Is there an Israel-evangelical schism? - opinion

The current situation started in March when a Christian group called the International House of Prayer in Kansas City created a video asking Christians to fast and pray for Israel.

 THE WRITER and Ezra L’Anousim CFO Avraham Moskowitz spend Israel’s Independence Day at a park near the Knesset. (photo credit: Yaffah Batya daCosta)
THE WRITER and Ezra L’Anousim CFO Avraham Moskowitz spend Israel’s Independence Day at a park near the Knesset.
(photo credit: Yaffah Batya daCosta)

The so-called Israel-evangelical schism is a mirage. The current commotion allegedly started in May when there was a demonstration against a Christian meeting at Davidson Center in the Old City. But there is a history before that, and a back story as well – based on history. 

The back story is 2,000 years old. In the middle of the 1st century, Paul (a Diaspora Jew) was teaching the pagans of the Roman Empire (in Asia Minor) about the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the moral code in the Hebrew Bible for all mankind. In his gripping letter to the Romans, he speaks of the good news that God had opened up “salvation” to the non-Jews (Romans 1:1-16) so they could be added to the people of Israel (Romans 11). He used a metaphor of wild branches grafted onto an olive tree to join the natural branches.  

The situation for the Jews became dire around a decade later with the two Roman-Jewish wars in 66-73 CE and 132-136 CE. During the early part of that period, Christians were being martyred (fed to the lions) for refusing to burn incense to the Roman emperor, because they had become believers in the one God of the Hebrew Bible.

But there was also another move afoot against the earliest Christians, to change the theology of Christianity version 1.0 (based on the Hebrew Bible) to a theology of the Greco-Roman world and the belief in human beings as gods, like the Roman Emperors (Christianity version 2.0). There was of course a struggle between these two views for 200 years with various periods of calm, vs periods of persecution of both Jews and early Christians. 

During the reign of Constantine the Great, the pagan view of multiple gods had diminished at the same time as the Christian worldview of one God was on the rise. Constantine chose Christianity to be the religion that would unify his empire under the banner of a single God. 

A painting of the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter hugging. (credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN)
A painting of the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter hugging. (credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

Early Jewish Christians fell off as messianic prophecies failed to materialize

However, there was a dilemma. The Christians at that time were also divided. There had been polemics over that 200-year period. Most of the Jews who had believed in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah had fallen away because the prophecies of what the Jewish Messiah was going to achieve had not been fulfilled. A statement that he would come back on clouds of glory, within that generation, also did not materialize. 

So, in 325 CE, Constantine held the Council of Nicaea, where they declared the man from Nazareth to be a god. Not all the Christians accepted this – but it was forced onto every citizen in the Roman Empire by the 5th century CE. The writings of the 2nd-century CE Church fathers such as Tertullian, Marcion, and Justin Martyr became widespread with their views of “replacement theology,” considering the Christians as the “new Israel” and that Jews must be converted to this new Roman form of Christianity.

At the age of eight I heard a priest from the pulpit call Jews “Christ-killers,” and I had an immediate visceral reaction.

I was raised in a crypto-Jewish family of Sephardi Jews from the Portuguese Azores Islands. My great-grandmother was the classic secret Jew. My mother’s ancestors were Jews from Spain and Portugal who had been forcibly converted to Roman Catholicism and then had to hide their identities as secret Jews, during the 300+ years of the Inquisitions in Spain, Portugal, and their territories in the New World. There are millions of people globally who have Jewish ancestry, but it is a small subset of ostensible Christians who are now awakening to the fact that our customs and traditions were Jewish and have started to come back. They are known as the bnei anousim (the children of the forced). 

I wanted nothing to do with the Church after what the priest had said because I knew it was a lie, but it took some time to disengage. I was 18 when I officially left Christianity. I then spent 20 years as an avowed agnostic, but I read the Hebrew Bible all of that time. Fifteen years later I made a full “return” to the faith and traditions of my Sephardi ancestors. Bnai anousim returnees are fully halachic, even by Orthodox standards. They are required to immerse ritually, but unlike in the conversion process, have no need to say a blessing over that ceremony.

Back to the history of the current situation. It actually started in March of this year. A Christian group called the International House of Prayer in Kansas City created a video asking Christians to fast and pray for Israel between then and Pentecost (Shavuot). They were asking for one million people to pray for one hour per day for Jerusalem for 21 days. Isaiah 62 is the scripture they chose to focus on in their prayers. The video went viral and they quit counting once they reached one million views on April 1, after only three weeks online. The International House of Prayer said that they believed over five million people from thousands of Christian groups would participate in the prayer for Israel campaign. They claim, in a YouTube video, that with viewers and participants sharing the information, they could have around 40-50 million Christians praying for Israel within the next year or two. 

With “unprecedented divisions within Israel” (referring to the conflict over judicial reform) and the “looming threat of a nuclear Iran,” the International House of Prayer said this is an opportunity for the Christians to “stand in the gap” for Israel with prayer and fasting, calling it “such a time as this.”

But then, a different video came out, from a different group, stating that at the Feast of Pentecost this May they would announce, at a conference in Jerusalem, the start of a decade dedicated to a campaign of prayer and mission to the Jews. It was seen as a declaration of a spiritual war against us Jews 

The reality is there are two types of Christians today. Those who are Zionists, who want to love and support Jews and the State of Israel with no strings attached, and no hidden agendas. And then there are the Christians who accept replacement theology and believe that God has abandoned the Jews unless they accept Christ as their savior. This is a long-standing theological division in Christianity. It goes back to the parable of the wheat and weeds, with Jesus telling his students it means they should grow together (Matthew 13) until at the end of the age angels will come and take the weeds out and burn them. 

So, where’s the beef? There is no beef between Israel and the loving, non-missionary Christians. The beef is with the legacy of Roman Christian antisemitism, and today’s proponents’ provocative desire to change Jewish theology to be like theirs. 

The writer is founder and CEO of Ezra L’Anousim and an educator on antisemitism for the JNF.