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August 17, 2006

Local Christian Leaders Maintain Support for Israel

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/local_christian_leaders_maintain_support_for_israel_20060818

Even in the face of recent international criticism of Israel's war tactics, American Christians, especially Evangelicals, have remained steadfast in support of Jews and the Jewish state. Whereas vicious anti-Zionist attacks in much of Europe and the Arab world have lately bled into rank anti-Semitism, even those American Christians critical of Israel's recent actions have gone to great lengths to stress their support for the nation's right to exist.

As a tenuous cease-fire takes hold in Lebanon, local Christian leaders, like the majority of Americans, appear largely supportive of Israel's military campaigns, according to Board of Rabbis of Southern California Executive Vice President Rabbi Mark S. Diamond. He says that for the most part they believe that Israel has acted properly to ensure its security and bring about a lasting peace.

Simply put, as David Brog pointed out in his recent book "Standing With Israel" (Front Line, 2006), American Christians have a more favorable view of Israel than Christians almost anywhere else in the world, and that sentiment has not abated in the face of the recent embattlements.

The Rev. Lorraine Coconato of the Leaves of Healing Tabernacle in Northridge considers herself among Israel's staunchest supporters. She said the 70 members of her new Evangelical congregation pray often and passionately for Israel.

Coconato, has visited the Jewish state twice, including a nine-day mission in 2005; she said she has a special relationship with the country.

"To me, Israel is a home away from home," Coconato said. "The Bible comes alive in Israel."

She also serves as vice president of the Israel-Christian Nexus, a pro-Israel group.

"When I was there, I felt like this is God's land; these are God's people, and I'm connected to them by faith in the one, true living God," she said.

David Hocking leads weekly Bible classes in Orange County and believes God made an unbreakable covenant with Israel and the Jewish people. Hocking also runs a national radio ministry called "Hope for Today," and he said he regularly speaks out in support of Israel and encourages all Christians to do the same.

"You know, the biggest subject in the Bible next to God himself is Israel. It's mentioned 2,655 times," Hocking said. "Whether we like it or not, God chose [Israel] above all nations of the world to show his love and faithfulness. His covenant is everlasting."

If Evangelical Christians base their support for Israel and the Jews largely on theological grounds, at least one African American Israel partisan would add the shared histories of Jews and blacks to that equation.

The Rev. Sherman Gordon of the New Philadelphia African Methodist Episcopal Church in Rancho Dominguez said Jews and African Americans have both experienced brutal repression -- the Jews with the Holocaust and African Americans with slavery. Both groups also have survived -- not always comfortably he added -- in diasporas far from their original homelands.

Given those commonalities, Jews and blacks should "come together and sit down at the table of brotherhood," Gordon said.

Mormons have long felt an affinity for Israel and the Jews, said Mark Paredes director of Jewish relations for the Mormon Church in Southern California. As a reflection of that affinity, he said, the Mormon church recently contributed $50,000 to Magen David Adom, the Israeli affiliate of the International Red Cross, to help with ambulance response, among other needs. The church also sent aid to Lebanon.

On a personal note, Israel has held a special place in Paredes' soul since childhood. Growing up in Michigan, he said he felt "at home" visiting synagogues. Later, Paredes had several "marvelous spiritual experiences" while posted in the mid-1990s as a U.S. Foreign Service officer in Tel Aviv.

"My support for Israel in this conflict is unconditional," Paredes said. "I really think they are battling for their survival, and I think all decent peoples need to side with those who are battling terrorism."

Peter Laarman's support of Israel is anything but unqualified. As the executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting sees it, Israel's military campaign in Lebanon went too far and only succeeded in galvanizing support for Hezbollah.

Still, Laarman described himself as a "reluctant critic" and stressed his support for a two-state solution. He said he condemned the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as the latter's rocket attacks on the Israeli city of Haifa.

"I would never vilify Israel as a bad actor here," Laarman said. "But I would say I have serious questions about proportionality and where this is leading for Israel and for the region."

The Rev. Gwynne Guibord also said he has no interest in vilifying Israel or any of the other combatants in the Middle East. Assigning blame, said the officer of ecumenical and inter-religious concerns for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, does nothing but waste time. Instead, everybody, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew, should push to end the fighting throughout the region, she said. "Everybody lay down your arms!" Guibord said. "Take off your shoes! The ground on which you stand is holy: Palestine, Israel, Iraq and Lebanon. At some point, as the family of humanity, we need to say enough is enough."

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