Israel 'friendship visit' slated by evangelicals
WASHINGTON (BP) -- A group of Christian leaders, hosted by National Religious Broadcasters President Jerry Johnson, will travel to Israel Aug. 17-22 to show support for the Jewish state's right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas and other adversaries.
SBC President Ronnie Floyd was invited to participate in the "Christians in Solidarity with Israel" trip, sponsored by NRB and coordinated by the Israel Ministry of Tourism, but had other obligations. Among Christian leaders scheduled to participate are Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and president emeritus of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Anne Graham Lotz, president of AnGeL Ministries; and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
"I regret I could not be a part of these meetings in Israel due to previously scheduled engagements," Floyd told Baptist Press in written comments. "It would have been a joy to add my support and prayers for the nation of Israel. Southern Baptists have a heritage of affirming Israel's rights to exist as a sovereign state in its ancient homeland, having adopted numerous resolutions opposing anti-Semitism and affirming the nation of Israel at our annual meetings."
The trip will include visits with leaders and citizens of Israel, along with tours of the land, an NRB release stated.
Johnson said the visit will aim at "countering rising anti-Semitism in the international press and on the streets."
"This friendship visit will communicate to Israel and to the Palestinians who stand in opposition to Hamas that we, leaders who represent the Christian community, stand with them," Johnson said in a statement. "It will also show the world that Christians in general support the Jewish people and their right to security. In addition, this visit should serve as an example to all followers of Jesus Christ, specifically encouraging them to pray for the peace of Jerusalem so that the lives of all those living in this region can be secure."
For more than a month, Israel has been engaged in a military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas to stop attacks from the Gaza Strip, where approximately 3,000 rockets have been fired into Israel. Palestinian supporters have criticized Israel for striking supposedly civilian targets, but Israel says Hamas has used schools, hospitals and mosques as rocket launch sites and weapons storage facilities, turning them into legitimate military targets. Hamas has also used civilians as human shields, increasing the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, Israel contends.
Among groups to criticize Israel in recent months are the International Committee of the Red Cross, which insinuated that the Jewish state has committed war crimes, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which voted in June to divest church funds from three American companies that do business with the Israeli military.
A global study of anti-Semitic attitudes released earlier this year by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League found that Gaza and the West Bank are the most anti-Semitic places in the world, with 93 percent of the population agreeing with common stereotypes about Jews such as, "Jews have too much power in international financial markets" and "Jews are responsible for most of the world's wars." The study deemed a person anti-Semitic if he or she said six or more of 11 Jewish stereotypes were "probably true." Worldwide, 26 percent of people hold anti-Semitic views, according to the study.
Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, told BP that many Southern Baptists support Israel.
"As the birthplace and homeland of our Messiah, many Southern Baptists view the land of Israel as hallowed ground," Oldham said. "In addition, many Southern Baptists interpret the Old Testament blessings associated with God's chosen people, through whom Messiah would come, as grounds for extending our blessing and support to the modern nation of Israel."
The SBC has adopted numerous resolutions supporting Israel, including a 2008 resolution that expressed "appreciation" for the nation and called it "the birthplace of our Lord and a bastion of democracy in the Middle East." A 2002 resolution supported "the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state" and affirmed "God's love for and offer of salvation in Christ to all people, including both Jewish and Palestinian people."
At least five SBC resolutions have condemned anti-Semitism.
Jim Sibley, former director of the Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies at Criswell College in Dallas, told BP the upcoming NRB trip is important "because Israelis need to understand that evangelical Christians stand with Israel, even in times of greatest difficulty."
Travelling to Israel involves no significant security risks, Sibley said, noting that "no tourists have even been injured" in the present conflict.
"When many in Europe and in the United Nations have been infected with anti-Semitism and are passionate in their denunciations of Israel, we need to stand with our friends in Israel. They need to know that evangelicals can be counted on," Sibley, an adjunct professor at Criswell College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said.
Whether or not they travel to the Middle East, Sibley echoed the need for Christians to support Israel because it produced the Messiah and most of the Bible, maintains the region's only thriving democracy and has generated some of the world's "greatest scientific and medical innovations."
"Christians have every reason in the world to support Israel," Sibley said.
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).