Posted by Mark Paredes
As I viewed the picture of Mitt Romney standing at the Wailing Wall during his current trip to Israel, I clearly remembered my first time at the wall. It was one of the spiritual highlights of my life. Like many Mormons who have traveled to the country, I feel like Israel is my second home. I’m sure that Mitt was moved by the wall’s otherworldly grandeur. As a devout Mormon, it’s likely that he was pondering some of these thoughts as he offered up his written prayer to God:
*LDS apostles have dedicated the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jewish people on many occasions, beginning with Elder Orson Hyde in 1841. In 1845, all of the apostles called on the Jews “in the name of the Messiah, to prepare, to return to Jerusalem in Palestine; and to rebuild that city and temple unto the Lord.” Today there is an Orson Hyde Memorial Garden on the Mount of Olives.
*Netanya Academic College has Orson Hyde Square, which features an olive tree planted to honor each prophet of the LDS Church.
*Israel is the only country in the world whose creation was expressly called for and supported by Mormon leaders. George Albert Smith, LDS Church President at the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, publicly and privately assured many Jewish leaders of his support for their efforts to establish a Jewish state.
*Israel Bonds were first issued in 1951. One year later, Church President David O. McKay purchased $5000 of Israel Bonds on behalf of the church, stating that he was doing this “to show our sympathy with the effort being made to establish the Jews in their homeland.”
*Brigham Young University has been sending students to study in Israel since 1968. It currently leases land from the Israeli government for its magnificent Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, which looks down on the Old City.
*Two presidents of the LDS Church (Spencer W. Kimball and Howard W. Hunter) and an apostle (LeGrand Richards) have been awarded the Jerusalem Medal.
Whether it’s Mitt or Glenn Beck, I’m always pleased to see prominent Latter-day Saints get warm receptions in Israel. I take great pleasure in knowing that If Israelis could decide the winner of November’s election, Mitt – the Mormon candidate—would win in a landslide. As more and more Jews and Israelis become familiar with the history of LDS-Jewish relations, they will better understand why Mormons feel a special closeness to them. In the case of Mitt, I believe that his religious beliefs and his strong support for Israel and Jews can’t be separated; they merely feed off each other.
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July 18, 2012 | 12:52 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
In a case of using questionable means to achieve a noble end, pro-life pastors and activists in Kansas are planning to incorporate a full-size replica of the Western Wall in their proposed International Pro-Life Memorial and National Life Center. The wall will have 60 crosses in front of it, each one representing one million dead babies. The organizers have said that they want to include the wall because it is a symbol of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, and they believe that another holocaust is taking place in the nation’s abortion clinics. While I sympathize with the organizers’ intent, they are misappropriating a powerful Jewish symbol that has nothing to do with abortion or the Holocaust to make their point.
As a Mormon, I agree that abortion is a great moral evil. The LDS Church considers abortion a serious sin, and it can be grounds for excommunication. However, the church does recognize that exceptions can be made in certain cases (e.g., when the mother’s life is threatened) after prayerful consideration, and it does not consider abortion to be murder. Moreover, it is possible for Mormons who have participated in abortions to repent and obtain forgiveness.
Notwithstanding my support for the organizers’ goals, I object to the Jewish theme of part of the proposed memorial, which my wife and I will definitely visit after it is dedicated. The Western (Wailing) Wall is Judaism’s holiest site. The placement of 60 crosses in front of the wall could be offensive to many Jews, for whom the cross represents additional Jewish suffering during centuries of Christian pogroms and persecution. In addition, while the wall is a symbol of Jewish suffering, it is not normally associated with the Holocaust, which happened 2,000 years after the wall’s construction. If the good pastors want to link the killing of babies to the Holocaust, it would be more accurate to include a gas chamber in the monument.
Here is where I must tread softly. I was 100% on board with the abortion-as-modern-Holocaust argument until I went to Auschwitz a few years ago. I can’t explain why exactly, but for me there is a difference between the herding of living, breathing human beings into gas chambers and the killing of babies in utero. There certainly are parallels – for example, in both cases some people decide that others’ lives are expendable. This is especially true of viable, third-trimester babies. I get the pastors’ Holocaust argument, and admire their desire to promote the sanctity of all innocent life. That said, when you’re standing in a gas chamber at Auschwitz, something about their reasoning falls flat.
Of course, many Jews have also objected to the inclusion of the Wailing Wall, which one national pro-abortion Jewish organization has called “an outrageous affront to the Jewish people.” Truth be told, nothing that the pastors have proposed is nearly as “outrageous” as support for the killing of babies by people who claim to have Jewish values. Jewish law and tradition do not support the killing of the unborn in most cases, and there is nothing Jewish about being pro-abortion. On this issue the pastors are much more in tune with traditional Judaism than liberal Jews are.
This is a project that my wife and I would like to donate to if it gets off the ground, and I wish the pastors much success with fundraising and other activities. However, I do hope that they will reconsider their inclusion of the Western Wall.
July 12, 2012 | 12:54 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
According to the church’s official website, a semiannual General Synod of the Church of England “debates matters of national and international importance.” Given the current state of the world, there should be no shortage of items to discuss. However, the Eurozone meltdown, Syrian civil war, Iran nuclear talks breakdown, and other crises inexplicably failed to make the cut. In fact, only two international matters have been deemed worthy of discussion at the synods held this year: Muslim attacks on Christians in Nigeria and the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme (EAPPI), which takes people to the West Bank so that they can experience life under “occupation” and supports the anti-Semitic BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign against Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Board of Deputies of British Jews may vote to sever ties to the Church of England at its next meeting. Good for them.
Attendees at recent gatherings of liberal Protestant churches can be forgiven for wondering why Israel is always in their crosshairs. The Anglicans’ shameful vote to strengthen ties with the EAPPI comes on the heels of the Episcopal Church’s call for a negotiated two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, a schizophrenic vote by Presbyterians to reject a divestment resolution while boycotting products made in West Bank settlements, and the rejection by Methodists of yet another divestment initiative. It’s quite clear that these liberal leaders lack an appreciation for the Jewish state, and it’s also obvious that political activism, not divine guidance, is fueling their unhealthy Israel obsession. I can’t imagine why anyone would care what liberal Protestant committees think about Israel, and admire Jewish organizations for their patience and forbearance when dealing with them.
The response of the Church of England’s interreligious affairs adviser to the synod’s vote was very telling: “Many Synod members abstained, not willing to dismiss EAPPI, but presumably registering that they understood the negative implications for Jewish-Christian relations of a positive vote.” In other words, the well-meaning synod voters didn’t object to the substance of the resolution, but feared that it might harm relations with the Jewish community.
I think that we can cut to the chase on the Israel issues by asking attendees at upcoming meetings of liberal Protestants to vote on the following question: Is the Abrahamic covenant valid today? They will deny that it is. Mormons believe that the covenant remains valid, and that is why the LDS Church has sent apostles to dedicate the Land of Israel on many occasions for the gathering of the Jewish people. Jews believe in the continuing validity of the covenant as well, which is why they have worked so hard to establish and preserve their state. Mormons and Jews may disagree on what the terms of the Abrahamic covenant are and on what one needs to do to receive the blessings of the covenant, but they agree that the Abrahamic covenant is 100% in force today. As a result, you don’t see LDS leaders debating divestment from Israel out of a misguided search for “justice” and “peace.”
There is no reason to expect that liberal Christian synods and conventions will adopt a more comprehensive view of injustice in the world in the near future. Each year brings new phraseology and new resolutions, but the underlying message is the same: The Abrahamic covenant is not valid for Jews today, and Israel is one of the worst countries in the world. Once Jews realize this, more of them will emulate the actions of the British Jewish leaders by looking elsewhere for fruitful dialogue on Israel.
July 2, 2012 | 12:36 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Last week a Jewish journalist contacted me about Mormon outreach efforts to the Jewish community. His email came just after an LDS leader interested in reaching out to Jews had called for a briefing on the “ABC organizations” that make up the organized Jewish community. Their queries caused me to reflect on the prospects for future LDS-Jewish collaboration, which I believe will ultimately prove to be most fruitful with Orthodox and pro-Israel groups.
Through my professional involvement with the Jewish community, I have seen firsthand the positive results from LDS-Jewish interfaith outreach. Jews are the best coalition builders in the country, and are always willing to work with Christians who love and respect them. Many Mormon leaders have longstanding relationships with prominent Jewish leaders and organizations, Mormons are working and blogging in the Jewish community, and the thorny proxy baptism issue has largely been put to rest.
However, there are many movements and communities in the Jewish world, and they vary greatly in the degree to which they are willing and able to engage in meaningful interfaith collaboration with the LDS Church. The Orthodox community is the most appealing partner because its moral vision is closest to the LDS ideal. Orthodox leaders joined forces with the LDS Church during the Prop 8 battle in California, they oppose abortion in most circumstances, they denounce pornography, and they largely share Mormons’ preference for a society of strong families based on traditional Judeo-Christian values. The Orthodox have also started to echo LDS leaders in stressing the importance of religious freedom in a pluralistic society. I have given the D’var Torah (sermon) from an Orthodox bimah and conducted a public theological dialogue with an Orthodox pulpit rabbi, so I know firsthand that the Orthodox are willing to extend a hand to Mormons who care deeply about Jews and Judaism. There is no limit to how much good the collaboration between our two communities could accomplish.
Generally speaking, LDS dialogue with Reform and Conservative Jews, while wonderful and even inspiring, is on a different level. While more liberal Jews usually more open to interfaith outreach efforts than the Orthodox, it is sometimes difficult for them to overlook differences they may have with the LDS Church on gay marriage, abortion, and other controversial moral issues. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. For example, one Reform rabbi was considering inviting a few Mormon leaders to his synagogue to hold a forum on how to raise good kids, a topic of great interest to his congregation. During the first planning meeting, a Mormon woman presented to the group a pamphlet explaining the LDS Church’s youth program. The reaction from some of the Jewish participants was so negative that the good rabbi had to nix the proposed forum. To them the Mormon ideal for religious youth education was so different from theirs that it precluded dialogue on the issue. With one exception, on the few occasions when I have encountered hostility towards my church in the Jewish community, it has come from secular or Reform Jews over political/moral issues.
What is often missing in the LDS dialogue with more liberal Jewish movements is a Jewish component. When Mormons ask about large Jewish organizations, most of which are liberal, they are usually shocked to learn that many of them support abortion rights (including partial-birth abortions), gay marriage, etc. One LDS local leader in a private conversation called a well-known Jewish organization “the ACLU with a yarmulke.” When it comes to moral issues, liberal Jewish movements are not bound by traditional Jewish law, which does not sanction third-trimester abortions or same-sex couplings.
Don’t get me wrong: I know a lot of wonderful Reform and Conservative Jews, and their dedication to tikkun olam (service to others in an effort to repair the world) is truly inspiring. It’s just that when a Mormon ward and a Reform congregation work together to, say, staff a soup kitchen together, the common bond is a desire to do good and to serve others. As laudable as this is, I fail to see any distinctly Jewish component here. In other words, when Mormons and Orthodox talk about collaboration, the conversation includes words like Torah, Judaism and morality. When Mormons discuss collaboration with Reform Jews, they could just as well be talking with Methodists, Muslims or Episcopalians. Again, I have nothing but praise for interfaith collaboration that involves service and doing good. However, there is nothing distinctly Jewish about these concepts, so the “dialogue” that takes place is not as meaningful as it could otherwise be.
Another promising area of cooperation between Mormons and Jews is Israel. Although the LDS Church doesn’t take sides in the Middle East, most Mormons in this country are solidly pro-Israel and would welcome the chance to work with Jews on Israel advocacy. The only glitch here is that most Jewish organizations seeking to promote Jewish-Christian ties on Israel have already partnered with evangelical organizations that are unwilling to fully accept Mormons into the coalition. The best solution would be for Mormons to create their own version of CUFI (Christians United for Israel) with a distinctly Mormon vision.
With the possible election of a Mormon for president this year, Mormons are anticipating many questions from the public on Mormon beliefs and doctrines. In addition, I believe that as more and more Jews meet more and more Mormons, the former will come to appreciate a philo-Semitic church whose members believe that they are modern-day Israelites. Mormon outreach should be directed to Jews from all movements (and none), but I’m betting that in 20 years the most fruitful efforts will prove to have been those made to bring Mormons and Orthodox and/or Israel-loving Jews together.