Israel Report

October 2002         

Friends in Deed

by Yechiel Eckstein - October 29, 2002
On October 20, more than five million people across America stood in solidarity with the beleaguered State of Israel and prayed for peace in the Holy Land. Most remarkably, this massive show of support was made not by Jews, but by Christians.

I led prayers for Israel at Mount Paran church in suburban Atlanta, together with thousands of Christians who chose to dedicate their Sunday prayers to this lofty - and I believe, most noble - cause.

The good people of Mount Paran were far from alone. Theirs was one of nearly 20,000 churches across the United States that joined in this very special Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Israel, sponsored by the Stand for Israel project of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

These Christians heeded the biblical injunction to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." They also heard the stirring words of Israel's prime minister, who sent greetings to the American Christian Community on this auspicious and groundbreaking occasion.

This remarkable national effort, slated to be an annual event on the American Christian calendar, came on the heels of a new poll we commissioned that sought to understand Evangelicals' motivation for supporting Israel. Many Jews have long feared what they presumed to be the Evangelicals' main reason for supporting Israel - their hope that it would usher in Jesus' second coming and the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. But the poll found a very different agenda.

Among Evangelicals who expressed support for Israel, well over half attributed their support to non-theological factors such as Israel's democratic system of government and the value it places on freedom, the country's status as a long-standing ally of the US in the war against terror, or the fact that Jews have been persecuted for centuries and need a homeland.

Even when pressed to cite the top theological reason for supporting Israel, 54 percent of Evangelicals cited Hebrew Bible passages that God promised the land to the Jewish people and that those who bless the Jews will themselves be blessed.

A minority of 30% cited New Testament passages related to the prophesied Second Coming.

These findings deserve attention, especially for Jewish skeptics who reject and often scorn evangelical support. Far more Evangelicals support Israel because of its role in advancing freedom and democracy in the world today than because of any theological reasons. And even when they cite the chief theological basis for supporting Israel, nearly twice as many cited the book of Genesis as opposed to the book of Revelation. Incidentally, those same Genesis passages were cited by 62% of Jews surveyed.

Thankfully, the support of pro-Israel Christians is enthusiastically supported by the government of Israel, as well as by most American Jews who feel encouraged by it.

It is heartening to see increasing Jewish readiness to cultivate this relationship, though it is frankly distressing that it took a crisis of epic proportions in Israel to bring us to this point.

The message sent to the world from this month's Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Israel should be loud and clear: Evangelical Christians care deeply about Israel, are concerned for the safety of her citizens, and are ready to take action.

Today America and Israel, Christians and Jews, find ourselves allies in a struggle for the very soul and survival of our civilization. It is time to bury old suspicions and fears, and unite in a new move toward cooperation and solidarity.

I do not mean to suggest that we gloss over or compromise the integrity of our very real theological differences. But American Jews must realize that we share a common moral inheritance with our Christian friends - an inheritance, that like their support for Israel, is rooted in God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis.

After my 25 years of working closely with American Evangelicals, I am more convinced than ever that the overwhelming majority of Christian support for Israel is based on the simple admonition of Psalms: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure."

The writer is founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and Stand for Israel.

©2002 - Jerusalem Post

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