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An Evangelical Christian 'shocked' by Jewish Anger
Last uploaded : Monday 13th Dec 2004 at 02:32
Contributed by : Cynthia Dettelbach


Shortly after the Nov. 2 election, I received a letter from Theresa Fleming of Strongsville, Ohio, which she also sent to every Cleveland Jewish News board member.

"I am writing to you regarding the letters that have been published (in the CJN) for the last several weeks regarding those of Christian faith," Fleming begins. Enclosed with her neatly typed three-page letter are the letters she refers to, with the key phrases or sentences highlighted:

"Hijacked by Christian right." "We do not need an administration that is in bed with the Christian Right because Judaism will suffer." "To those Jews who support George Bush and his conservative 'Christian Zionist' backers, I say beware of the company you keep." And "If Jews really understood what evangelical Christians believe, they would change their minds about voting for him (Bush)."

Theresa Fleming is an evangelical Christian, or at least she belongs to an evangelical church. She indicates:

"Over the past year, my family and many of my friends have grown deeply concerned about the troubles in the Middle East, the safety of Israel ... and growing anti-Semitism" both in the Mideast and in countries like France.

"After all the Jewish people suffered during the Holocaust, we think that our world owes them a home, a place, where they can be safe." That is why she and many of her friends write to Washington on a regular basis "to urge our elected leaders to continue their protection of Israel."

She also dismisses the notion that if the U.S. left Israel to deal with its own problems, "the terrrorists might leave us (Americans) alone."

Fleming bought a subscription to the CJN because she thought it important to understand what Jewish people think should be done to help Israel. It's a paper she shares with friends, she says, and which she obviously reads with care herself.

"Imagine my shock and surprise as, week after week, I read letters (in the CJN) filled with great anger towards Christians like us." She was also shocked that letters urging readers to vote against President Bush were often "attacking him because of his Christian Faith."

This is unfathomable to her because, as she adds, "the second reason I feel we should protect Israel is because of my Christian faith. Everything that I have ever learned both in my church and in my Bible speaks to me of God's great love for the Jewish people. They were, are, and will always be His Chosen People. In our faith, we believe that He sent His son to die for them. Some believed Him to be the Messiah and became Christian, and some did not and remained Jewish. But regardless of which path each person took, it did not change God's great love for each of them."

As for reader comments on the "end time" (Armageddon, when Jews and other infidels will have to convert or be killed), Fleming admits she's no biblical scholar. "I'm just a simple person of faith." As persons of faith, she and the other Christians she knows "do not call Washington urging support for Israel in some attempt to 'hasten the end of time.' We do it because the Jewish people are God's chosen people and He loves them. For that reason, and that reason alone, the Jewish people are deserving of our support."

Nowhere in her letter does Fleming discuss other issues about which many Jews and evangelicals may disagree: stem cell research, abortion, same sex unions, and prayer in the schools or workplace. To say nothing of differences in basic theology!

I quote extensively from Theresa Fleming's letter in the same spirit that a true biblical scholar, Rabbi Dr. Michael Cook, speaks to Jewish groups across the country about conservative Christian groups like evangelicals.

Dr. Cook lectured recently at Surburban Temple - Kol Ami, where he spoke about some of the specifics of evangelical belief - specifics that most evangelicals don't even know. (See Marilyn Karfeld's article "Accept evangelicals as friends despite their theology," CJN, Nov. 19.) These include such "strange beliefs" as "Rapture," when the most faithful dead and living will be lifted, in the nude, halfway to heaven, where Jesus will meet them.

Cook also dealt with the evangelical concept of the Anti-Christ (the agent of Satan), as well as the battle of Armageddon, followed by Jesus's building of the Fourth Temple after the Third Temple is destroyed.

All of this is set to take place at an indeterminate "end time." Meanwhile, in the current time, as Cook points out, other Christian faiths are busy inflicting their own kind of havoc against Jews and Israel.

Presbyterians talk of divesting their pension funds of any companies doing business with Israel, and Episcopalians are considering doing likewise. Even the Catholic church is not exempt: The Vatican lauded Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" despite the script's reliance on acknowledged anti-Semitic sources.

Cook urged his audience not necessarily to become allies of the evangelicals, but, neither should "Jews look the other way. Don't disparage the major group in this country who might do us good," he cautions.

Perhaps even more to the point, we shouldn't disparage or praise evangelicals until we learn a lot more about them. Most Jews, I suspect, lump all Christians together, unmindful of the nuances as well as significant differences among them. (Many Christians, I'd wager, do the same, assuming all Jews think and act alike - and we all know how off the mark that is!)

Perhaps, then, we can take a page from Theresa Fleming's playbook. In an e-mail she sent me after we spoke briefly on the phone, she writes:

"Thank you so much for publishing each one of the letters (criticizing evangelicals and Bush) that you did because it made me realize that as members of the Christian faith and evangelical church, we need to do a better job of sharing with others how we really feel, and of reaching out to people of other faiths."

The organized evangelical movement did that incredibly well in the last election. And no doubt they will continue to do so in the years ahead.

Jews who share evangelicals' love of Israel may nonetheless differ with them on more domestic concerns like stem cell research, church/state separation or reproductive rights. Wherever we stand on these issues and others, we are blessed to have a voice and presence on the same American streets evangelicals proudly walk. Therefore, information sharing, reaching out, and honest airing of concerns can and must be a two-way street.

It's not too early - or too late - to lace up our track shoes and hit those streets in full stride.
Reprinted by permission of the Cleveland Jewish News:



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