By: Michael Freund Jewish Press
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
They number in the millions and wield increasing power and influence across the United States. From year to year their voice grows stronger and more resolute, as their role in shaping policy, and the future of American society continues to expand.
Guided by faith, they love Israel passionately and pray for its well-being, rejoicing in its successes and grieving over its setbacks. They are Americaâ€™s Bible-believing Christians, and it is time for Israel to reach out to them in a far more sophisticated and comprehensive manner.
A great deal has already been written about the close ties that have developed between the two, as Israeli officials have at last begun to appreciate the depth and feeling of American evangelical support for the Jewish state. Indeed, what was once unthinkable has now become routine, as leading Christian pastors and Israeli government representatives regularly confer with one another, exchanging ideas and views on the principal issues of the day.
But in far too many instances, Israelâ€™s attitude toward evangelicals has been shortsighted and ill-advised, with the relationship often focused on soliciting dollars rather than devotion. And that has got to change, because far greater things are at stake than just boosting revenues from tourism.
For as strong and robust as the American Jewish community may be, it cannot and will not last forever, as recent demographic trends make clear. That leaves evangelical Christians as the best hope for ensuring that bedrock U.S. support for Israel remains firm and unwavering in the decades to come.
In other words, thank God for Christian Zionists. Like it or not, the future of the relationship between Israel and the U.S. may very well hinge far less on Americaâ€™s Jews than on its Christians.
By all accounts, evangelical Christians are a force to be reckoned with. As the (London) Independent put it recently: â€œTo say the United States is a religious country is an understatement. According to polls, an estimated 47 per cent of American adults claim to be â€˜born-againâ€™ or evangelical.â€
Even if the figure is an overstatement, it still means there are tens of millions of Americans who identify themselves as evangelical. And this translates into an enormous wellspring of support for Israel, as an August 2006 study by the Pew Research Center revealed. According to the reportâ€™s findings, â€œSeven-in-ten white evangelicals (69%) believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people and a solid majority (59%) believes that Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.â€
Not surprisingly, the study found that â€œthose who believe that God gave Israel to the Jews and that the State of Israel fulfills biblical prophecy are much more likely than others to sympathize with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.â€
No wonder so many evangelicals have taken to calling themselves â€œChristian Zionists.â€ Their sympathy and concern for Israel is readily apparent. I see it in the e-mails I receive regularly from evangelical Christians in the U.S. in response to my columns. They are sincere and caring, and full of love and concern for Israel and its plight.
Sure, there are some who would like to convert Jews, and they make little or no attempt to hide their agenda. But the vast majority simply wish to bless Israel because that is what they truly believe God wants them to do.
It is this genuine and heartfelt affection that contains within it the potential to forge a historic alliance, one that could help heal some of the painful wounds of the past even as it paves the way for a close and meaningful partnership in the future.
By adopting a few simple but significant steps, Israel can lay the groundwork for ensuring that the bond with U.S. Christians continues to deepen.
â— First, Israel should appoint a roving ambassador tasked with responsibility for maintaining relations with Christians in America. This should not be just an honorary title, nor should it go to one of the usual organizational fund-raisers or foreign service hacks. Instead, the government should appoint a person of faith, one who can communicate with evangelicals in terms they both understand and appreciate.
â— Second, Israel should reach out to Christian leaders and their communities, and initiate the establishment of â€œprayer battalionsâ€ in churches across the United States. Like rapid-deployment forces used by the military, these battalions could be mobilized at a momentâ€™s notice to pray for specific issues, such as the return of Israelâ€™s missing soldiers or the threat posed by Iranâ€™s nuclear ambitions.
Such an undertaking would have nothing to do with asking for funds, but everything to do with tapping into the vast reservoirs of faith and belief that underscore Christian backing for the Jewish state.
And you can be sure that if a person is moved to pray for Israel, chances are that his sense of affinity will only continue to grow.
Other steps that Israel could take to reinforce U.S. Christian support might include organizing an annual conference for religious and lay leaders in Jerusalem, as well as helping them to develop the equivalent of a birthright-Israel program for young churchgoers which would serve to reinforce their connection with the land of the Bible.
Christian support for Israel is broad, profound and deep. If cultivated properly, it can blossom into a lasting friendship of historical, political and diplomatic significance. And with American Jewry steadily shrinking in size, nothing could be more pressing or more vital.