Fri, Oct 02, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Evangelical Christians in Jerusalem to support Israel

AP, JERUSALEM

Thousands of evangelical Christians from more than 80 countries descended upon Jerusalem this week to show their support for the Jewish state, including pilgrims and politicians from countries with a history of hostility toward Israel.

The celebratory summit reflects evangelical Christianity’s dramatic growth worldwide and gives a boost to Israel at a time when the country is increasingly isolated internationally.

Attitudes in Israel toward evangelicals are evolving, from skepticism about Christian Zionist motives, to the realization that Israel cannot survive on the support of diaspora Jewish communities alone and is in no position to turn down the potential political and tourism boost that Christians can provide.

“Israel has no better friends throughout the world,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped address that was beamed to a Jerusalem basketball stadium packed with cheering pilgrims on Tuesday.

The assembly waved flags from home countries such as Angola, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy and the US. There was even a small delegation from Egypt, a country that shares a cold peace with Israel.

Evangelical Christianity is one of the world’s fastest growing religious movements. Of the world’s estimated 2 billion Christians, about 700 million are evangelicals, said the pro-Israel International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which organized the Jerusalem summit.

Evangelical movements are expanding most prominently in Latin America, Africa and Asia — regions that “hold great potential for the nation of Israel in political, diplomatic and economic terms,” according to a position paper the group presented last year to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The annual weeklong summit is billed as the Feast of Tabernacles, the Christian term for the weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which in biblical times was marked by a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. This year’s gathering included rock concert prayer rallies in which believers sang Hebrew songs and an annual flag-waving parade through the streets of Jerusalem.

Evangelicals say their affinity for Israel stems from Christianity’s Jewish roots and an anticipated Messianic age when all nations will flock to Jerusalem. Jews and Christians both believe in a future Messianic age, though Jews do not accept the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

There has long been suspicion in Israel that the evangelical bear hug is connected to a belief that the modern Jewish state is a precursor to the apocalypse — when Jesus will return and Jews will either accept Christianity or die. Israel’s Chief Rabbinate urged Jews to boycott an evangelical rally open to local Israelis this week, calling it “spiritually dangerous” and warning that evangelicals were trying to convert Jews to Christianity.

Israeli liberals are also uncomfortable with evangelicals because of their ties to the US’ political right and their support for Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank, a major sticking point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some evangelicals, particularly from the US, work as volunteers on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

However, suspicions are diminishing in Israel, especially as evangelical groups funnel hefty donations to Israel and evangelical representatives in Israel downplay the apocalypse, saying it is not a central tenet of faith for most of the world’s evangelicals — or what makes them love Israel.

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