Armageddon Theology and Its Impact on Peace in the Midde East
Robert O. Smith, co-author of Christians and a Land Called Holy: How we Can Foster Justice, Peace, and Hope led a Rotation Forum at the NCC General Assembly on Armageddon Theology and its impact on peace in Middle East.
The General Assembly’s theme: "For the Healing of the Nations" (Revelation 22:2) comes from the apocalyptic book of the Bible that is widely used by those who embrace a particular Armageddon theology which is at variance with the interpretation accepted by the member communions of the NCC and their policy positions. He challenged the churches to look not for the speck in the other's eye, but for the log in our own and consider our own lack of a strong eschatology. He expressed the hope that NCC's consideration of the book of Revelation at this meeting might influence a strong articulation of a theology of end times based on a vision of justice and peace.
This theological position, also called Premillennial Dispensationalism, has a strong influence in the cultural and political lanscape in the US. In this week's midterm elections (Zogby Intl.) 31% of likely voters agreed that “Israel must have all of the promised land, including Jerusalem, to facilitate the second coming of the messiah." Its political manifestation called Christian Zionism has bipartisan advocates in the US government. Most recently, Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas initiated Christians United for Israel (CUFI) as a Christian lobby on behalf of Israel, a Christian AIPAC, based on Christian Zionist ideology. Their methodology includes advocating violence on behalf of Israel which includes the bombing of Iran.
Christian Zionism is an auto-generated movement, not dependent on Jewish political Zionism. William Blackstone's Jesus is Coming was published in 1878 before Theodore Herzl's Der Judenstaat in 1896, which is identified as the beginning of Jewish political Zionism. We can be supporters of Israel, even Zionists, and at the same time stand against this theology.
Mainstream Jews themselves are ambivalent about this as indicated by the following quotes.
- Gershom Gorenberg: Christian Zionists see “Jews as actors in a Christian drama leading toward the end of days … real Zionism, as a Jewish movement, is a movement aimed at taking Jews out of the mythological realm and making them into normal actors in history, controlling their fate and acting for pragmatic reasons connected to the here and now. So what’s called Christian Zionism is actually very distant from Zionism.”
- David Cantor (ADL) argued in 1994 that philo-Semitism is the flipside of anti-Semitism. In a section titled “Jews as Cosmic Curiosities,” Cantor noted how Christians often fail “to recognize the common humanity of Jews and tend, finally, to dehumanize Jews.”
- “Sure, these guys give me the heebie-jeebies. But until I see Jesus coming over the hill, I’m in favor of all the friends Israel can get.” — former AIPAC researcher Lenny Davis
Evangelicals themselves are soul-searching about this. As Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, has said, “Evangelicals who are Christian Zionists want to see events unfold, but they aren’t so concerned about justice.” Smith argued that the evangelical community’s long-time association with an ideological theology that, in the name of God, despises efforts at peacemaking must be “shaken off.”
This emphasis has resulted from the "Jerusalem Declaration" of August 22, 2006, signed by several prominent Christian leaders of Jerusalem. The NCC has committed itself to researching this question and educating the churches. The president of the NCC will appoint a task force that will include members from the Commissions of the NCC to study this phenomenon and bring back a report next year.