On May 23, pastors, ministers and priests at more than 1,500 churches in all 50 states and over 50 foreign countries will dedicate their Sunday services to teaching the importance of Christian support for Israel.
On that day — the second annual Christians United for Israel Sunday — church leaders will speak to their congregants about God’s enduring covenant with Abraham and the Jewish people, including God’s promise in Genesis 12:3 that He will bless those who bless Israel. Worshippers will learn about the tragedies of Jewish history. Christian leaders will speak the truth about our culpability and silence during the Holocaust, pogroms and Crusades. The message at churches around the world will be clear and unequivocal: Christians can never again be silent in the face of threats to the Jewish people.
Christians attending these churches will also learn about the miraculous rise of the modern State of Israel and the existential threats it faces today. Many will leave church with a better understanding of the dangers of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Palestinian terror and the international campaign against Israel’s legitimacy.
As is the case for many Jews, our support for Israel starts with God’s promises in the Hebrew Bible, but it does not end there. Christian Zionists recognize that we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Jewish people. As I have stressed to my Christian audiences for years: If you take away the Jewish contribution to Christianity, there would be no Christianity. From the patriarchs to the prophets, from Jesus and his family to the men who wrote down the Bible, Jewish people have provided us with the fundamentals of our faith.
Christian Zionists also recognize that Israel is not the cause of militant Islam’s hatred of America, but an ally in the fight against militant Islam. Until 9/11 and the ensuing events, Israel largely confronted this threat alone. And to this day the frontline of this conflict remains Israel’s backyard. But Christian Zionists understand that Israel is merely militant Islam’s first target. While American and Israeli soldiers do not fight on the same battlefield, they defend the same values.
Given the history of Christian antisemitism, I am not at all surprised that many in the Jewish community are skeptical of Christian support for Israel. Some worry that our efforts are motivated by a desire to convert Jews. Others posit that our Zionism is tied to an effort to speed the second coming of Jesus. Both of these allegations are flat wrong. All we ask of our Jewish friends is that they get to know us before they judge us harshly on the basis of myths such as these.
Like all people of faith, we Christians firmly believe that our religion is true. But we also believe in religious freedom and have enormous respect for the Jewish faith. The first rule adopted by Christians United for Israel was that there would be no proselytizing at our events. CUFI exists only to honor and support the Jewish people, never to convert them.
Regarding the other allegation, the fact is that the vast majority of Christian Zionists and Evangelicals do not believe there is anything we can do to hasten the second coming of Jesus. Our theology is clear that we humans are utterly powerless to change God’s timetable. Yes, like many Jews we do believe that the creation of Israel was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. And like our Jewish friends we also search the Scriptures to understand what may come next in God’s plans for His creation. But since we are powerless to change these plans, our motives for standing with Israel come from elsewhere. They are the motives discussed above.
Another concern that some individuals have expressed is that Christian Zionists will use our influence to stand in the way of efforts to advance a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Such a claim shows a complete disregard for our record. Like many supporters of Israel, some Christian Zionists have certainly grown skeptical of land-for-peace in the face of the failures of this formula the last few times it was tried. Yet from our founding four years ago, we decided that CUFI would never presume to tell Jerusalem how to conduct its foreign or domestic affairs. We have never, and will never, oppose Israeli efforts to advance peace. Our involvement in the peace process will continue to be restricted to defending Israel’s right to make decisions free of international interference or pressure — including U.S. pressure.
We cannot change the past. But we can try to learn from it. During the Holocaust there were Christians who risked their lives to save Jewish families. Christian Zionists believe that the tradition of the righteous gentile has an important role in the world today. We are not the heroes they were. We do not have to risk our lives as they did. But following their example, we will stand with the Jewish people as they face threats of a second Holocaust from Hitler’s ideological kin in Tehran and elsewhere.
Christian support for Israel starts with the Bible, is strengthened by an understanding of history and endures because of the Judeo-Christian commitment to democratic values. Everything that forms the Christian understanding of the world leads to the same conclusion: Christians should support Israel because it is simply the right thing to do.
Pastor John C. Hagee is founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel.
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