Free Waldron?

A commentator has sent me a press release claiming that Peter Waldron, the American recently arrested in Uganda over illegal guns, has been framed as retaliation for a report he wrote about riots in the country. See the update to my entry here for further details.

There is also a new website, called Free Peter Waldron. This website includes a message from Waldron’s wife; the website’s author, Dave Racer, has also contacted me (see comments) to point out that the purported “girlfriend” arrested with Waldron was in truth his secretary, and that media reports have corrected this detail.

Falwell Denies Rabbi’s “Dual Covenant” Claim

The Jerusalem Post reports an alleged shift in Jerry Falwell’s thinking (links added):

An evangelical pastor and an Orthodox rabbi, both from Texas, have apparently persuaded leading Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell that Jews can get to heaven without being converted to Christianity.

Televangelist John Hagee and Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, whose Cornerstone Church and Rodfei Sholom congregations are based in San Antonio, told The Jerusalem Post that Falwell had adopted Hagee’s innovative belief in what Christians refer to as “dual covenant” theology.

This creed, which runs counter to mainstream evangelism, maintains that the Jewish people has a special relationship to God through the revelation at Sinai and therefore does not need “to go through Christ or the Cross” to get to heaven.

However, Falwell’s website denies that this is the case:

Earlier today, reports began circulating across the globe that I have recently stated that Jews can go to heaven without being converted to Jesus Christ. This is categorically untrue…Before today, I had never heard of Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg or had any communications with him. I therefore am at a total loss as to why he would make such statements about me to the Post, if in fact he did…Like the Apostle Paul, I pray daily for the salvation of everyone, including the Jewish people.

This is a somewhat inauspicious start to Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a new Christian Zionist lobby group headed up by Hagee. It’s also a bit of an embarrassment for the Post, which publishes a special “Christian edition” for the benefit of US Christian Zionists. Scheinberg was present at the launch of CUFI, and he told the Post that:

“It seemed there was a great deal of unity – not unanimity – on nonconversion, a nonproselytizing agenda, that the Jews have a special covenant, and this was stated over and over,”

The Post added:

…Falwell has altered his position, according to Scheinberg, apparently because the pastor decided to put End of Days theology aside in favor of the overriding need to support Israel, particularly against the mounting threat of a nuclear Iran…”Obviously Falwell was very passionate about conversion, but he absolutely clearly knows Hagee’s position and the Christians United for Israel position,” Scheinberg said. “No question about that; Hagee assured me. I would trust him in his role for Israel, for Israel’s security, to strengthen Israel. I would be very surprised if Falwell ever tried to pull a fast one…”

Falwell is being gracious when he says that he is “at a total loss as to why” Scheinberg “would make such statements”. It’s obvious that the rabbi’s rather aggressive statement (“pull a fast one”) was calculated to back Falwell into a corner. Clearly, just because the CUFI does not exist to convert Jews, it does not therefore follow that members have foresworn any attempts to evangelise Jews through their churches or other environments.

The “dual covenant” idea has been a source of controversy for a while. Religious Tolerance.org has gathered a number of documents and quotes which deal with a statement on the subject made by the Alliance of Baptists in 1995:

The Alliance of Baptists broke with conventional conservative Christian beliefs about Judaism. They issued “A Baptist Statement on Jewish-Christian Relations” on 1995-MAR-4…The Alliance acknowledged that the Nazi Holocaust was made possible only by “centuries of Christian teaching and church-sanctioned action directed against the Jews simply because they were Jews.” They called upon all Baptists to join them in:

1.       “Affirming the teaching of the Christian Scriptures that God has not rejected the community of Israel, God’s covenant people (Romans 11:1-2), since ‘the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29)…

In essence, they urged that fellow Baptists abandon the traditional, conservative supercessionist concept and accept the mainline and liberal dual covenant belief. Jews would no longer be evangelized. The Baptists advocated sincere dialogue between Christianity and Judaism, accepting both religions as being of equal stature.

The fact that Christianity is supposed to be the only true religion while being the offspring of another religion has always been a bit of a problem, and after the Holocaust the thought of millions of Jews being dispatched from Auschwitz to hell must be an intolerably distasteful proposition. The “dual covenant” idea deals with that – although we might ask a few questions: can a non-Jew get salvation by becoming a Jew, or is special “Chosen People” DNA required? What forms of Judaism are acceptable – can a Reform Jew get saved, or must he or she belong to an Orthodox group? Have Jews who converted to Christianity made a mistake? And should, say, a Buddhist listen to a Christian who says that he should become a Christian in order to be saved, or to a Jew who says that he needs only to follow various ethical commands? The Southern Baptist Convention – with which Falwell is affiliated – was having none of it:

Meeting in New Orleans, LA, in 1996-JUN, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) passed its 10th resolution on Jewish evangelism…The resolution passed by an overwhelming majority. It urged the membership to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the Gospel to the Jews.” . It criticized “an organized effort on the part of some either to deny that Jewish people need to come to their Messiah, Jesus, to be saved or to claim, for whatever reason, that Christians have neither the right nor obligation to proclaim the gospel to Jewish people.”

The SBC’s position came under fire from both mainline churches and Jewish groups. But while Falwell and the SBC reject the idea of Jews finding salvation without Jesus, Falwell and other Christian Zionists believe that Old Testament promises from God about Jewish ownership of the Holy Land remain valid, and that Jews have a special role in God’s plans. Christians who deny this are accused of propounding “Replacement Theology” and anti-Semitism.

Dual covenant theology was actually originally in large part a Jewish idea – as a way for Judaism to legitimate Christianity, rather than vice versa. A discussion on the website Jewish-Christian Relations has further details:

Paulist Press recently published a translation of Elijah Benamozegh’s book, Israel and Humanity. It is a valuable contribution to the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity, because it makes available to the English-speaking world the thoughts of an important nineteenth-century Italian rabbi in the theological discourse of what has come to be called the “dual-covenant” theory… Benamozegh’s attitude toward Christianity is almost fraternal His insights, based on the Law of Noah and the use of kabbalistic traditions, lead him to believe that Judaism and Christianity can work as religious partners in telling the world that God is One. Jews should remain absolutely committed to Judaism, which he prefers to call “Hebraism” and Gentiles should learn of the One God through Christianity. As a thoroughly Orthodox rabbi, Benamozegh does not attempt a theological fusion of Judaism and Christianity, but he is theologically progressive when he examines Christianity’s relationship with Judaism.

Similar arguments are made today by the likes of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who says that

…Judaism and Christianity simply have vastly different appeals even as they share a great deal in common. Christianity will always appeal to those who prefer a more corporeal religion, where God is incarnate in human form, just as Judaism will always appeal to those attracted to a more subtle and intangible God, and those who wish to approach God without intermediaries.

The Post also notes some of the other prominent Christian right figures involved with CUFI:

Dr. Jack Hayford, president of the Foursquare Gospel Church; Paul Walker, assistant general overseer of the Church of God; international Pastor Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church; Benny Hinn; George Morrison; Kenneth Cop[e]land; Steve Strang; Matt Croutch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network; and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council.

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog)