Is God TV a threat to Jewish-Christian ties?

The record of Christian efforts to convert Jews and the horrific antisemitism that flowed from anti-Jewish Christian doctrines are part and parcel of Jewish identity today.

Members of Christians United for Israel march to show solidarity with Israel, in Jerusalem, in 2008. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Members of Christians United for Israel march to show solidarity with Israel, in Jerusalem, in 2008.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It has been widely reported over the past week that a new cable TV station on the HOT cable system in Israel has begun broadcasting. Shelanu TV, the Israel affiliate of the American Evangelical media giant GODTV aims to bring the gospel of Jesus to Israeli Jews in their own language.
As has been reported in these pages, Communications Minister David Amsalem has publicly stated that he will revoke the license of Shelanu TV if, in fact, it is broadcasting content designed to proselytize Jews with the message of Christian faith in Jesus.
For many Evangelical Christian friends and supporters of the State of Israel, the outraged response of Minister Amsalem and many other prominent voices in the Jewish community is confusing. What about freedom of speech? Isn’t Israel a free country?
For many Jewish observers of this controversy, the opening of a Christian cable station with the stated purpose of evangelizing Jews only confirms their long held belief that the true motive of Evangelical friendship with Israel is the eventual conversion of Jewish Israelis to Christian faith.
Let me state clearly: The leading pro-Israel and Christian Zionist organizations and most Christians who are active on behalf of Israel do not engage in missionary activity that targets Jews. In fact, major Christian Zionist organizations and their leaders have been repeatedly attacked from within the Christian community for refraining from proselytizing to Jews.
As a friend to many pastors, Christian academics and prominent Christian Zionist activists, I can attest to the sensitivity and respect that these Bible-believing lovers of Zion show to Jewish identity and faith.
These Christian pro-Israel activists show the deepest respect for Jewish historical memory and the Jewish relationship to the God of Israel when they suppress what is for most Christians the highest calling of their faith. And it is this respect for Jewish historical memory that lies at the heart of the controversy over Shelanu TV.
The following was written by an acquaintance, a prominent Christian Zionist, in response to a Christian who expressed discomfort with the State of Israel’s restriction on missionary activity:
“Imagine if someone did the absolute worst, harmful and devastating thing you can think of to you and your loved ones. Now imagine that they then deceitfully came to your children to try to educate them about what the truth is. At that point, freedom of speech, democracy, etc. doesn’t matter. It is insensitive, disrespectful, and causes even more damage to the already broken relationship.
“Christians have horribly abused the Jewish people in the past, and have lost their privilege to have any say in what is right. I am a white boy from the southern United States. I have freedom of speech, but I choose to be overly respectful and sensitive to my African American brothers and sisters because I want to have a relationship with them and bring healing to the horrific wounds of the past. We can’t ignore history. It does matter relationally.”
THE STATE of Israel is a Jewish state. As we sing in our national anthem, it is the “hope of 2,000 years.” Every Jew who made it through the exile and calls themselves a Jew today is the descendant of 2,000 years of Jews who resisted efforts to convert them to Christianity, often at the cost of their lives in the most brutal fashion imaginable.
This is not just a fact of history. The record of Christian efforts to convert Jews and the horrific antisemitism that flowed from anti-Jewish Christian doctrines are part and parcel of Jewish identity today, whether we like it or not. To try to pull Jews away from Jewish faith and toward Christianity is to attack the Jewish people and the Jewishness of the State of Israel.
Christians will protest and argue that since Jesus, the apostles and many of the earliest Christians were Jews, we are wrong to see Christian faith and Jewish identity as mutually exclusive. The answer is simple and must be heard by our Christian friends: It is the prerogative of the Jewish people who persevered for 2000 years to decide what is and what is not Judaism. And Judaism is, first and foremost, a direct relationship with God and with the tradition of Jewish faith as it has been since Sinai.
The ingathering of the Jewish people to the Promised Land, and the reconstituting of the nation of Israel is celebrated by Bible-believing Christians as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Those same Christians must humble themselves and realize that the Jews who have acted out this great biblical fulfillment have been able to do so only because they heroically resisted attempts by Christians throughout the ages to get them to drop their Judaism in favor of Jesus.
Every Christian who loves Israel must embrace the fact that the covenant of God with the people of Israel is intact, without our acceptance of Jesus.
In my talks to Christians, I tell them, “When you proselytize to a Jew, you may think that you are merely sharing your faith. If the Jew accepts Jesus, great. If not, no harm no foul. But for the Jew, you have taken out a knife and are attacking them.”
The opening of an Evangelical Christian cable TV network designed to missionize Jews undermines the delicate and sensitive balance within the growing and positive relationship between the Jewish and Christian communities of faith.
To my fellow Jews I say, please do not color all Evangelicals with the same brush. Increasing numbers of Christians are developing a respectful and loving relationship to Jews and Israel. But it is a long process. There will be bumps in the road.
To my Christian friends I say, study the history of Christian anti-Jewish doctrines and behavior. Be sensitive to Jewish identity. And most of all, for our relationship to continue to grow and thrive, respect our faith and our covenantal relationship to the God of our fathers without trying to change who we are. Otherwise, this friendship is no friendship at all.
The author is a writer, speaker and consultant in the field of Jewish-Christian relations. He lives in Beit Shemesh