Among Evangelicals, A Kinship With Jews

The Rev. Lamarr Mooneyham's church has raised funds for Israeli causes.
The Rev. Lamarr Mooneyham's church has raised funds for Israeli causes. (By Martin Tucker For The Washington Post)

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By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 8, 2006

DANVILLE, Va. -- Everyone who worships at the Tabernacle quickly learns three facts about its deeply conservative pastor. He comes from a broken home. He rides a canary-yellow Harley. And he loves the Jews.

There is some murmuring about the motorcycle. But the 2,500 members of this Bible-believing, tradition-respecting Southern Baptist church in southern Virginia have embraced everything else about the Rev. Lamarr Mooneyham.

Out of his painful childhood experiences, Mooneyham, 57, preaches passionately about the importance of home. Out of his reading of the Bible, he preaches with equal passion about God's continuing devotion to the Jewish people.

"I feel jealous sometimes. This term that keeps coming up in the Old Book -- the Chosen, the Chosen," says the minister, who has made three trips to Israel and named his sons Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. "I'm a pardoned gentile, but I'm not one of the Chosen People. They're the apple of his eye."

Scholars of religion call this worldview "philo-Semitism," the opposite of anti-Semitism. It is a burgeoning phenomenon in evangelical Christian churches across the country, a hot topic in Jewish historical studies and a wellspring of support for Israel.

Yet many Jews are nervous about evangelicals' intentions. In recent weeks, leaders of three of the nation's largest Jewish groups -- the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Union for Reform Judaism -- have decried what they see as a mounting threat to the separation of church and state from evangelicals emboldened by the belief that they have an ally in the White House and an opportunity to shift the Supreme Court.

"Make no mistake: We are facing an emerging Christian right leadership that intends to 'Christianize' all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms . . . from the military to SpongeBob SquarePants," the ADL's national director, Abraham H. Foxman, said in a Nov. 3 speech.

Julie Galambush, a former American Baptist minister who converted to Judaism 11 years ago, has seen both sides of the divide. She said many Jews suspect that evangelicals' support for Israel is rooted in a belief that the return of Jews to the promised land will trigger the Second Coming of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon and mass conversion.

"That hope is felt and expressed by Christians as a kind, benevolent hope," said Galambush, author of "The Reluctant Parting," a new book on the Jewish roots of Christianity. "But believing that someday Jews will stop being Jews and become Christians is still a form of hoping that someday there will be no more Jews."

The result is a paradox -- warming evangelical attitudes toward Jews at a time of rising Jewish concern about evangelicals -- that could be a turning point in the uneasy alliance between Jewish and Christian groups that ardently back Israel but disagree on much else.

The Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, chairman of the evangelical American Family Association, warned in a Dec. 5 radio broadcast that Foxman was "in a bind" because the "strongest supporters Israel has are members of the religious right -- the people he's fighting."

"The more he says that 'you people are destroying this country,' you know, some people are going to begin to get fed up with this and say, 'Well, all right then. If that's the way you feel, then we just won't support Israel anymore,' " Wildmon said.


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