Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mixed blessing

It is wonderful to see the amount of support that Christian Zionists give to Israel.

It is even more wonderful when thousands of them make the decision to actually visit Israel and publicly show their support, by the thousands:

Israelis and foreigners take part in the annual Jerusalem parade October 10, 2006. More than 5,000 evangelical Christians, including believers from as far afield as Congo and New Zealand, marched through Jerusalem on Tuesday to voice their support for Zionism and the state of Israel. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

G-d knows that Israel needs all the support she can get, and from what I can see nowadays, the support from evangelical Christians seems heartfelt and sincere, without strings attached.

And yet....

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a proto-Zionist movement among Christians as well. Some Christian denominations openly called for the "Restoration of the Jews" to Palestine, and the wisdom of that support was debated among various prominent Christian preachers, both in the US and in England.

It would be hard to deny that the success of the early Zionist movement up through the Balfour Declaration was in some part due to this subconscious desire on the part of the Christian leaders in England to see Biblical prophecy fulfilled. Newspapers at the time showed intense interest in any story relating to Jews in Palestine, especially Jews immigrating to Palestine, and Jews being successful in agriculture in the Holy Land.

Sometimes the interest would appear to be more of an political or humanitarian nature than overtly religious. But even then, the religious and historical dimension was clear, as in this petition to President Harrison in 1891:

But there is another part of the Christian biblical prophecy regarding the "Restoration of the Jews" that is a bit more troubling. In the early part of the 19th century, just as the words "Restoration of the Jews" were understood to mean the return of the Jews to Palestine, they were just as often used and implied with two more words: "The Restoration and Conversion of the Jews."

This is an entire book on the topic (which you can download), and not the only one. Other books debated the wisdom of the Restoration and whether it fit into Christian Biblical prophecy (this one from 1828) - but the subtext was that the Jews would have to be converted to Christianity, either before such restoration or afterwards.

In fact, there were entire societies in England (and Scotland) dedicated to the conversion of Jews to Christianity, that seemed to reach their greatest influence in the early to middle 19th century.

The conversion aspect of Christian proto-Zionists seemed to die out as the actual reclamation of Jews to biblical Israel accelerated mid-19th century, and it was hardly mentioned publicly by 1900. Nevertheless, this history is enough to make one pause as to the true intent of today's friendly Christian Zionists. The idea of mass conversions of Jews may no longer make sense but the thought of an ulterior motive that lines Israel's fate up more with perceived prophecies than with what is actually good for Israel is not something that is so easy to overlook, despite the many sincere friends that Israel does indeed have today among the Christian Zionists.