Monday, April 16, 2012

Should We Distrust Evangelicals?

How right he is! Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is right on the money when he accuses “Jewish liberals of being prejudiced against Christian conservatives and of clinging to pre-conceived notions and stereotypes about evangelicals’ beliefs and goals”

Jewish liberals refuse to recognize the actual support and love the Evangelical community has for Israel and the Jewish people. As reported in the Forward - figures in a poll taken by the Public Religion Research Institute indictae that only about 21% of the Jewish people have a favorable opinion of this group.

Unfortunately the Jewish liberal makes up the vast majority of the American Jewish public. I strongly believe that this has to do with 3 factors.

One is that fact that the vast majority of Jews in this country are more or less ignorant of their Jewish heritage and the tenets of our religion. I believe that most Jews therefore define Judaism through only one parameter – Tikun Olam. Judaism then becomes having a liberal social agenda. No group is further from that than the Christian religious right exemplified by Evangelicals. Their agenda is not based on social liberalism but on religious conservatism.

Another factor is a long history of Christianity trying to convert the Jews at best and persecuting them at worst. Jewish history is replete with pogroms in Europe culminating with the ultimate pogrom – the Holocaust.

There is also American history which is not completely innocent of anti Semitism either. Although since its inception America was the best of all alternatives for the Jewish people, there was a fair amount of anti Semitic prejudice here too in the pre Holocaust era. There were quotas for immigration, and for admittance to top universities. There were restrictions for Jews to enter the upper echelons of the corporate world, and the professions. There were exclusions from country clubs and from hotels. And there was (and still is in some circles) negative stereotyping. Things were not always as they are today where Jews are completely free to achieve whatever they are capable of in any field.

If one factors in those 3 things it is understandable why there is no trust in Evangelical Christians who have had a history of being missionaries to non Christians – especially to us. Not only do liberal Jews look at this anti Semitic history, Christian conservative politics are anathema to the liberally oriented ‘Tikun Olam’ Jew who defines his Judaism almost entirely in socially liberal terms.

Ironically the Jews most inclined to support Evangelical Christians are the religiously conservative Orthodox Jews. Orthodox values most closely coincide with the Evangelical agenda. Orthodox Jews do not see Tikun Olam as the only definition of Judaism. While it is (or should be) an important part of Orthodoxy, it is by far not the only part. Orthodox religious values and Evangelical values are very similar. But for the Tikun Olam Jew, those values could not be further apart. What remains therefore is distrust.

My own attitude is to not look a gift horse in the mouth. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of people like Pastor John Hagee who has time and again expressed his unconditional support and even love for Israel and the Jewish people. He has done so not only with his mouth but with his money; and his people. Many times!

This support does not sit well with the liberal mindset vis-à-vis Israel so well expressed by liberals like the Peter Beinart. The liberal mind sees only the now. They never see – or at best completely ignore – historical context.

When a liberal looks at Israelis and Palestinians they see the impoverished nature of many Palestinians. They see a persecuted minority. They see a heavy handed Israeli occupier. So they cry out at the injustice of it all. That is the socially responsible thing to do in their eyes.

What about all the terror from Palestinian quarters? That’s just a response to the ‘nasty occupiers’ – they will say. No attention is paid at all to how the situation got to be that way; or the need for Israel to protect its citizens from that terror. They just see good guys versus bad guys. The powerful are always the bad guys while the weak are always the good guys. Period - end of conversation!

So of course Evangelicals can’t be respected. They support the Israeli oppressors! They support the evil settlers. They support the bad guys.

And they support religious ideals that are anathema to the socially liberal agenda that for example promotes gay marriage or legalized abortions. Evangelicals vehemently oppose them both. As do most Orthodox Jews. And then there is that history of trying to convert the Jew!

This is not to say that there aren’t liberal Orthodox Jews. Of course there are. On some issues my own views might be seen as liberal. I too support legalized abortion. I am not currently a supporter of the settler movement. And I do see the suffering of the Palestinian by an Israeli army presence.

But I also see why that presence has to be there. And why certain measures have to be taken to prevent terror which in fact does cause real hardships on them. I also see the history that got us there which in my view lays the blame for Palestinian plight almost entirely on themselves.

It takes a liberal Orthodox Jew like Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein to recognize the truth. He - better than anyone else - knows what is on the mind of Evangelicals. I know him well and know his liberal political leanings which would normally tend to be suspicious of religiously conservative Christians with a history of trying to convert the Jews. And yet he believes them completely when they say they have unconditional support for Israel and the Jewish people.

Rabbi Eckstein is more intimate with the thought process of both their leadership and their membership than any other Jew – Orthodox or otherwise. He is not a stupid man. He is in fact very bright and very perceptive. He is also very idealistic and a man of great integrity. He has had a close relationship with them for decades! He says it is genuine. I believe him. It is something that I have intuited from my own observations.

I believe that there has never in history been the kind of unconditional support that these Christians give us now. I further believe that they will continue to support us in spite of the rejection so many of our liberal members continue to have. I am thankful for their support. My hope is that my liberal coreligionists will eventually come to understand this as well - as does Rabbi Eckstein. And come to see that many of the issues that Evangelicals support are Jewish issues. Jewish issues that that exist beyond Tikun Olam.