Webinar traces roots of Christian Zionism—and its damaging outcomes today

by Cheon Young Cheol

More than 340 people attend a webinar, entitled “Christian Zionism and the Ecumenical Movement,” on 5 December. Hosted by the Transformative Ecumenism Movement, the webinar discussed the role of Christian Zionism in sustaining violence in Gaza and its impact on the ecumenical movement.

Dr Deenabandhu Manchala who facilitates the transformative ecumenism study process, moderated the discussion, and opened with describing the uniqueness of the discussion.

“There is something distinct about having a view of Christian Zionism against the backdrop of the genocidal violence, a view to identify the serious moral and spiritual challenges it poses to Christians, churches, and in fact to all people of faith,” he said. “It is also about discerning opportunities for new meanings and expressions of ecumenical vocation.”


Bandu expressed hope that the present violence will cease one day. “But as long as these ideological apparatuses are not dismantled, more vicious and virulent forms of violence will thrive and destroy more lives and dehumanize more people,” he said.

Redefining Christian Zionism

Rev. Dr Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Christian and writer, and founder and president of Dar al-Kalima University, opened his remarks with reflections on how to define Christian Zionism.

“I think there is an urgent need to redefine Christian Zionism because, for so long, we have been focusing exclusively on the evangelical brand of Christian Zionism, and I think that is misleading because Christian Zionism comes in many shapes and manifestations,” he said. “It is deeply rooted in evangelical circles and in mainline churches but also in liberal theology—which only very few people recognize.”

There also exists a cultural—and less Christian—brand of Zionism among secular people, Raheb noted. “Christian Zionism has its roots definitely in Europe in the Middle Ages, and branched out to North America but today it is also widespread in the Global South,” he said. “in my newest book, I came to redefine Christian Zionism as a Christian lobby that supports the Jewish settler colonialism of Palestinian land using biblical constructs.”

Ultimately, this kind of Zionism aims to eliminate the native people, Rehab said. “This is actually what we are seeing today in Gaza, very clearly,” he said. “In settler colonialism, the natives become, in this ideology, aliens at home while the settlers are cast as natives and Palestinians as the foreigners.”

Complex dynamics

Dr Atalia Omer, professor of religion, conflict, and peace studies, offered a history of how Christian Zionism predates Jewish Zionism.

“Zionism is a political movement that emerged in Europe,” she said. “But it’s very important to note that, while Zionism is modern, Zion is really central, and the concept of Zion and the place of Zion is also embedded in the Jewish imagination.”

She cited policy implications such as the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “This is a compulsive move that is very much in the background of what is unfolding today,” she said. “The global war on terror is also participating in the consolidation of those dynamics.”

She also touched upon the complex intersections between anti-black racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and white supremacy. “This is ethnocentric, chauvinistic articulation of identity,” she said. “This is just to highlight anti-semitism and Zionism have a long history of co-existing with each other.”

Raheb and Omer received questions from the online audience, and Bandu thanked them for highlighting the urgency of honest discussion.

“Most of us are critical of Zionism and are looking for ways through which we can counter Zionism, Christian Zionism, and similar ideologies of exclusion and violence in different places around the world,” he concluded. “I think you certainly have highlighted the urgency and necessity of churches and Christian organizations to give up their attitudes of apathy and silence as well as complicity with violence and injustice, and to live out their faith by seeking justice and human dignity in all situations of violence and violation of the vulnerable.”

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