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Evangelical Christians, Jews, and Israel are an issue. Some Republicans, the President included, believe Evangelical support for Israel will wean American Jews from the Democratic Party. They shouldn’t count on it. We should understand, however, that Evangelical Christian support for Israel goes back a ways and is international.
In 1884, thirty nine year old William Hechler wrote a treatise – “The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine.” Born in Benares, India, his father moved the family to Islington in London in order to study to be an Anglican Priest and missionary. His mission, it turned out, was to convert the Jews. German Jews.
In 1870, son William became an Anglican Priest. And a soldier/medic, joining the German Army for the Franco-Prussian War. At the end of the war, he was briefly a missionary in Lagos, Nigeria. Back in Germany by 1873, he became the tutor for the children of the Grand Duke of Baden. His vision of Jews returning to Jerusalem was percolating.
Hechler was directed to work with the Irish. He went to Cork. And returned to London in 1879. He wrote a history of the Protestant Church in Palestine and lobbied to be appointed Bishop of Jerusalem. Instead, he was appointed Metropolitan Secretary of the Church Pastoral Aid Society after which he was appointed Chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna. He remained in that position for twenty-five years.
As Metropolitan Secretary, he traveled. He became familiar with pogroms and met emerging Jewish Zionists. He asked the Sultan of Turkey to allow Jews from around the world to return to Palestine. Not as converts, but as Jews. In 1896, a fixture in Vienna and more than ten years after writing his treatise, Hechler found Theodore Herzl’s newly published book, Der Judenstaat. Possibly moved by the Dreyfus affair he had been covering as a journalist, Herzl’s response to anti-Semitism after covering the Dreyfus trial as a journalist, was the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Hechler visited Herzl. A week later, Herzl visited Hechler. Hechler would be Herzl’s entry to the German Royal Family. The Grand Duke of Baden and his nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II became supporters of Hechler, Hertzl, and Zionism.
Hechler’s American counterpart was William Blackstone. Blackstone wrote his book, “Jesus is Coming,” at age 37 in 1878. Born in Adams, Massachusetts, he attended a revivalist meeting at age 11 and became an Evangelical Christian. As a young man, Blackstone’s attempt to enlist in the Civil War was rejected. He was too frail. Instead he joined a predecessor to the Red Cross and coordinated medical services for combatants out of Grant’s headquarters.
After the war, after marrying a daughter of Philander Smith, he went into real estate in Chicago. He made money, then decided to dedicate himself to God. He visited Palestine and dedicated himself to returning Jews to the Land of Israel. In 1888, nearly ten years before Herzl invited Hechler to the First World Zionist Conference in Switzerland, Blackstone organized a Conference in Chicago on the Past, Present, and Future of Israel. In 1891, he organized signatures for the Blackstone Memorial, 431 American leaders – senators, Members of Congress, Melville Fuller (Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court), religious leaders, business leaders (John D. Rockefeller, Cyrus McCormick, JP Morgan) urging American support for the Jews return to Israel.
The Kaiser was not enough of a fan to move the Sultan in the direction Hechler and Hertzl wanted. Nor was Blackstone’s Memorial sufficient to change the Ottoman Empire. World War I did that. Louis Brandeis encouraged Blackstone to resurrect the Memorial for Woodrow Wilson’s consideration. Obtaining the support of the Presbyterian Church, Blackstone brought the Memorial to Wilson privately to obtain Wilson’s support. Wilson’s support may have been a factor in Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour’s statement favoring the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Almost a century after WW I, in 2008, James Q Wilson, the Harvard scholar who devised the “broken windows” theory about crime, wondered why Evangelicals admire Jews, but Jews do not reciprocate. Wilson acknowledged the Evangelicals feeling of kindness towards Jews rests in theology; in the necessity that God’s Chosen People, the Jews, be living in Israel for the “end times” to occur. Evangelical strategic thinking.
James Q Wilson thought Jews were insufficiently grateful, insufficiently afraid of a group that vastly outnumbered them in the US, misguided to substitute support of the oppressed in place of Marxist support of the proletariat, and misguided to think that Palestinians were the oppressed when they were terrorists. Wilson ended his essay with a “whatever the reason.” Differences about abortion and LGBT rights, he said, should not be consequential to American Jews’ attitude toward Evangelicals.
Modern Jews and Evangelicals differ in the foundations of their thinking. Evangelicals read what they call the Old Testament through a prism that predicts the triumph of Christianity. Modern American Jewish liberals read the Tanakh through a prism formed by the Enlightenment.
Most modern American Jewish liberals
- believe it important that individuals (groups, even) should have a fair chance to achieve their reasonable aspirations.
- support the Enlightenment freedoms expressed in several of the first ten amendments of the US Constitution.
- support the aspirations of women and the aspirations of those outside conventional heterosexuality to have lives as normal as heterosexual men.
- support the permanence of Israel, the aspirations of Palestinians to have a nation, and processes to achieve both.
Differences between Evangelicals and Modern American Jewish liberals are in in the foundations of their thinking, not just the outcomes of their thinking. Evangelicals begin their thinking with the Bible. They focus on the promise of eternal life. Modern American Jewish liberals begin their thinking with the Enlightenment. They retain their identity as members of the Jewish people and focus on the freedom to achieve goals on earth. Considering those differences, it is not shocking that Evangelical Christians and Modern American Jewish liberals do not see eye to eye. The differences in political views are a product of the different origins of their thinking. Wariness about Evangelical strategic thinking about a Jewish Israel prior to the “end times” is only a part of the distance Modern American Jewish liberals feel from Evangelical Christians.
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