Lief Carter didn't set out to stoke the fires of apocalyptic fervor.
A year ago, the Colorado College political science professor was putting together a symposium on international affairs -- a commonplace type of campus event that rarely stirs much excitement in the outside world.
Within weeks, however, the symposium was making national headlines -- before it had even taken place. Carter was fielding thousands of angry e-mails. And by the time the symposium kicked off on Sept. 12, politicians from Colorado Gov. Bill Owens to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had joined the chorus criticizing the event.
The controversy centered on the college's choice of a prominent Palestinian leader, Hanan Ashrawi, as one of the keynote speakers at the symposium. Conservative Jews, led by the Denver Metro area Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council, mounted a campaign against Ashrawi's appearance, calling her a supporter of terrorism and arguing it was inappropriate for her to speak the day after the first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.
On the surface, it seemed like just another case of inflamed passions over the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. What went largely unnoticed, however, was the significant role played by a non-Jewish constituency with its own distinct reasons for opposing Ashrawi: evangelical Christians.
Though the Rabbinical Council would lead the protests, the man who first sounded the alarm was state Sen. John Andrews, a Republican and evangelical Christian from Arapahoe County, best known for his crusades to require that the Ten Commandments be posted in Colorado schools.
"The Ashrawi invitation is a desecration of memory and a capitulation to evildoers," Andrews wrote in an e-mail to constituents that was soon circulated widely, touching off the firestorm.
And on Sept. 12, when busloads of protesters descended on the CC campus for an anti-Ashrawi rally, organizers included not only the Rabbinical Council, but also Faith Bible Chapel, a Denver-area evangelical church, as well as Americans Against Terrorism, a Jewish-evangelical alliance formed especially for the occasion.
What motivated many of the evangelicals wasn't just their contention that Ashrawi -- who actually is a Christian -- represented terrorism. They were also driven by a biblical mandate. According to the beliefs of many evangelicals, any claims to the Holy Land by the Palestinians are directly at odds with Bible scriptures that state that God promised all of Israel to the Jews, and that prophesy that an Eretz Israel, or "Greater Israel," will be established before Jesus returns, in the midst of the Apocalypse, to defeat the Antichrist and rule the Earth.
In short, Ashrawi and her ilk stood between the faithful and the eventual return of their savior.
The road map
The evangelicals' participation in the CC protests was a manifestation of a growing movement rooted in apocalyptic beliefs -- known as Christian Zionism -- and the movement's strong foothold along Colorado's Front Range, home to what religious observers describe as the nation's highest concentration of evangelical churches and ministries.
Based on literal interpretations of the Bible, the movement shares the belief of Jewish Zionists that God has promised Israel exclusively to the Jews. They also believe that the restoration of the Jewish people to Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Christ.
The Bible, they say, prophesies that the Jews, having been dispersed across the world, will return to Israel before the End of Days, when Jesus will come back and rule from Jerusalem. Many believe that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, Israel's recapture of East Jerusalem along with the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, and the continuing migration of Jewish people back to their ancient homeland, are fulfillments of these prophecies, signaling Jesus' imminent return.
The belief that the Jews and Israel play a special role in God's plan has, to a large extent, supplanted former tendencies toward anti-Semitism among evangelicals. At the same time, many Christian Zionists believe that as many as two-thirds of the Jews will be killed during the Armageddon. Those who survive, they say, will convert to Christianity when Jesus returns.
Both supporters and critics cite the importance of the movement, particularly because of its influence inside the Bush White House. Represented by evangelical leaders such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, the movement has recently been in the spotlight for its vocal opposition to the "road map" to peace, a proposed solution to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict being pushed by the Bush administration despite that influence.
In May, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, Falwell and more than 20 other prominent evangelicals wrote a letter to George W. Bush, denouncing the road map for demanding concessions of Israel.
"It would be morally reprehensible for the United States to be 'evenhanded' between democratic Israel, a reliable friend and ally that shares our values, and the terrorist-infested Palestinian infrastructure that refuses to accept the right of Israel to exist," the evangelicals told Bush.
And the Rev. Robertson, in a commentary on the road map, called plans to divide Jerusalem between the Jews and Palestinians "suicide." Jesus promised Jerusalem to the Jews, Robertson said.
"If the United States takes a role in ripping half of Jerusalem away from Israel and giving it to Yasser Arafat and a group of terrorists, we are going to see the wrath of God fall on this nation that will make tornadoes look like a Sunday school picnic," Robertson warned.
Critics say such opposition from the Christian Zionist movement could endanger the peace process. Christian Zionists, meanwhile, say that if Bush persists with his support for the road map, he could lose critical support from millions of evangelicals in his 2004 re-election bid.
Though it has only been widely recognized as a political phenomenon in recent years, the Christian Zionist movement began in Britain in the 19th century. In fact, it predated modern Jewish Zionism, according to Stephen Sizer, an English vicar who is writing a book chronicling the movement and who recently visited Colorado Springs.
The notion of a Jewish homeland on the Mediterranean "was largely nurtured and shaped by Christian Zionists long before it was able to inspire widespread Jewish support," Sizer says. In fact, it was Christian Zionist leaders in Britain who introduced the idea to an initially skeptical Theodore Herzl, a secular Jew who went on to become the founder of Jewish Zionism.
Though lobbying by Christian Zionists would eventually help lead to British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland, their beliefs never quite took off within the Church of England. Consequently, the movement's proponents took their message to the United States, where they had better luck, winning over several founders of the present-day evangelical movement.
It wasn't until 1967, however, that Christian Zionism became a major preoccupation of the American evangelical leaders, Sizer says. Israel's stunning victory over attacking Arab countries in the Six-Day War, and its reconquest of ancient biblical lands, inspired evangelicals who saw the victory as a miracle of God and a sign of prophecy fulfillment.
"The Christian Zionists woke up," Sizer says. "This was the promise Jesus had made. ... People like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, suddenly got involved."
And it's only since the recent Palestinian uprisings and the resulting negotiations over a two-state solution that the Christian Zionists have gotten truly fired up. Beginning with the 1993 Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel's moves toward accepting a Palestinian state have alarmed many evangelicals.
"They're desperate, because sympathy for the Palestinians is growing," Sizer says.
The years since the Oslo Agreement have seen a flourishing of Christian ministries and organizations in the United States dedicated to supporting Israel. There are now said to be more than 200 such groups.
Indeed, it was the Oslo Agreement that directly sparked Ted Beckett, a Colorado Springs real-estate developer, to form an organization called Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC) in 1995. The purpose was to support Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, many of which were facing government funding cuts and eventual elimination as part of the proposed peace agreement.
The organization helps evangelical churches "adopt" such settlements. More than 50 churches have signed onto the program and raise money for the settlements to pay for everything from playground equipment to bulletproof buses.
While critics of the settlements see them as illegal under international law and an impediment to the peace process, Christian Zionists see them as fulfillment of the prophecy that the Jewish people will return to populate all of ancient Israel.
"Personally, my motivation is it's definitely biblical prophecy being fulfilled," says Kim Troup, the director of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities' local office. "God promised that land to the Jewish people."
Beckett, who personally bankrolled the organization in the beginning, has since cut his ties to the group and now focuses on environmental cleanup work on the West Bank. Today, the group is an independent nonprofit with offices in Colorado Springs, Israel, Germany and the Netherlands.
The organization vociferously opposes the road map, which would lead to many settlements being razed as part of an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank and Gaza.
"The reason for opposing the road map is, it's not going to work," Troup says. "The Palestinians are not peace partners. They're not in this for peace; they're in this for the total annihilation of Israel. The road map is just going to reward their terrorism."
Troup's organization is also increasingly promoting evangelical tourism to the Holy Land. Such tourism is an important part of the Christian Zionist agenda, as it not only helps boost the Israeli government financially, but also intensifies the enthusiasm for Israel felt by those who make the pilgrimage.
In fact, recognizing the potential the evangelical market, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in 1990 hired Butch Maltby, then a Dallas-based public-relations consultant, to promote Christian travel to Israel. In 1999, Maltby moved his company, TouchPoint Solutions, to Colorado Springs to be closer to his core market.
"Colorado Springs has influence in what's happening in Israel in ways that most people in our community don't realize," says Maltby, who, like Beckett, worships at New Life Church, a mega-church in northeast Colorado Springs. "Just look at the heavy concentration of these [evangelical] organizations, and the relationships a lot of these leaders have."
Today, TouchPoint holds an exclusive contract with the Israeli government to market trips to evangelicals across North America. In recent years, as terrorism fears have made it tougher to persuade many Christians to travel to Israel, Maltby has had to increasingly target Christian Zionists, whose steadfast commitment to Israel tends to overshadow their safety concerns.
"These are people who, frankly, think about Israel every day," Maltby says. "I've spoken to Israelis who say that some of these Christian Zionists are more pro-Israel than some of the Israelis are."
Perhaps the most influential force for Christian Zionism in the Colorado Springs area, however, is Black Forest author Jerry Jenkins. Along with evangelist theologian Tim LaHaye, Jenkins pens the wildly successful Left Behind series of novels, which may have done more than anything else to popularize Christian Zionist beliefs.
Jenkins and LaHaye's books tell the story of the Armageddon, as prophesied in the Book of Revelations, taking place in the present. The series starts out with the Rapture, in which people who have accepted Jesus are snatched away by God at the beginning of a seven-year period called the Tribulation. Those "left behind" on Earth must then cope with global death and destruction as the Antichrist -- who turns out to be the secretary general of the United Nations -- wages a war for world domination.
Several of the Left Behind novels have debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and more than 37 million of the books have been sold. The first two books have been made into feature films, and a TV series is in the works.
The books are fiction, Jenkins says. But their purpose, he acknowledges, is to spread the word about events that he, LaHaye and many readers believe will occur.
"We believe this is something that's going to happen some day," Jenkins says. "It's worth checking out and making sure you're ready."
Colorado Springs' status as the base of operations for folks like Beckett, Maltby and Jenkins notwithstanding, support for Christian Zionism here may actually be less fervent than in some other places. Troup, the CFOIC director, says enthusiasm for her cause in Colorado Springs has been underwhelming.
One reason may be that Pastor Ted Haggard, the founder and leader of the evangelical New Life Church -- the largest church in Colorado, with 9,200 members -- takes a relatively moderate position on the Middle East conflict.
New Life does have a small "Israel prayer group," which meets weekly. The group practices Israeli dances; has adopted an Israeli settlement, Beit Haggai; and holds garage sales to raise money for the settlement.
Three years ago, the prayer group even invited Gershon Salomon, a radical Jewish Zionist, to speak at the World Prayer Center. The group took up a collection for Salomon's Israel-based organization, the Temple Mount Faithful, which advocates demolishing the Dome of the Rock -- the third-holiest site in Islam, located on Jerusalem's Temple Mount -- in order to rebuild the Jewish Temple that once stood on the mount but was destroyed in A.D. 70.
Salomon's group has little support in Israel itself, since any move against the Dome of the Rock -- which Salomon labels a "pagan shrine" -- would likely touch off a full-scale Arab-Israeli war. In the United States, on the other hand, many Christian Zionists back Salomon, because they believe the Jewish Temple must be rebuilt before Jesus will return.
Pastor Haggard himself, however, who in March was elected president of the National Association of Evangelicals, isn't among those who believe Christians must "force the hand of God" by actively backing such efforts to bring about the Second Coming.
For sure, New Life's pastor says he wholeheartedly supports Israel and believes in God's promise to Abraham. And yes, the events foretold in the Book of Revelations will happen, he says. But Haggard doesn't believe those events are right around the corner.
"There is a segment of evangelicalism that believes that, but that segment is not in our most prestigious evangelical seminaries," Haggard says. "I would be shocked if there is a rebuilding of the temple [on the Temple Mount] within the next 200 years."
Haggard says his support for Israel is "predominantly political." Unlike other countries in the Middle East, Israel is a democracy, he points out.
Part of many Christians' commitment to stand up for Israel may also be a reaction to the Holocaust, Haggard speculates.
"We will exercise all of the strength we have to protect the safety of the Jewish people in the Middle East," he declares.
Haggard, who supported the protests against Ashrawi at CC but did not mobilize his congregation to participate, is deeply skeptical of the Palestinian leadership and of the chances that the road map will succeed.
Yet for now, he supports efforts to make the road map work, and he backs the two-state solution.
"Right now, that's our best chance for peace."
In contrast to Haggard's approach at New Life is that of Faith Bible Chapel, a 6,000-member evangelical mega-church in Arvada, a northwest Denver suburb.
Considered the foremost bastion of Christian Zionism along the Front Range, the church was the first congregation to adopt a settlement through CFOIC. Its Israel ministry, headed by the pastor's wife, Cheryl Morrison, conducts annual trips to the Holy Land and sells fruit baskets and grocery coupons to raise money for its adoptive settlement, Ariel. The church dispatched its own busload of protesters for the anti-Ashrawi rally at CC, where Cheryl Morrison spoke.
Inside the church's spacious atrium is a decorative wall made of stone that the church's pastor, George Morrison, purchased in Jerusalem. Large letters on the wall spell out a line from Psalm 122:6: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Seven video monitors throughout the atrium likewise urge congregants to pray for Israel.
"It's so key to the End Times," Pastor Morrison says in explaining his church's devotion to the cause. "It's so tied to the culmination, the wrap-up of the world as we know it."
Morrison, whose casual, folksy manner belies his apocalyptic beliefs, already sees signs that the End is approaching. The European Union, he says, might be the alliance of nations that according to prophecy will join the Arabs to wage war against Israel during the final days.
"Great wars will begin to take place," Morrison says in a matter-of-fact voice. "Those wars are going to involve nukes."
The extent of the destruction will prompt Jesus to return in order to stop it, Morrison believes. Unfortunately, he says, many Jews will be killed.
"It's another Holocaust, if you will," Morrison says.
Morrison's brand of Zionism may be stronger at the foot of the Rockies than it is at the base of the Temple Mount. Jews themselves, in America and Israel, are divided in their opinions about the Christian Zionists.
Some Jewish leaders embrace the evangelicals. American Jews should be "highly appreciative of the incredible support that the State of Israel gets from a significant group of Americans -- the Evangelical Christian Right," proclaimed Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, last year.
Rabbi Anat Moskowitz, who leads Colorado Springs' largest Jewish congregation at Temple Shalom, also welcomes the backing.
"I think it's a great thing," Moskowitz says. "Wherever it's coming from, if it's support for Eretz Israel, then I'm all for it, and I'll take them on board."
Some Jews, however, are bothered by the notion of Christians who support Israel mainly because they yearn for an Armageddon in which millions of Jews will perish.
"To the extent that they want that, then on a straight-forward level, they want to hurt the Jewish people," says Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine, a liberal Jewish journal based in San Francisco. "There's no way but to understand that as anti-Semitic. ... That form of Christian Zionism is the kiss of Judas."
But Lerner believes most evangelicals have nobler motives.
"Many of them realize that Christianity, in the past, was used as a vehicle to oppress the Jewish people," he says. "They feel appropriately guilty."
Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli journalist and the author of a book about Zionism titled The End of Days, takes a more skeptical view of whether these Christians truly love Jews.
Their support "is based very much on a theological and a mythological perception of Israel," Gorenberg says. "It's not looking at the real Israel. It's not looking at the real Jews. It's essentially looking at the Jews and Israel as actors in a Christian drama."
Though he believes it's well intended, Lerner agrees with Gorenberg that the Christian Zionists' unquestioning support for hard-line Israeli politics may not reflect a true understanding of the Jewish people.
CFOIC's adopt-a-settlement program, for instance, actually extends support to a fringe segment of Israelis who are violating international law and whose beliefs don't reflect those of most Jews, Lerner argues.
"It's like taking sides in an internal Jewish dispute," he says. The money and gifts that American evangelicals send to settlers "are interpreted in Israel as concrete support for the most extreme, anti-peace, anti-reconciliation forces in the country."
Moskowitz, meanwhile, isn't bothered greatly by the Christian Zionists' motives, whatever they may be. Since Jews don't think the Apocalypse will happen, it's not something to fret about, she says. "The whole Book of Revelations, and whatever, is not something that we as Jews believe in."
Meanwhile, some within the Christian faith are also alarmed by their Zionist brethren. In fact, Colorado Springs is home to a Christian organization, Presence Ministries, dedicated to combating apocalyptic beliefs.
The ministry, led by Tim King, is small but tech-savvy, reaching out primarily through the Internet, DVDs and books. Last month, Presence Ministries invited Sizer, the English vicar and Zionist critic, to speak at a conference in Colorado Springs.
"The main focus of our ministry is to hold these evangelicals accountable," King says. "We want to hold their feet to the fire."
Like many "mainstream" Christian churches, Presence Ministries teaches that the Bible's end-times prophecies are to be taken metaphorically rather than literally. The problem with a literal interpretation, King says, is that the belief in an imminent Armageddon -- in which nations and faiths will fight on separate sides in a battle between Good and Evil -- has a polarizing effect.
"The political ramifications are immense," King says. "If you see God as being a God at war, and two-thirds of the Jews have to be killed in some catastrophe, then you're going to give in to hostility and despair."
Opposition to the "road map" is the most concrete example. Instead of supporting the peace effort, Christian Zionists oppose it, simply because they believe it goes against God's plans. But apocalyptic beliefs also create a general "cultural pessimism," King says. Those who believe that the world is hopelessly flawed and doomed, and soon to be destroyed and replaced with Jesus' heavenly kingdom on Earth, have little reason to work for peace and coexistence.
King, on the other hand, argues that since we're stuck with the world we've got, we need to make it a better place.
"Let's seek peace and justice for all sides," King urges.
In the near term, the significance of the Christian Zionist movement will largely be measured by the extent to which it influences the Bush administration's support for the road map process, argues Gorenberg, the Israeli journalist. Hard-line Israeli politicians actively cultivate their evangelical support base in the United States, in a direct effort to influence U.S. policies.
"They're obviously very pleased that they can get an American political constituency to support their hard-line positions against any concessions to the Palestinians," Gorenberg observes.
But many Christian Zionists are growing impatient with Bush, as he continues pushing the road map plan. Many observers speculate that Bush's support for the plan could cost him evangelical Christian votes in his re-election bid next year. Faith Bible Chapel's Pastor Morrison, who signed onto Gary Bauer's letter criticizing the peace plan, says evangelicals' support for Bush isn't a "blank check."
"He could lose that support," Morrison predicts.
Evangelicals might not switch their support to the Democratic candidate in 2004, but if their enthusiasm for Bush wanes, many could stay home.
"Most [evangelicals] that I've talked to have said they won't vote for him again," says Troup, of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities. "They feel that Bush is compromising his beliefs for the sake of Arab oil."
Haggard, on the other hand, predicts evangelicals will stand by Bush, because they aren't "one-issue people."
"Bush is doing so many other things that they like," Haggard says."They're going to end up supporting Bush, and Bush knows that."
Sizer, meanwhile, speaking in Colorado Springs, urged Americans to stand up against the Christian Zionists' efforts to derail the road map. Until peace and stability are achieved in the Middle East, the region will remain a breeding ground for terrorism and violence, he argued.
"Unchecked," Sizer said, "this movement will, if they get their way, undermine the road map to peace, and will not only jeopardize the security of the Middle East, but of America itself."
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