BBC Follows Christian Zionist Coach Tour

Meet Claude, from South Carolina:

I really like Star Trek, and they have phasers in Star Trek, OK? So I sort of imagine, you know, [Jesus] speaking…and you see like lightening flashes or bolts coming out of his mouth and when he speaks to them, and everybody blows up and the blood is just flying all over the place. Now whether that’s right of wrong, I don’t know, but that’s what I picture [laughs].

Claude was speaking to film-maker David Clews in The End of the World Bus Tour, a documentary which aired on BBC 2 a couple of nights ago as part of the Wonderland strand, and which can be seen here for the next few days. Clews tagged along with a Christian Zionist tour group from the USA and UK as it traveled around Israel; Claude’s vision of the Last Battle was inspired by a visit to the Valley of Armageddon. Other stops included an Israeli army base near the Syrian border, where the party donned military fatigues and spent time shifting bags of rubbish in a show of solidarity; according to one volunteer, “They have the finest army in the world…because they have the finest God.”

Clews took a human interest approach to the subject, focusing on why some of the group members had chosen to embrace apocalyptic beliefs – Claude (who is congenial) had suffered the death of a daughter, while another pilgrim, Barbara, had endured parental abuse and gone through six failed marries to older men. Based on this rather small sample, Clews concluded that the faith is about “consolation”, although he also chatted with a bright British teenager named Hannah, who appeared confident and well-grounded. One interesting feature of the tour was the chance to be baptised in the Sea of Galilee, near the group’s luxury hotel – tour leader Sharon Stolebarger explains that since the Galilee feeds the Jordan River, this was as good as a Jordan baptism. But surely the Christians on the tour were baptised already? Stolebarger told Clews that for most, the baptisms would be a “re-dedication” or “a commemorative thing”.

The documentary took a darker turn when the group reached Jerusalem, and found itself in the distasteful position of having to rub up against Arabs in the Palestinian part of the Old City. One pilgrim, asked if she would visit the shops or speak to any Muslims, was clearly a bit embarrassed by the question:

No, not really. I want to wait and spend my money over there in that Jewish quarter, and maybe the hotel or something. I’d rather spend my money there…I just like the quality of things better.

This, it appears, is the polite way to boyoctt Palestinian businesses. One British member was more openly hostile to the presence of Palestinians in land belonging to Jews and Christian tourists:

They’ve got Mecca…they weren’t prescribed to come here, you know. If they need another mosque, there’s the biggest mosque in the world, we Brits are building that for them in London.

While conceding that not everything in Islam is evil, Stolebarger explained that because “their purpose is to destroy Israel”, to her Islam “represents evil”. Barbara, meanwhile, felt the need (prompted by God) to take Clews and his crew to a razor-wire fence overlooking the West Bank. Gesturing at the plain beyond, she told them that

I guess you also need to take a look at God’s enemies, don’t you…the Palestinians.

Clews asked her if things were really that straightforward:

Sure, why not? Why does everything have to be so complicated? I’m also very tired of hearing people say, [exaggerated sneering voice] “Oh, the poor Palestinians…why, the Israelis are killing them…”

Asked if she would say that to a Palestinian family who had lost a child, she responded by asking if he would say such a thing to an Israeli family who “had been bombed first”.

…I am on God’s side…All they have to do is believe, just believe…

The programme’s angle meant that we didn’t get much religious context or information about the organisers – indeed, the words “Christian Zionist” didn’t appear once. In fact, the tour was organized by Koinonia House, which is the Idaho base of Chuck Missler, the Biblical apologist who was recently the butt of much hilarity over his claim that a jar of peanut butter amounts to evidence against evolution. Anyone wanting to go on this year’s tour can register here.

One incidental detail that caught my eye: the scene in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem’s Old City includes a Palestinian teenager hawking tallits, the Jewish prayer-shawls. A bargain at $20.00…

8 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, Wonderland program on the web is only available to those in the UK. However, you can see a clip of the Christian Zionists picking up garbage on youtube.

  2. […] an interesting week for religion documentaries on British TV – as well as the programme I blogged yesterday, there was also a fascinating show on Channel 4 on the subject of child evangelists. This was Baby […]

  3. One wonders what they made of (or if they even knew of) the Xtian Arabs of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

  4. […] while Chuck Missler’s Koinonia Institute organised the Christian Zionist tour to Israel which I blogged on a few months […]

  5. […] The BBC broadcast a documentary about an evangelical coach tour to Israel back in February. I blogged it here. […]

  6. […] “Peanut Butter” Missler, meanwhile, is hedging his bets: “What everybody overlooks is that […]

  7. […] site of a Bedouin village which the Israeli authorities have deemed to be illegal, and in 2008 I blogged a BBC documentary about a Christian Zionist coach tour to […]

  8. […] perspective, but it looks as though the EAPPI provides a healthy counter-balance to various Christian Zionist organisations that take Christians into the […]

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