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When Father Juan Solana, a Catholic priest, wanted to construct a guest house for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land in the Galilee region in 2009, he couldn’t have imagined he’d become the leader of incredible archaeological findings, exposing the rich Christian and Jewish history of the area. The findings include the remains of a first century synagogue, dated to the Second Temple period and the time of Jesus’s life, and most recently a domestic water installation and water channel from the same era.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., passed two Israel-related resolutions earlier this month at its triennial assembly in New Orleans, La. While some pro-Israel groups are decrying the Lutheran church's "scapegoating of Israel" and its apparent movement towards embracing divestment, other Jewish leaders detect hopeful signs with the church's most recent positions.
Since being elected as the leader of the world’s roughly 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in 2013, Pope Francis has never shied away from breaking with traditional Catholic dogma by speaking his mind. However, recent comments by the pontiff on radical Islamic terrorism have overshadowed his first official visit to Poland and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, writes JNS' Editorial Assistant Shalle' McDonald.
“In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us,” Israeli MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) reminded a packed Knesset hall earlier this month during the premier joint meeting of the Knesset Caucus to Fight Delegitimization of Israel and the Christian Allies Caucus. The focus of the event: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and how Jewish and Christian supporters of Israel can work together to quash the economic warfare movement against Israel.
During the Holocaust era, there could have been greater numbers of Christians who actively helped stand up for what is right. Today, we see Christians who make the choice to ignore what they hear about new forms of anti-Semitism. There are Christians who join “peace and justice” activists and embrace a cause they think is good and right. They are being swayed by the fashionable attitudes of the “progressive left” when the truth is that anti-Semitism is beginning to shake the world again. Christians must be more engaged in learning not only about the historical oppression of Jews, but about the current overt hatred of Jews through the promotion of lies and misinformation about Israel, writes Carla Brewington, a doctoral graduate of the Fuller Theological Seminary in California.
While much of the media focused on the recent terror attack in Nice, the failed coup in Turkey, and the Republican National Convention, thousands of evangelical Christians gathered in the nation’s capital this week to show their support for Israel as part of the 11th annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Washington Summit. Although world events may have overshadowed its latest gathering, CUFI’s base of support—3.1 million members—is louder than ever. CUFI has become not only the self-described largest pro-Israel organization in America, but also likely the largest evangelical Christian organization of its kind. Much of CUFI's momentum stems from how Israel has become “one of the top issues for evangelicals” in a post-9/11 world. “All of a sudden [after 9/11] this distant land of Israel, battling these Islamic enemies, many realized that we are also facing the same threats and enemies,” said David Brog, one of CUFI’s founders and the director of its executive board.
Dr. Tim Shepherd raised his son Adam, a pre-law student at the University of North Texas, to become a devoted supporter of Israel. The Shepherds not only support Israel from their vantage point as Christian Zionists, but they also prioritize connecting fellow Christians to the Jewish community in order to foster deep, lasting friendships. “We need to be best friends,” Tim Shepherd told JNS.org, detailing how he and his Jewish friends attend each other’s birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals. Tim and Adam Shepherd are both supporters of the Bnai Zion Foundation, a century-old Jewish organization that funds Israeli humanitarian projects. Last month, Adam was among the Christian honorees at Bnai Zion’s Texas Region Spring Reception in Dallas. The event—a night to honor Jewish and Christian donors who have helped raise money to support the Ahava Village for Children and Youth in northern Israel, a Bnai Zion beneficiary—embodied an interfaith community of generosity and special kinship.
“When it comes to apartheid, Israel sucks.” It’s a key quote delivered by American comedian Brad Stine, a devout Christian and a featured personality in the new documentary film “Hating Israel: In Search of the Truth Behind BDS.” The premiere of the film produced by Laurie Cardoza-Moore—founder and president of the Christian Zionist organization Proclaiming Justice to the Nations—was held in Jerusalem on June 8. Stine shapes his opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while traveling throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories. He carries out a series of interviews with Jews, Christians, and Muslims to get their thoughts about what life is really like. The comedian is hopeful that his humorous interviews will be an effective tool to help the film's viewers digest a serious message. “Humor helps people ‘take the medicine’ of a documentary,” Stine tells JNS.org.
Half a world away from American suburbia, Christians and other Middle East minority populations are facing extinction from Islamic terror groups such as the Islamic State. At the same time, Israel, the world’s lone Jewish state, deals with the organized terrorism of Hamas and Hezbollah as well as so-called “lone wolf” Palestinian terrorists. While these events may seem too distant for most Americans, residents of the Boston suburb of Stoughton, Mass., got a crash course on global dangers as part of an inventive interfaith event at a local synagogue last week. The event featured Dr. Tricia Miller and Dexter Van Zile, Christian media analysts for the Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, who addressed an audience of Jews and Christians about the ongoing Middle East threats and efforts to undermine Christian support for Israel. Such events help equip people to “counter terror and propaganda with fact, and encourage them to take action when need be,” Miller told JNS.org.
“Just being in Israel, in the Holy Land, and walking where Jesus walked, is incredibly inspiring,” says Barbara Wright, president of the Senior Women’s Missionary Union of the National Baptist Convention of America (NBCA). “We identify with the people of Israel as God’s chosen people, and therefore we understand that those who bless Israel receive blessings and those who curse Israel are really fighting against our culture and faith,” says A.W. Mays, an African-American Christian leader from Austin, Texas. Wright and Mays were two of the 26 members of NBCA, a predominately black church, who were hand-picked for an educational mission to Israel from May 23-29. The International Fellowship of Christian of Jews (The Fellowship) sponsored the trip to help deepen black leaders’ bonds with Israel. “African-Americans are the Jewish people’s natural partners,” says Yael Eckstein, senior vice president of The Fellowship. “They know what it means to be suffering and reach freedom, to be slaves and come to enjoy the full benefits of American peoplehood.…We have not had positive ties throughout the years because no one ever put an effort into creating those ties.”
As support for Israel erodes in many Western countries, especially among liberals and the millennial generation, American-Christian backing for the Jewish state is considered one of the bulwarks against such trends. But not all Christians feel warmly about Israel. During the past several years, a number of leading mainline Protestant churches have considered resolutions supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In May, at the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) general conference, UMC committees rejected four resolutions that called for divestment from companies doing business in Israel. While the UMC’s rejection of BDS and a similar rejection by the Episcopal Church in 2015 mark positive developments for pro-Israel advocates, there remains a broader challenge to win over more support from other mainline Protestant churches. Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ voted to divest from companies doing business in Israel in 2014 and 2015, respectively. “I think the average Presbyterian in the pews has little understanding of the vote to divest from Caterpillar, HP, or Motorola. In general, Presbyterians are driven by concern for social justice, and the plight of Palestinians certainly appeals to them,” said Michael Gizzi, a professor of criminal justice at Illinois State University who serves as a ruling elder in Presbyterian Church USA.
Earlier this month, Ben Rhodes, a national security official in the Obama administration, admitted in a New York Times profile that he used non-governmental groups to create an “echo chamber” to garner cover for the nuclear deal with Iran. Rhodes stated that his efforts to manipulate media coverage of the deal were made easier by the youth and ignorance of journalists who cover foreign policy. But Journalists are not the only people who were implicated as a result of Rhodes’s stunning admission. Christian churches and para-church organizations were an important part of the echo chamber that Rhodes created. By behaving in such a manner, these institutions did harm to the civil society in which they operate and to their own reputations, writes Dexter Van Zile, a Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).
Methodists know how important face-to-face meetings are for reconciliation. The Church’s history is replete with ruptures that were healed only after honest and sincere dialogue. The process often took years. Yet that is not the way Methodists are addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As more than 900 people from around the world gather in Portland, Ore., for the United Methodist Church quadrennial General Conference from May 10-20, certain factions in the global church who claim to promote peace for Israelis and Palestinians are instead pushing an anti-dialogue agenda that censures and denounces only one party—the State of Israel, writes Emily D. Soloff, associate director of interreligious and intergroup relations at the American Jewish Committee.
As 2015 began, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) proudly announced that their membership had surpassed the 2 million mark. In just under a decade since its founding, the Christian Zionist organization had become the largest pro-Israel group in the country. But just a few months later, news headlines were dominated by turmoil between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama as well as negotiations surrounding the Iran’s nuclear program. As attention focused on the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as surging anti-Semitism around the world, CUFI saw their membership growth shift into overdrive—and membership now exceeds 3 million.
Bishop John E. Putnam stood at the podium and exclaimed to the crowd, “Who here loves Israel and the Jewish people?” The thunderous applause indicated the ecstatic approval by more than 500 pastors, ministers, and their families attending a recent conference of United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI). Putnam, superintendent of UPCI’s Wisconsin District, had fired up the crowd, exhorting them to incorporate biblical principles in their everyday lives. Just outside the main hall of the April 5-7 conference in Elkhart Lake, Wis., was a large booth containing informational brochures published by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. Bilingual Spanish and English tours to the Holy Land were marketed towards pastors in order to encourage more churches to bring their congregations to Israel. According to the American Political Science Association, Pentecostalism is the world’s fastest-growing religious movement. A Pew Forum analysis estimates that there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians internationally. UPCI has 4,602 member churches in North America and 9,085 ministers, along with a total global membership of about 3 million adherents.
“It’s nice that he understands both English and Hebrew,” Father Gabriel Naddaf tells his interpreter at Houston’s Royal Sonesta hotel while JNS.org's Jacob Kamaras goes back and forth between the two languages during his interview with the Israeli Greek Orthodox priest. Hebrew is Naddaf’s stronger tongue, and Kamaras's is English. But despite having an interpreter at his disposal, something about the pastor’s simultaneously commanding and soothing presence encourages Kamaras to ask Naddaf some questions in his choppy Hebrew. But why does the language issue matter? Naddaf is best known for his efforts to bolster Arab Christians’ integration into Israeli society through their voluntary enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces. Naddaf’s pro-IDF stance is often accosted by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, so much so that his son was physically assaulted for that reason in December 2013. Yet Father Naddaf has pushed on with his IDF recruitment efforts, and it’s clear that he exudes Israeli pride. What language other than Hebrew, then, would have been appropriate for this interview? “I’m coming [to America] and I’m meeting my brothers,” Naddaf says. “My Jewish brothers and also the Christians, the real believers, who believe in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and follow the right path. So both of them, the Jews and the Christians, they are my brothers and I hope that I will keep meeting my brothers.”
Despite Christianity being founded in Judea more than two millennia ago, Christians have long kept a low profile in Israel. But in the last few years, the Jewish state’s Christian minority has stepped up its visibility while seeking greater integration and participation within Israeli society, much like other minority groups such as the Druze and Bedouin. Though Israeli Christians were long considered a minority within a minority, the Israeli government has in recent years taken steps to distinguish Christians from the rest of the country’s Arab minority. Last year, Israel officially recognized the existence of an ethnic group of Christians known as “Arameans,” who consider themselves to be the descendants of Aramaic-speaking Semitic people dating back to the Late Bronze Age more than 3,000 years ago. Now that they have a higher profile, JNS.org examines how some within Israel’s 165,000-strong Christian community view and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day).