Evangelical Christians reach out to Israel
Christians on Chuck Missler’s 10-day tour of Israel do more than just travel to Jerusalem and other biblical sites.
They also spend a day volunteering with Israel’s armed forces.
Every year, Missler takes at least 100 people on a Bible study tour of Israel – a trip that includes work on a military base near the Golan Heights. Participants put on the Israeli Defense Force uniform and help troops by painting, cleaning and sometimes even packing ammunition.
“We want to show solidarity,” said Missler, founder of Koinonia House, a fundamentalist Bible ministry and publishing company in Post Falls. “It’s a chance to work side by side with Israeli soldiers, allowing them to see support from non-Jewish friends.”
Despite the obvious fact that Jews don’t share the belief that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, evangelical Christians in the United States – including Missler – have become among Israel’s staunchest allies.
In recent years, American churches have raised millions of dollars to promote Jewish immigration to Israel. Evangelicals have lobbied the U.S. government for stronger support of the Israelis, especially in the conflict over land with the Palestinians.
Locally, a growing number of Christians have become more outspoken about their kinship with Israel – a perspective that critics say is sometimes accompanied by a misunderstanding and hatred of Islam.
Last fall, Missler was criticized for a speech at North Idaho College in which he declared Islam to be a religion of world domination committed to the death of Christians and Jews. Tonight at NIC, another speaker with close ties to Missler will present “A Clash of Civilizations: the Middle East.”
Avi Lipkin, a Jewish writer who travels all over the United States speaking to Christian congregations about Middle East politics, isn’t expected to be as controversial as Missler, according to Chris Fillios of the North Idaho Pachyderms, the event’s sponsor along with the North Idaho College Republicans.
Lipkin, who wrote “Is Fanatic Islam a Global Threat?” and “Christian Revival for Israel’s Survival,” is expected to focus on geopolitical issues.
A former editor and translator for the Israeli government’s press office, Lipkin will discuss his views on Islam and the recent violence over the editorial cartoons depicting Muhammad, but he’ll also talk about Israel’s future and its relationship with Arab nations, especially in the absence of ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
“People will get a clearer understanding of the issues, both philosophical and religious, that have made up the crisis we face today,” said Fillios.
Above all, Lipkin will emphasize the importance of an alliance between Jews in Israel and Christians in the United States – a viewpoint shared by a growing number of Inland Northwest evangelicals.
“Christians should be in alliance with Israel,” said the Rev. Paul Van Noy, pastor of Candlelight Christian Fellowship in Hayden, Idaho.
He and his congregation of more than 400 always include Israel in their prayers. Every Sunday, they ask God to protect the Jews and to bring peace to the Middle East.
Christian fundamentalists believe Israel is a major piece of God’s plan, said Missler, whose North Idaho-based ministry has more than 50,000 members worldwide.
Although Koinonia House hasn’t been directly involved in fundraising efforts, the ministry has played a key role in creating a Christian coalition dedicated to Israeli Jews.
Missler and others are motivated by a verse in the book of Genesis in which God promises Abraham he will give the Holy Land to the Jews: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”
Some also believe that Jewish immigration to the Holy Land is the realization of biblical prophecy leading to the apocalyptic end of days. During the Second Coming of Christ, a mass conversion among Jews will take place, according to fundamentalist belief.
A number of Jews remain wary of evangelicals. Last fall, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, accused the Christian right of bigotry and plotting “to Christianize America.”
Locally, non-Jews also say they’re troubled by evangelical support for Israel since their message often contains anti-Islamic undertones. “These churches are preaching hate and intolerance,” said Stefano Carrera, an NIC student who complained to the school about Missler’s speech last fall. “They’re using Christianity to justify their blatant disregard for the civil rights of others.”
While Jews are generally offended by the Second Coming scenario, some still accept – if not embrace – the evangelical support.
Many Jews, both in Israel and the United States, were hesitant to establish a relationship with evangelical Christians, said Hugh Lefcort, a Gonzaga University biology professor and an American Jew who served in the Israeli Army. But the partnership has grown stronger and the two groups are now considered solid allies, he said.
It’s an odd pairing, he admitted, given that American Jews and Christian evangelicals have often disagreed on social issues. “But all political alliances are pragmatic,” he said.
While he’s also uncomfortable with the end-times prophecy, Lefcort said he finds the partnership “refreshing,” especially after the turbulent history of Christians and Jews. He also noted that some mainline Protestant denominations have taken punitive measures toward Israel through official statements and divestiture in companies that do business in Israel.
Why, then, Lefcort asked, shouldn’t Israel accept all the help it can get?
“Jews have so few friends,” he said. “When you get one, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. … Jews are very grateful for their support.”