David Dolan | Correspondent | Wednesday, September 6, 2006
In a statement published just one week after a United Nations ceasefire went into effect on August 14, Nazareth-born Roman Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah was joined by two Arab Protestant bishops and one Arab Orthodox archbishop, in charging that "the Christian Zionist program provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism."
"We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation," the statement said.
Signed by Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, along with Sabah and the Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran bishops of Jerusalem, the joint statement indirectly denounced President Bush for declaring his support last May for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to hold onto some Jewish settlements in the disputed West Bank after unilaterally withdrawing from many others.
"We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine."
The clerical statement, titled "The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism," alleged that "Christian Zionism advances racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the Gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ."
(Zionism refers to the modern movement for a Jewish national homeland, which started in the 1800s.)
The church leaders' statement also mentioned the Arab-Christian contention that international Christians who actively support Israel desire to bring on the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Jesus.
"Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon, we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation."
Three Jerusalem-based Christian Zionist leaders -- two Americans and one South African -- picked up the gauntlet by issuing their own joint rebuttal one week later. They said that "certain church clerics" had used "inflammatory language to express views that are far from the truth."
"Christian Zionism is not heretical. In fact, Christians from all traditional backgrounds have held such a view for two thousand years," said the statement.
It was signed by Malcolm Heading, who leads the 26-year-old International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, along with Ray Sanders, who has headed the Christian Friends of Israel group since 1985, and Rebecca Brimmer of Bridges for Peace.
Together, the three Jerusalem-based Christian Zionist organizations maintain staffs of several hundred permanent and volunteer workers, and branches in dozens of countries around the globe.
The three prominent Christian leaders, who have each lived in Israel for many years, issued a six-point rebuttal of the Arab bishops' central charge that Christian Zionism is heretical.
Stating that such Christians believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, they pointed out that "replacement theology" (which teaches that the church has totally supplanted the Jewish people in God's plans and purposes) has played "a pivotal role in the persecution of Jews through the centuries."
Addressing the bishop's "apocalypse" contention, the three leaders wrote that "Christian Zionists do not base their theological positions on end-time prophecy, but on the faithful covenant promises of God given to Abraham some four thousand years ago."
The counter-statement ended by noting that the four Jerusalem church officials had "totally ignored the jihadist goals of the Hamas government, and turned a blind eye to terrorism perpetrated by this regime." It added that such a "one-sided unbalanced view of the conflict is in fact unhelpful to the peace process, and contributing to its failure."
Christian Embassy spokesman David Parsons told Cybercast News Service that it was not the first time that the four Arab church leaders had joined together to attack Christians who support Israel.
He pointed out that the bishops lead flocks "that are actually fairly small" in the Holy Land, even if they are "part of much larger international bodies, especially the Roman Catholic Church."
"There are far more Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Armenian Orthodox Christians living in the land, but their leaders did not endorse the acerbic statement," Parsons pointed out.
"These four Arab bishops also don't represent the millions of Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans, including the Vatican itself, who recognize that the biblical covenants made between God and the Jewish people remain in effect."
The American-born Parsons, who also edits the Jerusalem Post International Christian Edition and has written extensively about Christian Zionism, noted that the bishop's August 22\super nd\nosupersub statement borrowed heavily from a similar one issued at the end of a 2004 anti-Zionist church conference held in Jerusalem, attended and addressed by the same four clerics, among others.
Parsons said one of the four Arab church leaders, Nazareth-born Anglican Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, is widely known for his outspoken Palestinian nationalism.
He added that the local Episcopal leader "has publicly stated several times that Palestinian martyrs, including Muslim suicide terrorists, receive eternal life."
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