Many in the American Jewish community received in the last few days a book called Standing With Israel, by a Jewish author, David Brog, mailed out by Christians United for Israel. Some of my best friends, both Jewish and liberal Protestant, get the heebie-jeebies when they see this stuff. I used to, but here’s why I don’t any more.
Last spring the Jewish community of Atlanta was invited to join the congregation of Trinity Chapel, a suburban “mega-church” in Powder Springs, Georgia. In a more-than-two hour program in a vast modern chapel seating 4,000 people, I saw and heard the things that changed my mind.
First, in this long program with many speakers, there was not one mention of Jesus, and there was not a single cross displayed anywhere; they had all been taken down. But there were plenty of blue-and-white flags with Stars of David.
Second, speaker after speaker apologized in one way or another for centuries of oppression of Jews by Christians. One said, “Countless times the Jewish people have had to stand alone against this oppression. We are here to tell you that you will never again stand alone.” Huge applause.
Third, there were four Jewish Holocaust survivors present. They were introduced by name in a solemn ceremony, and one of them came up onto the stage to light a large memorial candle. Standing ovation.
Fourth, several speakers, pastors of the church, turned centuries of Christian theology upside down. Instead of the classical secessionist or replacement theology, according to which Jews must convert or be damned, they expressed their strong belief that the Jewish people are their elder siblings and represent their roots, that Jews are God’s chosen people and must be protected by every God-fearing Christian. Loud applause again and again.
Fifth, there was no talk of end-times and no hint of an idea that Jews must be gathered to Israel in order for Jesus to return. I am not saying that no one in the Trinity Chapel believes that, but if they do it was certainly far in the background, as was any idea that the Jews will convert in the “last days.” Since I don’t believe in the second coming of Jesus, I am not worried.
What I did hear was an intense belief in the Bible—including the Jewish Bible–and an acceptance of it as theological proof that Jews have a right to the Land of Israel. No-one, the preachers said, can claim to believe in the Bible without supporting the right of Jews to have a Jewish state in the Holy Land. This too came up again and again to thunderous applause.
As Standing With Israel shows, Christian Zionism has deep roots going back at least to the mid-1800s. Lord Balfour was one, as was Orde Wingate, who helped create the Israeli army; so, to a lesser extent perhaps, were Winston Churchill and Harry Truman. They were not evangelicals, but their Christian beliefs strengthened their Zionism, and it is doubtful whether Israel would have come into being without them.
By the way, the Christians of Trinity Chapel put their money where their mouth is. Trinity alone had already raised $90,000 and rebuilt a Jewish community center in the north of Israel near the Lebanon border—a center destroyed by Hezbollah rockets in the summer of 2006. They raised a lot more that evening and still much more since.
One speaker, a lay leader of the church, pointed out that “our Jewish friends” had recently celebrated the holiday of Purim. She began to give an eloquent précis of the Book of Esther, clearly leading up to an object lesson about the evils of anti-Semitism. When she mentioned Haman’s name, thousands of Christians stamped their feet and booed.
How did they know to do this? Obviously, from a lot of experiences they had in that church when Jews were not present. It is inconceivable that the spirit of this evening, including the deep respect for Jews as Jews, was anything other than an authentic outpouring of affection and admiration for both Israel and the Jewish people.
“What is it you like about them?” an ultra-liberal Jewish friend asked me the other day. “Is it their stand on abortion or on gays? Or is it their belief that Israel should never give up any land for peace?”
In fact I don’t like any of those things about them; I like them, not their views on every subject. I also love my wife, my kids, my brother, and my friends, every one of whom has opinions on important issues that I don’t always share. I like the evangelical Zionists because they like and respect me for what I am, and because they fiercely defend Israel and the Jewish people. Given the opportunity, I will tell them what I think about other issues and try to persuade them, but if I don’t succeed there will still be a bond.
Not just Brog in Standing With Israel, but journalist Zev Chafetz in A Match Made in Heaven, about “the weird and wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance,” and other Jews of all denominations have concluded as I have: With friends like these…Jews can breathe a little easier, and so can the Jewish state.
Mel, my acceptance of Christian Zionism as legitimate began several years ago at the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. At their annual Night to Honor Israel, Pastor John Hagee created a pro-Israel and pro-Jewish ruach that I’ve yet to see at an AIPAC conference or an Israel Bonds dinner.
When Jews have difficulty with Christian Zionism it is due to one of two factors: first, an ambivalent about Zionism itself or, second, the impossibility of many Jews to take "yes" for an answer. They are, I think, more comfortable when Jews are distrusted and despised.
Columnist Leorard Fein of The Forward just wrote a piece rejecting the value of John Hagee and CZ’s, prompting me to write a harsh letter to the editor in response. I suspect my letter won’t be published due to the general orientation of the Forward.
Quite soon I will join with some friends at the University of Texas here in Austin in an effort to endow a Program in Israel Studies. My plan is to solicit the help of CZ’s here in Texas to the same extent as Texas Jewish supporters of Israel. If we go about it in the right way, I think we have a good chance of success.
Rick, thanks for your comment. I think your diagnosis of the problem of Jewish reluctance is right, although in fairness middle-aged and older Jews (like me) got a large and nasty dose of replacement theology and Christian anti-Semitism growing up. It’s a little hard for some people to make the switch. That’s why I like David Brog’s book so much; it delves deeply into the history of both anti-Jewish and pro-Jewish thought within Christianity. I think Christians are at a potential turning point in that history–the last Pope’s visit to Israel, Yad Vashem, and the Rome synagogue, in addition to the Protestant CZ’s–and we need to do everything we can to encourage it. Meanwhile, liberal Protestant churches are lining up against Israel and we need to let them know loudly and clearly what we think of that, liberal sympathies notwithstanding.
PS to Rick: If you get a chance to hobnob with Pastor Hagee or other leading Christian Zionists, please try to get them to backtrack and apologize for their anti-Catholic remarks, which are not good for anyone.