An Anglican exploration of Christian attitudes to the Holy Land,
with special reference to ‘Christian Zionism’
A report from the Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns, 2012
The full report is available here: Land of Promise
Afterword – Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
It’s strange to think that ‘Zion’ – once a word full of hope and imaginative excitement for Christians and Jews alike – has become so wrapped up in controversy. For so many centuries it was a symbol of the homecoming that all the children of Abraham long for, a symbol of reconciled and healed belonging together: ‘They stand those halls of Sion /Conjubilant with song’; ‘Saviour, since of Zion’s city/I through grace a member am … ’; and so on. But ‘Zionism’ has become a code word: once itself expressing hope for a scattered, abused community, it is now for many a trigger for fear and suspicion. It is included in catalogues of unacceptable ideologies. In the rhetoric of a large part of the word, especially the Muslim world, it stands for something aggressive and unreconciled. Yet to be ‘against’ Zionism is so readily interpreted as being hostile to the very heart of Jewish identity as many understand it. What is a Christian, an Anglican Christian in particular, to make of the phenomenon of Zionism, and in particular the various forms of ‘Christian Zionism’?
The foregoing pages represent a deeply careful and sensitive attempt to answer this – sometimes agonised – question. We have seen here a painstaking mapping of the various ways in which the language of ‘Zionist’ aspiration has been expressed and the various ways in which it has been taken on board by Christians. We have been guided through some of the history of the Jewish people’s relations with English Christians, and the complex story of twentieth century developments. We have been pointed to aspects of our Anglican tradition that may help us in reading the record of scriptural promises and in at least beginning to see what it means to invest a specific territory with the meanings of God himself – and to see the risks of doing this in abstraction from a clear sense of God’s own universal hospitality. This report will not sit comfortably with those who see no argument about the issues involved in the Holy Land today, those for whom the basic questions are crystal clear. But we must hope that it will assist those who share an honest perplexity.
Some things are clear. It is clear that no Christian can for a moment entertain the possibility that the Jewish people should ever again find themselves at the mercy of a genocidally hostile environment, with no home to call their own and no resources to defend themselves. The State of Israel must be a place where there can never be any doubt that Jewish people are welcome and safe. But it is clear also that the maintenance of such safety at the cost of justice for others, at the cost of a perpetually anxious and militarised culture that cannot find room for the rights and dignities of neighbours, is a real danger to just that welcome and the safety that the State of Israel seeks to guarantee. Israel has been at the receiving end of appalling aggression and random violence. But this history does not move out of the tragic cycle of bitterness and revenge if the response is one that sows the seeds of more furious resentment. This report rightly asks the fundamental question of what will be lastingly just for everyone.
Thus it is critical of that strange modern style of Christian rhetoric which brushes aside any moral challenge to the State of Israel’s behaviour, any appeal to a biblical ethic of justice or hospitality in this regard, any consideration of the dignities and rights of Palestinians and others in Israel and the Occupied Territories, any compassion for the innocent who suffer in this setting – and , most oddly of all, any attention to the needs of the long-established Christian communities of the Holy Land. To be serious about the ongoing vocation of the Jewish people in God’s purpose and about the legitimacy of the State of Israel and its need to be free from assault and the threat of terror does not
mean asking no questions or ignoring the plight of those who are most obviously humiliated and disadvantaged by present policies. It is absolutely true that in order to ask awkward questions in an effective way we need to become trusted friends; and equally true that our history as Christians gives little encouragement to our Jewish neighbours to think that we could ever really be such. But if it is hard to be a truly critical friend, this does not mean that critical friendship is any less essential.
Perhaps one of the most useful elements in these pages has been the lucid summary of what we may expect to hold in common as Anglicans in respect of these matters and what we are likely to disagree about. As the report’s conclusion says, we are committed to a painful and demanding listening to those who are most directly affected. The old Jewish saying about Jerusalem being the crucible for the ‘testing of hearts’ is sharply applicable. Our hope and prayer must be that the reflections offered here will likewise be for the testing of hearts, for the refining of our sympathies and our aspirations. Can ‘Zion’ be heard once again as a word that evokes a universal citizenship, a home for the homeless, the passionate faithfulness of God to his promise to make his Name dwell among us? The issues of justice for all in the Holy Land should hold those questions unsparingly before us.