Here's my latest on Christian Zionism. Click HERE to read on Huffington Post or read below.
The State of Israel just announced a decision (New York Times, Tuesday Nov 7, 2010) to advance the approval of some 1,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem during a sensitive time in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. What they didn't mention is that several American Christian Zionist groups have been raising money to help build new illegal settlements on occupied land for years.
The so-called Jewish lobby is supposed to be so powerful that no American president can act without their approval. This is an anti-Semitic slur, a kind of Americanized "lite" version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a forged anti-Semitic screed purporting to describe a Jewish plan to achieve global domination). For one thing most Jewish-Americans aren't part of this lobby, but rather are ordinary American citizens who are just as skeptical of right-wing Jewish Zionist fundamentalist Israelis as other Americans are -- perhaps more so, because they know more about them.
The truth is that when it comes to pandering to powerful religious/ethnic "blocs" in the US the biggest game in town is the across the board bowing to the white Evangelical "base" of the Republican Party. That's the bloc of voters that adds up to real numbers, as high as a third of the American voting population.
It's the Christian Zionists who have driven American foreign policy over a cliff. (I'm speaking here as the proud father of a Marine, who was sent to war in the Middle East, again and again.) Christian Zionists continuously jeopardize our future by putting the promotion of harebrained interpretations of biblical "prophecy" ahead of the well being of both Israel and the US.
To the Christian Zionists "defending Israel" is just a handy pretext for indulging their obsession: egging on, even "helping" the fulfillment of "biblical prophecies" about the "return of Christ." But their worst sin isn't just embracing dumb "theology" but that they have enabled a nefarious group of losers to irreparably harm America and contribute to the needless killing of our men and women in uniform worldwide: the neoconservatives.
To the neoconservatives "defending Israel" is just a handy pretext for upholding the myth of "American exceptionalism" for profit and nationalistic "glory," of the kind that was supposed to have gone out of fashion when hubris and stupidity got half the young male population of Europe killed in World War One.
America needlessly went to war in Iraq because neoconservative war mongers -- who laugh at the "those rubes" as they think of earnest Evangelical Christian Zionists, and whose own sons and daughters seem notably absent from our armed services -- used the religious passion and dedication of conservative Evangelicals to provide political means and cover for the neoconservatives' commitment to America's military dominance of the world. In other words the Evangelicals provided the votes to put foolish war mongers like George W Bush in power.
With "friends" like the Christian Zionists and the neoconservatives Israel, America, our men and women in uniform, the Palestinians and the rest of humanity need no enemies. This is made poignantly clear by a new film, With God On Our Side.
With God On Our Side is the most powerful, humane and compassionate documentary exposé of the Christian Zionist movement, and the impact of their ideology on the lives they have touched (and ruined), ever made. It is well crafted, subtle and fair. And -- notable in the "when hell freezes over" department -- it was directed and produced by... an American Evangelical.
Porter Speakman Jr. (director and producer) was raised by an Evangelical minister. Speakman grew up in a Charlotte, North Carolina in an evangelical (Pentecostal) home. These days he attends a small conservative Anglican church where he lives in Colorado Springs, "the Evangelical capitol of the world," as some wags call the blighted town where James Dobson runs his Evangelical "Focus On The Family" empire.
The film traces Speakman's change of heart from Christian Zionist to moderate peace maker. Speakman's fictional alter ego -- the young actor who narrates the movie -- recreates Speakman's ethical, spiritual and political journey. His dramatized journey links the interviews and historical material that provide the facts which correct the absurd lies told by the Christian Zionists not to mention their apocalyptic fantasies.
I understand where Speakman is coming from. I too look at these issues from an inside perspective. My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key Evangelical founder and leader of the American Religious Right. I grew up in a home where the "return of the Jews to Israel" was seen as "proof" of "God fulfilling prophecy" in order to expedite the return of Christ. I changed my mind and I changed my politics. I explain why I quit the evangelical movement in my book CRAZY FOR GOD--How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. I no longer believe that any "prophecy" is being fulfilled in Israel or anywhere else. I don't believe anyone is "chosen." If there is a God then God either loves all people or none.
With God On Our Side is a pointed contradiction of most American Evangelicals who still believe that to "be a Christian" means that you must give your full support to the extremist elements in the State of Israel. They believe that God loves some people lots more than others. In fact the logic of their actions points to their hatred of the Palestinians, even hatred of Christian Palestinians, let alone of "those Muslims."
For instance John Hagee, mega church pastor and founder of Christians United for Israel has said: "For twenty five almost twenty six years now, I have been pounding the Evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits 'I believe the Bible', I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have Christians over a barrel you might say."
Few within the Christian Evangelical community have dared to publicly question Haggee's type of approach. Speakman's film presents an authentically Christian and Evangelical alternative perspective to the warmonger Far Right's views. As such this film is literally the most important document of its kind -- because it was made by an insider. It is the key to understanding why Evangelicals have become the permanent party of war in the name of "helping Israel."
Note: If we go to war with Iran you'll know why after watching this film. Hint: it won't be to protect American interests.
With God On Our Side does more than just present another Evangelical perspective -- it presents an opportunity for Christians of all denominations as well as Jews, Muslims, atheists and agnostics -- whomever -- to engage for peace as vigorously as the Christian Zionists root for war.
Speakman allows everyone he interviews to express themselves, share what they believe and then he responds with story, facts and context. With God On Our Side contains interviews with the leading Christian Zionists including John Hagee and Malcolm Hedding (of the so-called International Christian Embassy Jerusalem).
The film shows that one of the problems with the Christian Zionist rhetoric is it is never put into context. Hagee and his warmongering ilk say whatever they want and get an "Amen" -- and a check -- from those who believe the same. But when you show the implications of their beliefs and actions, it becomes clear that this is not the way of Jesus.
Those like Hagee and Hedding are deeply disconnected from the pain and suffering amongst the Palestinian people and they abuse the Bible to justify such an approach with blatant disregard for the Bible's core teaching for both Jews and Christians -- love of neighbor.
The Christian Zionists are also deeply disconnected from the American military family that, for generations now, has been the spear point not of American foreign policy but of Evangelical fantasies about making the world "safe" for the return of Christ by "helping" along "biblical prophecy" by "standing up for Israel." This so-called standing up has mired America in perpetual war. And as if that's not enough their very raison d'être is an insult to any actual God (if there is such a thing). I mean how could God be stupider than his frail human creatures? And what could be stupider than tying land acquisition to spirituality, as if the God Of The Universe is addicted to enforcing borders established by British colonialists and/or some rather nasty genocidal warring Bronze Age tribes?!
With God On Our Side soberly and quietly challenges the thought that God is only "with" one ethnic or religious group. When I interviewed Speakman for this article he said, "When you think God is on your side everything is justified. Radical Muslims justify suicide bombings, Radical Jews justify ethnic cleansing and radical Christians justify modern-day crusades."
Speakman has toured the US (mostly in churches) twice with the movie -- quite incredibly mostly ignored by the mainstream media so far -- and is now in the UK and Ireland to answer his (often insanely hostile Evangelical) critics. "What we are seeing is that there are many people who are disturbed that they have not heard this side of the story before," says Speakman. "What is encouraging is that many people who watch our movie then want to learn more and get involved to make a positive change, for both Palestinians and Jews."
Note to the media: Pay attention to this film. It's a newsworthy story. Here's your hook -- "Evangelical Turns Against Own 'Side' and Works For Peace..."
Note to the cable news shows: Interview Speakman, he's articulate.
Note to anyone reading this review: Buy the DVD, watch it and then share it, you owe it to yourself, children and country.
Note to non-Evangelicals: Speakman takes the time to answer questions about bizarre "covenant theology" in a way that's directed at Evangelicals. Watch anyway, you need to understand the preoccupations, concerns and off-the-wall ugly delusion gripping of the vast Evangelical public, even if the archaic questions they care about -- for instance, "are the Jews still the chosen people or does this idea only apply to us Bible-believing Christians now?" -- might seem nonsensical to you.
If you want peace in the Middle East then learn why the Christian Zionists who say they love Jews love Jews the way tigers "love" lambs. Their "standing up for Israel" is not helping the Jews, Arabs and Palestinians who live there. It's only encouraging the militant hardliners -- like the ones who just stuck it to the rest of us with their 1000 new insults to peace they call "housing" -- to commit suicide, and maybe take the rest of us with them.
Speakman has gone a long way to proving that sometimes progressives' smug dismissal of "all those Evangelicals" as nutty is as unfair as it is inaccurate. With his courage (the aptly named) Speakman proves that truth may sometimes be spoken by the most unexpected people.
After watching With God On Our Side I have a renewed hope for the Evangelicals in America. And maybe peace in Palestine and Israel is possible. This film can help that happen by signaling the beginning of the end of the largely unchallenged influence of Christian Zionism.
Film Website: WithGodOnOurSide.com
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back