By Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, Senior Minister, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Washington, DC
People who are interested in the bible are tempted to read it literally and seek to follow its every word. This has been the conditioning of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists have taught that every word in the scripture is true and the bible is inerrant. This point of view has permeated believing constituencies and have generally not been challenged as preachers and teachers choose to leave well enough alone; not want to rock the theological boat, or to roil up their followers.
This means that scriptures are not questioned, and blanks are filled in where there seems to be glaring inconsistencies in the text or where the prophecy is yet unfulfilled. This has resulted in Christians believing that Jews are God’s chosen people, gentiles are grafted into the promise of God, and the land of Israel belongs to the Jews as promised to them by God. Furthermore, it is argued that not only does the land belong to the Jews, but Jews must be repatriated for Jesus to return, and then Jesus will judge the righteous and unrighteous, and Jews must recognize Jesus as the Christ so that the promise of the reign of God can be fulfilled. In general, this is known as Christian Zionism, and Christian Zionism is a distortion of scripture used for advancing a colonial Zionist state in Palestine.
Christian Zionism is based on cherry-picked scriptures where God promises Abraham the land as a perpetual possession. Christian Zionists will cite Genesis 17.7-8 as justification for this viewpoint.
“I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
Never mind that this myopic and self-aggrandizing reading of the text separates it from its original tone and intent and that intent was to lend a sense of place and roots to a diverse group of peoples in history who could identify with the narrative. This applied then, and to those people in that place and time, but with no tangible and meaningful application today other than to advance a colonial genocidal agenda under the excuse that God willed it.
In fact, Genesis is a series of anthropological myths where the storytellers try to convey common identity, origin, and purpose, while constructing a narrative that diverse peoples can existentially incorporate to become a self-identified people. But this has to do with then and has little value now other than the magical and ultimately destructive pronunciations that supplants another people’s history for a history that is contrived and misappropriated. Christian Zionism therefore is an apostasy that strips the scriptures of its ethical qualities and its justice mindedness. The rationale of Christian Zionism renders God as the architect of pogroms that destroys people, culture, place, and history for a particular people over any other people. This is a poor reading and grossly racist reading of scriptures. Christian Zionism is therefore void of responsible and meaningful biblical literacy.
However, I find that I cannot speak about Zionism or Christian Zionism without acknowledging white supremacy. I choose to call white supremacy white idolatry which is biblical in orientation and points to the fact that an idol is worshipped because of the narrative that has been constructed and enforced by norms, cultures, institutions, and through brute force. An idol is perceived as having power, just as white supremacy (idols) maintains its power through constructed perceptions that are enforced by the norms and mores of the culture. Though we are not conditioned to think of Zionism as a manifestation of white supremacy, yet in its contemporary context it fits the model. All forms of supremacy are exceptionalists, meaning that they believe that they are the exception to the limitations imposed by humanity, nature and history. In general, the belief is that they process a purpose and meaning greater than any other purpose or meaning. Forms of supremacy do not recognize anything more important than itself and therefore believes all things did not exist or were made possible until they brought it into fruition or discovered it. The theology of being “chosen” makes Zionists and their boosters, Christian Zionists, on par with the worse of white supremacy because it comes directly from God.
It stands alongside ideologies that justify atrocities by citing a higher calling like the “white man’s burden”, “manifest destiny”, the Christianization of Africans and other Indigenous peoples, and the lust to civilize so-called uncivilized peoples by destroying their cultures and stealing their lands. This is what is going on today in Palestine. The ideology of white idolatry justifies the subjugation and oppression of Palestinians just like it sought to justify the oppression of South Africans under apartheid, the enslavement of Africans in the Americas, and the genocidal practices against Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and in the world. This means that those of us who believe in the scriptures, teach scripture, and preach from scripture must be more responsible and deliberate of what we teach. It is imperative that we remind people that God is not a real estate agent, and does not assign, sell, or direct the occupation of lands. We also must remind people that God is not a homicidal maniac that wants the extermination of some for the benefit of others. We need to inform people that the people of the bible are not the same people today, and the Israel and Judah mentioned in the scriptures ceased to exist. To claim that the land of Palestine is an eternal gift for those who came out of Germany, Russia, Poland, England, France, and the United States reminds me of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, when European powers met in Berlin to agree on the division of the continent of Africa informed by their greed and from a sense that they were entitled to do so. This is the moral bankruptcy of Zionism and their supporters, Christian Zionists, because it points to an archaic and racist way of viewing the world, interpreting the scriptures, and manipulating the idea of God for no other purpose than occupying and stealing lands. Christian Zionism replaces the justice and rightness of God, the demand to regard each person as a reflection of God (since humankind was made by God), with an economy that renders everything and everyone, and particularly Palestinians in this case, subservient to the purpose and being of Zionism and the pronunciations of the Christian Zionists.
Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. Rev. Hagler currently serves as the Senior Minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Washington, DC since 1992. He has led the church to embrace liberation theology and a radical and relevant view of Jesus. Rev. Hagler was instrumental in ridding Washington, DC of Payday Lenders, was a co-founder of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), and is Director and Chief Visionary of Faith Strategies, LLC, a collective of clergy manifesting progressive perspectives on human and civil rights in the public arena.