Thursday, June 26th, 2008
James Besser in Washington
Jews tend to view the evangelical community as a political and religious monolith, but that segment is every bit as diverse as …well, the Jews.
What brings this to mind: Thursday’s ¾ page ad in the Washington Post business section by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) politely informing Jews that they like us and everything, but have a duty to try to convert us.
“As evangelical Christians we want to express our genuine friendship and love for the Jewish people,” the group says, but added “we believe the most loving and Scriptural expression of our friendship toward the Jewish people and to anyone we call friend, is to forthrightly share the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ.”
And oh yes, they also support ministries “specifically directed to the Jewish people.”
What gives? Why take to the nation’s biggest newspapers – the ad has been running for months in a number of major publications – with this message?
The answer centers on huge rifts in the evangelical world, many of them centering on Pastor John Hagee, the founder and president of Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
As he has cranked up his pro-Israel political organization, Hagee – a megachurch pastor from San Antonio with a radio and television ministry believed to reach more than 100 million worldwide – has deemphasized the mandate to convert Jews to Christianity.
Indeed, CUFI activists say conversion has never been on the group’s to-do list, although critics say that dire apocalyptic prophecies about what happens to the Jews during the Second Coming ARE major motives.
In any event, critics within the evangelical community say Hagee has crossed the line and now espouses a “dual covenant” theology, in which Jesus Christ was not actually sent as the Jewish messiah.
That was how many Christian critics interpreted his last book, “In Defense of Israel” ; that caused a firestorm of controversy in evangelical circles and forced Hagee to revise the book and issue a clarification about exactly what he meant by the word “messiah.”
But that clarification didn’t close the gap in the evangelical world between those who believe evangelism “to the Jew first” remains a priority – and those like Hagee who, for reasons of biblical commandment, apocalyptic prophecy or both, seem to believe the focus now should be on supporting Israel.
Translation: American evangelicals may be increasingly supportive of Israel, as polls indicate, but Hagee’s particular brand of Christian Zionism is far from universal within that movement.