Posted by Mark Paredes
Readers of this blog know that I love to introduce Mormon Philosemites
to the Jewish community. Today the spotlight falls on Jason Olson, a
recent graduate cum laude in Hebrew Bible/Middle East Studies from BYU
who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Israel Studies at Brandeis. Jason
plans to study the development and impact of Religious Zionism in
Israeli political history.
Jason has been involved with Israel advocacy for a long time. He was a
delegate for Arizona at the 2008 AIPAC National Policy Conference,
and was recently appointed a delegate for Massachusetts at the 2010
CUFI National Summit. At BYU Jason was also the Vice President for the
Friends of Israel club and was part of an AIPAC-trained group of students at the university.
He had the good fortune to spend 6 months in Israel in 2007, where he
interned at The Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development and
studied Hebrew at an ulpan. On the academic side, he spent his last
year and a half as a research assistant for the ongoing Joseph Smith
Papers project. He used this opportunity to explore Joseph Smith’s
Christian Zionist theology, and is very much convinced that Smith was
and is the most ardent Christian Zionist in Western history.
I have no doubt that Jason will represent us well at Brandeis, where
he will likely be one of the most passionate Zionists on campus. Here
are his own words:
“Latter-day Saints should be proud of their Zionist history—their
prophets have always taught that the restoration of the Jewish State
on its own land is the fulfillment of God’s will and one of the greatest acts of
redemption in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. God is
definitely not neutral when it comes to the protection and support of His ‘ancient covenant people.’
“As all Latter-day Saints know, prayer and belief alone is not enough
to fulfill God’s will, we must be ‘anxiously engaged in a good cause.’
I believe that we must actively support the Jewish People and their
State by encouraging our Senators and Congressmen to support Israel,
as well as encouraging our communities to tangibly bless and assist
Israel as it strives to survive in a world of hostile enemies.
“O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant
people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have
not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things
upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.” (2
Nephi 29:5—Book of Mormon)
Yasher koach, Jason.
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August 6, 2010 | 7:43 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I love to visit mosques. One of the sweetest spiritual experiences I have ever had was when I prayed in a mosque in a remote Turkish fishing village. I have worshipped in mosques in Istanbul, Jerusalem, Cairo and Los Angeles, and like many Mormons I have a generally positive view of Islam and Muslims. I have participated in meetings involving Mormon leaders and the heads of both mosques in West LA, and hosted Usman Madha of the King Fahad Mosque when he lectured to my LDS interfaith class in a Mormon chapel. The proposed construction of a mosque in Temecula, CA has generated a great deal of controversy and revealed a pattern of bigotry there that has targeted both the LDS and Muslim communities.
All decent people should have been outraged by the protest last week against the proposed 25,000 sq ft mosque in a city with over 100,000 residents. During Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, a small group, some with dogs (regarded by Muslims as unclean), and all with too much time on their hands, showed up to denounce Islam. Their reasoning? “This is America. This is a Christian country, this is not a Muslim country,” said a protester. “They are known terrorists. Read the Koran. They are trained to kill people from the time they’re in their youth.” Thankfully, pro-mosque supporters outnumbered the bigots. A zoning hearing is scheduled for later this month, though it could be postponed.
Just to be sure there wasn’t an underlying legitimate motive behind the protest, I read the blog of the Calvary Baptist Church pastor whose church would be the mosque’s neighbor. After listing what appear to be legitimate zoning concerns (too few parking spaces, multi-story parking structure needed, etc.), he undercuts his argument by revealing his religious bias: “Our secondary issue is regarding Islam itself. Wherever Islam is dominant, we see very different conditions, and we find widespread persecution against Christians. When we see the reports and read the accounts of the results of Sharia law, we certainly find ample cause to oppose the spread of Islam. There are certainly plenty of people who oppose any spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In America, we still have the freedom of speech to do that. Islamic law does not provide that blessed freedom.” So I guess the best way to demonstrate that freedom of speech reigns in this country is by banning houses of worship whose beliefs you find objectionable.
Unfortunately, the good citizens of Temecula have seen this movie before. The last zoning controversy in the city over a religious building involved—you guessed it—the proposed construction of a Mormon chapel near Linfield Christian School in 2003. The objections raised included increased traffic and “concerns that night and weekend activities at a Mormon church would harm their neighborhood’s quality of life.” After a year and a half of heated debate at a series of hearings, permission was finally granted to build the chapel. An ADL official once told me that the anti-Semites of yesterday are the anti-Mormons of today. While this is often true, it is also apparent that many opponents of Islam persecute Mormons as well.
I hope to attend the groundbreaking and dedication of the Temecula mosque. On my way there, I plan to deliver a highlighted copy of the U.S. Constitution to the Calvary Baptist Church.
August 4, 2010 | 12:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“Mormons and Jews have something in common if they don’t repent and surrender their lives to Jesus Christ.” – reader comment on my recent interview with blogger Menachem Wecker
Following a briefing I gave to a havurah group last weekend in Camarillo, I was asked by a cantor why Jews should accept the support of Evangelicals who believe that they will be destroyed in the last days. This is a common objection made by Jews who are uncomfortable with the thought of close collaboration on Israel with right-wing Christians. I believe it is an unnecessary one. Tens of millions of Evangelicals are fervent supporters of Israel and Jews, and in these difficult times their support should be welcomed, not spurned.
To begin with, it is a gross generalization to claim that all Evangelicals believe that Jews will meet a violent end when the Messiah comes again (or for the first time, if you prefer). Some believe that a mass conversion of Jews will take place, while other believe that a special divine dispensation of grace will be extended to the Jews at the last day (I first heard this theory espoused by Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel). Still others are content to leave the Jews’ fate in God’s hands.
As the above quote makes clear, the subset of Evangelicals who believe that Jesus-denying Jews are going to hell after they die almost always believe the same about Mormons (they claim that we worship a “different” Jesus). Condemning people to hell is not in the Mormon lexicon; we teach moral principles, but the consequences of sin and transgression are God’s to impose, not ours. [We also don’t believe in a traditional concept of hell, but I digress]. When these people call down hellfire upon the heads of Jews, Mormons, and most of the world’s people unless they accept Evangelicalism’s Jesus, Mormons dismiss their condemnation as unauthorized, presumptuous, and doctrinally flawed. We certainly don’t believe that Jews and other non-Christians are going to hell, and we don’t like to be lumped with those Christians who do. The good news is that none of these differences matter when it comes to coming together to support the Jewish people – in this life, anyway. There is no need for Jews or Mormons to worry about what these people believe will happen to non-Evangelicals in the future. I for one am willing to take the chance that they’re wrong. When the Messiah comes (again), we can ask Him for clarification.
We shouldn’t require people to have similar theologies in order to accept their Zionism. During my tenure with the Zionist Organization of America, we welcomed Mormons, other Christians, and atheists to our meetings. The only person we turned away was a Messianic Jew. Her Christianity wasn’t a problem, but her insistence on “witnessing” to people whenever she felt moved to do so was obviously unacceptable. Neither the cantor nor anyone else in the havurah believes that Jews are going to become cannon fodder during Armageddon. In all likelihood, they don’t believe in Armageddon to begin with. Whether a fellow Israel supporter believes in “end times” theology is not nearly as important as her belief in a strong, secure Israel.
Some Jewish leaders argue that Judaism should not be seeking converts, that there is nothing wrong with remaining a small, cohesive group of Torah followers. I am not qualified to give an opinion on their religious argument, but Israel advocacy requires a different mindset of inclusion. I’m positive that Jews in previous centuries would have been overjoyed to have the active support of their Christian neighbors, regardless of their end-time beliefs. I have had many interactions over the years with Evangelical pro-Israel groups (e.g., Israel Christian Nexus, CUFI, Eagles’ Wings), and am fully convinced of their sincerity and deep love for Israel. I have never asked any of their representatives what they thought of my theology, and they have never asked me to evaluate theirs. It is my hope that pro-Israel coalitions around the world will strive to follow the admonition of Isaiah: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.”