With friends like these…Why I can’t support the Christian Zionists
This is Rabbi Biatch’s revision of the sermon he gave last spring
when he learned that a local church would be hosting a Christians United for Israel “Night to Honor Israel” in May,with the informal but evident support of the local Jewish Federation, and “I wanted to let my congregation know where I stood on the issue.”
In our world, Jewish survival is never assured – and we Jews have never been able to find times or eras of true rest. Because of our long history of anti-Semitic relations with many host nations –their governments and peoples – we tend to be diligent in our investigations of new situations.
How much the more so should we carefully examine the motives of those who express the intense desire to be our friends.
Perhaps we are naturally suspicious, but we have learned from history NOT take things at face value.
In particular tonight, I wanted to talk about how we ought to deal with a group of people who wish to befriend the American Jewish community. There is a spirited discussion among many American Jews about whether there are advantages to be had, or dangers to be feared, in the growth of Christian Zionism in the United States.
“What is Christian Zionism?” you may ask.
Christian Zionism is a movement within the American evangelical and fundamentalist communities dedicated to promoting political and popular support for the State of Israel.
One might say that it’s AIPAC with a cross.
You may ask, “Is this a bad thing? All people of good will should support Israel, don’t you think?”
Defense of Israel crucial
Perhaps they should. But being who I am, I do wonder about the motives and rationale behind this particular brand of evangelical support of Israel. Look: Our Jewish defense of Israel is crucial, and one of our tasks, as members of the Jewish community, is to explain to the rest of America, and the world as well, the reasons that she must be allowed to thrive:
She is a haven for victims of persecution.
She is a model of experimental democracy – as is the United States – that brings together a diverse cultural and religious population.
She is a land wherein we experience the history and find the treasures of four world religions.
For all these reasons, and more, Israel must survive among the community of nations, and we should, in general, not shun the offer of support from any quarter.
Except perhaps this one. Except perhaps from this particular side of the American political and religious spectrum.
In a local newspaper I recently saw an ad for an upcoming “Night to Honor Israel,” sponsored by a local evangelical church.
A night to honor Israel?
Why not?! Israel needs all the help she can get, especially at a time when she faces countless threats, both internal and external.
Who among us would not stand with Israel against the maniacal Iranian president who threatens nuclear annihilation?!
Who among us would not wish to eliminate the terror that daily faces Israel’s borders and populace?!
And in a broader realm, who among us would not want to strengthen the ties between Judaism and Christianity, especially at this moment when every one of us need to band together for friendship, and for meeting the many challenges of our nation and the world?!
Many wary of Christian Zionists’ support of Israel
Yet many in the American Jewish community are, I think, apprehensive of the support of Israel from this particular segment of the Christian community.
First a disclaimer: I do not believe that these Christians are hoping to convert us. They have pledged that their “nights to honor Israel” in support of Israel will be non-proselytizing, and I believe that.
In the language of students of religion, they claim to believe in a “dual covenant” theology, one that accepts as valid the many covenants made between God and Israel, and those made with the Christian community.
So from the conversionary standpoint, we could be sanguine about working side-by-side with this group of Christians because they do not threaten our Jewish identity.
But I am troubled about other aspects of their philosophy and approach to relating to Israel. Some of what concerns me comes from their worldview of the ‘end times.’
The normative viewpoints of both Christianity and Judaism both look toward the coming of the Messianic Era. Christianity prays for the Second Coming; Judaism hopes for the Messiah to arrive – as our liturgy says – ‘speedily, and in our day.”
This is all well and good, and through our worship and religious observances we pray that whatever the nature of the Next World, or as we call it in Hebrew, the Olam Habah, it will be good for all of us.
Those who call themselves Christian Zionists in this era do not simply PRAY for the return of the Christian Messiah. They have lobbied our government to actualize and hasten Armageddon, that prophesied battle that will presage the coming of the Messiah.
And they do it through their agitating for war with Iran.
One of the most prominent Christian Zionist groups these days is Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Its leader’s name is Pastor John Hagee, a charismatic preacher who has predicted that this ‘end-times’ battle of Armageddon will take place within a modern-day confrontation with Iran.
In the summer of 2006, during the Israel – Hezbollah war, Pastor Hagee and his organization – which claims to represent 50 million evangelical Christians in this country – lobbied our government against imposing a diplomatic solution during the early stages of the war. They were hoping that Israel and Hezbollah’s battles would eventually bring Syria and Iran actively into the fighting, thereby resulting in the Armageddon they seek.
Pastor Hagee advocates striking Iran also because of its animosity toward Israel, and because Iran is, in Hagee’s view, the spawning ground of radical Islam, an enemy to both Israel and the United States.
I do not deny that the current president of Iran represents a serious threat to Israel; he would decimate us immediately had he the means to do so.
No: My real fear regarding Pastor Hagee’s approach is that he and his 50 million followers would push our government toward an unnecessary and pre-mature confrontation through which, they believe, they would attain Christian religious fulfillment.
In my view, such a crusade would result in far greater death and destruction than we could imagine.
We Jews see things with different eyes. The prophet Isaiah, for example, describes the so-called ‘end of days’ in decidedly different terms. He writes:
It shall come to pass in the last of days, that the mountain of the Eternal God’s house shall be established above all mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall go and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Eternal, to the house of the God of Jacob; and God will teach us God’s divine ways, and we will walk in God’s paths; for from Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Eternal from Jerusalem.” And God shall judge among the nations, and shall decide for many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they ever again train for war” (Isaiah 2:2-4)
What a vision! Lofty, peaceful. A Messianic era heralded and conducted by a desire to draw near to God’s learning and instruction, and marked by a DISMANTLING of machines of war.
Isaiah’s description reminded me of the Ed McCurdy song that so many artists have recorded, Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. THAT would be beautiful to behold. (You can read McCurdy’s lyrics here; you can hear Pete Seeger sing a verse or buy the track of him singing the song here.)
I do not believe that this dazzling and peaceable vision would be the result, however, if Pastor Hagee assumed the responsibility of initiating the coming of the Messiah.
My friends, this violent desire for Armageddon would be reason enough to resist Hagee’s eager advances toward the Jewish community. But there is more.
Pastor Hagee discourages trading land for peace
In thinking about a different aspect of Israel’s life, Pastor Hagee actively discourages trading land for peace, a formula that has actually been embraced by a majority of Israelis, as well as many world governments, including our own. Hagee would insist that Israel maintain its biblically defined borders, that Israel not pull back from ‘one square centimeter of land,’ and that Israel certainly not give the Palestinians a home on what is now occupied territories.
“After all,” he would argue, “this is the land that God gave Israel as an eternal inheritance. They have no right to give it away.”
The first part of that statement is true. God DID give the land of Israel to the people of Israel as an eternal inheritance. But the latter statement is NOT found in the Bible, and is, in fact, debated throughout our tradition.
I believe we have the responsibility to INVEST our inheritance in the future, and I believe the best investment is to give this land to others for the sake of true peace. By doing so, we will also save lives and bring calm to the land, two of the loftiest and supreme values of our tradition.
One other aspect of Pastor Hagee’s philosophy concerns me, and that is his maligning of Islam.
If he were only to condemn RADICAL Islam, or Islamism, as a perversion of Islam, we might be able to agree with him.
But in sermons that Pastor Hagee has given, he questions whether Islam is a religion of peace,1 and he questions the patriotism of American Muslims.2
He cites, for example, some of the bellicose statements found in the Koran, and therefore concludes that Islam is not a religion of peace.
I seem to recall a few war-like verses in the Hebrew bible. We, Muslims and Jews, share this trait. Yet no one I know would label Judaism as anything other than a religion that strives for peace.
He also asserts that 82% of American Muslims did not support the first Gulf War with Iraq, and therefore were disloyal Americans.
If a similar poll were taken of American Jews regarding the current war in Iraq, I might guess that a large majority of American Jews would likely express very similar attitudes. Would that cause Pastor Hagee to label us Jews as disloyal Americans as well?
Positions with which Jews cannot agree
I could also speak about evangelical and fundamentalist organizations such as CUFI that often seek to advance a domestic social agenda that is anathema to OUR values. On issues of reproductive freedom, gender equality, acceptance of differences in sexual orientation, church-state separation, advances in bio-technological research, and global warming, many in the evangelical community take positions that are repressive, racist, exclusionary – and dangerous. Pastor Hagee has made direct statements blaming homosexuals for God sending forth divine wrath against New Orleans through Hurrican Katrina. We Jews could, in no way, agree with these positions.
Politics do sometimes make strange bedfellows. But sometimes it is just wrong.
So I hope you understand my angst when I contemplate members of Pastor Hagee’s organization wanting to support Israel.
And I hope you will accept my absence at this upcoming ‘Night to Honor Israel,’ and the fact that I would not support this event in any way.
And I hope you’ll see a little of why I might keep looking over my shoulder when these kinds of ‘friends’ come to call.
And I hope that you will continue this dialogue with me within our Jewish community, so that we can communicate with one another our hopes and our fears about what is best for the future of Jewish survival.
The opinions and views articulated by the author do not necessarily reflect those of Israel e News.