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April 23, 2004 - Image 30

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-04-23

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A Tarnished Friendship

When I disclosed my Jewishness to
New York/JTA
the evangelicals I met in the course
he lesson to be learned from
of my research, they responded with
recent differences between many
boundless curiosity and kindness. A
American Jews and conservative
few asked if they could accompany
Christians — on Mel Gibson's film The
me to synagogue, professing their
Passion of the Christ and on equal rights
great affection for the Jewish people.
for gays — is not to walk away from rela-
Several spoke excitedly of their trips
tionships with evangelicals.
to Israel or their desire to visit there.
It is not to reject evangelical support for
I found it all disarming, and even a
Israel. It is not to view the evangelical
little flattering.
community in a simplistic way. It is not
But then the invitations to attend
the lesson Arlene Stein offers in her JTA
their churches arrived, along with
Op-Ed piece.
offers to pray for me. I declined
It is, rather, to reinforce a dual
them graciously and heard little else
approach: working for and welcoming
until my book, a critical but empa-
conservative Christian support for Israel
thetic account of conservative
at a particularly difficult time for the
Christian activists, was published.
Jewish state and, at the same time, never
The messages then began to get
backing off or toning down our princi-
meaner and were often tinged with
pled positions on social issues about
which we vehemently disagree with evan-
"How could a Jew possibly write
gelical approaches.
an unbiased account?" one asked.
One of the fascinating manifestations
Another told me to
of the turmoil
go back to New
over Gibson's film
York, where you
has been to
•. • , . n1
observe many on
The Jewish alliance with
Today, some of
left in the
Christian evangelicals in the
those activists have
wake of "The Passion of the
gone on to mobilize
ty saying, We
support for Israel,
told you how bad
working to insure .
evangelicals are,
that the holy land
while many on
stays in Jewish hands so that "saved
the Jewish right, in a foolhardy effort to
Christians" like themselves can enjoy
placate the religious right, defend a film
their final rapture out of harm's way.
with the potential to set back Christian-
Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, these
Jewish relations and to generate anti-
Christians have felt further justified
for their alliance with Israel by the
There is too much at stake — Israel's
conviction that Judeo-Christian cul-
security and the well being of Jewish life
ture must protect itself against the
in America — to be blinded by narrow
followers of Muhammad, in prepara-
ideological approaches. Israel needs the
tion for the coming "clash of civi-
support of America today more than ever.
The threats to the Jewish state from
Islamic extremists, the bias of the interna-
Not Our Allies
tional community and the poisoning of
My travels in evangelical America
young people's minds have never been
tell me that despite the claims of
Jewish conservatives, and even mod-
The role of the United States is critical
erate leaders like Foxman, conserva-
not only in standing with Israel, but also
tive Christians are not our "natural
in influencing others — particularly the
allies." In fact, most American Jews
Europeans — toward some fairness vis-a-
find themselves deeply at odds with
vis Israel.
the Christian right over a host of
American support for Israel rests on
many pillars. Most importantly, it is
Witness the overwhelming support
bipartisan. There is no doubt, however,
that the American Jewish communi-
that evangelical activity on behalf of Israel
ty has given to the issue of gay mar-
is among the most significant elements in
riage. In Massachusetts, a near una-
that support, not least because of that
nimity of Jewish communal leaders
community's influence with President
Arlene Stein is a professor of sociology
support gay marital rights, and opin-
at Rutgers University and the author of
Abraham H. Foxman, national director
ion polls nationally show Jews to be
"The Stranger Next Door: The Story of
of the Anti-Defamation League, is the
the most solidly in favor of gay mar-
a Small Community's Battle Over Sex,
author of "Never Again? The Threat of the
riage of any religious group.
Faith, and Civil Rights."
New Anti-Semitism."
STEIN on page 31

New Brunswick, N.J./JTA
few years ago, a few moder-
ate American Jewish leaders
tried to allay Jewish fears that
the Christian right was a threat.
American Jews had it wrong, they
said: Former Christian Coalition
leader Ralph Reed, the Rev. Pat
Robertson and their ilk really were
quite nice, even open-minded fel-
lows — and strongly pro-Israel to
boot. They were our
friends. The Anti-
Defamation League
publicly praised
Reed's pro-Israel
stance and invited
Christian conserva-
tives to ADL ban-
Christians, in
turn, organized
nationwide prayer
vigils and lobbying
campaigns to support Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's vision of a
greater Israel.
Basking in the glow of this new-
found friendship, Reed proclaimed
that the Jewish-Christian alliance for
Israel was as important as the black-
Jewish coalition for civil rights in
the 1960s.
Then, a Hollywood film star pro-
duced, directed and bankrolled a
cinematic portrayal of Jesus' final
hours that depicted Jews as Jesus'
killers, promoting an age-old anti-
Semitic theme.
Fearing that the film would stoke
new anti-Semitism, ADL national
director Abraham Foxman pleaded
that Gibson alter the film, the Pope
disavow it and the Christian evan-
gelicals that had become Foxman's
allies sermonize against it — to no
avail. Foxman should have seen it
For all their talk of loving Jews
and Israel, conservative Christians'
No. 1 priority always has been to
expand their influence and numbers
at home and abroad.
Several years ago, I interviewed
dozens of Christian activists for a
book I was writing about a campaign
against gay rights that bitterly divid-
ed many Oregon communities,
where I was living at the time.




Friends Worth Keeping




Bush. Whether it is in congressional ini-
tiatives, administration positions or pub-
lic-opinion polls, evangelicals matter. It
behooves us to act accordingly.
On the other hand, for many of us,
conservative Christian perspectives on
social issues that are critical to a healthy
American society and Jewish life within
that society are disturbing.
Whether it is church-state separation
— at the heart of the comfort level that
Jews enjoy in this
country — or opposi-
tion to any religious
group imposing its
views on society — as
seen in the struggles to
maintain choice on
abortion and equal
rights for gays — we
are deeply concerned
about conservative
Christian views and
policy initiatives.
And we don't pull any punches in our
opposition. We engage fully to prevent
those religious-right policies from pre-
dominating in legislation, in the courts
and in executive decision-making.
Moreover, when some evangelical lead-
ers articulate prejudicial views toward any
religious group, as several did in anti-
Muslim stereotyping, we speak up.

StandingWith Israel

During the current controversy about the
Gibson movie, we have been unhappy
that more evangelical leaders have not
acknowledged Jewish pain, the history of
anti-Semitism associated with the deicide
charge and the potential for recurring
hatred of Jews.
But we shouldn't rush to judgment on
the impact of the film on evangelical
Christians. We need to be clear where we
stand and encourage sensitivity and edu-
cation about Jews and Jewish history.
The bottom line remains what it has
always been: Evangelical Christians have
never demanded a quid pro quo from
American Jews for their support of Israel.
If they were to say that they would only
work on Israel's behalf if American Jews
halt their activity in opposition to them
on social issues, we, of course, would say,
"Sorry, no thanks for your support.
That has not happened.
They stand with Israel for theological
reasons and because, as Christian activist
Gary Bauer has said, the United States
and Israel are on the front line together in
the current struggle for freedom and
That's good enough for us. fl

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