Zionism -- the idea that the Jewish people should have their own homeland -- has been around a long time, though perhaps less time than you may think.
In his upcoming book on Middle Eastern Christians, (which I'll write about here on the blog at the end of August), Mitri Raheb writes that "Christian Zionism preceded Jewish Zionism by half a century." (The book is The Politics of Persecution: Middle Eastern Christians in an Age of Empire. Sept. 1 is its publication date.) It took until 1860, he writes, for Sir Moses Montefiore to sponsor "the establishment of the first Jewish colony in Palestine, just outside the Old City in Jerusalem and opposite Jaffa Gate." One reason some Christian British leaders before then and at the time of Montefiore were interested in Zionism, Raheb suggests, is that, if successful, it might reduce the number of Jews in Britain. In other words, antisemitism was at the core of Christian Zionism (and still is in some ways). Imagine that.
At any rate, today Christian Zionism in the U.S. is largely associated with Christians who would identify as evangelical or conservative. And, as Raheb notes in his forthcoming book, "Throughout history, Christian Zionists interpreted almost every major political event in the Middle East through the lens of biblical prophecy." They mostly still do. And that includes their belief that the Second Coming of Christ can't or won't happen until Jews control the Temple Mount, as Jews call it, or Al-Aqsa Mosque, as Muslims call it, in Jerusalem. Oh, and when the Second Coming happens, according to this brand of prophecy, Jews either convert or are done away with. To repeat: Imagine that.
In any event, this article in The Conversation suggests that Christian Zionism is nowhere near as steady a concept among evangelical Christians as it seems.
As Walker Robins writes in the piece: "The Israeli right’s preference for working with conservative American evangelicals over more politically variable American Jews has been evident for years. And this preference has in many ways paid off."
But, he adds, "the alliance’s future may be in doubt. Recent polling shows dramatic declines in support for Israel among young American evangelicals. Scholars Motti Inbari and Kirill Bumin found that between 2018 and 2021, rates of support fell from 69% to 33.6% among evangelicals ages 18-29.
"While these polls speak most immediately to the current context, they also underline a larger historical point: Evangelical support for Israel is neither permanent nor inevitable."
Faced with Arab hostility and war since the day in 1948 that Israel declared itself a nation, it needs all the friends it can get. But it might want to be careful about how sincere those friends are about Israel's long-term survival and -- more to the point -- the survival of the Jewish people as Jews.
I find Robins' conclusion sort of heartening: "This diverse and globally connected generation of evangelicals has its own ideas and priorities. It is more interested in social justice, less invested in the culture wars and increasingly weary of conservative politics. Young evangelicals remain to be convinced of Christian Zionism. And they very well may not be."
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CONFRONTING DISMAL HISTORY
As news stories circulate of mass graves of Indigenous children from old boarding schools, churches in the U.S. and Canada are increasingly looking at their own records of relationships with Indigenous people, this RNS story reports. As the story notes, "This painful history has drawn relatively little attention in the United States compared with Canada, where the recent discoveries of graves underscored what a 2015 government commission called a 'cultural genocide.' That’s beginning to change." This gives me a chance to give you a heads up about my next Flatland column, which will post Sunday morning here. It will be about the ways in which Native American spirituality is woven into the programs offered by the Kansas City Indian Center.
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P.S.: Many of you in the Kansas City area either knew or knew of the Rev. Dr. Robert H. Meneilly, founder of Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kan. Dr. Bob, as he often was called, died this week. In his memory, I'm going to link you here to a pdf of a Star Magazine profile of did of him in early 1981. Just click on this link: Download Tammeus meneilly. Its age and the way it's pasted up make it a little hard to read but it's all there. I've also written a tribute to Meneilly for KCUR-FM, which you can find here.
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ANOTHER P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about Native American spirituality and the work of the Kansas City Indian Center -- now is online here.