Exclusive: Evangelical leader persuaded that conversion not prerequisite.
By ILAN CHAIM
An evangelical pastor and an Orthodox rabbi, both from Texas, have apparently persuaded leading Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell that Jews can get to heaven without being converted to Christianity.
Televangelist John Hagee and Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, whose Cornerstone Church and Rodfei Sholom congregations are based in San Antonio, told The Jerusalem Post that Falwell had adopted Hagee's innovative belief in what Christians refer to as "dual covenant" theology.
This creed, which runs counter to mainstream evangelism, maintains that the Jewish people has a special relationship to God through the revelation at Sinai and therefore does not need "to go through Christ or the Cross" to get to heaven.
Scheinberg said this has been Hagee's position for the 25 years the two have worked together on behalf of Israel and that Falwell had also come to accept it. Falwell sent a representative to the San Antonio launch of Christians United for Israel in early February, as did popular televangelist Pat Robertson.
Hagee, who will serve as CUFI national chairman, says the new organization aims to be a kind of "Christian AIPAC" (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) through which every pro-Israel Christian organization and ministry in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel on biblical issues.
The main issue, following disengagement from the Gaza Strip, is not to give up any more of the Land of Israel, he said.
Many Christian denominational leaders - who represent some 30 million evangelical Christians in the US - have expressed support for CUFI in writing. These include such names as Dr. Jack Hayford, president of the Foursquare Gospel Church; Paul Walker, assistant general overseer of the Church of God; international Pastor Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church; Benny Hinn; George Morrison; Kenneth Copland; Steve Strang; Matt Croutch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network; and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council.
The latter is the Washington-based lobbying arm of James Dobson's Focus on the Family.
Scheinberg said he had worked with Hagee since 1981, when the pastor first broached the idea of organizing a night to honor Israel, which has become an annual event.
"He came to the Jewish community and of course they were skeptical, they were a bit suspicious, anxious about whatever agenda he might have," the rabbi recalled. "He took public positions against proselytizing the Jews, which some of his own colleagues at that time criticized him roundly for; for example, Falwell was at that time very critical of his nonconversionary statements regarding the Jews. But that's not the case now though. Falwell has changed his position," he said.
Hagee has been consistent in this theological position, Scheinberg said, and this was reflected in both the declared policy of CUFI and at the public launch of the organization last month.
"It seemed there was a great deal of unity - not unanimity - on nonconversion, a nonproselytizing agenda, that the Jews have a special covenant, and this was stated over and over," the rabbi said.
"It was stated in Hagee's opening speech, in his opening statement, and then repeated again. And when there was a question period later, no one asked about this. It seemed to be understood that any hidden agenda, any attempt at conversion, would undermine all their efforts, would be counterproductive, and that's not what they are about.
"There was always concern on the part of the Jewish community that there's a hidden agenda now, to convert now, to proselytize now. And regarding that, Hagee was very strong in saying no, we are not proselytizing," Scheinberg said.
Scheinberg, the only rabbi at the CUFI launch, senses there has been a downplaying of traditional evangelical theology in favor of something more concrete - supporting Israel. He associates this phenomenon of "Christian Zionism" with God's promise in Genesis 12:3 that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed.
"The reason that I was at the summit was that I've been with him since the very beginning. It's not because I was Orthodox. I'm sure on other occasions he would be happy to invite the Conservatives. The Reform here have been very vocal in their opposition to anything that Hagee does - not so much for his support of Israel, but because the fundamentalist agenda, social agenda, is quite different than the Reform liberal agenda, and particularly Hagee's position on gay rights, on abortion, on pornography, etc., etc., run contrary or are anathema to some of the positions of the very liberal Reform," he said.
Falwell has altered his position, according to Scheinberg, apparently because the pastor decided to put End of Days theology aside in favor of the overriding need to support Israel, particularly against the mounting threat of a nuclear Iran.
"Obviously Falwell was very passionate about conversion, but he absolutely clearly knows Hagee's position and the Christians United for Israel position," Scheinberg said. "No question about that; Hagee assured me. I would trust him in his role for Israel, for Israel's security, to strengthen Israel. I would be very surprised if Falwell ever tried to pull a fast one. Morrison, Bauer and Hagee are so strong and so clear in their nonconversionary position, as well as the organization. Unless he [Falwell] lapsed into a moment of stupidity," Scheinberg said.
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