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1.16.2005    |    Evangelical Christians: Friends or Foes of the Jews?
[note: this is a post from a defunct blog of mine from May 2002. I thought it worth publishing anew as still being topical.]

It has become conventional wisdom that evangelical Christians are now among the best friends of the Jews. The principal reason usually cited is the role of the Jews and Israel in Christian theology, especially the Book of Revelation. In Christian (as well as Jewish) theology, the re-establishment of the State of Israel is a necessary (but not by itself sufficient) event, leading to the coming of the messiah and the end times, including the Final Judgment of all mankind by God. The messiah makes a first appearance, according to Jewish theology, and, in my Christian theology, the second -- when Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.

A second, and not less important reason for support is the fact that in the Torah, God promises the land that is now Israel, including Samaria and Judea (today's West Bank), to the descendants of Jacob i.e. the Jews. Christians include the Torah in their canon as the first five books of what we call the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures.

Same story; same belief. Fundamentalists of both faiths (using this term in a non-pejorative way) truly believe that this promise was made and was made exactly as written. End of story. Hence, how can a believing Jew or Christian go against the word of God?

However, and there always seems to be a "however" whenever religions interact, a necessary part of Christian theology is the conversion of the remnant of Israel, i.e. the Jews, in the end times. They will be given first dibs, so to speak, after those who had been saved in their lifetimes. This is clearly prophesied in the Book of Revelation.

Conversion of all who are not Christian is, of course, the sine qua non for evangelical Christians. We are only following our prime directive from Jesus to "go and baptize all of the nations" (Matthew 28:19). In my view, all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord must, definitionally, agree with this directive -- whether or not they consider themselves "evangelicals". We may disagree about methods between and even within denominations, but how can any Christian deny our Lord's command?

We who believe these words thus have no choice but to do this (or at least try). Trying to baptize all Jews, however, has had some rather unpleasant historical consequences (e.g. the Spanish Inquisition), so anything tied to mass conversion would tend be looked upon with (at best) a wary eye by Jews. To say the least.

So why this embrace by Jews (especially neoconservatives) of a group that might be more naturally situated as an adversary? The short answer is that the survival of Israel is so important that Jews must embrace any group that sincerely believes that Israel must exist. The longer answer is more nuanced. On the "buyer beware" side, The New Republic's Peter Beinert poses a caution (article may be found here). Mr. Beinert concludes his piece with this rather absolute statement: "Ultimately, if you don't love Israel for what it is, you can't be trusted to love it at all."

I must respectfully disagree, and urge those who care about Israel and neoconservatism to read Mr. Beinert's article but also consider these rebuttals:

1. The New Republic is quite liberal in its tone, using that term (liberal) in its neoconservative framing -- a product of the Enlightenment, i.e. open to many points of view but tending towards individual liberty at the expense of centralized power, be it church, synagogue, or government. However, it is also highly secular and somewhat dismissive of those on the "religious right". It also has an author who thinks Senator McCain should run for President as a Democrat, but, hey, no one's perfect...

2. The fundamentalist approach (again, using the word in its literal meaning), among modern Christians and so-called Modern Orthodox Jews, does not preclude a partial give-away of land to form a Palestinian Arab state. It is very hard to think that otherwise practical politicians as adept at their jobs as Reps. Armey and DeLay truly believe that it is all or nothing with regards Israel. That is, ceding any parcel of land to form a nascent Palestinian state somehow completely undoes God's covenant with Israel. They are too modern and pragmatic for that.

3. Modern believers (including your friendly author) must temper their messianic tendencies in the cold, hard, light of today's realities. We might believe that all of Samaria and Judea belong rightfully to the Jews (they do), but often, in human time, we must make adjustments in order to not lose our humanity. What kind of Jew or Christian truly wants to see millions of Palestinians herded onto buses or rail cars, just as was done to the Jews in Hitler's Europe? The answer is that Palestinians also are children of the same, caring God. They just need better leaders. Correction: They need leaders, period, in lieu of terrorists.

[The jury remains deadlocked over whether the Holocaust-denying, "Zionist enemy" declaring Abbas will be a real improvement over the late, unlamented Arafat.]

The bottom line is that practical men and women of good will, regardless of religious fervor, should and must support Israel. Not because it's written in the Bible. But because it is the right thing to do, to support a democratic, market-economy state that has the potential to improve the lot of all who cooperate with her. And I firmly believe that is why the bulk of the so-called Christian Right (in which the liberal mainstream media usually loosely includes evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Biblical fundamentalists) will stick with Israel, even as she negotiates a peaceful solution.

That the path to such a peace may involve opening great big ol' cans of whup-ass on the Palestinian terrorists and their Syrian- and Iranian Hamas friends is the price the Palestinians pay for their lack of vision. They are victims, yes -- victims of their own making (the cheering in the streets of Ramallah and other Palestinian towns on 9/11 still echoes...).

1 Comments:

Blogger Guy said...

Great post!

6:37 PM, January 23, 2005  

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About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.