Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lutheran Bishops Learn About Christian Zionism

March 19, 2008

ELCA Bishops Learn About Christian Zionism

SAN MATEO, Calif. (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has something vital to say about Christian Zionism, said the Rev. Robert O. Smith, director, Europe/Middle East Continental Desk, ELCA Global Mission. Smith spoke March 8 to the ELCA Conference of Bishops.

The Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church, consisting of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops, presiding bishop and secretary. The conference met here March 6-11.

Smith's presentation was part of the conference's preparation for a 2009 visit to Israel and the West Bank. The bishops' Middle East visit is part of the ELCA's "Strategy for Engagement of Israel and Palestine," which calls for learning about the situation there, building relationships and advocating for a just peace in the region.

Christian Zionism is a "politically mobilized strand of Christian fundamentalism" committed to preserving Jewish control over all of historic Palestine, Smith said. The movement places the State of Israel, and often the United States, "at the center of God's purposes for the end of the age," he told the bishops. Biblical references in the books of Joel and Genesis are used to justify the movement's claims, Smith said.

Christian Zionism "anticipates the destruction of all persons not adhering to its ideology," Smith said. "It is not a vision of hope. It is a vision of injustice."

Smith argued that Christian Zionism is dehumanizing to Palestinians and Jews. He also reminded the conference that a 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly action called for increased engagement with conservative Christians, and a clearer and more forceful expression of Lutheran theology in the public debate on such matters.

When the ELCA engages Jewish-Christian relations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Christian Zionism, "we must remember our call to a ministry of reconciliation -- one that fosters reconciliation between neighbors whom we are called to serve and love," Smith said.

"We are not called to be political pundits just to argue one point to win the point. That is not our call. Instead, we are called to be peace builders, and that means the task to which we are called is far more difficult. We are called to engage our friends on all sides of this conflict, and there are more than two sides to this conflict."

Lutherans must speak to Christian Zionism in an authentic, distinctive way but not in a "triumphalistic" way, Smith said.

In January 2009 conference members, accompanied by some staff, will visit the Middle East for their annual academy. A few synod bishops and the presiding bishop will begin Jan. 3-5 with a visit Jordan. They will be joined by other conference members Jan. 5-14 for visits to Israeli and Palestinian government officials, and Middle East church leaders, as well as support for the leaders and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

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For lots more about Christian Zionism, see this link on the Web: - Challenging Christian Zionism.

The ELCA' Journal of Lutheran Ethics dedicated its May 2007 issue to Christian Zionism:

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