How are we to relate to those Evangelical Christians who are pro-Israel, but who view our adoption of the Christian faith as their ultimate goal?
The first step in the process is to be aware of our own identity and raison d’etre. Anyone who studies our Sacred Scriptures will realize that we have a spiritual raison d’etre, for we have a Covenant with Hashem, the Compassionate One, to be the people of the Torah, so that we can become a model of its teachings. A major theme of our Covenant which can guide us in our relationship with Christians is expressed in the following Divine statement in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not have other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). We, the people of the Torah, are to serve only the One and Unifying Creator of the Universe; thus, we are forbidden to deify any object, creature, or human being, including a Jewish human being! Throughout the centuries of our exile, a core group of our people had the strength and the courage to resist all attempts to force us through violence or persuade us with words to abandon our Covenant and accept the belief in the man that Christians deified. They called him, “The Lord and Savior”; however, we remembered the following Divine proclamation:
“I, only I, am Hashem, and there is no Savior aside from Me.” (Isaiah 43:11)
The Christians also made this man into the Messiah. In fact, the suffering that we and humanity have experienced over the centuries was the best proof that the Messiah had not yet arrived, for the prophets tell us in chapter 11 of Isaiah and in other chapters in our Scriptures that the arrival of the Messiah will inaugurate an age of universal enlightenment, unity, and shalom. We therefore realize that our task is to strive to bring the messianic age closer through spiritual renewal and good deeds. In this spirit, the Prophet Isaiah stated: “Zion shall be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27). This prophecy is a reminder of how our Covenant with Hashem emphasizes the importance of redeeming this earthly world through the Torah’s path of mitzvos – sacred deeds which help us to elevate and sanctify every area of human existence. The Christian Church, however, tried to force our people to abandon this path of mitzvos.
During periods of Christian persecution, when we were given the choice – “the cross or death” – many of our ancestors gave up their lives rather than accept Christianity. The very least we can do is to act with dignity and self-respect when relating to those Evangelical Christians who seek to persuade us to adopt their religion. Yes, many of these Christians are now sincerely concerned about the economic and physical security of Israel; however, as I shall discuss in this article, there are aspects of their agenda which pose a threat to our spiritual security. In fact, a major theme within our Sacred Scriptures is that both our economic and physical security depends on our spiritual security! The following Divine proclamation can serve as an example:
“If you will walk in My statutes and observe My mitzvos [commandments] and fulfill them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruits…you will dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you… and a sword will not cross your land. ” (Leviticus 26:3-6)
When I was living among the hippies of the East Village of Manhattan in the summer of 1970, there were a number of missionary centers that were attracting young Jews with little or no Torah education. When I visited these places, I would participate in the discussions and defend our people and our heritage when needed. Most of the Jewish hippies enjoyed hearing my defense of Judaism, and the missionaries were shocked to meet a Jew who could refute their claims through quoting Scriptures. I felt much pain when I encountered a few young Jews that had already become Christians, and this experience led me to devote my life to helping searching Jews return to their own spiritual roots.
During the period when I served as the director of the Martin Steinberg Center for Jewish artists, I had dialogues with pro-Israel Evangelical Christians who desired to be friends with me, especially since my religious faith caused them to feel that they could relate to me more easily than with secular-oriented Jews. They did not openly try to “convert” me, but they believed that only those who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior could be “saved” and be able to go to heaven. According to their theology, the Nazi murderers who accepted Jesus as their Savior could go to heaven, but the souls of their six million Jewish victims were eternally damned. My ongoing dialogues with them caused me to realize that the ultimate goal of their overtures of friendship to me and other Jews was to persuade us to adopt the Christian faith. As Kay Arthur, a prominent pro-Israel Christian minister who works with Zionist activists, said: “The Jews need conversion” (CBS 60 Minutes, Oct. 6, 2002). To achieve this goal, a number of Evangelical groups are seeking ways to get entry into Jewish communities, especially in Israel, through their support of Israel, through contributions to Israel-related causes, and through inviting Jewish groups to co-sponsor programs with them, including programs on religious themes. They also fund missionary activity among Israel’s Jewish population, especially among poor immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who have little or no Jewish education.
The leaders of the largest Evangelical community in the United States, the Southern Baptists, have publicly urged their members to target Jews for conversion, as according to their theology, we are an “unsaved” people. While they and some other Evangelical leaders have the honesty to admit that our “conversion” is the ultimate goal of their relationship with us, the current tactic of certain Evangelical leaders with a similar theology is to tell the Jewish community that they do not have missionary intentions, and that they are supporting Israel only because of their “love” and “friendship” for our people. There are some Zionist activists who believe their claim, despite the fact that the very essence of Evangelical Christianity is “evangelism” – preaching the gospel to others. In fact, two leading pro-Israel Evangelical preachers with a large following denied a rumor that they had accepted a theology advocated by some Christians called “Dual Covenant” – a theology which teaches that the Jewish people have their own covenant with God and therefore do not need to become Christians. As the Jerusalem Post reported on March 2, 2006:
Pastors John Hagee and Jerry Falwell have both denied a report in The Jerusalem Post earlier this week that they embrace the "dual covenant" theology, which holds that Jews are saved through a special relationship with God and so need not become Christians to get to heaven. In a statement to the Post, the Texas-based televangelist Hagee said that neither he nor Southern Baptist pastor Falwell "believe or teach Dual Covenant."
There are some Zionist leaders and activists who prefer to ignore the above information, due to the support, contributions, and words of admiration for our people from prominent Evangelical Christian leaders. I therefore feel that we need to understand the deeper wisdom of the following Divine mandate and apply it to our issue:
“You shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make righteous words crooked” (Deuteronomy 16:19).
If we continue to accept “bribes” – money and flattery – from Evangelical Christian groups without reservations, then this can cause many Jews to be blind to the missionary agenda of these groups. Let us therefore remember that the souls of our people are not for sale!
Some Zionist activists argue that our growing isolation among the nations, the growing anti-Semitism, and the proclamations of the leader of Iran and some other Muslim leaders which call for the destruction of the State of Israel and its people should cause us to cooperate with Evangelical Christian groups on all levels, regardless of their missionary agenda. For example, Gilad Erdan, a member of Israel’s Knesset (legislature), was critical of the Israeli government for not doing more to promote close cooperation with these Evangelical groups. He advocated a policy that says, “We need to cooperate on all levels with Christian supporters of Israel” (Jerusalem Post, 22 Iyar, 5767 – May 10, 2007).
I understand the great concern for our people which motivates activists like Gilad Erdan, but I do not agree that we need to cooperate with these Evangelical groups “on all levels” and thereby strengthen their ability to gain entry into our communities. In our relationship with these groups, we need to be cordial and also cautious; appreciative and also apprehensive. We need the wisdom to know when we can cooperate with these groups and when we cannot, and in my community, we consult with leading Torah sages for guidance on this issue.
Yes, we are going through a period of great danger and suffering, but these challenges should cause us to strengthen ourselves spiritually through renewing our bond with the Torah, which our Scriptures refers to as, “a tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18). Our life-giving Judaism has preserved us as a people; thus, it is harmful to our people when some Zionist activists, out of a sense of desperation, enthusiastically embrace Christian groups that seek to persuade us to replace our Judaism with their religion. These Zionist activists should therefore strengthen their faith and courage by remembering the following Divine promise that the Redeeming One gave to our people – His suffering servant, Israel:
“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham who loved Me; you whom I shall grasp from the ends of the earth and shall summon from among all its nobles, and to whom I shall say, ‘You are My servant’ – I have chosen you and not rejected you! Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:8-10).
Our desire to be loved and accepted by others should not cause us to put our faith in human beings that may support us today and abandon us tomorrow, according to the needs of their own religious and/or political agenda. A reminder of this reality can be found in a press release from the National Association of Evangelicals which also appeared on their website on July 22, 2003. The press release was in response to Jewish concerns about the way Mel Gibson’s film – “The Passion” – portrayed the Jewish people, and it contained the following subtle warning:
“There is a great deal of pressure on Israel right now, and Christians seem to be a major source of support for Israel. For the Jewish leaders to risk alienating 2 billion Christians over a movie seems shortsighted.”
Regarding human promises of support, the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed:
“All flesh is like grass, and all its kindness like a blossom in the field...Grass withers and the blossom fades, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:6,8)
Rabbi Joseph Karo, one of our classical biblical commentators, explains that the Prophet is conveying the Divine message that human promises cannot be relied upon, “but the word of our God shall stand forever.”
Let us therefore be true to ourselves and put our faith in the One Who has promised to redeem us and all humankind in the age when, “the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed” (Isaiah 11:9).
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen is the author of "The Universal Jew" (Feldheim Books) and the director of the e-mail Torah study program, "Hazon - Our Universal Vision": www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/