By William Wanger
In a recent issue of the Jewish Exponent, there was a review of the new documentary “’Til Kingdom Come,” which investigates American evangelical Christian support for Israel and which screened last month at the Gershman Jewish Film Festival in Philadelphia. It sounds as though the filmmaker, Maya Zinshtein, could have benefited from doing more research, as the film apparently simplistically asserts that the reason evangelicals support Israel financially and otherwise, and show warmth for the Jewish People, is to convert Jews, and prepare for the rapture and Armageddon, during which Jews will be asked to convert to Christianity.
For a more balanced view, Zinshtein should have looked at pro-evangelical sources, like David Brog’s “Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State.” In that book, the Jewish author states the primary reason for American evangelical support for Israel, and their love for the Jewish people, is that God said, in Genesis, that “He will bless those who bless the Jews, and curse those who curse the Jews; and that all peoples on Earth will be blessed through the Jewish People.”
That’s it. Oh, and evangelicals believe that God actually said what is written in Genesis (and, unlike most Jews, they can cite the specific Torah chapter and verse), and they believe that the post-
Holocaust watchwords “never again” obligate those modern Righteous Gentiles to demonstrate that “never again” is not a mere platitude.
I am a Zionist, a pro-Israel advocate and a proud Jewish American who was brought up in a Conservative Jewish home. For decades, I have worked with evangelical groups, including Christians United for Israel and the Delaware-based Olive Tree Ministries, on a multitude of pro-Israel-related matters. In addition, my business life has brought me into close and regular contact with evangelicals.
Among other things, evangelicals showed me how to bring God into nearly every aspect of our modern lives, from reading (Old Testament, in my honor) prayers before board meetings, to treating employees as family, to humbly performing charitable acts and tithing, all to better the lives of their neighbors (many of whom are recent immigrants) and directly support their greater community. While, perhaps, my Judaism might also have taught me those things, it was my interaction with Old Testament-steeped evangelicals that brought them home.
Moreover, on more than one occasion, I have sadly felt more aligned with my
eva ngelical friends than with my Reform Jewish co-religionists on matters involving Israel’s security, including the Golan Heights; Israel’s legal and the Jewish people’s ancestral rights to a united Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria; calling out Palestinian violence and “play to slay” policies; and demanding that Israel’s actions be measured by the same moral and legal standards that the world applies to other nations. The number of evangelicals who regularly write and visit legislators advocating on pro-Israel matters, travel to Israel (even during the intifadas) and contribute to pro-Israel causes dwarfs that of most of the greater American Jewish community.
At none of the CUFI “Nights to Honor Israel” or in any of my other interactions with evangelicals was my conversion, “tribulations,” Armageddon or the rapture ever mentioned or implied. Rather, I have seen Israel honored, and Jews and Judaism venerated. Unlike the people interviewed in the documentary, I am not uncomfortable with evangelical pro-Israel support and philosemitism. Would some evangelicals like Jews to convert to Christianity? Of course. Do some support the Jewish return to Israel to hasten Jesus’ return to Earth? Surely. Do some evangelicals believe that I will not go to heaven because I don’t accept Jesus as my savior? Yes. My response is: “So what?”
I know that the hearts of some of my evangelical friends truly ache because they fear I will not go to heaven. Clearly, Jews and American evangelicals have different theologies. I simply don’t agree with them; and will worry about the after-life when I get there. That’s what comes through my knowledge of my religion, its beliefs and appreciation of its particular teachings, laws and values.
Frankly, I say leave it to God to sort out whose theology is true, offers a better path to promoting human goodness and provides a better value system. As Dennis Prager and Rev. Jerry Falwell famously agreed, if American evangelicals continue their current support for the State of Israel and continue to treat the Jewish people with love and kindness, we will accept Jesus, upon his return, as the messiah. That’s a fair deal. Judaism is laser-focused on the here and now, and values, most highly, how people behave rather than what they may think or believe.
Today, in a dangerous and threatening world for Israel and the Jewish people, Am Yisrael need all the friends we can get. If, “’Til Kingdom Come,” American evangelicals continue to honor and support their Jewish brothers and sisters, and a safe, strong and vibrant Jewish State with secure and recognized borders, that’s good enough for me.
William Wanger is chair of the PA/SNJ chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition.