Over 600 Christian scholars gather in Jerusalem to study Zionism

Over 600 Christian bible scholars, religious leaders and peace activists representing 32 countries, have gathered in Jerusalem's Notre Dame Centre to look at ways of challenging Christian Zionism.

Zionism, the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, advocated, from its inceptional, tangible as well as spiritual aims. It embraces extreme ideological positions based on selected scriptural texts and which, according to conference presenters, form a worldview that is detrimental to a just peace in the Holy Land.

Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, joined to form the Zionist movement and worked together toward these goals. Disagreements led to rifts, but ultimately, the common goal of a Jewish state in its ancient homeland was attained. The term "Zionism" was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum.

The conference was organised by the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, an initiative of Palestinian Christians to educate and work alongside Christians of the west.

There were over 20 presentations by international theologians, political scientists and legal experts which covered a range of topics.

Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, and co-author with her husband, Herman Ruether of 'The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict', criticised what she sees in Christian Zionism as the "language of apocalyptic warfare and messianic nationalism".

The Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, said she believes Zionism is an "enormously dangerous" theology that should be rejected.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, an Anglican and Chairman of the International Bible Society in the U.K. who is author of 'Christian Zionism: Justifying Apartheid in the Name of God', to be released this Autumn, helped to define Christian Zionism. At its simplest, he said, it is a "political form of philo-Semitism" or just "Christian support for Zionism," meaning the political and expansionist aims of the State of Israel, its policies and its military.

Christian Zionists believe the Jewish people have "a divine right to posses the land of Palestine," Sizer stated. He noted that Christian Zionism can be considerably more complex, with some leading agencies committed to both a prophetic plan as well as an evangelistic plan for the Jewish people."

Sizer named groups such as 'Jews for Jesus', 'Churches Ministry Among Jewish People' (CMJ), and the 'International Christian Embassy' in Jerusalem, which sees Biblical Zionism as cutting edge theology for "the Last Days." Sizer claims that Christian Zionism has become the most powerful and destructive force at work in America today, shaping foreign policy on the Middle East and inciting hatred between Jews and Muslims.

Conference presenter Barbara R. Rossing, Associate Professor of New Testament at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and author of 'The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation', says the rapture is theologically "all wrong." Rossing explored the bible sources of rapturist theology in her presentation as "modern literalist interpretations based on selective passages of the bible taken out of context."

At the end of the conference participants' stated their commitement in returning to their respective countries to help pursue a political solution to the conflict in the Holy Land based on the enforcement of existing international law and United Nations resolutions. A conference statement is to be distributed by all participants in their respective localities explaining objections to Christian Zionism, and calling upon Christians to liberate themselves from ideologies of militarism and occupation and instead to pursue the healing of the world.