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Sunday, September 21, 2014

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Evangelicals who distort history and religion

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Rabbi Dow Marmur

Critics of the pro-Israel stance of millions of American mainstream evangelicals have said that they may love Jews, but they hate Judaism. Their love is manifest, above all, in their embrace of Zionism and their unequivocal commitment to the State of Israel. Their hatred, or at least animosity, is in their theology.

It’s usually described as supersessionist or replacement theology. It teaches that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen and that the new covenant with Jesus renders obsolete the old covenant with Abraham. Similarly Jewish law, rooted in the biblical covenant with Moses and developed through the ages, has been superseded by Christian love. Commandments such as, “Love your neighbour as yourself” in Leviticusarguably the most “legalistic” book of the Torah – can only be fulfilled in the religion of Christ.

In this scheme of things, the presence of Jews in the world adhering to their allegedly outdated faith delays Jesus’ second coming. But unlike those Christians who in ages past sought to punish Jews by obliterating or at least humiliating them, today’s mainstream evangelicals maintain that, when all Jews come together in the land of their ancestors, they’ll see the light, embrace the faith in Jesus and thus make possible the fulfillment of the Christian promise of the Second Coming.

Many Jews choose to respond with enthusiasm to Christian Zionists, despite their theology, because they promote tourism to Israel and influence members of the U.S. Congress to support the Jewish state. 

Being skeptical about all theology, including their own, these Jews choose not to take seriously the religious agenda of their Christian friends. They point instead to the political and practical benefits and remind us that there are many evangelicals who affirm Israel without seeking theological justification.

However, in recent years, some younger evangelicals seem to have distanced themselves from the uncritical view of the State of Israel by offering their own hostile versions of Jews and Judaism.

Influenced by liberation theology that takes the side of the underdog and denounces those in power, they want the Palestinian narrative to guide evangelical Christianity. They seek to affirm Christ at the Israeli security checkpoints that they accuse of epitomizing oppression. 

Palestinians are viewed as victims while Zionists are regarded as villains. The evangelical revisionists say they love Jews but have extended their disdain of Judaism to include the State of Israel and, by inference, its Jewish citizens and supporters.

Much of this teaching is apparently being promoted by Bethlehem Bible College.

Last month, it sponsored another conference with the telling title, “Christ at the Checkpoint.” Reports indicate that the 650 participants from 15 countries got minimal exposure to the Jewish narrative. They were told that Jesus wasn’t a Jew, but was a Palestinian, and that the notion of a Jewish People is a late invention with no roots in the Land of Israel. God never made a covenant with them, only with the Palestinians, whom the Jewish state is now oppressing.

No wonder, therefore, that Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement urging well-meaning Christians to stay away from “Christ at the Checkpoint” and described it as using religion “in order to mobilize political propaganda.”

This skewed version of history isn’t only in sharp contrast to the teachings of their parents and grandparents but also in opposition, for example, to a recent pronouncement by Pope Francis, who stated that “we hold the Jewish People in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked.” That’s one of the reasons why it has become easier for this Jew to talk to critical Catholics than to ostensibly friendly Protestants.

The stance of the latter is often highly selective. Not only does it tend to ignore the growing number of Christian Arabs in Israel who want to be part of the Jewish state and even volunteer to serve in its army, but these champions of the rights of the Palestinians seem to be ominously silent about persecution of Christians in Muslim countries.

Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Middle East scholars, distinguishes between being pro-Arab and anti-Jewish. Pro-Arabs champion the cause of Arabs under all circumstances, while anti-Jews do so only when Jews are on the other side. “Christ at the Checkpoint” seems to belong to the latter category. n

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