Will America Go To War With Iran On The Basis Of A Theological Fiction?

Mistaking modern day Israel for biblical Israel is not just some innocuous theological framework if it’s being used as a possible justification for going to war.

Going to war with Iran for any reason, short of Iran directly attacking the United States of America, would be a foreign policy blunder with disastrous results. But going to war based on the theological fiction which confuses the modern nation-state of Israel with biblical Israel, equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and singles out Iran for its malign activities while ignoring the same activities by other Islamic governments, would truly be a disaster of biblical proportions.

 

Three very prominent politicians made the case for going to war with Iran at the annual summit of Christians United for Israel in Washington D. C. last week.

Christians United for Israel  (CUFI) is the largest and most influential Christian Zionist group in the world. It was founded by pastor John Hagee and boasts of a membership of 7 million people. Hagee is a prominent evangelical pastor in San Antonio Texas. He is a proponent of the prosperity gospel, and the positive confession movement. More to the point, Hagee believes that Jewish people can be saved without conversion to Christianity.

This year’s summit was attended by about 5000 people and featured several prominent members from the Trump administration including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton. Taken together these three speeches were troubling on a number of fronts.

First, the speeches confused the modern nation-state of Israel with biblical Israel, and misinterpreted Scripture and history to make that point. Vice President Pence quoted from the prophet Isaiah:

You know, thanks to this President’s leadership, it’s true — our alliance with Israel has never been stronger.  You know, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, for the sake of Zion, “I will not be silent,” it was written.  And, my friends, this President, for the sake of Zion, has not been silent. 

The problem with this statement is that the Zion of which the prophet Isaiah speaks is not the modern nation-state of Israel. While the views of orthodox Christians regarding Israel have been somewhat diverse over the centuries, in the main, those from a Reformed and Presbyterian background hold that the church is the one people of God made up of both Jew and Gentile. Therefore, the church is the new Israel—spiritual Israel.

Many believe this is what the apostle Paul was referring to in Romans 2:28-30a:

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. 

Paul continues his argument in chapters Romans 9:6b-8:

Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

The point is this, mistaking modern day Israel for biblical Israel is not just some innocuous theological framework if it’s being used as a possible justification for going to war. It’s important to be precise and to get this right.

Readers should keep in mind that Christians United for Israel is the largest and strongest lobbying force in Washington D.C. This group is not only for Israel; they are against Iran. It is no surprise that the CUFI website devotes several pages to anti-Iranian articles. They are lobbying our government to go to war with Iran on behalf of Israel, and they are doing so based on the theological fiction that the modern nation-state of Israel is the same as biblical Israel.

Second, the speeches equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left no room for subtlety, nuance, or interpretation when he declared:

The other great thing about this administration is we live in a very real world, and for that reason I was able last March to declare a simple truth, that anti-Zionism is indeed anti-Semitism. Period. Full stop.

This statement is as bold as it is wrong. Anti-Semitism is a form of racism. Anti-Zionism may be racist in some of its forms, but it is not necessarily racist.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) drafted this working definition of anti-Semitism in 2016 and recommended it to be adopted by all governments as a non-legally binding statement:

Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

This statement has been accepted by many governments as a working definition of anti-Semitism. It should be noted, though, that the IHRA was careful to make the distinction that Anti-Semitism does not include “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country…” They do state, however, that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” can be a form of anti-Semitism. For example, “…claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” would, in their view, rise to the level of being anti-Semitic.

Consequently, in equating discrimination against a race of people with opposition to a political and nationalistic movement, Secretary Pompeo has stretched the boundaries of the two terms much further than the IHRA thought prudent. One has to wonder why he felt this was necessary, except perhaps, as a pretext to going to war with Iran.

Interestingly, the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, and all of its examples, are on the State Departments website as the official position of the United States.

Third, the speeches were laced with veiled (and sometimes unveiled) threats against Iran. Vice President Pence mentioned Iran by name at least 16 times. By contrast, Saudi Arabia, which is guilty of many of the same malign activities as Iran, was not mentioned at all.

National Security Advisor Bolton, could hardly contain his glee when he spoke about crushing the economic life out of Iran. He was laughing through the last third of his speech as he talked about America’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran which has resulted in crippling the Iranian economy. According to Ambassador Bolton, destroying Iran’s economy is only the beginning. “We’re just getting started,” he proudly exclaimed. Secretary Pompeo seconded the motion when he said, “we’re not done with Iran yet.” He then twisted the Scriptures using the book of Esther to compare the current Islamic regime in Iran to Haman’s plot to exterminate all the Jews living in Persia during the 5th century.

The combined and choreographed intent of the speeches was to state unequivocally that America stands ready to defend Israel. Furthermore, should America go to war with Iran, it should be interpreted as America defending biblical Israel from the Iranian Mullahs who are the wicked descendants of the Persians.

Vice President Pence and Secretary Pompeo rightly expounded on the treatment of Christians inside of Iran, and the depopulation of Christians from the region at large. For example, the Christian population in Iraq prior to American intervention was about 1.5 million. At present, there are less than 250,000 Christians in Iraq. Yet, none of the speakers acknowledged that American foreign policy was one of the main drivers of this de-Christianization.

Furthermore, none of the speakers were able to articulate how further American intervention would produce a different result for the Christians inside Iran than it did for Christians in Iraq and elsewhere.

Many people will be surprised to learn that, despite Islamic persecution, the church is growing faster in Iran than in any other nation. In fact, more Iranians from a Muslim background have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries combined since Islam arrived in Iran.

When the Shah fell in 1979 there were approximately 500 Christians in Iran. Today there are hundreds of thousands. Indeed, some estimate that there are now 1 million Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. The economic sanctions are hurting these Christians and ordinary Iranian people the most. The religious and political leaders are not the ones who are going without the basic necessities of life and suffering.

Secretary Pompeo said that he wanted to protect Christians in Iran and elsewhere in the region. If history is the best teacher, then it seems that the best way to protect these brothers and sisters is a policy of non interventionism.

Going to war with Iran for any reason, short of Iran directly attacking the United States of America, would be a foreign policy blunder with disastrous results. But going to war based on the theological fiction which confuses the modern nation-state of Israel with biblical Israel, equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and singles out Iran for its malign activities while ignoring the same activities by other Islamic governments, would truly be a disaster of biblical proportions.

Jim Fitzgerald is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a missionary with Equipping Pastors International.

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