There is no way to get on the inside of the who-is-chosen question without unpacking the quirky relationship Evangelicals have with Jews, both embracing them and condemning them to eternal damnation. This has to be one of the odder relationships ever concocted, sort of like those news stories that crop up once in a while about how a cat befriends a hamster.
Evangelicals brood over the Jews. Jesus was a Jew. But then He started a whole “new” religion that instantly was in conflict with the Jews. To Us Real Christians (as I once thought of us) there were Actual Jews and then there were Real Jews. Evangelicals’ believe that they are also The Chosen People. Some Evangelicals believe they are the only chosen people now. Others think that the Jews are still chosen, too.
But at the beginning of the Church that “new” religion was made up mostly of Jews — Paul and company. So Jews were a big deal to my Evangelical family. We, as with most Evangelicals, liked Jews, and feared them, and felt sorry for them.
Conflicted is the word.
Who the Jews “are” (from the Evangelical theological point of view) is a big deal to Christians. It should be to all Americans, too. It has a direct impact on American policy, given the sway of religion in America.
My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader of the Religious Right. My mother Edith was also a spiritual leader, a formidable and adored religious figure whose books and public speaking, not to mention biblical conditioning of me, directly and indirectly shaped millions of lives.
Mom loved to try to “save” Jews (she even wrote a book called Christianity Is Jewish) and especially the ones already interested in spiritual matters — or “Jew Stuff” as I always thought of such things when Mom carried on and on and on about a Jew she’d just met and the “great conversation we had about Passover’s true meaning,” or whatever. Mom urged her kids to find ways to talk to any Jew we met about “Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled” as a way to “open a door.”
For a time, I joined my Dad in pioneering the Evangelical anti-abortion Religious Right movement and we worked with several neoconservative Jews. They weren’t interested in our “issue,” but we all were rooting for Israel. In the 1970s and early 80s, when I was in my 20s, I evolved into an ambitious, “successful” religious leader/instigator in my own right. And I wasn’t just Dad’s sidekick. I was also Mom’s collaborator in her well-meant if unintentionally hilarious plot to “reach the world for Jesus.” Converting Jews was part of that program.
I was put in touch with radically pro-Israel, anti-Arab, far-right, Islam-bashing neoconservatives. This “bridge-building,” in turn, introduced me to Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine, who was using the Republican Party (and/or being used by it) to advance his single issue — support for the State of Israel — just as I was doing the same for my single issue — abortion.
Commentary had emerged in the 1970s as the neoconservatives’ flagship publication. I regularly reprinted some of their articles as books or as essays in my Evangelical newspaper. And when my mother raised $50,000 from her pal in Dallas, multimillionaire Mary Crowley, (founder of Home Interiors and Gifts, Inc.), to launch Mom’s new book, Forever Music (1986), Podhoretz lent his support.
Mom used Crowley’s money to rent Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and hire the Guarneri Quartet. Mom’s “best friends” — about 500 of them — showed up for the gala concert, including Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter and their entourage. (I had invited them.)
I remember smiling at the bemused expressions on the faces of the members of the quartet while they sipped drinks at the reception after the concert and tried to figure out how the hell these two groups could possibly occupy the same space: the cream of the New York neoconservative Zionist intellectuals and a passel of mink-draped, diamond-crusted Southern Baptist Texans asking everyone if they had a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
I changed my mind about being not just an Evangelical — I’m one no longer — and also about my politics, from far right to moderate liberal. I wrote a book to explain why: Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. I no longer ride around “saving” America for God nor am I a regular on religious TV and radio these days.
Most American Evangelicals believe that to “be a Christian” means that you must give your full support to the extremist elements in the State of Israel, the sorts of chosen people busily constructing a new type of apartheid in the Promised Land. Many Evangelicals believe that God loves some people lots more than others and that He loves Jews most of all.
For instance, John Hagee, mega-church pastor and founder of Christians United for Israel, said: “For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the Evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits ‘I believe the Bible’, I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have Christians over a barrel you might say.”
But it’s more complex than simply having a soft spot for Jews trying to populate “Judea and Samaria” (as they like to call land stolen from Arabs after the Six Day War of 1967). You see, to Us Real Christians, Real Jews were the Good Jews in the Old Testament, and after Jesus arrived (thus “fulfilling the prophecies” of the Old Testament) they were the Jews who accepted the Messiah.
Don’t get me wrong: Us Real Jews weren’t anti-Semites just because we said that the actual Jews killed Jesus. Like Hagee and company, we loved Jews-Born-That-Way-Who-Stayed-That-Way, even if (according to our Bible and/or Mel Gibson) their great, great grandparents had — in a rather imprudent moment — killed God.
We didn’t blame them for killing God. If you’re predestined to fulfill a prophecy you’re going to do it. And so we didn’t blame the modern State of Israel’s government for its brutality either. They too were merely “fulfilling prophecy.”
Mom often said that the “miraculous return of the Jews to Israel is just one more thing that proves the Bible is true.” That would not have happened if the Jews hadn’t killed Jesus, been exiled, suffered the Holocaust — “just what was needed to turn Zionism into a mainstream movement in order to fulfill prophecy” as Dad noted — and returned to Israel, in order to pave the way for the return of Christ.
The Jews may have thought their return to Palestine was all about them. Of course Us Real Christians knew better, it was all about Us.
The American Evangelicals, following the Puritan’s conceit of their special “call,” cling to the concept of American exceptionalism, some sort of a setting apart to be special and lead the world to a better place. In other words, we’re better than other people and must show the way, or at least force it on others through our non-stop wars, sort of like the Jews of the Old Testament.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. his books include Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back
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