Evangelical Christians and American Jews, Allies or Foes?

by Warner Todd Huston | March 4, 2011 11:14 am

This is the text of an address I gave to a men’s luncheon in Niles, Illinois on March 3, 2011. Niles and its neighbor Skokie are heavily Jewish areas in the northern suburbs of Chicago. I hope it was fairly well received and that you will similarly find it interesting.

We all know there has been a complicated and often unfortunate history between European Christians and their Jewish fellows. There is an earned suspicion that Jews have for European Christians that goes back centuries. Over time relationships between Jews and European Christians has swing wildly from acceptance, to indifference to outright antagonism and back again.

Sadly, it seems that these days the pendulum is swinging back to Europeans again seeing Jews as an unwanted element and crimes against Jews in many parts of Europe have been on the rise. Some of this is due to the influx of Muslim immigrants in Europe, but not all of it by a long shot.

In the United States, however, Jews have always found a much less problematic existence. Certainly bad times have waxed and waned where Jews have been targets of abuse, but never has the abuse been as bad as that in European history. There certainly have been periods when Jews were not treated well in America — I can remember reading of the abuse that baseball player Hank Greenberg received after he refused to play a major league game on Yom Kippur in 1934, for instance — but even in America’s earliest days the abuse has never reached European outrages.

Absolutely no abuse should be excused, but when simply looking at the facts we see that the USA is a more welcoming environment in relative terms. For the most part, in the United States Jews have been able to succeed in any field in which they are able to excel without much mind to their background, especially over the last 60 years or so.

Yet even at that many American Christians have offered only a rocky road to acceptance for America’s Jews. For that matter, until about the 1960s, even American Catholics have found America to be quite inhospitable at times. In the 1928 presidential race, for instance, New York Governor Al Smith was excoriated as a “Papist” throughout large sections of the country and it was widely claimed in the South that he would take his orders from the Vatican and not the Constitution and the people.

It’s a shame, too. From my reading, Smith would have likely made a pretty good president. Instead we ended up with Herbert Hoover.

In any case, I bring all this turmoil and uncomfortable history up by way of saying that I really cannot blame Jews for being wary of Christians whether in America or anywhere else for that matter. But that being said, there is a new reverence that many Christians in the United States — especially the conservative Evangelicals — have developed for Jews in general and Israel in particular. And it is a relationship I’d like to see American Jews pay a bit more attention to developing as I think that American Jews can find some fast friends and allies in these Evangelical circles.

This changing relationship started in the 1980s during the Reagan administration and the rise of the Moral Majority Christians that at last began to turn their attention to politics. Previously to 1980 American Christians as a block did not pay much mind to politics believing that God’s realm was separate from Man’s world of politics. But thanks to the left’s constant attack on traditional American culture in the view of folks like Jerry Falwell and Pat Roberts, the so-called “culture wars” brought these conservative Christians into politics in a huge way. And they have yet to drift from their active participation.

Along with that new attention to earthly politics came attention to American foreign policy and, naturally, attention was turned to Israel. Thanks to the rising threat of radical Islam, feelings for Israel among Christians has only gotten stronger in the United States over the last 40 years as more and more Christians come to see Israel as our only friend in the Middle East, not to mention as a stalwart democracy facing a horde of despots, tyrants, and killers. In fact, a 2002 poll by The Tarrance Group found that Evangelical Christians are more likely than any other group in America — except Jews — to express enthusiastic support for Israel. Another poll conducted by Pew in 2006 found similar results.

Support has grown so that even tourism by American Christian groups has increased as tours of the Holy Lands grows as an industry. Yet even with all this support, many American Jews find Evangelical support to be an uncomfortable fit.

It is a fact that the American Jewish community is not monolithic and neither is Israel itself, granted. As a practical matter many Israeli politicians have embraced the Republicans and the Evangelical community’s support of their country. So too many Orthodox Jews in America have come to find the support offered them by Christians to be welcome news, indeed.

Of course, Orthodox Jews, themselves a minority in the American Jewish community, leans far more toward conservative politics as it is, so the fit is far more natural, to be sure.

But one would think that this untrammeled support for Israel evinced by American Christians would be welcomed with open arms by all Jews, especially American Jews, when all around them they still see oppressive forces aligned against them. Unfortunately, many Jews eye American Christian’s support with suspicion. This might seem odd until one looks at what sort of political positions American Jews and American Evangelical Christians take otherwise from Israel.

It is well known that for many years the bulk of America’s Jewish community has leaned toward a liberal, left-wing perspective. Quite despite the fact that more liberals and left-wingers are turning against Israel every day in America, Jews have stayed with their traditional left-wing political views. It is just as well known that the Evangelical Christian community has allied itself with the conservative viewpoint. This makes for uneasy alliances, for sure.

Yet even as Jews may eye Christian Evangelicals with suspicion, those same American Christians have made no effort on any level to insist that Jews come over to the conservative side on domestic political issues and have offered their hand in friendship on matters of Israel without pre-conditions. Even the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman has admitted that there has been no demand of any quid pro quo by Christians in order to gain their support of Israel.

Times change and this is one situation where the change is dramatic. Old time conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul still cling to the animosity for Israel, but their part has passed them by on the issue. Too many Jews, though, still see the Buchanan’s of the world as representative of the whole.

I know it’s hard to see when things have changed when nursing past slights. I spoke to a Viet Nam war vet just this week and he was going on about how the country mistreats him and his fellows. But I asked him to name the last time he was actually mistreated by anyone due to his service in the war and the last time he could remember was back in the 70s.

I reminded him that everywhere you look there are Nam POW flags, in every Memorial Day or Veteran’s parade there are contingents of Nam vets proudly marching. And I pointed to the traveling wall, the Washington D.C. memorial and many others across the country.

I pointed out that Viet Nam War vets are no longer treated like they were in the 70s except perhaps by the most unhinged leftists. Times have changed but he was still seeing the world through eyes opened in 1974.

Things have changed with conservative’s support of Israel, to, and for the better. It is entirely shortsighted for American Jews to turn away the open hand that Evangelicals have offered them for support of Israel. When advantageous coalitions can and should be built across party lines. Just as many African American groups are increasingly joining forces with Republicans and conservatives on school choice, Jews should find it logical and advantageous to accept Evangelical’s full-throated support of Israel.

It may seem odd to political liberals, though, to ally with political conservatives even if just on their support of Israel. But let’s face it, alliances on the left are odd, too. For instance, many Jews assume that African Americans are their natural allies on the left, yet Blacks are increasingly anti-Israel in America today. Look at the anti-Semitic rants of the Reverend Louis Farrakhan, for one and the often anti-Semitic comments by Jesse Jackson for another. But many Jews overlook this fact when investing in political alliances.

One of the reasons against allying with Christians I’ve seen put forward by Jews in America is that they find it distasteful when Christians try to convert them to Christianity. Personally I find this sort of whiny claim a bit absurd when in other parts of the world Jews are not just cajoled to convert but simply murdered outright. One would think a little Christian proselytizing would be easy to slough off for Jews that have faced some of the most inhuman oppression in history! Yet this proselytizing is a chief complaint that Jews, even those like Abe Foxman as I mentioned above, offer for a reason not to ally with Christians.

Another issue that turns Jews off from Evangelicals is the whole end-of-times scenario that many Christians ultimately believe in. Jews see the Armageddon scenario as an utterly insulting belief, and for good reason, I think. After all, to fulfill these Evangelical’s eschatological position Armageddon is a necessary aspect of the return of Jesus and Jews and Israel are an important part of that ideology.

In any case, it is shortsighted for American Jews to get all upset about end-of-times scenarios when Iran, the Palestinians and many Arab states are making to plan the REAL obliteration of Israel, not just some shadowy, mythical possible end-of-times game plan, but a current, real wiping out of Israel in the here and now.

Again, it is odd for Jews in America to slap away the hand of support for Israel offered by Evangelicals especially when it is Evangelicals that have brought the Republican Party into support of the state of Israel. There have been times in the past when the GOP has not been a fast friend of Israel, but that has ended with the advent of politically active Evangelical Christians. Just as the Democrat Party has increasingly turned away from supporting Israel, the GOP has taken up Israel’s banner and that is due to the Evangelical Christians that fill the rank and file of the Republican Party.

So, to sum up, I would urge American Jews to ease off their overt suspicion of Evangelical’s support of Israel. Granted even Ronald Reagan had a saying that goes “trust but verify,” but I would urge Jews to reach out to America’s Christians and wholeheartedly accept their support for Israel. Jews don’t have to fear being forced to become Christians. Jews don’t even have to feel obligated to support the Republican Party even as the GOP supports them. But Jews should stop their sneering distrust of Evangelicals and should accept their practical hand of friendship on matters of Israel. After all, we both, Christians and Jews alike, are at war with those forces that want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Let’s save our contempt for the true enemy.

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