ADL Director Abraham Foxman’s wide-ranging attack on evangelical Christians, whom he has accused of launching a campaign to “Christianize America,” is still reverberating in the United States. The leader of the Reform movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffe, echoed Foxman at that movement’s biennial convention by condemning zealots on the religious right.
The issue has always been highly sensitive in Jewish quarters. Most Jews back a total separation between church and state even when it conflicts with crucial, long-term Jewish interests such as seeking state aid to subsidize the secular curriculum of Jewish day schools.
For some time there has been a simmering disquiet among liberal Jews over being regarded as allies of a group they regard as right-wing fanatics seeking to impose their standards on the community as a whole. That discomfort has intensified with the growing power of the evangelicals.
However, the truth is that while evangelicals are indeed a growing group representing up to 60 million adherents, like Jews they are not the monolith their critics seek to portray. They incorporate a wide variety of diverse opinions, some of which would undoubtedly be regarded as an anathema to Jews. But the vast majority, in addition to being law-abiding citizens, are simply seeking to promote their values – including those that mirror the Judeo-Christian heritage.
For example, Orthodox Jews are also distressed at what they perceive to be a breakdown in public morality and family values, and cultural nihilism in Western society. Traditional Jews ask why they, of all people, should be opposed to publicly displaying the Ten Commandments, one of our greatest contributions to civilization. And Orthodox Jews (as distinct from many liberal or secular Jews) are also strongly opposed to same-sex marriages and abortion on demand.
Evangelicals believe that human beings are involved in a struggle between good and evil – concepts which have effectively been purged from the lexicon of many liberals. This belief has some resonance with Jews living in a world suffused with a modernist penchant for drawing a moral equivalency between killers and their victims.
UNLIKE OTHER Protestant denominations evangelicals do not subscribe to replacement theology and regard Judaism as a component of the formation of Christianity rather than being replaced by it. Their attitude toward Israel also contrasts starkly with the disgraceful behavior displayed toward Jews by other Protestant churches, many of whom now lead the pack in demonizing, and even promoting, divestment from Israel.
Of course Jews differ radically on many fundamental aspects of their religious belief. In that context we would do well to hearken to the words of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who warned Jews to avoid becoming involved in theological dialogue with Christians – as distinct from jointly supporting the promotion of our Judeo-Christian heritage in its broadest social sense and accepting their friendship toward Israel.
My discussions and correspondence with evangelicals over these past years have convinced me that during this difficult time for the Jewish people, when many of our liberal friends have forsaken us, we are fortunate to have the support of such a group who strongly back Israel and seek no quid pro quo in exchange for their friendship. I cannot recollect a single example of a mainstream evangelical leader making demands on the Jewish community in return for support for Israel.
And, contrary to what is frequently alleged, the attitude toward Israel of the vast majority of evangelicals is not related to ulterior motives such as a desire to convert Jews, or in order to hasten the Christ’s return as the messiah. Most act unconditionally out of genuine love for those whom they consider to be God’s chosen people.
These Christians pray regularly for the well-being of Israel and the Jewish people; they politically support our right to live in peace and security, including lobbying Congress to support us; and they even raise considerable funds to help Jews in distress.
Many Jews simply cannot comprehend that there are Christians who genuinely love them as the source of their own religiosity.
IN THIS environment, Foxman’s incredible onslaught against “institutionalized Christianity in the United States,” an attack that is not limited to evangelicals but blankets all Christians, is a regrettable lapse of judgment by a man who has an excellent track record of serving the interests of American Jewry with distinction.
As though he were paraphrasing an outburst by anti-Semites, Foxman warned of a conspiracy to “Christianize all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms of professional collegiate and amateur sports; from the military to the Sponge Bob Square Pants.”
Such a statement is especially inappropriate for a Jewish leader whose life has been devoted to combating libels against Jews.
In these times we desperately need allies who accept us for what we are and do not make demands on us in return for their support. The evangelicals fall into this category.
And let us not play with words. Today evangelicals represent the greatest source of political support for Israel in the US. Even if many Jews feel that the evangelical stance on Israel is to “the right” of what they would support, that in no way invalidates the enormous benefits this support provides to Israel.
It is therefore highly regrettable that organizations devoted to promoting pluralism and combating anti-Semitism would paint friends as adversaries. This is hardly the way to retain the support of the one American major group that consistently and unconditionally supports Israel. It is surely wrong and counterproductive to insult friends and allies, even if we differ with them on many other issues.
If we had 50 million evangelicals in Europe the situation for Jews would be dramatically different. Conversely, we would do well to ask ourselves what the status of Israel and Jews in the United States would be in the absence of our evangelical supporters.