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Evangelicals Gather, Voice Concern About American Policy Toward Israel

June 12, 1992
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President Bush may well brush off the fact that his policies toward Israel have lost him whatever support he had among Jewish voters. But the same issue could also cost him votes among this country’s 50 million evangelical Christians.

“We have supported the president strongly in the past, but there has been a tremendous disillusion about his policy on Israel,” said Ed Steele, an influential producer of religious television programs.

“If we don’t bring about a change in this policy, our nation could step out from under the protection of God,” he said, adding: “This has happened to past empires, which were judged by God, from the Babylonians to the British.”

Steele, one of the founders earlier this year of the Christian Evangelical Zionist Congress of America, participated in a recent two-day conference here, billed as the first annual Congress of Evangelical and Jewish Leaders.

“Israel must not give up one inch of land,” said Steele, echoing the militant line of other evangelicals, who base their conviction on a literal acceptance of God’s promise to the Jews and on their vision of future events leading up to the second coming of Christ.

Their pro-Israel sentiments are reinforced by their fear of Islamic fundamentalists, whom they view as a common enemy.

“The jihad (holy war) mentality wants to destroy both Jews and evangelicals,” said David Lewis, a co-convener of the meeting and chairman of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel.

The Israeli government has frequently shown its appreciation for the support of evangelicals, and did so at the conference by dispatching Ari Granot, recently named counselor for church affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.


Granot said that one of his tasks is to translate the evangelicals’ love for Israel into practical terms. Observing that many evangelical meetings close with a prayer for the Jewish state, Granot said, “We will start with prayers and go on from there.”

At the conference, one of the key objectives, in addition to rallying support for Israel, was to clear away long-held stereotypes and honestly confront areas of profound disagreement.

“The Jewish community has a monolithic view of us as Bible-thumpers and low-grade intellects,” said Lewis of the Christian Leadership Conference.

Rabbi A. James Rudin, interreligious affairs director for the American Jewish Committee, concurred that long-held images and misconceptions are only now starting to disappear.

“Jews have often perceived evangelicals as ‘rednecks,’ ‘crackers’ and ‘Elmer Gantrys,’ (while) evangelicals have pictured Jews as ‘Christ-killers,’ ‘scribes and Pharisees’ and ‘Shylocks,’ ” said Rudin.

Jewish apprehension is rooted in the evangelicals’ efforts to convert Jews to Christianity, an enterprise that lies at the heart of their faith.

While many mainline churches have abandoned their “mission to the Jews,” the theologically conservative and evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Assemblies of God still maintain special departments with strategies to convert Jews.

Even as philo-Semitic a leader as Lewis, a pastor of the Assemblies of God who has visited Israel 51 times, said that he could not take an active role to change his denomination’s mission.

“To do so would destroy my credibility,” he said. “Missionaries have been our heroes.”

But what evangelicals and Jews can do in meetings such as this, he added, is “to define each other, to learn what is hurtful to the other.”


The evangelical proselytizing mission is, in fact, less vigorous in practice than in theology, according to the Rev. Isaac Rottenberg of the Reformed Church in America, who is the son of a Holocaust victim and a Christian mother.

“The evangelical church is in its essence a missionary church, and we must confess our missionary mandate to all people,” he said.

In practice, however, “the missionary impulse is dormant,” Rottenberg explained. “Because Israel is so important to us, we are saying, in effect, ‘Let God take care of it.’ “

To close out the conference, three evangelical musicians led a songfest, which somehow combined their vision of America and Israel as the secular and spiritual promised lands.

Accompanied by slides of majestic vistas, they sang “This Land is My Land,” substituting the words “from the Mount of Olives to Yosemite Valley” to show that Israel and the United States were part of the same land.

With fervor, they also sang the hymn: “We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”

Co-sponsors of the conference were the Los Angeles Jewish Community Relations Council, David Lewis Ministries and the American Jewish Committee.

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