Question: In a recent television program with some evangelists, there was discussion about how the policies of the Israeli government are blessed by God and that everything happening in Israel is part of a divine plan. Please comment.
- Jim Browning, by e-mail
Answer: What you heard was an expression of what is known as "Christian Zionism."This phenomenon was popularized in the 19th century by an American, Cyrus Scofield, when he wrote into his Bible an interpretation of the events of history. These events centered around the restoration of the nation of Israel. Later published, the Scofield Bible ranks among the most popular reference Bibles today.
In Scofield's view, Christ cannot return to earth until the Jews return to Palestine, regain control of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Then, all must engage in a final battle called Armageddon. Those who follow this view today give a privileged place to the State of Israel and are completely supportive of Israel's policies in dealing with its neighbors.
An estimated 40 million American Christian fundamentalists believe some form of Christian Zionism. Among the better-known proponents are preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
In a recent document titled, "The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism," the principal Christian leaders in Jerusalem condemned Christian Zionist doctrines as "false teaching." The signatories included the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, the Syrian Orthodox patriarch, the episcopal bishop of Jerusalem and the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Holy Land.
The declaration stated: "Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel."
The Christian Zionist movement, it says, "provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice today."
The declaration's signatories reject what they perceive is a close alliance between leaders of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their domination over Palestine.
What's in a name?
Question: A friend has been encouraging me to join the Holy Name Society? I don't know much about it or where it came from. Do you recommend that I join?
- Name and address withheld
Answer: The Holy Name Society is a well-established and commendable lay organization in the Catholic Church. Its principal aim is to beget love and reverence for the Holy Name of God and of his son, Jesus Christ. Its corresponding purpose is to suppress blasphemy, perjury, unlawful swearing and improper language.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia at www.newadvent.org, the society originated in the Council of Lyons in 1274, which prescribed that the faithful should have a special devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. The devotions of the society spread throughout the United States in the early half of the 20th century.
If the society helps you to be a better Catholic and encourages greater reverence for God and for holy things, then, of course, it is very worthwhile. Indeed, conforming our thoughts and speech to the model of the Gospel is something that we all need.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to email@example.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.