EVANGELICALS AT THE US EMBASSY CELEBRATION
Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas spoke these words at the opening ceremony of the United States embassy in Jerusalem: “We come before you, the God of Abraham. Isaac and Jacob, thanking you for bringing us to this momentous occasion in the life of your people and in the history of our world.” If “your people” referred to the Jews, the religious beliefs of Jeffress affirm that, embassy or no embassy, Jews will all go to hell because we don’t accept Jesus as our Savior.
According to Jerry Adler, senior editor at Yahoo News, Jeffress still holds these views; he confirmed them to Adler in a telephone conversation last week. The pastor’s participation in the opening celebration, together with his Texas colleague John Hagee, gives credence to the view that the primary reason for President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was to please the many millions of evangelicals in his country who have voted for him and may do so again. A good number of them describe themselves as Christian Zionists.
Jewish Zionists choose to interpret the move as evidence of American recognition of Israel’s insistence that Jerusalem is its capital and has been so from time immemorial, long before the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Their excitement and their gratitude appears to make them oblivious to what many suspect may be Trump’s real motives.
We Jews are so pleased with the embassy move that many of us choose to ignore evangelical theology that affirms that Jews must have a state of their own so that all of them will come to live there – because only then, evangelicals maintain, can Jesus’ Second Coming become a reality. Those who fail to acknowledge it in good time will end up in hell. For Jews who take this seriously, the embassy move is a bizarre mixture of good news and bad news.
Cynically, many Israelis, Prime Minister Netanyahu among them, chose to ignore the theology in favor of the politics. At the celebration dinner Netanyahu is reported to have expressed gratitude to the evangelicals for their being there. The seemingly Orthodox Jew US Ambassador David Friedman is said to have invited them.
I share the satisfaction of Israelis that our mighty ally, the United States of America, has affirmed the centrality of Jerusalem for Israel and thus implicitly for Judaism. Yet I find it difficult to get excited when my ostensible friends predict my ending up in hell. Secular Jews may assume that this doesn’t matter, but what about us religious Jews? Of course, evangelicals may hold whatever opinions they wish, but should Jews praise them for it and claim to be their friends?
Should we ignore scholars and exponents of Judaism who see in the theology Jeffress, Hagee and millions more espouse as evidence of the roots of Christian anti-Semitism? I can see that it might be expedient to be hospitable to evangelical visitors but I’m among those who find it difficult to accept that it’s right. Professor Yehuda Bauer’s view has remained with me: they like Jews but hate Judaism.
So I’ve taken Adler’s concluding words to heart: “It’s enough to make one miss Christopher Hitchens, whose mantra, in his atheist manifesto God Is Not Great was ‘religion poisons everything.’ Hitchens died in 2011 and went wherever atheists go after death, but if he were alive today he could have gotten a whole other book out the Jerusalem embassy affair.”
Jerusalem 21.5.18 Dow Marmur