As Jews, we are living at a confusing and difficult time. Anti-Semitism is growing, especially in Europe, the continent that gave rise to the Holocaust. Israel, the only authentic democracy in the Middle East, is maligned and abused by detractors in ways that are biased and hypocritical. And a recent study by the Pew organization suggests, among other things, that Jewish religious and communal institutions must embrace new strategies to engage young Jewish adults.
The issues are daunting, and, through our own programs and projects at The Birmingham Jewish Federation, as well as the national and global agencies we fund, we are addressing these issues. Also, there are new opportunities emerging which if fully embraced could change and strengthen the future of Jews worldwide and Israel.
One of these is a new initiative, driven by the Federation-funded Jewish Agency and government of Israel, to strengthen the relationship between Israel and Jews abroad, particularly young Jews. The other is the increasing support for Israel among a growing group of Christians known as “Christian Zionists.”
These are people who believe that Jews have a right to a safe and secure state in their biblical homeland. Among other things, many of them believe that it is ordained in the Bible that the Jews will return to the land of Israel and that God promised this land irrevocably to the Jewish people. They are additionally motivated to support Israel by a Bible-based belief that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed.
This growing Christian Zionist movement is perplexing and even unsettling to many Jews. There is nothing new about Christian Zionism. It has existed for more than a century. What is new is the degree to which it has become organized and is growing. Like many other movements today, use of the Internet has enabled this movement to grow and become increasingly powerful.
We as Jews should welcome this development. Here, in Alabama, since we live in such a heavily Christian environment, we are likely to be more comfortable with Christian Zionists than Jews in other parts of the US. Someone involved in the national Jewish community told me recently, for example, of her discomfort with such Christians, believing, as many Jews do, that what these Christians really want is for us to abandon our own faith and embrace Jesus as our personal savior, thus becoming Christians.
Acknowledging this Jewish discomfort, there was a thought-provoking piece recently on the Times Of Israel website headlined, “Who’s afraid of Christian Zionism?” It was by Robert Nicholson, a well-known Christian Zionist and defender of Israel who lives in New York City. His Times Of Israel pieces continue to be thoughtful and thought-provoking and this one in particular is worth reading.
Nicholson acknowledges the validity of Jewish suspicion toward Christian Zionists in view of the history of Christian-driven persecution and violence against Jews. “It’s true: many people claiming the name of Christ, including Martin Luther, have said and done things to Jews over the centuries that are unspeakable,” writes Nicholson.
Adds Nicholson, “Christian Zionism is not dependent on proselytizing. That is to say, Christian support for Israel operates independently from dissemination of the gospel. They are two separate impulses, plain and simple. Furthermore, evangelicals aren’t going to ‘turn on the Jews’ or pull back from supporting Israel if Jews refuse to believe in Jesus.”
“Most Jewish people haven’t believed in Jesus for a very long time, and Christians aren’t exactly holding their breath in expectation that this is about to change,” he writes.
Nicholson’s piece tackles many of the anxieties Jews feel about partnering with Christian Zionists. At The Birmingham Jewish Federation, we have been open to this partnership and nurturing it for nearly a decade. Our thinking is simple: Israel needs all the friends it can get and though there may be theological differences between our community and Christians who want to be involved with Israel, we can navigate those differences honestly in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Christians who want to support Israel, without any hidden conversion agenda, should know that there are Jewish friends waiting to partner with them. One of these friends is The Birmingham Jewish Federation, an open, forward-thinking organization that continues to develop allies everyday in so many ways.