I never pick the easy topics, do I? Ok., here goes...
The other day it was reported that Israeli police believe 50,000 Baptists from the United States plan to set up residency in Gush Katif and other Jewish communities in Gaza and northern Samaria in a show of support for the residents of those areas.
Those kind of numbers have the potential to throw more than an wrench into Prime Minister Sharon¹s plans. It would send a strong message to President Bush and would boost the morale of the anti-disengagement camp. But still, something bothers me...
I¹d like to think that there are vast numbers of people who support Israel due to moral clarity - a strong sense of right and wrong. But the times and issues are confusing. The ³I¹ll take all the friends I can get² policy when it comes to dealing with the Evangelical Christian community and their overwhelming moral, political and financial support for Israel may have some drawbacks.
Our tradition recognizes and holds in great esteem Righteous Gentiles. They are usually rare and outstanding individuals who have distinguished themselves through heroic deeds and actions. In this dark period of our history, we in Israel are grateful to those gentiles who have courageously stepped-out of a very crooked line and broken ranks with the rest of the world in order to stand-up on our behalf.
But how can we determine whether the agenda of a vast group of individuals (50,000!) with varied personal motivations and goals, is altogether righteous?
Our sages suggest that when trying to determine the motives of individuals or groups, we should apply the formula of respect him and suspect him. This sounds like a solid approach whether one is analyzing the latest speech by George W. Bush or when trying to determine whether special interest groups are indeed righteously motivated or have ulterior motives.
However, the uncertain times that we are currently facing require that our spiritual leaders and rabbis expound on that approach by adopting decisive and strong policies, and by drawing-up clear guidelines. This is especially true with regards to our relationship with a Christian community which actively proselytizes, as many of our youth are either ideologically disillusioned or engaged in spiritual searching. This makes them prone to missionary activity. The last thing we Jews need are more blurred lines.
Dr. Jim Vineyard offers us a stunning example of the dilemma. Go to the website:
http://www.yedidimofisrael.com. There you will find an outstanding and clear statement of mission and purpose. As you may recall, Pastor Vineyard recently led the protests against disengagement in Crawford, Texas. He is a proud and bold friend of Israel¹s.
But if you continue reading the site at
http://www.yedidimofisrael.com/who.html, you¹ll come to a list of member profiles led by Dr. Vineyard¹s. It seems that in 28 years his ³...Baptist Church has never had a Sunday without someone saved and baptized.² The single paragraph goes on to list the numbers of actual baptisms, missionaries, and funds raised for the purpose of those activities.
What startled me a bit is that 7 more profiles of members appear directly under that of Dr. Vineyard¹s, and directly above a listing of several pastors. The short biographies of seven of our top Israeli activists are listed, but none of the descriptions mention that those outstanding personalities are Jewish.
An article which appeared in the New Jersey Jewish News at throws additional light on potentially explosive issues. Pastor Vineyard is both passionate and well-versed about the challenges facing Israel, and he articulates his positions beautifully. Indeed, many American and Israeli Jews should be ashamed of their lack of knowledge on both the political and biblical fronts when compared with Vineyard¹s. But that same article goes on to state the following:
Vineyard¹s church, the Windsor Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, lists ³missionaries² in dozens of countries, including Israel.
The pastor denied that the group ³has missionaries in Israel, as such. But we take mission trips to Israel. One of the problems you have with Jews is that they don¹t like it when you witness to Jews about the Messiah. I tell my Jewish friends I¹m content to wait until it¹s all over to see who is right, thee or me. In the meantime, I¹m going to stand up for the Messiah. I don¹t believe there are two of them, I believe there is one.²
And he added: ³I¹m going to witness to the Jews every time I turn around.²
That may be the bottom line for the Pastor. He makes his ultimate position very clear.
But what about us? Perhaps we Jews are the ones with the ³hidden agenda²? Are our motives so pure? Are we being honest?
Through our many years of exile and persecution, we¹ve developed a rather shrewd and calculating approach to survival. As a result, we¹re experts at diplomatic wheeling and dealing, and dancing around issues. But we have yet to absorb our history lessons. What happens when our new found ³friends² want to cash in on their Christian goodwill? What will we say? ³Thanks a bunch for the money, support and effort guys, but we¹re not interested in your belief system.² Will evangelicals and missionaries see us as opportunists and could there be a backlash?
The issues of Redemption and the arrival of the Moshiach are sacred principles of our faith. To encourage various groups, who hold opposing end-of-days scenarios is not only ethically questionable, but on a spiritual plane, it is playing with fire.
We can turn the anti-disengagement struggle into a church revival gathering if we so choose, but will there be a price to pay? If the Baptists save Gush Katif, will their next mission be to "save" us? There are many who will feel that my concerns really don¹t matter at this point, as it¹s far more important to bring those vast numbers of people to Katif, and worry about the consequences later. But I think it¹s wise to think ahead.
I respectfully suggest that the Baptist church (as well as other pro-Israel Christian denominations) draw for themselves clear guidelines of behavior vis a vis their dealings with Israel. Is their support for the Zionist camp an issue of morals and ethics, fulfillment of biblical doctrine, or a missionary opportunity? An answer of ³all of the above² may be acceptable within the realm of inner-church dialogue and dogma, but it¹s an inappropriate approach whilst in Israel and when dealing directly with the Jewish people.
Creating or hoping for an Armageddon-like atmosphere in Katif is certainly not what we should be aiming for. For Jews, this is not a face-off between G-d and Satan.
It is a severe ideological argument between Jewish brethren which has territorial, security, and spiritual repercussions, as well as a very human dimension. This is our struggle and additional interjection by another group may complicate and exacerbate issues further.
If our Christian friends are here as a moral support, because they know that unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the uprooting and destruction of Jewish communities poses an existential danger, is morally wrong, and biblically prohibited, then I welcome and encourage them. BUT, some soul searching is called for. If there are those whose ³mission² in coming here is to ³save our souls² as well as those of our sons and daughters, or if it¹s to actively promote the Christian version of the ³end-of days², then I would respectfully request that they please stay home.
I¹m not being rude to our many Christian friends and supporters as much as I¹m being cautious and a bit protective. Nor am I rejecting sincere expressions of support emanating from the Christian community. There¹s no doubt that interfaith understandings can get a bit complex and stump even the greatest of sages. These are certainly issues which demand exploration and should be an integral part of a continuing dialogue between Christians and Jews.
Indeed, I participated in a documentary called ³End of Days² (directed by Martin Himel) which was recently aired on Canadian Television and addressed these very concerns.
Rather than avoid these issues, perhaps the most honest approach would be for our nationalist rabbis and Christian Zionist leaders to lay everything out on the table and draw-up some principles, ethical codes and red lines to guide our relationship and activities before we run into any misunderstandings. It would be both interesting and important to see if our friendship would stand the test. I believe it would.
Do 50,000 Baptists Have a Hidden Agenda?
I respectfully suggest that the Baptist church (as well as other pro-Israel Christian denominations) draw for themselves clear guidelines of behavior vis a vis their dealings with Israel. Is their support for the Zionist camp an issue of morals and ethics, fulfillment of biblical doctrine, or a missionary opportunity?
I never pick the easy topics, do I? Ok., here goes...