What’s be­hind evan­gel­i­cals’ love of Is­rael?

Mil­lions of born-again Chris­tians have found com­mon cause with the Jewish state. Is it a mat­ter of faith, or is there a darker agenda?

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - Cover Story - RON CSILLAG rc­sil­lag@thecjn.ca

Chris­tians who love Is­rael: is it good for the Jews?

While many Jews whole-heart­edly em­brace Chris­tian Zion­ism – af­ter all, Is­rael needs friends – oth­ers sus­pect that be­hind it lurks a the­ol­ogy that loves Jews but hates Ju­daism.

Mil­lions of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians – of­ten re­ferred to as “born again” and who be­lieve the Bi­ble is in­errant – have rea­sons for sup­port­ing Is­rael, whether be­cause it’s bib­li­cally man­dated or be­cause they, like Is­rael’s cur­rent lead­er­ship, are con­ser­va­tive and feel a po­lit­i­cal kin­ship, or be­cause it’s a way of aton­ing for past mis­treat­ment of Jews. Per­haps it’s for all of those rea­sons. Trav­ellers to Is­rael can­not help but no­tice that the coun­try rou­tinely brims with Chris­tian pil­grims. Chris­tian Zion­ism has also helped to shape the United States’ strong sup­port for Is­rael. And for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper, a fer­vid sup­porter of Is­rael, was a mem­ber of the Chris­tian

and Mis­sion­ary Al­liance in Canada, an evan­gel­i­cal de­nom­i­na­tion.

Even the founder of modern Zion­ism, Theodor Herzl, was said to be in­flu­enced by a Chris­tian Zion­ist. Wil­liam Hech­ler was the chap­lain of the Bri­tish em­bassy in Vi­enna and was in­stru­men­tal in aid­ing Herzl with his diplo­matic ac­tiv­i­ties. Hech­ler has been called the founder of modern Chris­tian Zion­ism.

But other Chris­tian Zion­ists have what might be called a darker agenda: they be­lieve that universal redemp­tion and the re­turn of the Chris­tian mes­siah can hap­pen only when all the Jews have been gath­ered in their home­land, “where they will fi­nally give up their ob­so­lete and er­ro­neous be­liefs and ac­cept Je­sus Christ as their saviour,” as Toronto’s Rabbi Dow Mar­mur once put it.

Chris­tian Zion­ists have been en­cour­aged by bi­b­li­cal proph­e­sies that have in­deed come true, no­tably, that the Jews would have their own land; that it would be at­tacked re­peat­edly; that ex­iled Jews would re­turn to it one day; and that the modern State of Is­rael would be cre­ated. Th­ese and many oth­ers are re­garded as pre­req­ui­sites for the sec­ond com­ing of Je­sus.

In Canada, home to about four mil­lion evan­gel­i­cals, there’s no short­age of Chris­tian Zion­ist min­istries. But given their names – Chris­tians United for Is­rael, Chris­tian Friends of Is­rael, International Chris­tian Em­bassy Jerusalem (Canada), the Jewish Chris­tian Al­liance, Chris­tians for Is­rael Canada, and the Friends of Is­rael Gospel Min­istry – one can hardly tell those that are out to con­vert Jews from the ones that sim­ply wish Is­rael well.

So are Jews caught be­tween lib­eral, main­line Protestant de­nom­i­na­tions that are some­times strongly crit­i­cal of Is­rael and sup­port boy­cotts, and con­ser­va­tive evan­gel­i­cals who ex­press love for the Jewish state, even as some of them pray to has­ten the end of Ju­daism?

Not all evan­gel­i­cals sup­port Is­rael, and Chris­tian Zion­ists fall along “a spec­trum of in­ter­ests, mo­ti­va­tions and goals,” said Rabbi Michael Skobac, di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion and coun­selling for Jews for Ju­daism Canada, the counter-mis­sion­ary group. “They’re not mono­lithic.”

Chris­tian Zion­ists’ pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion for sup­port­ing Is­rael and Jews is the Bi­ble, Rabbi Skobac said.

“For them, the Bi­ble is the word of God. Most evan­gel­i­cals are sup­port­ive of the right of the Jewish Peo­ple to have a home­land in Is­rael sim­ply be­cause God promised this land to the Peo­ple of Is­rael.”

That doesn’t mean th­ese Chris­tians don’t have be­liefs about the end times, “but that’s not their pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion.”

Also, there are “some” Chris­tian Zion­ist groups “for whom sup­port of Is­rael is a way of lu­bri­cat­ing the con­ver­sion process,” Rabbi Skobac said.

Chris­tians who sup­port Is­rael do so “be­cause we know that we owe every­thing we have to the Jewish Peo­ple,” Rev. Charles Mcvety, a con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist and pres­i­dent of the Canada Chris­tian Col­lege in Toronto, told The CJN. “It’s ir­ra­tional to say that you love the God of Is­rael, but then hate Is­rael,” he went on. “It’s ir­ra­tional to say ‘I com­mit my life to Je­sus, a Jew, an Is­raelite,’ then hate Is­rael and the Jewish Peo­ple. It’s ir­ra­tional to study the writ­ings of Jews ev­ery morn­ing and night, then hate the Jews who wrote them. It makes no sense.”

Bi­ble-be­liev­ing Chris­tians “are all pre­dis­posed to sup­port­ing Is­rael and the Jewish Peo­ple,” Mcvety said.

As for those who sup­port Is­rael be­cause they em­brace a the­ol­ogy about the apoc­a­lypse, “it’s such a mi­nor­ity view that I vir­tu­ally never come across it,” Mcvety said. “Chris­tians lov­ing Jews so they will be­come Chris­tians, it’s very, very rare.”

Per­haps not, at least ac­cord­ing to Ti­mothy P. We­ber, au­thor of On the Road to Ar­maged­don: How Evan­gel­i­cals Be­came Is­rael’s Best Friend. While he writes that “most” evan­gel­i­cals have a soft spot for Is­rael be­cause of the Bi­ble and see that the story of Je­sus grows out of the story of Is­rael, We­ber es­ti­mates that about one-third

are re­ally in­ter­ested in Is­rael be­cause of bi­b­li­cal proph­esy. Th­ese are the “dis­pen­sa­tion­al­ists” who see Is­rael as sig­nif­i­cant to­day “be­cause it will play a cen­tral role in events lead­ing up to the sec­ond com­ing of Christ.”

In­deed, Rabbi Skobac cited stud­ies that also showed about 30 per cent of evan­gel­i­cal sup­port for Is­rael is driven mainly by es­cha­tol­ogy – how the world will end.

Other fac­tors mo­ti­vat­ing Chris­tian Zion­ists in­clude pol­i­tics. Evan­gel­i­cals “tend to be con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cally,” Rabbi Skobac ob­served. “They see Is­rael as [be­ing] at the front lines of fight­ing ter­ror­ism.”

For other Chris­tians, sup­port for Is­rael “is an ex­pres­sion of re­morse for past anti-semitism and what they see as the fail­ure of churches to stand up for Jews dur­ing the Holo­caust.”

And while re­la­tions be­tween Jews and main­line Protestant churches in Canada have seen ups and downs – the United and Angli­can churches have gen­er­ally sup­ported Jews and de­nounced anti-semitism, even as they at­tacked Is­rael – ties with evan­gel­i­cals are be­com­ing stronger.

Last month, the Cen­tre for Is­rael and Jewish Af­fairs (CIJA) signed a “dec­la­ra­tion of di­a­logue and part­ner­ship” with the Evan­gel­i­cal Fel­low­ship of Canada (EFC), which de­scribes it­self as “a fel­low­ship of evan­gel­i­cal churches in Canada seek­ing to in­flu­ence dis­cus­sion on na­tional is­sues.”

The dec­la­ra­tion notes that although evan­gel­i­cals and Jews “have dis­tinct the­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tives,” the two com­mu­ni­ties “share many foun­da­tional val­ues, in­ter­ests and con­cerns that af­ford an op­por­tu­nity for joint ad­vo­cacy ini­tia­tives.”

The com­mon is­sues – al­le­vi­at­ing poverty, sup­port­ing the peo­ple of Is­rael, ad­vanc­ing re­li­gious free­dom – show that Jews and evan­gel­i­cal Cana­di­ans “are long­stand­ing nat­u­ral al­lies.”

Asked about mak­ing com­mon cause with some Chris­tians who may not have Jews’ long-term in­ter­ests at heart, CIJA CEO Shi­mon Kof­fler Fo­gel replied: “The evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity is not mono­lithic when it comes to sup­port for Is­rael or the­ol­ogy as it per­tains to the Jewish Peo­ple. While many evan­gel­i­cals sup­port Is­rael and have an affinity for the Jewish com­mu­nity, they hold th­ese views for a myr­iad of rea­sons.

“I can say that our in­ter­ac­tions with the EFC have only been marked by pro­fes­sion­al­ism and mu­tual re­spect. Our shared pri­mary fo­cus is on pub­lic pol­icy ad­vo­cacy.”

The “big­gest prob­lem” fac­ing Chris­tian Zion­ists are fel­low Chris­tians who sup­port the boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions (BDS) cam­paign against Is­rael, said Christine Williams, a spokesper­son for the International Chris­tian Em­bassy Jerusalem (Icej-canada).

As for Jewish con­cerns about evan­gel­i­cals’ mo­tives, “it is ex­pected that Jews [would] be sus­pi­cious given the his­tory of Chris­tian per­se­cu­tion and aban­don­ment, not to men­tion the overzeal­ous­ness of some evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian Zion­ists to pros­e­ly­tize ag­gres­sively with­out re­spect or knowl­edge of Jewish cul­ture,” she added.

The ICEJ has at­tempted to set the record straight. In an on­line post­ing, the group ac­knowl­edges Jews’ “con­stant con­cern” that Chris­tian Zion­ists have a hid­den mis­sion­ary agenda. Quot­ing the book of Isa­iah – “Com­fort, yes, com­fort My peo­ple! says your God” – the group has is­sued guide­lines on why Jews have noth­ing to fear. Among the points:

Chris­tian Zion­ist are Bi­ble-be­liev­ing Chris­tians “who ad­here to all as­pects of their bi­b­li­cal truth just as Jews do.” restora­tion is not a co­in­ci­dence but the ful­fill­ment of God’s word and prom­ise to Abra­ham 4,000 years ago; [thus], Chris­tian Zion­ists do not be­lieve that the Church has re­placed Is­rael.”

for the atroc­i­ties, through the cen­turies, that have been heaped upon the Jews in the name of Christ.”

Should Jews wel­come this sup­port, re­gard­less of what mo­ti­vates it?

“I think we should be thank­ful,” said Rabbi Skobac. “Part of be­ing a Jew is ex­press­ing grat­i­tude, and I think to be an in­grate is a hor­ri­ble thing. So I think we should be thank­ful for those groups that are pos­i­tively help­ing Is­rael, with­out us­ing it as a tac­tic sim­ply to lu­bri­cate a con­ver­sion agenda.”

But if it’s part of an in­sid­i­ous agenda, “I would be much less likely [to wel­come the sup­port],” he said.

Rabbi Phillip Scheim of Toronto’s Beth David Syn­a­gogue and pres­i­dent of the Con­ser­va­tive move­ment’s Rab­bini­cal Assem­bly, who ac­com­pa­nied Harper on his 2014 trip to Is­rael, said he too wel­comes Chris­tian Zion­ists’ sup­port.

“I wel­come all who sup­port Is­rael,” he said. “Their be­lief in a ‘sec­ond com­ing’ doesn’t keep me awake at night, be­cause, while the­ol­ogy may be in­ter­est­ing, it is ac­tion that can make a true dif­fer­ence in the world.”

Their be­lief in a ‘sec­ond com­ing’ doesn’t keep me awake at night Rabbi Phillip Scheim

FILE PHOTO

There are many rea­sons why evan­gel­i­cals sup­port Is­rael.

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