Among Evangelicals, A Kinship With Jews - Washington Post
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Sun Jan 8 07:03:08 PST 2006
Among Evangelicals, A Kinship With Jews
Some Skeptical of Growing Phenomenon
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 8, 2006; A01
DANVILLE, Va. -- Everyone who worships at the Tabernacle quickly learns
three facts about its deeply conservative pastor. He comes from a broken
home. He rides a canary-yellow Harley. And he loves the Jews.
There is some murmuring about the motorcycle. But the 2,500 members of
this Bible-believing, tradition-respecting Southern Baptist church in
southern Virginia have embraced everything else about the Rev. Lamarr
Out of his painful childhood experiences, Mooneyham, 57, preaches
passionately about the importance of home. Out of his reading of the
Bible, he preaches with equal passion about God's continuing devotion to
the Jewish people.
"I feel jealous sometimes. This term that keeps coming up in the Old
Book -- the Chosen, the Chosen," says the minister, who has made three
trips to Israel and named his sons Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. "I'm a
pardoned gentile, but I'm not one of the Chosen People. They're the
apple of his eye."
Scholars of religion call this worldview "philo-Semitism," the opposite
of anti-Semitism. It is a burgeoning phenomenon in evangelical Christian
churches across the country, a hot topic in Jewish historical studies
and a wellspring of support for Israel.
Yet many Jews are nervous about evangelicals' intentions. In recent
weeks, leaders of three of the nation's largest Jewish groups -- the
Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Union for
Reform Judaism -- have decried what they see as a mounting threat to the
separation of church and state from evangelicals emboldened by the
belief that they have an ally in the White House and an opportunity to
shift the Supreme Court.
"Make no mistake: We are facing an emerging Christian right leadership
that intends to 'Christianize' all aspects of American life, from the
halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording
studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms . . . from the military
to SpongeBob SquarePants," the ADL's national director, Abraham H.
Foxman, said in a Nov. 3 speech.
Julie Galambush, a former American Baptist minister who converted to
Judaism 11 years ago, has seen both sides of the divide. She said many
Jews suspect that evangelicals' support for Israel is rooted in a belief
that the return of Jews to the promised land will trigger the Second
Coming of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon and mass conversion.
"That hope is felt and expressed by Christians as a kind, benevolent
hope," said Galambush, author of "The Reluctant Parting," a new book on
the Jewish roots of Christianity. "But believing that someday Jews will
stop being Jews and become Christians is still a form of hoping that
someday there will be no more Jews."
The result is a paradox -- warming evangelical attitudes toward Jews at
a time of rising Jewish concern about evangelicals -- that could be a
turning point in the uneasy alliance between Jewish and Christian groups
that ardently back Israel but disagree on much else.
The Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, chairman of the evangelical American Family
Association, warned in a Dec. 5 radio broadcast that Foxman was "in a
bind" because the "strongest supporters Israel has are members of the
religious right -- the people he's fighting."
"The more he says that 'you people are destroying this country,' you
know, some people are going to begin to get fed up with this and say,
'Well, all right then. If that's the way you feel, then we just won't
support Israel anymore,' " Wildmon said.
Philo-Semitism is far from universal among the 60 million to 90 million
U.S. adults who identify themselves as born-again or evangelical
Christians. But it has strong roots, not only in the Hebrew scriptures
shared by both faiths but also in the belief that today's Jews and
Christians have common antagonists, such as secularism, consumerism and
In his sermons, Mooneyham returns again and again to God's promise to
Abraham in Genesis 12: "I will bless those who bless you, and curse him
who curses you."
It is a theme echoed in many conversations at the Tabernacle, a plain
red-brick church in a community that has seen one factory after another
close, yet where the congregation made a Christmas offering of $25,000
to help pay for the immigration of Russian Jews to Israel.
"I believe everyone in this church felt it was the best thing we've ever
done with missionary money, to help the Jewish people go home," said
Dorothy Pawlowski, 72, who tithes to the church.
And it is a message being passed to the next generation. On Thursday
nights, J.J. Vogltanz, a deacon, uses a Christian textbook to lead his
three home-schooled children in science experiments designed to
illustrate Bible verses. One of the first things he taught them about
Jesus, he said, was that "he was a Jew."
Asked whether he also taught his children that the Jews rejected Jesus,
Vogltanz, 34, paused. "I'm not sure it's constructive to assign blame,"
Mark A. Noll, a professor of Christian thought at Wheaton College, a
center of evangelical scholarship in Illinois, said evangelicals are
beginning to move away from supersessionism -- the centuries-old belief
that with the coming of Jesus, God ended his covenant with the Jews and
transferred it to the Christian church.
Since the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant
denominations have renounced supersessionism and stressed their belief
that the covenant between God and the Jewish people remains in effect.
Evangelicals generally have not taken that step, but "among what you
might call the evangelical intelligentsia, questions of supersessionism
have come onto the table," Noll said. "It's in play among evangelicals
in the way that it was in mainline Protestantism and Catholicism -- but
wasn't among evangelicals -- 30 or 40 years ago."
At Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical training ground in
Pasadena, Calif., President Richard J. Mouw hosted a kosher breakfast
for 20 rabbis a week before Christmas. "More and more, we're inviting
Jews as guest lecturers," Mouw said. "We're looking at rabbinic
literature and how we can better understand the Bible through rabbinic
eyes. That's a real push for us."
Jacques Berlinerblau, a visiting professor of Jewish civilization at
Georgetown University, said the rise of philo-Semitism in the United
States has led Jewish scholars to look back at previous periods of
philo-Semitism, such as in Amsterdam in the mid-17th century. He said
revisionists are increasingly challenging the standard "lachrymose
version" of Jewish history, questioning whether persecution has been the
norm and tolerance the exception, or vice versa.
Still, some Jews think that philo-Semitism is just the flip side of
"Both are Semitisms: That is, both install the Jews at the center of
history. One regards this centrality positively, the other regards it
negatively. But both are forms of obsession about the Jews," said Leon
Wieseltier, a Jewish scholar and literary editor of the New Republic.
The Southern Baptist Convention, to which the Tabernacle belongs, passed
a resolution in 1867 calling on its members to convert Jews and renewed
that call as recently as 1996. Its former president, Bailey Smith,
declared in 1980 that "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew,"
and it currently supports about 15 congregations of messianic Jews, who
are popularly associated with the organization Jews for Jesus.
So Mooneyham has a ready answer for Jews who doubt his motives: "I think
they have a right to be suspicious of just about everybody, given the
He also has a personal story. The pivotal moment of Mooneyham's
childhood came at age 7 when his parents, in the middle of a divorce,
took him and his three sisters to a church parking lot in Burlington,
N.C., and parceled them out to relatives for a few weeks. Those few
weeks turned into years. The family never came together again.
Nearly 45 years later, the pastor was watching television before a
Sunday morning church service when he came upon an infomercial by Rabbi
Yechiel Z. Eckstein, founder of a group called the International
Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Eckstein was standing in Israel with
an elderly woman from Russia who said she was finally home.
"She started crying, he started crying, and I started crying," Mooneyham
said. "Then I said, 'Lord, help me, because I'm really going to throw my
congregation a curveball today. We're going to help Jews -- we're not
going to witness to them, we're just going to help them. Because I know
what home means.' "
Since that day five years ago, according to Eckstein, the Tabernacle has
sent more than $175,000 to the fellowship, which has a donor base of
400,000 Christians and has contributed more than $100 million to Israeli
"I can only say that what we've done should speak for itself, because
we've given and we've asked nothing in return," Mooneyham said. "And
that's the way it will stay."
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