Local synagogue goes global with crash course on threats to Christians and Jews

 

 

Click photo to download. Caption: Displaced Christians in cramped living conditions in Erbil, the largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need.

By Sean Savage/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—titled “Jews, Evangelicals, Israel—We Are in This Together: Evangelical Support for Israel and the Fight against the Genocide of Christians in the Middle East”—featured Dr. Tricia Miller and Dexter Van Zile, Christian media analysts for the Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), who addressed an audience of Jews and Christians about the ongoing Middle East threats and efforts to undermine Christian support for Israel.

Miller told JNS.org that such events help equip people to “counter terror and propaganda with fact, and encourage them to take action when need be,” in addition to fostering interfaith solidarity.

“I would hope people would walk away…feeling that they have learned something that they would feel equipped and emboldened to speak and take action whenever necessary on the side of truth, and that they would realize that they have friends and allies in a different faith tradition than their own,” she said. 

The May 31 event was held as part of the Hausman Memorial Speaker Series, which is held in memory of the parents of Ahavath Torah Congregation’s Rabbi Jonathan Hausman. The rabbi spoke at length about the importance of Jewish-Christian relations, especially while both communities are ongoing targets of Islamic extremism. 

“At this moment in history, both Jews and Christians are the primary targets of evil. Our interest in survival is not simply individual. If history has taught us anything, it is this: what begins with the Jews, never ends with the Jews,” Hausman told JNS.org.

Hausman noted that Ahavath Torah not only serves local Jews, but also the Faith4Life Church, a mainly African-American church that is associated with the Michigan-based World of Faith International Christian Center. Several evangelical Christians were in attendance May 31, including Hausman’s close friend Pastor David Marquard of Impact Church in Cranston, R.I., who even led an interfaith prayer at the conclusion of the event. 

In their remarks, both Van Zile and Miller spoke about efforts to undermine evangelical Christian support for Israel.

Miller, who is an evangelical Christian, voiced concern about the Bethlehem Bible College’s biannual “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference. She explained that the conference tries to convey the message that Israel is unworthy of Christian support because it is the homeland for the Jews—the people who rejected Jesus as their messiah. 

Miller noted that this message is further reinforced by efforts among some associated with the Bethlehem Bible College to separate Jesus from his Jewish identity, instead portraying him as a Palestinian who would be persecuted by Israeli forces.

Miller also described how anti-Israel messaging has made its way into mainstream evangelical discourse through anti-Israel films such as 2010’s “Little Town of Bethlehem,” which was financed by a film company associated with Hobby Lobby retail chain heir Mart Green.

According to Miller, Green’s roles as the former chairman of the Board of Trustees at Oral Roberts University (ORU), a renowned Evangelical Christian college with a proud tradition of supporting Israel, and as a leader of the Empowered21 initiative, a global Christian movement, have called into question those organizations’ future support for Israel. 

At Empowered21’s annual conference in Jerusalem last year, Miller said there was “a concerted emphasis on the importance of Christian unity and the need to stand with Palestinian Christians.”

Miller said she fears ORU and Empowered21 may become aligned with the Palestinian anti-Jewish/anti-Israel movement, calling that outcome “nothing more than a new form of Christian anti-Semitism made for an evangelical audience.”

Despite these efforts, Miller does not believe Jews will lose the support of all evangelicals, especially since the evangelical movement is growing rapidly in Latin America and Asia—regions that are home to very strong Israel support and less of a concerted effort among pro-Palestinian groups to target pro-Israel activists.

But in the U.S. the younger generation of evangelicals are becoming more susceptible to the anti-Israel narrative, Miller said.

“Evangelicals over the age of 50 are solidly pro-Israel and that is not going to change,” she said. “The problem is that the older generation will die at some point, and the younger generation has been targeted with the Christian Palestinian narrative….They are susceptible to it due to the emotional attraction of appearing to be for ‘peace’ and ‘justice,’ concepts that are used to portray the Palestinian cause in a positive light and the Israelis in a negative light.”

Van Zile addressed what he described as the failure of Western countries, including the U.S., to come to the aid of innocent Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities in Iraq and Syria who are being persecuted by Islamic State. 

“Protecting minorities in the Middle East is not a major priority for the Obama administration,” he said.

In Van Zile’s estimation, part of the reason for this failure to help Middle East minorities is a subconscious fear in America about angering Muslims if Islamic extremism is more forcefully exposed.

According to estimates, there were roughly 1.3 million Christians living in Iraq in 2003, and now that community roughly stands at around 300,000—with many being forced to flee from their traditional homeland in Iraq’s Nineveh province due to attacks by Islamic State on regions such as Iraqi Kurdistan. Similarly, Syria’s pre-civil war Christian population has been reduced from 1.1 million to 600,000, with many Christians fleeing to neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, as well as to Europe. 

Yet all is not lost, Van Zile told JNS.org, explaining how there are a number of organizations that are working to help Mideast Christians.

“We can give money to groups—like Open Doors, Christian Solidarity International, and the Knights of Columbus—who are giving aid to persecuted Christians in the Middle East. We can also encourage lawmakers to encourage bringing in victims of Islamic persecution into the Middle East,” Van Zile said. 

“They can also encourage their lawmakers to promote the establishment of a Nineveh Plains province in Iraq. This province would be set up to provide a safe haven for religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq to protect themselves,” he added.

Van Zile said that there are lessons to be learned from the Western failure to combat genocide.

“It’s an awful thing to consider, but one metric we can use to determine how to help is this: If it is similar to something we should have done during the Holocaust to help Jews, it’s probably a good idea to do now for Christians and Yazidis in the Middle East,” he said.

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Posted on June 6, 2016 and filed under Features, Israel, U.S., Christian.