CAIRO/ISTANBUL: The Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer is the Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water. Based in Surrey, England, Sizer regularly travels to the United States and the Middle East lecturing on what he terms “Christian Zionism and how it is contributing largely to the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Sizer authored two books on this specific subject, “Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon and “Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.
Initially an evangelical, Sizer is a challenger of the evangelical interpretation of the Bible, which postulates that Christians must support Israel to fulfill prophecies that lead to an apocalyptic end.
Daily News Egypt sat with the Reverend in Istanbul at a conference on the fate of Jerusalem where he was present at the invitation of an Iranian organization.
Daily News Egypt: What makes a pastor from England travel the world decrying Christian Zionism?
Stephen Sizer: I was raised as a Christian by American Evangelicals who were Zionists and I didn’t know that there was anything wrong with that because it seemed very clear in the Bible that the Jews were the chosen people. The Bible can easily resonate with today; all those paradigms can be manipulated very easily in populist books to put a gloss on what’s happening, and I was raised on all of that.
It was only when I went to Palestine as a young minister determined to visit the Holy Land that I discovered the Palestinians, and initially, I kept them at a distance. We were fed the line that the Arabs were terrorists. But then one day I got off the bus and I discovered there was an Arab Palestinian Anglican church in Palestine and I discovered they were like me: worried about their children’s education, where they would get their food from. And they had to deal with people rushing to hospitals not because of a car accident but because they’d been shot by an Israeli soldier. That deeply troubled me.
Aren’t you worried about being appropriated by countries like Iran?
I am well aware of that, but I think you have to run that risk. The Zionist lobby loves to manipulate what [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollah say about Israel. I draw a distinction between rhetoric and action. And we can lament that Iran will not recognize Israel, but the fact is Israel has never recognized Palestine. We may lament the fact that some Arabs have said we must drive the Jews into the sea but the fact is Israel is driving the Palestinians into the desert, so let s cut with the rhetoric and face the facts. And although we may not like what is being said, the fact is Israel is in breach of more UN resolutions than any country in the world.
We know that [US President George] Bush and [former British Prime Minister Tony] Blair led us down the garden path of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, yet the only country it could threaten was Israel. UK politicians are now admitting they went to war to protect Israel. If that was why we did it, okay, but then let us be honest and not say we did it for our own security.
As long as Americans demonize the Arabs, eulogize about Israel and continue to fund occupation, they shouldn’t be surprised that there are small groups of Islamist terrorists who want to poke them in the eye.
You speak of Christian Zionists and say they are a minority of Christians, so how do they hold much sway?
The hard core Christian Zionist lobby in America are around 25-30 million people, who believe that God wants them to protect, fund and sustain the Zionist agenda for ideological reasons because their leaders have told them this is Biblical, it is God’s will, and they believe it. The greatest danger for anyone is to believe what their leaders tell them without checking them out themselves. John Hagee is the pastor of a church in San Antonio, Texas, the Cornerstone Church with 18,000 members. He said recently that America must join Israel in a preemptive strike on Iran to fulfill biblical prophecy and speed the return of Christ. He reaches 99 million Christians on a weekly basis through the media. He’s just one of hundreds of Christian Zionist leaders convincing Americans that their duty is to support Israel.
The Christian Zionist lobby is 10 times more powerful and 10 times larger than the Jewish Zionist lobby. So I’m not into Zionist conspiracies but I’m into challenging my own Christian community in America that they are perpetuating the Arab-Israeli conflict and they are responsible for their own deep insecurities. They are furthering the Zionist agenda in a way that would have never been possible. [Founder of Zionism Theodore] Herzl in his wildest dreams would never have believed that Zionism today would be what it is without the support of Christians. For me the responsibility is to challenge the Christian community to go back to the Bible, repent, and acknowledge that God has called us to be peacemakers and treat Jews, Muslims and Arabs the same way.
Yet there are biblical references to which they attribute their beliefs.
It’s based on a foundation, a belief that you must take every verse of the Bible literally and every verse of the Bible still applies today. If you hold that, you can use certain verses of the Bible to justify anything.
The second plank on that pre-suppositional base is the belief that Jews remain God’s chosen people. In the Hebrew Scriptures, “the chosen people is a phrase used to describe God’s people. The Christian Zionists say it is only the Jews, and they are still God’s chosen people. If you believe that then you also have to believe the promises in the Hebrew Scriptures that God gave Abraham’s descendants forever, the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates.
The third plank is that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of that land. Then the temple must be rebuilt, because Ezekiel’s temple has never been built and if it’s going to be desecrated by the Anti-Christ you have to have a temple to desecrate. Finally, they believe in a war of Armageddon, a conflict between Arabs and Jews, between Muslims and Christians.
And so how do you counter that?
You can deconstruct this very easily by going to the Bible and showing that we don’t always take the Bible literally. We read the Bible intelligently, and Christians must read the Old Testament through the New Testament. When Jesus said, “You study the scriptures because you think by them you have eternal life; these scriptures speak about me, it means when you read the Old Testament you must be looking for Jesus. What we find in the New Testament is that promises made to God’s people in the Old Testament are the same promises made to God’s people in the New Testament, so there are only one people of God.
The New Testament never used the term “chosen people to describe Jews, it uses it only to describe followers of Jesus. So when Jesus died on the Cross, he was the only Jew left who believed, everyone else had rejected him. Those who followed him after his resurrection become God’s people, and so there’s continuity – one people of God. It was always inclusive in the Old Testament; it’s inclusive in the New Testament: all races.
What about the land and Jerusalem?
As for the land, the New Testament tells the followers of Jesus they should live as exiles in the land; he sends them out to the whole world. He never tells them to come back to Jerusalem. Jesus refuted a Jewish kingdom.
When he was tried by Pontius Pilate he said, “My Kingdom is not of this world. He repudiated a kingdom mentality, and so the land is to be shared but we mustn’t sacrilize it – make it holy – because we are the holy people not the land. When the Jews came back from the exile in Assyria and Babylon, the instructions God gave them through Jeremiah and Isaiah were to share the land with the people they found in it and they were told to treat them as Israelites, as equals.
In the New Testament, Jerusalem ceases to become a capital city of the Jews, it becomes the place where Jesus is crucified, it becomes the place ironically identified with those who reject Jesus, not thos
e who believe in him. And his followers are sent out from Jerusalem and never told to come back. And so instead of drawing people to it, they are from it, and so Jerusalem ceases to have any significance for the Christian community. We don’t worship God in Jerusalem. We don’t worship at the tomb of Jesus; it’s empty. So, it should be shared with those who have residents’ rights.
And the matter of the temple?
The matter of the temple is the Achilles heel of Christian Zionism because if you follow through logically, if you must rebuild this temple – and it’s based on very obscure passages in Daniel and Ezekiel – the temple of Ezekiel was to be a place for sacrifice. Now the Book of Hebrews and the New Testament tell us that Jesus sacrificed his life once for all, once for all people, once for all time. The Book of Hebrews was written for Christian Jews who were being tempted to go back to the temple, back to Judaism. The Book of Hebrews says if you go back you are re-crucifying Jesus and that’s anathema. And so for Christians to argue for the rebuilding of the temple, reinstituting the sacrifice is to go against the very work of Jesus on the Cross.
It negates the crucifixion?
Of course it does, but they don’t see the logic of that.
And the Armageddon scenario?
There are four different views of the future held by Christians: a-millennial, pre-millennial, post-millennial and pan-millennial. I’m an Agnostic in the sense that I believe Jesus is coming back. I want to be on the welcoming committee, not the organizing committee. And only a minority view would hold that there will be an apocalyptic war in the future.