Riyadh, the real hindrance to Palestinian assimilation and departure from “refugee” status is Arab leadership.
The New Zionist
The New Zionist is one who stands up and challenges the international community to answer the question, “Where is moral reciprocity when 1.2 million mostly Muslim Arabs live in Israel with full rights of citizenship and the freedoms that go with it, but in a proposed Palestinian State, the global community seems to tacitly agree that no Jews could possibly live in an area such as Hebron? Why can Arab Muslims live and flourish in an Israeli Jewish State, but Jews would be in danger for their lives in a proposed Palestinian State?” Where are the voices of America and Europe (the ones funding the Palestinian Authority) that should be declaring that ethnic cleansing is evil and will not be tolerated in a proposed Palestinian State?
A recent event, which I had the privilege of co-sponsoring, precisely portrays this new breed of Zionism.
In September, thousands of Christians joined together in the heart of New York City in support of Israel. However, this display of solidarity did not strictly take the form of church meetings; it took the form of social activism. The site where these scores of people gathered was not inside a church building, but outside the United Nations.
The gathering was in response to an ongoing U.N.-sponsored initiative known as the Durban Conference on Human Rights and Xenophobia, which is supposedly an anti-racism gathering intended to address human-rights abuses around the world. However, from its outset in 2001, Durban has been anything but anti-racist.
The first assembly in South Africa was, perhaps, the most racist, anti-Semitic gathering in recent history. Its agenda was hijacked by virulent anti-Semites intent on singling out the tiny, democratic nation of Israel and condemning it on ludicrous charges, while at the same time, ignoring the blatant human-rights abuses of the very nations participating in the conference, including Libya, Syria, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Iran and many others. Then again, for a conference which invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be its keynote speaker, what can you expect?
As this immoral and unjust conference was held at the U.N. last year, we believed a response was imperative. I was joined by a broad coalition of more than 30 religious and secular organizations to raise a united cry against this appalling display of bigotry and hypocrisy. My speech (see it on Vimeo) at the rally did not include biblical references (as this would not have been received by the entities we were confronting). I spoke on the legitimacy of the modern state of Israel, the only country in the Middle East in which the Christian population is growing, not declining; a nation that guards and protects the religious rights and holy sites of other faiths.
Should it really surprise us when modern-day realities line up with God’s Word? Is it really such a stretch to understand that Israel’s cause is also just on a moral, political and social level, even as this ancient people of God continues to bear His name into yet another century?
Can any reasonable person honestly believe that a country that is one-twentieth the size of California and one-sixth of 1 percent of the land of the Arab League of Nations is responsible for the hatred it endures from the sea of oil-rich Arab dictatorships that surround it? Is anyone so naive to still think that giving away more land will result in peace for Israel, after witnessing the disastrous results this produced when the Jews pulled out of Lebanon and Gaza? A new generation is taking Hamas and other terrorist infrastructures at their word when they state in their charters that their goal is to drive Israel into the sea.
Understanding Israel is not only to understand the history of God, but to understand what God is doing today. Connecting to Israel awakens discussion regarding the veracity and interpretation of the Scriptures—for instance, how the church understands the mystery of Rom. 9:11. It behooves us to consider how we might serve as peacemakers in a world polarized by increasing religious conflict. And, most pointedly, what our call as believers is in protecting the most fragile members of the human family.
The oft-quoted principle, iterated by everyone from Gandhi to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Pope John Paul II, that a society will only be as strong as the protection it affords its weakest members, applies in this case. Ancient and modern history demonstrate the Jews to be the most vulnerable ethnic group worldwide. No ethnic or religious group has endured such hatred and persecution.
As if the horrifying realities of the Holocaust were not enough of a crescendo to the centuries of persecution the Jews have already endured, today they still face violent anti-Semitism in many parts of the world. Moreover, for as many stellar contributions as the Jewish people have made to the global community, they are actually a very small minority group. The estimated 14 million Jews on the earth today are outnumbered by Muslims 100 to one ... not a very encouraging statistic, considering that radical Muslims want to kill them.
If part of our call as Christians is to defend the fatherless and the widowed, then certainly we are called to protect this intensely persecuted minority group. Just 60 years ago, these children of Abraham were almost totally annihilated in Hitler’s ovens while the church of Europe stood by in silence. Do we really want that to be said of us by future generations, who look back on the death
threats that modern Israelis endure from the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
The up-and-coming leadership of the church is awakening to the fact that Israel is the social justice cause of this generation. Future Christian support of Israel, if it is to hold a viable role on the world’s stage, will be driven not by apocalyptum, or even by a familiar loyalty to the “land of the Bible,” but also by an informed perspective concerned with social justice.
About Our Guest Editor...
Robert Stearns is the founder and executive director of Eagles’ Wings, a ministry involved in a variety of outreaches and strategic projects around the world. He and the Eagles’ Wings team are dedicated to partnering with the church to bring unity and awakening to the body of Christ, as well as promoting God’s enduring covenant with Israel. He has ministered in 30 nations around the world. Robert is the visionary behind the worldwide prayer initiative, the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem (DPPJ). Observed every year during the first Sunday in October, the prayer effort features the participation of 300,000 churches in 175 nations. Robert and pastor Jack Hayford serve together as co-chairmen of the DPPJ, which represents the largest prayer movement in history focused on Jerusalem. Robert has consulted and met personally with the current and past two prime ministers of Israel concerning Israel and Christian relations. Through the Eagles’ Wings ministry, thousands have discovered Israel over the years. A musician, Robert has been keynote speaker, guest artist and worship leader at several celebrations of the Feast of Tabernacles in Israel, as well as a featured speaker at conferences and churches worldwide. He has written several books, including Keepers of the Flame: Unlocking the Ancient Secret of an Acceptable Sacrific; Prepare the Way (Or Get Out Of the Way!); The Cry of Mordecai; Re-Forming a New You: A Guide for Re-Forming Your Heart, Home and Hope; and his latest, No, We Can’t: Radical Islam, Militant Secularism and the Myth of Coexistence. Besides being featured on numerous articles in national publications, Robert is a regular guest on Christian radio and television. Robert and his family live in Clarence, N.Y., and he spends a great deal of time in Jerusalem.
Your Role in the New Zionism
Now we are the ones who must take it upon ourselves to recognize the multi-faceted nature of the new Zionism, and prepare to pass the baton of Israel advocacy onto the next generation.
We are living at an exciting moment in human history—at a crossroads, where every decision, both small and great, counts. I want to affirm that, as a leader in the body of Christ, there is a need for you to step into the role of an informed ambassador for Zion’s sake. Here are a few ways you can: