'Christian Zionism and Jewish Extremism'

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Rabbi Cook: "Accept evangelicals as friends despite their theology"

By: MARILYN H. KARFELD Staff Reporter
From Armageddon to today's American political landscape. It wasn't the title of Dr. Michael Cook's lecture Nov. 7 at Suburban Temple-Kol Ami, but it was definitely the subtext.
Less than a week after the evangelical vote helped give President Bush a second term in The White House, Cook, a rabbi and New Testament scholar, explained why Jews should learn and respect what these conservative Christians believe about Israel, Jews and the world.
Their theology seems strange and bizarre to Jews. But, "the reality is that this election was won by the galvanization of the evangelicals to vote," said Cook, professor of Judaeo-Christian studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. "This is not a time to isolate ourselves. That will make us feel there is no hope of getting along with these people."
Further complicating the dilemma Jews face is the fact that evangelical Christians are the best friends Israel has in the world today and in the foreseeable future, Cook said.
There are approximately 40 million evangelicals in the U.S., Cook said. In their theology, developed in 19th-century Britain and exported to America, the world will end in a battle of Armageddon, the remaining Jews will convert to Christianity, and Jesus will return to triumph over the Anti-Christ.
The year 2000 was supposed to usher in the events leading to the Second Coming. Although that didn't happen, evangelicals still expect Jesus to return within the next 30 years, Cook said.
Evangelicals view Jews as God's chosen people. For the second coming to take place, Jews in sufficient numbers must occupy Israel, as close as possible in size to its biblical geography, Cook said. Most importantly, Jesus cannot return for the Second Coming until enough Jews have accepted him.
With wit, slides and a video, Cook described the "strange beliefs" evangelicals hold. Chief among them is the "Rapture," which was supposed to occur in 2000 after Jews accepted Jesus. When Jesus is ready to return, the most faithful dead and living will be lifted halfway to heaven, where Jesus will meet them to escort them the rest of the way. Because babies are pure, they also will be among the raptured.
People will be raptured in the nude. That means if they are driving a car at the time, they will simply disappear and leave the motor vehicle running and their clothes in the front seat. This will lead to car wrecks and traffic jams, with those who are not sufficiently faithful stuck in the ensuing upheaval.
Evangelical theology then posits that Satan will be in control of the world for seven years through his agent, the Anti-Christ, Cook said. The Anti-Christ will have a magnetic personality, live in Europe, and want peace in the Middle East. Israel will agree to a peace treaty with the Arabs and will rebuild the Temple in its original location in Jerusalem. Then the Anti-Christ will reveal himself as the monomaniacal beast he is, the agent of Satan.
In the second half of the seven-year reign of the Anti-Christ, 83.3% of the Christians will disappear, as will two-thirds of the Jews. They will all die due to calamitous events such as typhoons, hurricanes, terrorism or nuclear, biological or chemical attacks. Thus, Cook said, today's news seems part of the gradual fulfillment of evangelicals' expectations.
At the end of the seven years, the Anti-Christ's temple, the Third Temple, will be destroyed. The remaining Jews won't be Jews anymore because they will have accepted Jesus. The battle of Armageddon will take place. Since the Soviet Union's collapse, evangelicals now believe Al Qaeda has taken the evil empire's place and will attack Israel. The Anti-Christ will decimate them.
Then Red China will join the battle. Jesus and all those who have been raptured will come down from heaven and wipe out all their enemies. Jesus will build and administer the Fourth Temple, and the church, no longer necessary, will be raptured and disappear.
Orthodox Jews and evangelicals agree that a third temple will be rebuilt on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Some rigorous Orthodox Jews, like evangelicals, are trying to breed a red heifer, Cook said, so they can sacrifice the cow, allowing the Temple to be rebuilt.
Most of the evangelicals in America don't know their own theology in such detail, Cook explained. His intent in outlining their theology is not to make them look strange, but to make Jews understand them better and view them with less hostility. "Jews have some strange views, too," he said.
Other Christian faiths have been outspoken in their hostility toward Israel, Cook said. The Presbyterian Church voted at their biennial conference to explore divesting their pension fund from companies aiding Israel's occupation of the Palestinian areas. The Presbyterians also met with leaders of Hezbollah, the group designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization, and pronounced them easier to deal with than the Jewish community's leaders.
The Episcopalian Church has indicated it intends to look at divestment as well, Cook added. Both mainline Protestant churches have made statements that Arabs have no culpability for the problems in the Middle East.
The Vatican praised Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" even though seven eminent New Testament scholars appointed by the Catholic bishops to assess the movie's accuracy criticized its anti-Semitic interpretation of the Gospels. Cook, the only Jew, was one of the seven scholars.
After the death of John Paul II, the next pope will be from the Third World, with its anti-Israel bias, Cook said. And, it's well known that most of the United Nations, including Europe, has opposed Israel.
"Given the shift of the Vatican and liberal Protestant churches against Israel," Cook said, "is it advisable for Jews to be antagonistic toward evangelicals?"
Although a conservative "religious awakening" has become the predominant voice in this country, at some point the pendulum will swing back, Cook said. Taking that cyclical view should be therapeutic for disconsolate Kerry supporters. In the meantime, Jews should realize that just as they are misconstrued as being opposed to prayer and lacking reverence for life, they should try to understand and not worry so much about the evangelicals.
That doesn't mean Jews should become allies with the evangelicals, Cook said. But, "Jews shouldn't look the other way. Don't disparage the major group in this country who might do us good."


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Milton Frihetsson, 2:43 PM