Editor’s note: This is a Christians United for Israel response to a June 14 New Voices op-ed. New Voices presents it without any edits.
Gabriel Erbs’ June 14th column “Unholy alliance: evangelicals and pro-Israel campus groups” is a vicious attack on Christianity for which the author and publication ought to be ashamed. The piece is dishonest, bigoted, and preys upon people’s prejudice towards other faiths.
In the piece, Erbs seeks to delegitimize the now strong relationship between Christian and Jewish Zionists, because he disdains the former’s faith and politics. In truth however, he seems to know little about either.
Erbs focuses his theological condemnation on his perception of Christian beliefs about the “end of days.” What he either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care to acknowledge, is that the elements of Christian eschatology he seems to find most objectionable – known commonly as the birth pangs of the Messiah – are neither exclusively Evangelical, nor exclusively Christian. In fact, those beliefs, like much of Christian theology, have a Jewish foundation.
There are of course key differences. Jews traditionally believe that when the Messiah comes this will be the first time He appears; Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah and that when he arrives it will be His second appearance. In addition, many Jews believe that the coming of the Messiah can be expedited by through human agency – if Jews return to Israel or keep the Sabbath, the Messiah will come sooner. Most Evangelical Christians disagree – they believe that human action cannot speed the Second Coming by so much as a second. Thus a critique that Christian Zionists support Israel to hasten the End of Days is a mistaken projection of Jewish eschatology onto Christians who do not share it.
In addition to demonizing our faith, Erbs lies about our politics. He asserts that Christians United for Israel (CUFI) lobbies on behalf of settlements. We do not. Our action alerts and Capitol Hill talking points are freely available to the public. We have petitioned our leaders many times over the years. While we oppose American pressure on Israel to take risks for peace the Israelis themselves don’t wish to make, we’ve never once presumed to dictate policy to Israel on the West Bank or elsewhere.
Our members, including our founder Pastor John Hagee, certainly hold opinions about what we think is in Israel’s best interests and many are skeptical about the prospect of land-for-peace; but we recognize that we have no right to impose our beliefs on Israel’s democratically elected government.
In a 2010 op-ed published in The Jewish Daily Forward Hagee noted “…from our founding four years ago, we decided that CUFI would never presume to tell Jerusalem how to conduct its foreign or domestic affairs. We have never, and will never, oppose Israeli efforts to advance peace. Our involvement in the peace process will continue to be restricted to defending Israel’s right to make decisions free of international interference or pressure — including U.S. pressure.”
Misunderstanding CUFI’s policy agenda is not the sole political gripe Erbs’ raises. Erbs notes that he has difficulty shaking hands with any Christian, but notes that his pain is alleviated when he knows they are from denominations that traditionally hold liberal social values. So, according to Erbs, it’s almost ok to be a Christian as long as you’re politically progressive.
CUFI has more than a million members. We have grown to be the largest pro-Israel group in the nation. Many of our members are politically conservative. Some are not – Erbs may be surprised to learn that a quarter of Evangelicals supported President Obama in 2008. But it shouldn’t matter either way. CUFI is a single-issue organization. We exist because we believe Israel has a right to exist, and a right to self-defense. We address no other issues.
Yet, Erbs argues that working with America’s 50 million Evangelical Christians will “alienate potential allies on the left.” Setting aside the “tactical” mistake of choosing potential allies over committed ones, Erbs’ is presenting a false dichotomy. As he acknowledges, in politics groups need not agree on every issue to work together to advance a common agenda. If support for Israel’s democratically government is Erbs’ goal, he should see CUFI as an ally. Other – especially domestic policy – issues have no bearing on the relationship because they are unrelated to CUFI’s agenda.
Interacting with people of different faiths is one of the great joys of my work. I find faith in God beautiful. But I believe that mine is the true faith. Is that so terrible or out of the ordinary? Do Jews, Hindus, Muslims and so forth not feel the same way?
Erbs chooses to single-out Evangelical Christians for our beliefs, but interfaith relations do not demand the abandonment of one’s own religious beliefs. It merely demands tolerance of the other’s religious beliefs. CUFI prides itself on this tolerance – Erbs clearly does not.
Jeremiah Nasiatka is the National Campus Coordinator for Christians United for Israel.