By Harmony Grant
5 September 2007
Miracles can happen, even in the lazy heat of summer. At the end of July, 34 evangelical leaders signed a remarkable letter to the President. It urges a more balanced view of Israel than is generally heard from the American pulpit.
“Precisely as evangelical Christians committed to the full teaching of the Scriptures, we know that blessing and loving people (including Jews and the present State of Israel) does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted,” say these leaders, “Genuine love and genuine blessing means acting in ways that promote the genuine and long-term well being of our neighbors.”
Their letter endorses a two-state solution and acknowledges that “both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine.”
Though unlikely to fully satisfy all anti-Zionists, the letter writers still powerfully disagree with Christian pro-Israel groups such as Pastor John Hagee’s influential Christians United for Israel (CUFI). CUFI lobbies for a preemptive strike of Iran; it ardently opposes any return of illegal Jewish settlements to the Palestinians who were violently expelled from them. Christian Zionists like Hagee believe that “blessing God’s chosen people” means supplying Israel with fervent moral, financial, and military support. Most believe this will hasten Christ’s return.
Not all evangelicals agree! The letter’s 34 signers seek “to correct a serious misperception among some people including some U.S. policymakers that all American evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution and creation of a new Palestinian state that includes the vast majority of the West Bank . Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Hagee himself quickly responded. He fired a rebuttal letter to the White House, denouncing his dissenting brethren—who include the editor of Christianity Today, presidents of Fuller Theological Seminary and The Christian and Missionary Alliance (of 2,000 churches), and chairman of World Relief, among others.
These letters show a very healthy, unforeseen and public rift in the Christian evangelical church! The Jewish Week quotes Richard Cizik, VP of the National Association of Evangelicals, saying the letters reflect a deepening theological split among evangelicals over the church’s duty to Israel and the Jewish people.
This question deeply matters: How do we bless the descendants of Abraham? What we owe Israel matters to all Americans, church-going or not. We are giving almost $2.5 billion to the Jewish state this year, more than to any other nation. Our struggle in Iraq, which can largely be blamed on our loyalty to Israel, costs us more $3 billion every week! (Yes, you read that right: $3 billion a week.) The largest pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington DC, period. Politicians say that what Israel wants, Israel gets. The seemingly distant struggle in the Mideast is actually very close—relevant to every taxpayer and voter, both to us and to our children.
Hagee Twists Scripture
John Hagee claims that “Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff” at the letter sent by the 34 Christian leaders. His organization, CUFI, opposes “ America pressuring Israel to give up more land to anyone for any reason.” Hagee says, “God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a covenant in the Book of Genesis for the land of Israel that is eternal and unbreakable, and that covenant is still intact.” This point of view is prevalent in the American church but is not based on a truthful reading of the Bible.
I sometimes think Christian Zionists must have an alternate Bible that’s missing passages like Gen.18:19 which says Abraham's descendants can claim the covenant promises given to Abraham only when they "keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice." Maybe the Zionist Bible is also missing Deut. 4: 26, 27 and 30:1-3 which promise God's exile to Jews who reject His law, requiring obedience before they can return. God's judgment of sin is as timeless as His blessing for the obedient! In three dramatic expulsions (after the covenant was given), God deprived rebellious Jews of the right to occupy the land. Are these conditional terms—repeated through the Old Testament—somehow missing from Hagee’s Bible?
In July, journalist Max Blumenthal made Rapture Ready, a brief documentary about one of Hagee’s “Nights to Honor Israel .” A member of Hagee’s audience told Blumenthal that a sign of the “beast” is that he will force Israel into a peace treaty with the Arabs. This audience member reflects the irrational and unbiblical passion for Israel that has turned evangelicals—from church pews to the White House—into the servants of right-wing Jewish Zionists.
“Obviously, we have to be connected to Israel in order to enjoy the second coming of Christ,” former House majority leader Tom DeLay told Blumenthal.
But this is not at all obvious! Should we be connected to Israel through unconditional support of her actions, whether just or unjust—or as the righteous prophets and Christ Himself were connected: through loving rebuke? The Bible provides strong reasons to disagree with Hagee’s passionate and undiscriminating support of the Jewish state.
Christians Speaking the Truth
Last March, prominent talk radio host Janet Parshall publicly dropped out of a Jewish-Christian caucus in Jerusalem after it condemned Christian evangelism of Israeli Jews.
“I thought, wait a minute. We can’t just blindly support Israel,” Parshall said. “We have to be able to tell them [about Christ] as a friend, you can’t do that. You can’t silence us.” She says she realized that Israel was telling evangelicals, “We’ll take your aid, your support and your tourist dollars, but we won’t take your Jesus.”
Like all true Christians, Parshall wants to bless Israel as God commands. But she realized blind moral and financial support is not a true blessing! Rather, Christians must speak the whole truth in love, seeking first to share the blessing of redemption through Christ. She criticized Christian Zionists for suggesting that Jews can be saved apart from obedient trust in Christ. “That’s not true,” she said.
She’s right. And Cizik (VP of the Nat. Assoc. of Evangelicals, remember) said Parshall’s position is “gaining traction” among evangelicals. “I hear that a lot,” he told the Jewish Week.
I think St. Paul would be very pleased. He said divisions must come in the church, in order to prove who is standing with the truth. Paul himself publicly rebuked his fellow apostle, Peter, for reverting to Jewish laws out of fear, instead of standing on the salvation Christ brought. Today, the Zionism and increasing Judaization of the American church would certainly earn his public rebuke! Evangelical debate over our duty to Israel is long overdue, and I only pray it will grow. It's high time the church exalted the whole Biblical truth. In this case, contention is good!
Harmony Grant writes and edits for National Prayer Network, a Christian/conservative watchdog group.
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