’Til Kingdom Come documentary on Israel-Evangelical relations stirs controversy
US President Donald Trump addresses Evangelical supporters in Miami in January.
(photo credit: EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/ REUTERS)
Trump said in August that he had moved the embassy to Jerusalem “for the Evangelicals,” comments ’Til Kingdom Come highlighted.
The new documentary film ‘Til Kingdom Come on relations between Israel and Evangelical Christian communities in the US broadcast on KAN 11 on Wednesday night raised a slew of issues regarding this contentious relationship.The film brings to the forefront the tight political alliance that has developed between the Israeli political Right, including the settlement movement, and Evangelical Christians and their heavy political clout in the US, and especially with the current administration.
And it also juxtaposed on the one hand the devotion and care of Evangelical Christians for Israel and the Jewish people who live there alongside the Christian doctrine in which Evangelicals fervently believe of the apocalyptic “end times” in which two thirds of the Jewish people die and the remainder convert to Christianity.In particular, the documentary’s filmmaker Maya Zinshtein followed the work and activities of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), an organization that raises money from Evangelical communities for charitable purposes in Israel and for the purpose of aliyah.IFCJ President and CEO Yael Eckstein, who features prominently in the documentary, said that although she respected Zinshtein she felt the film, in its focus on the political alliance between the Israeli Right and Evangelicals reflected the filmmakers political positions.Evangelical organizations, such as Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI) amongst others, have been extremely influential in promoting US President Trump’s policies towards Israel, including the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and the Trump peace proposal allowing for Israeli annexation of large portions of the West Bank.Indeed, Trump said in August that he had moved the embassy to Jerusalem “for the Evangelicals,” comments ‘Til Kingdom Come highlighted.“I look at the film and I see it really as a political position. If they [the filmmakers] think moving the embassy to Jerusalem is bad then they aren’t going to like Israel’s relationship with Evangelicals,” said Eckstein.“[Prime Minister] Bibi [Netanyahu] has called Evangelical Christians the best friends Israel has ever had. So if you don’t agree with key steps Bibi has taken, with the support of Trump, such as the embassy move, recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, canceling the Iran deal, forge peace and forging peace deals with Arab countries, then you wont like political support from Christian Evangelicals for Israeli foreign policy.”And the IFCJ president asserted that although Evangelical Christians do believe in the apocalyptic prophecies of the New Testament, their support for Israel is not based on this belief.“They’re not supporting Israel because then Jesus will come. They want to be part of the fact that the words of the prophets are coming to life after 2,000 years.”Rabbi Tovia Singer, an expert on Christianity and head of the counter-missionary Outreach Judaism organization, explains however that there are two critical components of Evangelical attitudes towards Jews and Israel.On the one hand, Evangelicals believe in the Hebrew Bible promises made by God that he would never remove his covenant from the Jews, and therefore, as stated in Genesis, Christians and the rest of humanity must bless Jews for themselves to be blessed.This forms the basis of Evangelical Christian support and love for the Jewish state, and Singer says that this is a true and sincere belief independent of beliefs about the end times.“Evangelicals genuinely hope that something happens so that the Jews won't suffer. They don’t want Jews to suffer, they just believe it will happen, but they want God to have mercy,” says Singer.But he says that the second crucial component of Evangelical belief is that the second coming of Jesus, preceded by the “tribulations” and the apocalypse, cannot happen unless Jews convert en masse to Christianity.This is a mainstream opinion amongst all the Evangelical churches and movements, and as a result Evangelical Christian churches and organizations support and fund so-called Messianic Christian communities and movements aimed at converting Jews.Indeed, in 1996, the Evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest Christian denomination in the US, issued a resolution stating that “Be it finally resolved that we direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people.”Said Singer “We should of course welcome the friendship of Christian Evangelicals and we are indebted to people who support Israel. But we shouldn’t turn our head the other way to Evangelicals who try to convert Jews. That is a price we are unwilling to pay.”Yael Eckstein is in complete agreement. "Missionary activity has always been a red line for the Fellowship and our Christian friends know to respect our boundaries."