Many an evangelical Christian grew up singing the Sunday school tune, “Jesus loves me, this I know, 'cause the Bible tells me so.”
As adults, they might use similar words to explain their support for Israel, which in sheer numbers surpasses that of American Jews.
Although Christians who back Israel with great fervor are sometimes suspected of ulterior motives, when asked to explain their passionate support of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, they typically defer to the Bible, which calls Israel “the apple of God's eye.”
In particular, they cite a passage in the book of Genesis, where God makes a covenant with Abraham, promising to send him to “the land I will show you” and telling him, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on Earth will be blessed through you.”
“When God tells us if we bless Israel, He'll bless us, people who are pro-Israel take that seriously,” said Monica “Posy” McMillen, a Fort Worth evangelical Christian who is on the Speakers' Bureau for the National Unity Coalition for Israel, a group of 200 Christian and Jewish organizations seeking a safe and secure Israel.
“For the Christians I know that are pro-Israel, it's because of what God says in the Bible, because Jesus was Jewish, the scriptures were written by Jews, and we owe so much to the Jewish people,” Mrs. McMillen added.
Some observers have linked Christian support for Israel to the end-times scenarios popularized by Hal Lindsay's Late, Great Planet Earth and the recent Left Behind fiction series, holding that Christians want Israel to reclaim the land now occupied by Palestinians because they think Israel must be fully restored for Christ to return to Earth.
Indeed, Mrs. McMillen acknowledged that many Jews are uncomfortable with Christians who support Israel because they are unsure of their motives. “They think we want them back in the land just so Jesus will return.”
Most Christians who back Israel, however, say their support runs much deeper than how the end of the world will play out, and has more to do with Christianity's roots in the Jewish religion.
Many, in fact, regard themselves as “spiritual Jews” because they believe that salvation was given first to the Jewish people and then to non-Jews. Christians who were not born Jewish consider themselves “grafted on” to a tree from which they now benefit, and are reminded in their own scriptures that they are supported by that tree's root.
The Rev. Tony Scott of Sylvania's Cathedral of Praise, a local pastor who often draws Israel into his preaching, said he does so because he believes in the biblical command found in the 122nd Psalm to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
“My particular position is to love the Jewish people and support the nation of Israel,” he said, adding that he also prays for the Palestinians and their peace.
Mr. Scott said although he does not think the Bible requires Christians to support the Jews over the Palestinians, the Jews clearly have a special place in history as the people through whom God chose to reveal Himself.
“When I look at Israel and Judaism, I basically see the birthing of my own faith,” Mr. Scott said. “We have Christianity because of the Jewish nation ... They were the chosen people to reveal the message of God. It had to come from someone and it came through them.”
Esther Levens, a Jew who is president of the National Unity Coalition for Israel, based in Kansas City, Kansas, said when she first began working with evangelical Christians who supported Israel, she feared they might have ulterior motives, such as wanting to convert Jews to Christianity. “But what I have found is an open-heartedness and a dedication I would love to see in the Jewish community.”
She said the group does have a policy against proselytizing, which tends to exclude organizations focused on converting Jews. “In the beginning at all of our big events, we used to have so much security to watch out for proselytizing and materials, but there's been so little of that that it's negligible. We're on a totally different wave length. We talk about Israel and that keeps us plenty busy.”
In working with Christians, many of whom are Bible-believing fundamentalists, she said she has noticed that more and more are rediscovering or discovering for the first time the Jewish roots of their faith. “That seems to be a very big movement within the evangelical community. They express their appreciation so much that it's almost embarrassing.”
As a result, she said, there has been an unexpected bonding and mutual respect between Christians and Jews in her organization. “We work so closely together it's quite amazing, really.”
Mrs. Levens said not all Christians support Israel with the fervor that many evangelicals do. Mainline, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic Christians, she said, are mostly pro-Palestinian, although charismatic Catholics are very supportive of the Jewish cause. “And some of my really close personal friends who are Episcopalian and Lutheran are the very ones who talked me into doing this about 11 years ago.”
Mrs. McMillen said she thinks the reason that not all Christians are fervent in their support for Israel is that some churches today still teach what is known as “replacement theology.”
Starting in about the year 100, she said, the church began teaching that God had rejected the Jews after the crucifixion of Christ. “The early church when they read the scriptures, every time they said `Israel' they translated it in their mind to `the church.' They allegorized all the Jewish scriptures and they believed that every blessing that God gave the Jewish people, He gave the church.”
Although the teaching was very subtle, Mrs. McMillen said, it could well have contributed to the attitudes that led to the Holocaust in which 9 of every 10 people who perpetrated the killings were Christians.
Mrs. McMillen said she inherited her love for Israel from her late grandfather, who was a Christian Zionist. Growing up as a Methodist, she said, she cannot recall ever hearing a negative word about Jews. Only when she was older, she said, did she learn from an Israeli couple about the anti-Semitism of Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther.
She decided to investigate and her research, intended as a gift to the Israeli couple, blossomed into giving presentations on anti-Semitism and Judaism for both Christians and Jews.
A member of the nondenominational McKinney Bible Church in Fort Worth, Mrs. McMillen said, “We owe so much to the Jewish people. I feel like we are two brothers who have been back-to-back for 2,000 years and been estranged. It's incumbent upon Christians to reach out. This is our brother.”