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Holy Land churches condemn Christian Zionism

By Matthew Tostevin

09/01/06 --- -JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Vatican's envoy in the Holy Land and bishops from three other churches have launched a rare joint attack on the Christian Zionist movement, accusing it of promoting "racial exclusivity and perpetual war."

Christian Zionists form a growing part of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, the Jewish state's main ally. They believe the return of Jews to the Holy Land and establishment of Israel are proof of God's promises to biblical patriarchs.

Churches in the Middle East often appear closer to the Palestinians, whose Christian minority makes up a substantial portion of their clergy in the region.

The "The Jerusalem Declaration On Christian Zionism" was signed by Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, a Palestinian, and by bishops of the Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran and Syrian Orthodox Churches in Jerusalem.

Many Christian Zionists are evangelical Protestants, and the declaration is a sign of a growing struggle between the groups.

"The Christian Zionist programme provides a world view where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism," said the declaration, accusing Christian Zionists of hurting hopes for Middle East peace.

"We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war," the declaration added.

The three main Christian Zionist groups in Jerusalem said in a statement that they were concerned at the declaration's "inflammatory language" and that it was far from the truth.

Christian Zionists stress Christianity's Jewish roots. Some back the movement to settle the occupied West Bank, the cradle of Jewish civilization, which Palestinians want as part of an independent state.

INFLAMMATORY

"We pray for peace. But we note with sadness that the present Palestinian government is totally dedicated to the destruction of Israel," the Christian Zionist groups said in their statement, referring to the governing Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

The prospect of Middle East peace talks has looked even more unlikely since Hamas's election victory in January. The group is formally dedicated to destroying Israel.

"The problem in the region is not as simple as the Jerusalem Declaration makes out," the Christian Zionists' statement said.

Some Christian Zionists believe that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land will bring about the end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Some also believe Jews themselves will have to become Christians or perish.

The Christian Zionist groups in Jerusalem said they had no "thirst for Armageddon" and do not base their theological position on "end time prophecy." They called for dialogue with the clerics behind the declaration that condemned them.

Christian Zionism is strongest in the United States, where support is much higher than in Europe or other parts of the world for Israel in its conflicts with the Palestinians and in its recent war with Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

James Rudin, senior advisor on inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee in New York, said there are "millions and millions of American Christians" who support Israel but who do not consider themselves Zionists.

He said they represent a core of support far larger than those who base their backing of Israel on the Bible.

(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Mike Conlon in Chicago)

 2006 Reuters

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