October 25, 2004
Martin E. Marty
"At Christian Rally for Israel, Robertson Pitches 'Messiah'," banners the Jewish weekly newspaper Forward (October 8). At a Succoth rally designed to show evangelical support of Israel, the televangelist "Pat Robertson opened his mouth and uncorked a can of theological worms guaranteed to make many Israelis and American Jews squirm." Judy Lash Balint heard him report that Jews he meets in many nations "cry out for their messiah," and then shout "Yes, Jesus, you are our messiah."
Does Robertson speak thus when he meets with Knesset members and Cabinet ministers? "No, I don't tell that to Israeli politicians," he replied. In his speech, Robertson recalled that on his first flight to Israel in 1968, "the Lord spoke to me and said ... you don't make mistakes in Israel." He also said he sees the rise of Islam "as Satan's plan to prevent the return of Jesus Christ the Lord." His speech "appeared to lend ammunition to critics who argue that Christian conservative support for Israel is motivated by a belief that the ingathering of Jews to the Holy Land will bring about Armageddon and the second coming of Jesus."
Is any of this news? One wonders how Israelis and Jews in America can close their eyes and ears to many evangelical prophesies that have Jews all being converted or slaughtered when Jesus comes again. But many do.
I read of this "upsetting" event on a plane taking me to Brandeis University in Boston, where a different Judaism, untied to the Armageddon-minded, was being celebrated. Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis professor and author of American Judaism: A History (which everyone who is interested in the subject should read), joined with Steven Bayme and the American Jewish Committee to commemorate 350 years of American Jewish life. They arranged a program that related the American Jewish experience to American society, religion, culture, and immigration.
As I prepared to take part, I read some statistics: in any 650 days sub-Saharan Africa numbers more new Christians (due to population growth and conversion) than there are Jews in America after 350 years. There are also more Southern Baptists than Jews in the United States. It is no wonder that so many Jews who celebrate their remarkable history "squirm" over the political turn recently taken, thanks to the one-kind-of-evangelical alliance with one-kind-of-Jews-accepting-evangelical-terms-and-support.
Yuri Shtern, co-chair of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and the right-wing National Union Party, who has shared a stage with Robertson, said he was "very upset" with the evangelist's speech. "I had hoped a leader of his standing accepted the continuing existence of the Jewish people as part of God's plan."
The Jews at the Brandeis gathering, and at others like it in this 350th year, have reason to be nervous about Jewish alliances with Robertson's millions. Perhaps those millions should receive some of the attention now focused critically on Presbyterian and "mainline Protestant" actions.
P.S. Last week I garbled some syntax when trying to say that I "regularly disagreed" with Wall Street Journal editorials. Instead, it came out that I "regularly disagreed" with Albert Hunt, as editor. Not so! The Martys read the WSJ daily and wait for the weekly light that Mr. Hunt throws on politics in America, and, indeed, "regularly agree" with him. Just to set the record straight. M.E.M.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.