David Brog on why Christians support the Jewish state
This week's guest is David Brog, author of the upcoming book "Standing with Israel: Why Christians support the Jewish state" on the Christian Evangelicals and their devotion to Israel. I dealt with the topic this past weekend in an interview I conducted with Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio.
Brog worked in the United States Senate for seven years, serving as chief of staff to a senior United States senator and staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also worked as an executive at America Online and has practiced corporate law in Tel Aviv and Philadelphia. Brog is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He lives and writes in Washington, D.C.
Questions for Brog can be sent to: email@example.com.
My last question touches on current affairs, not theology. How do you think the Evangelical community will cope with a decision by the Israeli government to evacuate most of the West Bank? Will it support
the government, oppose it, stay on the sidelines? And what influence will it have on the future of these relationships?
And thank you for the time you invested in this dialog.
Thanks, Shmuel. This Q&A; has been very interesting, and you and your readers have asked some excellent and challenging questions.
I?m quite confident that if Prime Minister Olmert decided to withdraw from much of the West Bank, the response of the overwhelming majority of Christian Zionists would be to stay on the sidelines. This is not simply a matter of conjecture. There are a number of precedents which give us a great deal of insight into how Christian Zionists respond when confronted with an Israeli government determined to relinquish parts of the biblical Land of Israel.
Christian Zionists have been a force in American politics since the early 1980s. Thus they were on the scene in 1993 when Prime Minister Rabin began pursuing the Oslo peace process with its ultimate goal of a Palestinian state in all or most of the West Bank and Gaza. Christian Zionists had a strong presence in 1999, when Prime Minister Barak began pursuing the Oslo process with a renewed energy and urgency. And Christian Zionists were more powerful still when Prime Minister Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip last year. In each of these instances, most Christian Zionists opposed the territorial concessions being pursued by Israel. Yet, in each case, almost all Christian Zionists responded to these concessions by staying on the sidelines.
Personally, most Christian Zionists opposed the Oslo process on the grounds that they did not trust Arafat as a partner for peace. Their concerns, of course, were eventually validated. They now tend to oppose relinquishing more of the West Bank to a Hamas-run government that would view such concessions as a victory for terror and likely use such land as a base from which to further attack Israel. In addition, a biblical basis for opposing such concessions no doubt bolsters such practical concerns.
Yet despite their opposition and private criticism, most Christian Zionists have also recognized that it is inappropriate to sit here in America and actively oppose decisions made by a democratically-elected Israeli government. They understand that you must stand by your friends even when you disagree with the choices your friends make. And they realize that there must be due deference towards the Israelis who live in Israel and who pay with their blood and the blood of their families when there is a war or terrorist attacks. I believe the Christian reaction to Israeli concessions has been moral, restrained, and respectable. And I see no reason why this approach will change.
Mr. Brog, does your theology require Israel to be in control of the entire holy land? If so, what are the ideal boundaries of Israel? Those described in Genesis 15:18 (from the River of Egypt to the Great River)? What placedo Christian Arabs have in your theology?
Hi Don. Thank you for your question. Just to clarify, the evangelical theology I write about is not my theology ? I'm Jewish.
As far as evangelicals are concerned, they, like Orthodox Jews, believe that God promised the Jews the entire Land of Israel. And they, like Orthodox Jews, have differing opinions on what constitutes the boundaries of the biblical Promised Land - there are conflicting accounts. Yet all serious Zionists, Christian and Jewish alike, agree that what is relevant and worthy of serious debate is not what the biblical borders may have been, but rather what Israel should do about certain biblical land currently in its possession: the West Bank. And here there is a divergence of views. While most Christian Zionists oppose territorial concessions in the West Bank, many would support them if a legitimate partner for peace emerged. But both sides of this debate tend to agree that, whatever their own personal views on the matter may be, they should accept the decisions of democratically-elected Israeli governments.
As for Christian Arabs, they don't have any special place in Christian theology per se. Yet because they are fellow Christians, evangelicals tend to have great compassion for their plight just as they do for other oppressed Christians around the globe. Evangelicals are well aware of the persecution that confronts Christians in many Arab countries from Sudan to Iraq as well as in the West Bank. As the Christian populations of biblical cities such as Bethlehem continue to shrink in the face of threats and harassment from radical Muslims, evangelicals are sounding the alarm. The persecuted Arab church has become one more issue that builds sympathy among Christians for the challenges facing Israel in the Middle East.
Dear Mr. Brog,
I found your characterization of Evangelical Christians bothfascinating and reassuring.
However, the one thing I still can't quite get over is how they avoid"replacement theology." After all if one is a Christian one is not observing many commandments of the Torah. How can one who believes in the truth of Judaism justify its non-observance if the previous covenant has not been superseded?
And quickly, are you related to Former PM Barak?
David Gerstman Baltimore, MD.
Hi David. Your question is an insightful one, and one that would require many pages to answer. You have focused on what the mainstream Protestant Churches describe as the "mystery" or "paradox" of continued Jewish election after the coming of Christ.
Evangelical Christians who reject replacement theology don't believe that Judaism is the ultimate theological "truth." They believe that the Jews have missed out on the coming of their own Messiah, and thus also missed out on the reforms this Messiah brought, namely the abrogation of most ritual requirements of the Mosaic Law.
Yet just because evangelicals believe that Judaism has been "perfected" by the coming of Christ does not mean that they view the Jews as having been superseded or cast aside. Because most evangelicals reject replacement theology, they believe that the Jews are still in covenant in God and still have a central role to play in God's plan for humanity. The Jews are, in a sense, seen as allies of the Church in bringing about the salvation of humanity, and each has a distinctive role to play.
Thus the significance of the rejection of replacement theology is not that it acknowledges the truth of Judaism so much as it acknowledges an ongoing role for the Jews. The most dangerous aspect of replacement theology has thus been removed. As Christian scholar Franklin Littell has noted, "To teach that a people's mission in God's providence is finished, that they have been relegated to the limbo of history, has murderous implications which murderers will in time spell out."
As for your second question, well done. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak is my cousin. He changed his last name from "Brog" to "Barak" during his time in the army. Given Barak's illustrious career in the Israeli army and government, this is a relation of which I'm very proud.
Recently I read that in a manuscript unearthed a month or so ago (or at least the revelation was revealed) from perhaps Roman times thatJudas was actually following Jesus' instructions in betraying him, I would imagine in order to speed up his death and second coming.
In view of the fact that for centuries Jews were vilified for havingmurdered Christ did you find it unusual that the media did not spread the word far and wide? Is this revelation being spread in Christian circles?
Hi Murray. Thanks for writing. Yes, the recently publicized "Gospel of Judas" does portray Judas as Jesus' dearest disciple, and the one to whom he entrusted the most difficult task of all: that of betraying him and bringing about the crucifixion necessary for the atonement of all humanity's sins.
This new "gospel" is getting a great deal of attention in the general media, as well as in Christian circles. The document that was found is certainly very ancient and very interesting. Yet serious questions remain as to who wrote it, why it was written, and whether the events it describes actually transpired. No Christian body has recognized the Gospel of Judas an authentic document sharing the authority of the Gospels of the New Testament. Thus, as far as Christians are concerned, this is an interesting artifact but not one that changes their theological or historical outlook.
That being said, it is important to note that unlike past generations of Christians, evangelicals in America today tend not to view the crucifixion of Jesus as a Jewish crime. They tend to believe that Jesus had to be crucified, since this was part of the plan for the salvation of humanity: no crucifixion, no atonement of sin. Since they believe that Jesus had to go to the cross, and did so for all of our sins, they have never attributed great significance to the fact that the Jewish Sanhedrin or Judas played a role in sending him there.
Are you honestly and directly telling me that if I explore church history, way before the reformation, but back into the first century, that 'committed Christians' - those that embraced the cross and as a result, experienced transformation by the indwelling presence of God's Spirit, and bore fruit of the Holy Spirit - could somehow justify
holding hatred and prejudice toward a group of people because of theirrace, heritage, skin color, or tribe?
Thaddeus J. Chwierut
Hi Thaddeus. You raise a very interesting question. Are people who claim to be Christian, but who act in a distinctly unchristian way, properly called "Christian?" I would agree with you that no true Christian could be an anti-Semite or racist, and that no true Christian could commit violence against innocents in the name of Jesus. I also think that most evangelicals would agree that those "Christians" responsible for the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Easter Day pogroms and other atrocities against the Jews were not Christians at all. At an abstract level, your point is well taken.
At a practical level, however, I still have a problem. How should I refer to people who ran the Christian churches of their day and controlled the organs of Christian power of their time, other than by calling them "Christian?" If you can think of a better shorthand for such individuals, please share it.
You are right on target in your analysis of the Evangelical
Christians' attitude towards Israel. But it seems to me you aremissing out on a very important aspect of this issue, in not taking due note of what has been happening in this domain in the Catholic Church and among the mainline Protestant Churches over the past 30-40 years.
The fact is that most of these Churches have clearly and repeatedly gone on record as rejecting Replacement Theology and other anti-Jewish doctrines that have been the cause of so much suffering for the Jewish people over the centuries. Some of these Churches have gone so far as to acknowledge the role of these anti-Jewish doctrines and dogmas in paving the way for the Holocaust. The Lutheran Church, for example, has done so in explicit reference to the later anti-Semitic writings of Martin Luther, its own founder! The Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ are among others who have made far-reaching statements in this vein, and the same is true, by the way, of the roof organization of Protestant and Orthodox Churches, the World Council of Churches. (All this is fully documented in my book, "Conflict & Connection: The Jewish-Christian-Israel Triangle," Gefen 2003.)
The attitude and policies of some of these Churches towards the Stateof Israel is another story, but let's not get into that right now. The point I wanted to make is that one shouldn't imply that there is a clear and sharp division, on the replacement issue, between Evangelicals, on the one hand, and the rest of Christianity, on the
other. You didn't actually say this, in your response to Shmuel Rosner; but it was implied.
And thank you for your comments. You are absolutely correct that both the Catholic Church and many of the mainline Protestant denominations have made important strides in recent decades to reject replacement theology and the anti-Semitism that flowed from it. I do not mean to denigrate their efforts. You are also probably right that by singling out the evangelicals for praise, I implied a criticism of the others, but this was not my intent.
In my book, "Standing with Israel," I do mention all of the important reforms you cite above. Please see pages 60 to 63, where I quote from some of the very impressive resolutions passed by the various denominations. I also discuss Vatican II and Nostra Aetate, which were a significant Catholic gesture towards the Jews. It is important to note, also, that some of Israel's strongest defenders today are Catholics, including Senators Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback, and author William Bennett. Many other stalwart friends of Israel are mainline Protestants.
There is, however, a difference between evangelical theology and the Catholic and mainline theologies which has resulted in different approaches towards Israel. The Catholic Church and the mainline churches rejected replacement theology? but they did not "replace" replacement theology. They stopped short of clearly embracing the alternative view that the Jews are in fact "Israel." Instead, they arrived at a more ambiguous middle ground. They more or less agreed that the Church is still "Israel," that the Jews are still a community elected by God, and that the continuing validity of God's covenant with the Jews in light of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah is a "paradox" and a "mystery."
Ambiguity in religion is no vice. For centuries, such ambiguity was a welcome relief for Jews who suffered at the hands of those who knew the "truth." Still, such an ambiguous view of the theological status of the Jews does not inspire concerted action on their behalf. Thus we do not see any large, grassroots movements in support of Israel among Catholics or mainline Protestants today. On the contrary, the Catholic Church did not recognize Israel until 1993. And the only real grassroots movements concerning Israel we have seen among the mainline Protestants have been recent efforts to divest from Israel. To the credit of most mainline churches, such efforts have been largely rejected.
Evangelical Christian Zionists, on the other hand, do not see Jewish election as a "mystery." They have replaced replacement theology with the view that the Jews are the "Israel" to whom so much is promised in the Bible. This strong conviction inspires identification with Israel and the Jews and zealous action on their behalf. It is for this reason that we see a massive grassroots movement among evangelicals in support of Israel today. This is why the focus of my book is on evangelicals, because they are the ones who are standing with Israel as a movement, and not just as individuals.
I look forward to buying your book, Moshe, and have no doubt that it will be a worthwhile and informative read.
I read your book over the weekend, and have a few questions to pose to you. My first is a general one: you describe in great detail the theological journey some Christian denominations made to reach the point at which they are today - a rejection of "replacement theology" and an acceptance of Jews as they are. But can you be sure this is a long-term trend? Aren't you at all concerned that this could be easily reversed?
Or - if one wishes to formulate the question in a more blatant manner - how suspicious should we Jews be?
Your question is an important one, Shmuel, because it touches on a fear that many Jews have about Christian support for Israel. After two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism, it is very hard for Jews to believe that Christians have suddenly embraced philo-Semitism in an honest and sincere way. And if they have changed, what is to prevent them from changing back?
What I explain in my book, "Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State", is that the evangelical embrace of Israel and the Jewish people is not a sudden change of course or a reaction to external events such as the Holocaust. On the contrary, evangelical support for Israel is rooted in the solid bedrock of their own theology. It is not evangelical theology that has recently changed, but rather "Christian demographics" - people who believe in this theology have built their movement and grown from a small minority within Christendom to what is now, in America today, the majority.
To briefly summarize, for most of Christian history, the dominant Christian theology towards the Jews was "replacement theology," which held that when the Jews rejected Jesus as their messiah, God rejected the Jews as his chosen people. The Church replaced the Jews as the "Israel" to whom so much is promised in the Bible. Once the Jews were thus removed from God's love, the door was opened to man's hate. And this was a door through which generation after generation of Christians walked.
But ever since the Reformation, there have been some small groups of Protestants who have rejected replacement theology and who believe - as Jews do - that the word "Israel" in the Bible means the Jews. Under this reading, the Jews continue to be the beneficiaries of God's love and promises, and the Bible becomes an exhortation to Zionism and philo-Semitism.
Throughout history, Protestants who have rejected replacement theology have been philo-Semitic. For example, the Puritans in England rejected replacement theology. When they achieved political power, one of their fist acts was to let the Jews back into England. More recently, there were thousands of religious righteous gentiles during the Holocaust, i.e. people who risked their lives to save Jews out of religious conviction. Almost all of these righteous gentiles were people who rejected replacement theology and embraced the Jews as God's chosen people.
In early twentieth century America, the nascent fundamentalist movement embraced this minority view and rejected replacement theology. As this movement grew and spread throughout America, the number of Christians who adhered to this theology grew as well, to the point that it is the ascendant strain of American Christianity today. Thus fundamentalist/evangelical support for Israel is not a trend, fad, or public relations ploy - it is a bedrock religious belief. Christians who adhere to this theology are as likely to abandon Israel as they are to abandon any other aspect of their evangelical theology, such as their opposition to abortion. It is hard to find support for Israel that is more deeply rooted.
There is also a downside to the support Israel receives from Evangelicals. As they are somewhat controversial among Americans - mainly for domestic reasons - is it really wise to be identified with them? Many Jews who are, for the most part, on the Liberal side of society, feel very uncomfortable with the support Israel gets from Fundamentalists. They also feel that it influences policy in ways that aren't helpful (meaning, working against compromise in the region). How should all this be incorporated to the developing relations?
Yes, Shmuel, you are right that many American Jews are uncomfortable joining evangelicals in support of Israel because they believe that evangelicals are too conservative when it comes to American social policy, Israeli foreign policy, or both. I think that this discomfort is largely misplaced.
Let's start with social policy. It is true that most evangelicals embrace conservative positions on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, etc. It's also true that many Jews passionately disagree with evangelicals on these issues (I'll put aside for now the question of which position more closely comports with traditional Jewish values.) But why should these differences on some issues prevent us from working together on other issues where we agree?
I worked on Capitol Hill for seven-and-a-half years. During that time I saw a large number of diverse coalitions walking the halls of the Capitol. The one thing that characterized every one of these coalitions was not that their members agreed on every issue, but that they agreed on one issue - the issue on which they were working together. No one would think, for example, that because the Sierra Club joins with pro-environmental evangelicals to fight global warming that the Sierra Club now opposes gay marriage.
Some might argue, however, that Christian conservatives are really beyond the pale of civil society, and that to work with them on any issue will somehow "legitimize" them. This opinion tells me more about the closed mind of the person possessing it than it does about the social conservatives themselves. Agree or not, one has to acknowledge that abortion and gay marriage are issues over which reasonable people can and do disagree. The only unreasonable people in this debate are those at the extremes of both camps who fail to recognize the humanity and decency of those who disagree with them. The Jewish community should avoid such extremes.
You are right as well that many Jews are concerned that evangelical supporters of Israel will somehow push Israel further to the right. Indeed, most Christian Zionists do oppose territorial concessions and identify with the policies of conservative leaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharanksy. Yet there are many American Jews, not to mention a sizable block of the Israeli electorate, who share these conservative views. Opposition to territorial concessions has never been a disqualifier for Jewish Zionists. Why should it be for Christian Zionists?
The more important question is how Christian Zionists act on their political beliefs. AIPAC set an important precedent years ago. They decided that while American Jews may have deeply held opinions about Israeli policy, they should nevertheless support, or at least not actively oppose, the choices made by democratically-elected Israeli governments. After all, it is the Israelis and their families who will directly bear the brunt of these life-and-death decisions.
Thus far, Christian Zionists have followed this wise example. When Netanyahu and Sharon were prime minister, evangelicals used their influence to prevent American presidents from pressuring Israel to make concessions that these leaders opposed. But when Rabin and Barak were in power, and when Sharon decided to exit Gaza, evangelicals never used their power to try to block territorial concessions. While they disagreed, evangelicals recognized that ultimately these were decisions that only the Israelis could make. Evangelicals will not push Israel to the right - only Israeli voters can do that.