Experts on theology and the Middle East gathered Tuesday to debate the impact that Christian Zionists have as the driving force behind the United States’ support for Israel in a panel discussion at the Divinity School sponsored by Chicago Friends of Israel (CFI).
The discussion, “Christians, America, and the Holy Land: Examining Christian Support for Israel,” featured two strong pro-Zionist opinions and two with more reserved opinions about Israel’s right to the land and about the United States’ level of support for Israel.
According to panelist Paul C. Merkley, professor emeritus at Carleton University, Christian Zionists believe that Israel’s existence is in accordance with the plan of God as stated in the Bible.
“Christian Zionists have always been the most consistent of Israel’s supporters,” Merkley said. “More consistent than most of those who identify themselves as Jewish on the census.”
Merkley stressed that Christian and not Jewish support is what has driven America’s policy of support for Israel.
The panelists who supported Israel less ardently—John Hubers, a pastor and graduate student at the Lutheran School of Theology, and Robert Smith, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Continental Desk Director for Europe and the Middle East—said that many Christian Zionists consider Israel’s actions merely from a theological standpoint.
Hubers cited a conversation he had with a friend, who said, “I understand the Scriptures to be very clear; the land belongs to the Israelis. It was always theirs to begin…. It was God who gave it to them.”
He said that this view is common among Christian Zionists and often prevents them from considering the Palestinian viewpoint or a two-state compromise. Hubers and Smith said that by ignoring political and historical issues, Christian Zionists work often runs counter to promoting peace in Israel and its neighboring lands.
Panelist Tim Munger of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, was one such Christian Zionist who felt it was selfish and ungrateful to withhold support for Israel based on the Bible.
“Our support is unconditional,” Munger said. “The Jewish Scriptures show us, as believers in the Messiah, Jesus, how we are to treat the Jewish people.”
After each panelist presented an opinion, they fielded questions from the audience.
There were a few contentious moments for Hubers and Merkley as audience members asked what actions would constitute support for Israel and how that support might change if Israel came to a two-state resolution.
“The most interesting to see was [Munger]; it was fascinating to see his conviction,” fourth-year Nathan Bloom said. “It’s just a joy for a Jew to see people beyond my own community who care for what I care for.”
The talk was part of CFI’s continuous work to foster discussion about Israel on campus.
“Mostly we’re just interested in bringing an academic dialogue to campus,” CFI’s vice-president Beruria Steinmetz-Silber said. “I definitely think that being open to learning, being critical, is important.”