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Disturbing turns in pulpits and theses

By Geoffrey Alderman

Jewish Chronicle, July 9, 2004

Last month, the bishops of the Church of England met in Liverpool, prior to the July meeting of the General Synod in York. Their graces were apparently very vocal on the subjects of allied treatment of Iraqi prisoners, Islamophobia, and the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In relation to the last, their graces expressed alarm that Israel appears to be pressing ahead with its own peace agenda, backed by an American administration, which - in their view- was for from being an honest broker.

In response to these concerns, the archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote a private letter to the Prime Minister. Both Rowan Williams (Canterbury) and David Hope (York) are members of the House of Lords. It struck me as more then a little odd that neither of them had used this privileged position to question government policy in that public forum. For the most part, their private letter consisted of nothing more then pious platitudes. But what caught my eye was the following sentence towards the end of their epistle: "Within the wider Christian community we also have theological work to do to counter those interpretations of the Scriptures from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land."

For the benefit of those of you who may be completely baffled by this sentence, I need to explain that it is an oblique reference to the alleged influence of a certain interpretation of Christianity on Christians in general and on the bush administration in particular. In writing to the Prime Minister in these terms, the Right Reverend Prelates of Canterbury and York were signalling that they intend to throw the weight of the church of England against what is known as Christian Zionism.

During the 19th century, Christian Zionists proclaim their conviction that the restoration of the Jews to Palestine constituted a divine mandate, a necessary prelude to the Second Coming of the Messiah. They thus made a most important contribution to the groundswell of public opinion in this country (as in the USA) in favour of the re-establishment, in Palestine, of a Jewish homeland, perhaps leading to a Jewish sovereign state.

Arthur James Balfour was one of their number. Forget the stories you heard about the Balfour Declaration having been a device to bring America into the great war, or a reward to Chaim Weizmann for his researches into the manufacture of explosives. Balfour was a Christian mystic, convinced that God had chosen him to play a unique role in the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. That, basically was why he went out of his way to obtain Cabinet approval for his famous declaration to Lord Rothschild in November 1917.
Christian Zionism is now under ferocious attack from adherents of what is known as replacement theology- the conviction that the Jews have fortified their right to the promises god made to them in the Hebrew bible. According to this view, the prime concern of Christians is not, therefor, to assist the survival of the Jewish State.

And those Christians who do busy themselves in this way are deemed to be helping to shore up a racist state that oppresses Palestinian Muslims and Christians alike. The legitimate business of Christians is to denounce this "apartheid" state, which functions on racist principles.

How do I know that these are the guiding principles of replacement theology? Because I have recently been reading the soon to be published doctoral thesis of a clergyman whom I take to be one of its foremost British exponents, the Reverend Dr Stephen Seizer, vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water.

The copy of his Middlesex University doctoral thesis I read was kindly provided by Dr. Seizer himself. Now a doctor thesis should be an objective, sustained and original contribution to knowledge and understanding. But much of Dr Seizer's thesis struck me as little more then his own religious prejudices dressed up in academic guise.

Of course, Dr Seizer is entitled to harbour whatever prejudices take his peculiar Christian fancy about any subject on God's Earth. What is more, he is, with in reason and law of the land, entitled to express these prejudices, in public. But I (who have examined many doctorates in my time) would not have expected to see statements such as the following in a doctoral thesis of a reputable English university: "Christian Zionism is an exclusive theology that focuses on the Jews in the Land rather than an inclusive theology that centres on Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world. It consequently provides a theological endorsement for racial segregation, apartheid and war," and "To suggest… that the Jewish people continue to have special relationship with God, apart from faith in Jesus , or to have the exclusive rights to a land, a city and temple is… 'biblical anathema." (The quote is from a Christian writer of whom Dr. Seizer clearly approves.)

Dr Seizer is a man of considerable literary and oratorical powers. His website might be described as a comprehensive electronic denunciation of Christen Zionism and all it works. I am told that he is already much in demand as a speaker on this subject. Now that the Archbishop of York and Canterbury have joined his crusade, I predict that the calls on his time will be greater still be warned.

Geoffrey Alderman's column is an eye- opener. But whether the Balfour Declaration was given to bring America into the Great War, or to reward Weizmann, or because of Balfour's convictions , possibly for all three reasons; the fact is that it was the British who gave it and, ever since, it has been the British who have been tying to take it away.




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