Jonathan Feldstein takes a look at the Christian support for Israel.
I was interviewed by a journalist recently about the phenomena of Christian support for Israel. As much as this is something that has been central in my life for most of my adult life, it’s something that most don’t understand.
The interview came up in light of two recent events, but needs to be discussed openly. It’s a revolutionary phenomenon, turning the tide on the history of Jewish-Christian relations since the early church 1,700 years ago.
The two catalysts were the appointment of Israel’s first Bishop, Dr. Glenn Plummer of Detroit, representing the largest Black church in the world, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), and the airing of a documentary on Israeli television about Christian support.
This also came on the heals of an incredible Detroit-area event in which I had the privilege to participate virtually, the 16th annual “Thank God for Israel” event co-sponsored by the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry and the Michigan Jewish Action Council.
For most of my career, and a significant part of my adult life, I have been centrally involved in building bridges among Christians of all backgrounds. It’s the raison d’etre of the Genesis 123 Foundation of which I have the privilege to be president. Together with a diverse board, we’ve pioneered a variety of programs that bring Jews and Christians together, building understanding with an emphasis on the things that unite us: the God of Israel, the Land of Israel, the People of Israel and the State of Israel.
I was always aware of perfunctory interfaith activities, such as model Passover Seders and the like. These make people feel good, but rarely engendered very much substantive personal or ongoing interaction, or genuine relationships. Over the decades, as I have spent my time building bridges anchored in meaningful personal relationships, I realize that despite how far we have come, there’s much more to be done.
Too many Jews believe Christian support for Israel has a nefarious agenda. This was highlighted in the Israeli documentary, and in allegations about Bishop Plummer (see JN, Nov. 12, pg. 28).
Indeed, Jews and Christians have some major theological differences. These shouldn’t be ignored. But we have much more in common, beginning from the foundational elements of the Torah, and all of Tanach, which represents some 80 percent of the Christian bible.
Yes, maybe there’s an agenda among some who don’t support the growing fellowship and healing of a breach that started when “the Church” defined itself by “replacement theology.” Many, maybe even most Christians, don’t know the history of “the Church” included horrific crimes against the Jewish people. For many who do understand, there’s a significant element of repentance involved with their relationship with the Jewish people today.
For most, Jews and Christians, there’s a centuries-long breach that takes time to bridge.
While I and many others are actively engaged in doing so, and we want everyone to see and understand things as we do, undoing this rift takes time.
I explain to Christians that Jews carry millennia of baggage, including horrific persecution in the name of “the Church” and Jesus. Please give us time. Conversely, while aware of the phenomena of Christian support, most Jews don’t understand, don’t trust or simply don’t care.
Ironically, many Christian friends had never heard of “replacement theology.” When it’s explained, they shudder in horror, disbelief and embarrassment that it was ever (and still is) prevalent. For many, it’s another thing for which they feel compelled to repent.
So, what’s the significance of Christian support for Israel and why is that important?
Of course, it’s true that financial support is important. Christian support positively impacts tourism to Israel and donations to a wide range of nonprofits. The significance of these are not to be taken for granted. However, personally, I hate the objectification of so many good Christians who are viewed as a faith-based ATM, with some just trying to get money out with very little relationship. This is common among too many, Christians and Jews, whose nonprofits make claims and take advantage. Tourism professionals sometimes miss the boat by emphasizing the significance of tourism for the Israeli economy, but not the significance of visiting Israel as a pivotal milestone in adding depth and dimension to one’s faith.
Diplomatic and political support for Israel is also critical. Many are involved in this formally, both among influencers in countries around the world and on a grassroots level. The latter is particularly important in democratic countries where Christians have influence. Israel has many natural resources, in addition to its special brain power that drives so much of the startup nation reality that benefits the world. Having too many friends has never been one of our challenges. When Christians support Israel on a grassroots level, that trickles up.
An example of this is the recent Global Prayer for Israel and Virtual Pilgrimage in which thousands participated from all around the world.
The third point that I answered the journalist as to the significance of Christian support for Israel is prayer. Most Jews and Christians believe in God and, in our respective ways, the value and importance of prayer, especially when that prayer is to the Creator. As much as it’s the case that Israel cannot have too many friends, another thing to which most would agree is that you can’t have too much prayer.
Israel’s independence was a theological tsunami. Until then, most of “the Church” was rooted in centuries of thinking that God was done with the Jews. That we had not yet been restored to Israel fed this notion, paradoxically undermining the faith of its adherents. If nothing else, Israel’s independence was affirmation that not only was God not done with us, but that He has affirmed His promises vis a vis the Jewish people as in the Torah.
The return of the Jewish people to Israel after thousands of years in exile is not only not a coincidence, but a fundamental prooftext of the Text, a foundation which Jews and Christians have in common. The imperative before us is to build upon that, for these and many other good reasons.
Years ago, a Christian friend gave me a copy of an article from a 1947 magazine, demonstrating how Christian support for Israel is not new. I knew that but read the article anyway.
The writer narrated his sympathy watching Jews who had survived the Holocaust descending from ships in Haifa. Everything was great, until the end. The final paragraph reflected on the roots of replacement theology in “the church” by noting that God had essentially abandoned the Jews.
It was ironic that my friend didn’t see the contradiction of this. Christian support for Israel does pre-date 1948, is increasing, evolving and should be embraced.
Jonathan Feldstein is president of the Genesis 123 Foundation.