Jewish Author Celebrates Christian Zionism

A new book by a former chief of staff to Arlen Specter makes bold claims about the influence of Christian Zionism over the current US administration:

Evangelical Christians have become a powerful pro-Israel force in America. In fact, when Republicans hold the balance of power in Washington, evangelical Christians become the most powerful pro-Israel force in America. Evangelical leaders speak to the White House and Congress as the representatives of the largest single voting block within the Republican Party.

The author is David Brog, and his book – Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State – is a call for his fellow American Jews to stop worrying and to learn to love evangelical Christians:

Something truly extraordinary is taking place here and now. American Christianity is being taken over by righteous Gentiles. Unlike during the Holocaust, the Jews aren’t being abandoned to their fate. Across America, church by church, one by one, Christians are putting on the yellow star. They are standing with the Jews. This time, they are determined not to leave the Jews or their nation, Israel, to fight alone.

And if Christian Zionists are “putting on the yellow star”, we must assume that Christian critics of Israel are putting on the swastika. But Brog’s “discovery” is hardly a new theme, of course – Merill Simon’s Jerry Falwell and the Jews made much the same pitch to the same target readership back in 1984, while Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s enthusiasm for Pentecostals was noted on this blog some time ago. Brog’s book also has a foreword by John Hagee, the powerful pro-Israel megachurch pastor who announced his latest lobbying strategy a couple of months ago:

Televangelist John Hagee told Jewish community leaders over the weekend that the 40 million evangelical Christians in the United States support Israel and that he plans to utilize this power to help Israel by launching a Christian pro-Israel lobby.

…Hagee – the founder and senior pastor of the evangelical Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, that claims an active membership of more than 18,000 – said the lobby’s activities would be a “political earthquake.”

Brog’s website carries extracts from his book, as well as some interviews. Here’s his take on Christian Zionist motivations:

Personally, most Christian Zionists opposed the Oslo process on the grounds that they did not trust Arafat as a partner for peace. Their concerns, of course, were eventually validated.

(Brog is Ehud Barak’s cousin, by the way)

They now tend to oppose relinquishing more of the West Bank to a Hamas-run government that would view such concessions as a victory for terror and likely use such land as a base from which to further attack Israel. In addition, a biblical basis for opposing such concessions no doubt bolsters such practical concerns.

Yet despite their opposition and private criticism, most Christian Zionists have also recognized that it is inappropriate to sit here in America and actively oppose decisions made by a democratically-elected Israeli government.

Well, that’s so to some extent – Pat Robertson’s claim that Ariel Sharon had been struck down by God in vengeance over the Gaza withdrawal was repudiated by many of his fellow evangelists, and Herb Zweibon’s claim (see here) that Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank or Gaza would lead to Christian disillusionment and “anti-Semitism in America like you have never seen” has so far failed to come to pass. It’s also true that some evangelical leaders, such as Ted Haggard, support Israel primarily for political reasons rather than because of specific beliefs about the end of the world. But to reduce “prophecy-based” support for Israeli expansionism to being a “bolster” for “practical concerns” downplays a very influential trend in American evangelical Christian thinking. And the extent to which Christian Zionists intend to keep out of Israeli politics is debatable – Pastor James Vineyard of Oklahoma spent more than a million dollars opposing the Gaza withdrawal, while one Christian Zionist group has actually moved into the Jewish settlement of Beit El in the West Bank in solidarity with the Israeli far right.

Brog also discusses Jews and Judaism in evangelical theology:

Yet just because evangelicals believe that Judaism has been “perfected” by the coming of Christ does not mean that they view the Jews as having been superseded or cast aside. Because most evangelicals reject replacement theology, they believe that the Jews are still in covenant in God and still have a central role to play in God’s plan for humanity. The Jews are, in a sense, seen as allies of the Church in bringing about the salvation of humanity, and each has a distinctive role to play.

Thus the significance of the rejection of replacement theology is not that it acknowledges the truth of Judaism so much as it acknowledges an ongoing role for the Jews. The most dangerous aspect of replacement theology has thus been removed. As Christian scholar Franklin Littell has noted, “To teach that a people’s mission in God’s providence is finished, that they have been relegated to the limbo of history, has murderous implications which murderers will in time spell out.”

So-called “replacement theology”, or “supercessionism”, argues that the promises supposedly made by God to the ancient Israelites have now passed on to the church. This belief accords with traditional Christian exclusivity and universalism: Christianity is supposed to be the one true religion for everyone, and so Judaism no longer serves any divine purpose; God works through Christians, rather than through a chosen race. As the well-known British evangelical minister John Stott puts it:

according to the apostles, the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christ and in the international community of Christ. A return to Jewish nationalism would seem incompatible with this New Testament perspective of the international community of Jesus. (1)

This doesn’t mean that Christians today have to oppose the modern state of Israel, but it does mean that the state is purely a part of secular history and can therefore be subject to same sort of criticism as any other country without fear of angering God. The likes of Hagee and Haggard, meanwhile, believe that Genesis 9:25 (God’s promise to Abraham that “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”) means that any opposition to Israel is opposition to God. US congressman Mark Souder explained this to PBS in 2004:

The fundamentalist tradition that I am out of says, “Stand with Israel at all costs.” It’s one of the ways you measure, just like abortion: Do I understand that Christians are grafted on? That God gave Israel to the Jews?…So when you come to a question like the [separation] wall, I would prefer, just personally, that Israel handle things a little bit differently from time to time. But the bottom line is, they’re God’s chosen people. He’s going to stand with them…they’re God’s chosen people. And he gave, in the Old Testament, Israel to the Jews, more or less, right or wrong.

“Replacement theology” is also a stick to beat other Christians: if unconditional support for Israel is predicated on a philo-Semitic theology, then Christian criticism of Israel must be due to a theology that is anti-Semitic. The fact that some Palestinian Christians, finding their own Bible being used against them by Christian Zionists, have stressed the position taken by Stott, is used as further evidence of Jew-hatred (see this Melanie Phillips article).

However, the alternative scheme laid out by Brog is surely less than satisfactory: few conservative Christians accept the “dual covenant” view that Judaism and Christianity are equally valid, and Jerry Falwell recently repudiated reports that he subscribed to such a belief (and the more liberal mainline Christian view that has an appreciation for world religions in general would be off the scale). Back in 1962, a Pentecostal minister named William Hull attempted to save the soul of Adolf Eichmann through several prison visits, but his vision of a redeemed Eichmann entering heaven while six million Jews were consigned to hell was not generally well received by the public. I don’t know if Hull was a Christian Zionist, but this remains the standard conservative evangelical view of salvation, even if it appears tasteless to express it in such a way. Christian Zionism indeed gives Jews “a central role to play in God’s plan for humanity”, but they remain lost if they die as non-Christians. Souder maintains that there is no need to convert the Jews, since Jesus will do that when he returns to the earth – but that ignores Jews who pass away in the interim. If Jews are indeed “allies of the Church in bringing about the salvation of humanity”, as Brog describes the Christian Zionist position, they appear to have a very poor end of the deal.

And there’s a flipside to the argument that Brog quotes from Littell: if giving the Jews and Israel a continuing role in the Christian narrative means they are less likely to be murdered, where does that leave Jews who have no wish to have a religious mission imposed on them? I’ve heard Christian Zionists say that anti-Semitism is God’s way of persuading reluctant Jews to return to Israel. Gershom Gorenberg’s analysis of John Hagee’s views on the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin provides disturbing reading:

Hagee…starts by praising Rabin’s brilliance and personal warmth. But then he gives the backdrop to Rabin’s murder. Israel, he says, is divided between religious Jews who think they have a “holy deed to the land” and Jews who “put more faith in man than in the God of their fathers.”…And, he says, Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, belonged to the religious side of Israel. From there, readers are left to draw their own conclusions. (2)

Littell’s perspective is also alarming for the Palestinians, who appear to be an obstacle to the “central role” ordained by God for the Jews. As I’ve noted before, the Christian Zionist author Mike Evans argues that the only reason Arabs exist at all was because Abraham disobeyed God by impregnating Hagar. Does Brog have anything to say about the “murderous implications” of this?

But these are mere theological abstractions, and Brog is concerned with two practical concerns: getting evangelicals and Jews to work closer together, and reinforcing among Christians the idea that a lack of support for Israel is a form of anti-Semitism.

******

(1) John Stott, ‘Foreword,’ in The Land of Promise, edited by Philip Johnston and Peter Walker, (Downers Grove, Illinois, Inter-Varsity, 2000), pp. 10-11. Some sources incorrectly attribute this quote to Stephen Sizer, a British Anglican cleric who supports Palestinian rights.

(2) Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount (Oxford University Press, USA, 2002), p. 165.

9 Responses

  1. A most humble Remonstrance to the Inquisitors of Spain and Portugal:

    “You put us to death who believe only what you believe, because we do not believe all that you believe. We follow a religion which you yourselves know to have been formerly dear to God. We think that God loves it still, and you think that he loves it no more: and because you judge thus, you make those suffer by sword and fire who hold an error so pardonable as to believe that God still loves what he once loved.”

    Quoted in Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws, Book 25 (link)

    I wonder whether these are Christians first, or if they are Bush supporters who want to use the Bible to push them.

  2. […] that’s traditional Christian exclusivity for you. I discussed this in relation to Jews recently, as it […]

  3. […] looked at Brog here, and at previous White House meetings with Christian Zionist lobby groups […]

  4. […] projects include Bibles for Iraq; a launch party for David Brog (another character I’ve encountered before); and meetings with Shimon Peres, Saeb Erekat, and the 1994 Prime Minister of Jordan. Possibly […]

  5. […] Brog’s Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State, which I blogged on here). As ever, there’s a call for Jews to get along with evangelicals: First of all, the Jewish […]

  6. […] Strang also publishes a couple of other authors I have looked at on this blog: John Hagee and David Brog. Also, I blogged on claims of large-scale conversions to Christianity in Iraqi Kurdistan […]

  7. […] blogged on Brog (who hasn’t made any declaration of belonging to the Christian faith that I can find) a few […]

  8. […] putting forward the argument that Hagee’s detractors are guilty of religious prejudice. As I blogged back in 2006, Brog is the author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State, […]

  9. […] (Hat tip: Sarah Posner, who also gets to the bottom of the Hagee-Jim Hutchens spilt, which I blogged here. I blogged on David Brog here.) […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *