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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)

Philo-Semitism is far from universal among the 60 million to 90 million U.S. adults who identify themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians. But it has strong roots, not only in the Hebrew scriptures shared by both faiths but also in the belief that today's Jews and Christians have common antagonists, such as secularism, consumerism and militant Islam.

In his sermons, Mooneyham returns again and again to God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12: "I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you."

It is a theme echoed in many conversations at the Tabernacle, a plain red-brick church in a community that has seen one factory after another close, yet where the congregation made a Christmas offering of $25,000 to help pay for the immigration of Russian Jews to Israel.

"I believe everyone in this church felt it was the best thing we've ever done with missionary money, to help the Jewish people go home," said Dorothy Pawlowski, 72, who tithes to the church.

And it is a message being passed to the next generation. On Thursday nights, J.J. Vogltanz, a deacon, uses a Christian textbook to lead his three home-schooled children in science experiments designed to illustrate Bible verses. One of the first things he taught them about Jesus, he said, was that "he was a Jew."

Asked whether he also taught his children that the Jews rejected Jesus, Vogltanz, 34, paused. "I'm not sure it's constructive to assign blame," he said.

Mark A. Noll, a professor of Christian thought at Wheaton College, a center of evangelical scholarship in Illinois, said evangelicals are beginning to move away from supersessionism -- the centuries-old belief that with the coming of Jesus, God ended his covenant with the Jews and transferred it to the Christian church.

Since the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations have renounced supersessionism and stressed their belief that the covenant between God and the Jewish people remains in effect.

Evangelicals generally have not taken that step, but "among what you might call the evangelical intelligentsia, questions of supersessionism have come onto the table," Noll said. "It's in play among evangelicals in the way that it was in mainline Protestantism and Catholicism -- but wasn't among evangelicals -- 30 or 40 years ago."

At Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical training ground in Pasadena, Calif., President Richard J. Mouw hosted a kosher breakfast for 20 rabbis a week before Christmas. "More and more, we're inviting Jews as guest lecturers," Mouw said. "We're looking at rabbinic literature and how we can better understand the Bible through rabbinic eyes. That's a real push for us."

Jacques Berlinerblau, a visiting professor of Jewish civilization at Georgetown University, said the rise of philo-Semitism in the United States has led Jewish scholars to look back at previous periods of philo-Semitism, such as in Amsterdam in the mid-17th century. He said revisionists are increasingly challenging the standard "lachrymose version" of Jewish history, questioning whether persecution has been the norm and tolerance the exception, or vice versa.

Still, some Jews think that philo-Semitism is just the flip side of anti-Semitism.

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