Zionism is a misunderstood term, Assistant Professor of Religion Don Westblade told an audience in the Mossey Library Heritage Room on Tuesday.
Speaking on the nation of Israel as the 12th lecture of Mossey Library’s “Our Faculty’s Ongoing Research” lectures series, Westblade highlighted Israel’s historical and theological relevance to modern Christianity, and later related his lecture to the Passages Israel trip that many Hillsdale College students participate in during winter break.
Westblade explained that 2017 was the centennial anniversary of the sending of Sir Arthur Balfour’s letter to Zionist communities, expressing support for the creation of a “nation in the territory known as Israel.” The anniversary was “unnoticed and overshadowed,” Westblade said, because 2017 was also the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther.
Westblade focused on the Balfour document and its consequences. For the Israelites, the Balfour letter is the “greatest government document in human history,” he said. Westblade explained to his audience just how prevalent the Balfour letter was in influencing the creation of the nation of Israel by encouraging other countries to pledge support to the Zionists.
Westblade said in his lecture that Zionism is not a “wrong-headed, heavy-handed belief in the apocalypse” but rather “a national movement of Jewish people to establish a homeland in the territory defined as the land of Israel.” This is the definition of Zionism he used in his research.
He said his research is a defense relating to the importance of a nation which “provides protection to people suffering disproportionate punishment and discrimination for the past centuries.” The other part of his credential and political research into the “renaissance and return of Israel to its ancestral homeland” he simplified in lecture to the Biblical passage of Israel being “a light to all nations.” Further explaining that “Israel is the picture, so that [Christians] are prepared for reality [of the coming of New Jerusalem].”
“Israel is still relevant and will continue to be for the church,” Westblade said, speaking of the convergence of the modern state of Israel and theology.
Westblade related his arguments to the Hillsdale Passages Israel trip.
“[It is] vivid to see and learn from where the chosen people gathered and focused in the land of Israel,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to see Israel than it has been for a long time.”
Lucas Miller ’01, pastor of Somerset Congregational Church, enjoyed the lecture.
“It’s a reminder of how important all scripture is, including the [Old Testament] prophets,” Miller said.
Sophomore David Forman said he attended partly because he wanted to hear what Westblade had to say.
“I don’t yet understand, but I knew I would learn something I did not know; and the Zionist Balfour topic was something I did not know much about,” he said.
Though Miller mostly went to the lecture because of his friendship with Westblade, he also appreciates that the library holds these lectures.
“[Westblade] does all this work, and its great he has a way to show it,” Miller said.