This week my newsletter is dedicated to our murdered neighbor George Floyd. I am calling for Christian families, churches, schools, and public leaders to recognize and resist on of the key roots of racism in America: Zionist political theology. Not all of my readers will agree with my analysis; as always, I thank you for stopping and thinking with me.
For George Floyd
White people killing black and brown people has been essential to America from the beginning. This violence isn’t accidental; it’s essential to white America’s Zionist political theology.
Notice how Moses describes the “promised land” or Zion as the Israelites prepared to conquer it over 3000 years ago:
“a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant… Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12, 18-19)
Did you catch that?
“Doing what is right and good in the Lord’s sight” is seamlessly woven together with systematic stealing, colonizing, and killing. In fact, “doing what is right and good” is the key to committing these atrocities against “all your enemies” with God’s favor. Family values and brutal domination have always been two sides of the same Zionist coin.
Of course, Deuteronomy 6 is exactly how white colonizers (“colonists”) pictured America from the beginning, and many continue to hold a Zionist interpretation of America today.
The structure of Zionism never changes, whether in ancient Israel, medieval Ethiopia, or modern America: God favors us; we dominate everyone else; and this domination is proof that God loves us. The promised land is a place of violence. In this way, conservative piety and ruthless immorality fuse in a mind-bending marriage.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the protests that have followed, I return to an old thought: the American Civil War never ended. We live today in different Americas with warring political theologies. (Here I highly recommend Mark Noll’s book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.)
For some, Zionist America — the city on a hill — still exists and is still the project: an America where God himself favors one group to dominate the others, and this pious domination reveals God’s glory, both at home and throughout the world. This is an America where Christian family values and atrocious brutality go hand in hand.
For others like myself, there is no future in Zionist America or any form of Zionist politics. And this is because Zionism is a moral catastrophe. Occupying cities you didn’t build is wrong. Stealing other people’s homes is wrong. Killing other people is wrong. Even — especially — if you do it in the name of God.
But this has always been the trick — the state of exception(alism) — in so-called “biblical,” Zionist morality: we can lie, cheat, steal, and kill – as long as it’s done against “our enemies” and we’re winning in the land God has promised us. Here winning is proof that God is happy with us and proof that those other people’s suffering doesn’t really matter.
The system is airtight: if you question the Zionism, you’ve broken the piety, and thus you’re the next target of pious exclusion or domination.
The ethical irony is that for hundreds and thousands of years, many “biblical” teachers haven’t had the moral courage and clarity to say, unequivocally, that stealing, colonizing, and killing are wrong. Imagine that. There is always a loophole, an explanation, a “context.” The Ten Commandments apply to us and our pious society; the others get the sword or bombs or the knee of our Zionist theology. This hypocritical moral corruption is baked into the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and it produced our Civil War and the endless Cold War of American culture today.
A new America requires a theological conversion. And this conversion must begin with the confession of America’s original Zionist sin in our Christian families, churches, schools, and public life. Stealing was and is always wrong. Colonizing was and is always wrong. Killing was and is always wrong. The Zionist political theology at the foundation of Israel, America, and other Zionist states was and remains a moral catatrasophe.
An anti-Zionist political conversion is relatively simple but painful to embrace. It requires the death of our old self and a new birth: we’re no more special than anyone else; we’re all accountable to the same moral standards (murder is murder); God wills life and justice for all equally without exception with special passion for the oppressed. (Note well that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are fundamentally different; I fiercely condemn antisemitism.)
But for many in my white Christian community, this anti-Zionist conversion requires a bitter, biblical confession that many are not ready to make: after the glorious Exodus from Egypt, Israel’s genocide of the Canaanites was evil. After our glorious Exodus from the “Old World,” America’s genocide of indigenous peoples and Africans was evil. And the ongoing, systemic injustice and violence of that Zionist foundation (including its secularized forms) is evil.
I observe that we’re simply not ready for that confession, because it requires confessing that part of the Israelites’ picture of God and part of our picture of God was and is deeply distorted. And that is a humility that shakes us to our core and shatters our exceptionalism. We cannot admit that the Bible’s morality not only critiques others but also critiques itself in a profound inner-biblical dialogue. This confession requires an honesty and complexity of biblical interpretation that we have labeled dangerous and heretical. (For my vision of biblical interpretation, see my essays “On Christian Ethics” and “The Brilliance of the Bible.”)
And so we find theological justifications that keep Zionism alive. And thus our families’ prayers don’t include this repentance. And our churches’ worship services don’t include this repentance. And our classrooms’ discussions don’t include this repentance. And our Christianized politics don’t include this repentance. We protect a culture in which family values and brutal atrocities can coexist. It’s the pious elephant in all of our rooms.
But the utterly astonishing fact is that Jesus didn’t hesitate to make this confession.
In his first sermon, Jesus publicly declared, “You have heard that it was said [in Deuteronomy 6 and elsewhere], ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemy…that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-48). For Jesus, universal love for others, including the “enemy,” was the birth certificate of God’s children. There were no exceptions. Jesus’s ethics was the end of Zionism. And this was key to Jesus’s claim to be God: Jesus has the divine right to reinterpret Scripture (“you have heard it said”) and revise its theology based on his own teaching (“but I say to you”).
The guardians of Zionist society murdered Jesus for teaching and practicing this radical ethics. They understood the implications and had no tolerance for Jesus’s theological revolution. Luke’s account of Jesus’s execution makes this crystal clear: “We [the religious leadership] have found this man [Jesus] subverting our nation… Crucify him!” (Luke 23:2 and 21).
Today white Christians face a painful choice: will we take up our cross and follow Jesus? Or will we serve “our nation” and crucify Jesus again and again with our silence, with our tolerance of racial injustice, with our active support for a system created to dignify our group and dominate others?
Today I’m grieving the horrific death of George Floyd and the terror with which black and brown people must live in white American society. This terror is not accidental; it’s essential to our Zionist political theology in which one group claims divine favor and others are marginalized or dominated.