Op-Ed: Christian Friends and Foes of Israel
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
“The Holocaust brought about a major change in thinking about the Jewish people in many Christian circles. It was a huge moral shock that, in the heart of Christian Europe a genocide had taken place that aimed to annihilate the Jews.
To many it was clear that centuries of Christian anti-Semitic teachings had paved the way for the mass murders by the Nazis and their supporters. These crimes alone, however, could not have shifted the theological thinking of many Christians to such a large extent.
Many would still have said: ‘The Shoah is yet one more example that the Jews are forever cursed.’”
David R. Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, senior producer of the weekly radio program Front Page Jerusalem, and contributing editor of the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. From 1991 to 1995 he served as general counsel for CIPAC, a Christian pro-Israeli lobby registered with Congress to advocate for strong U.S.-Israel relations.
He observes: “It was the theological shock of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 that challenged fundamental church teachings and doctrine concerning the Jewish people. For centuries the Christian mainstream thought that the Jews, who were blamed for killing Christ, were doomed to endless wanderings. Accordingly they had been dispersed around the world, never to return to the Land of Israel or play an important role in God’s redemptive plan for humanity. With the birth of the Church, the Jews had served their purpose once and for all.
“Then after World War II, rather suddenly Jewish sovereignty was restored in the Land of Israel. This development didn’t square with mainstream Christian doctrines. Thereupon several Christian churches, of which the large Catholic Church is a good example, gradually steered their institutions toward new attitudes concerning the Jewish people.
“However, there also remain Christians who have refused to change their doctrines to fit this new reality of a restored Israel. They would rather try to retool the facts to fit their classic theology of a rejected Israel. This is perhaps a little-known but large motivating factor for many pro-Palestinian Christians in the Western world.
“They would like to whittle Israel back to a binational state of two peoples, Jews and Arabs, and three religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. This is an important source of the Christian involvement in the divestment campaigns, apartheid branding of Israel, and other anti-Israeli efforts. Although this activism has an underlying theological basis, it is also part of the wider ‘culture wars’ between Left and Right.”
“Replacement theology, also called Supersessionism, is the main theology of Israel’s Christian foes. It is based on the idea that God’s unique relationship with the Church is the replacement or the completion of the promises made to the Jewish people, and thus Israel’s ‘election’ no longer stands.
"Palestinian liberation theology uses Jesus as a historic role model, identifying with him as the ‘first Palestinian revolutionary.’ Thus it justifies Palestinian violence against Israelis as acceptable acts of the oppressed against the oppressor.
“Within the pro-Israeli Protestant camp there are two major theological schools. The first is covenantal Christian theology, which is based on the belief that God eternally keeps his covenantal promises made through Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. We believe the Hebrew prophets were servants of the covenants and tell us something about how God will keep his covenantal promises.
"The foundation of our pro-Israeli stance, however, is the Abrahamic covenant. The people in the International Christian Embassy belong to this theological school.
"The second is Dispensationalism, which says that Israel was temporarily replaced by the Church but — at the end of days — Israel will once again be God’s main redemptive agent in the world.
“Today there are more Christian Zionists than ever. The Protestant evangelicals number perhaps as many as 600 million today — these are people who claim to have had a ‘born again’ experience and who view the Bible as the inspired Word of God. The Evangelical stream is the fastest-growing religious movement in the world.
The Chinese government recently admitted that there as many as 120 million evangelical Christians in their country, more than the number of Communist Party members. Many millions of evangelical Christians have a compelling love for Israel and the Jewish people. Eight thousand Christians came from nearly a hundred countries to participate in the recent celebration of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.
Parsons concludes: “Jews can challenge Christian adversaries on the facts, on history, and so on. But Israel and world Jewry would be well advised to stay out of the theological debates among Christians, since some will not take Jews seriously because they do not accept the New Testament as scripture. The theological battles over Israel will have to be fought out within the Christian world and not elsewhere.”