I was delighted to read this week that Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Pastor John Hagee’s pro-Israel Evangelical organization, is now 1 million members strong, making it the largest pro-Israel organization in the world (I think the LDS Church holds that honor, but I digress). The good pastor created the organization in 2006, and its membership has doubled just in the past two years. Kol hakavod to Pastor Hagee and his indefatigable executive director, Jewish attorney David Brog. As I read coverage of CUFI’s banquet held earlier today in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Netanyahu in attendance, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question that is often posed to me by Jews and Mormons alike: Why isn’t there a Mormon CUFI (“MUFI”)?
To be sure, a credible LDS pro-Israel organization would fill several needs. First of all, most Mormons in the U.S. are very pro-Israel and lack an organization of their own through which they can publicly express their support of the country’s policies. I know of several Latter-day Saints who have tried to find a place for themselves in CUFI, but they are invariably marginalized and given second-class treatment.
Second, MUFI could express Mormons’ affinity for Judaism in addition to Israel. Latter-day Saints believe that they are modern-day Israelites who worship in Israelite temples, possess the Israelite priesthood, and are led by Israelite prophets to honor the Abrahamic covenant.
Third, MUFI would be able to represent pro-Israel Mormons at venues where the LDS Church could not. For example, if there is an Israeli attack on Iran in the near future, large pro-Israel rallies will likely be held in major cities. Non-Jewish religious leaders are usually invited to attend and speak at these rallies in order to demonstrate that support for Israel is not restricted to Jews. Would the LDS Church send official representatives to these rallies? I doubt it. However, representatives of MUFI could go and make a powerful case for ordinary Mormons’ support for Israel’s security.
Which brings me to an analysis of how this proposed Mormon organization would differ from CUFI. For one thing, whereas CUFI is led by pastors and endorsed by their churches, MUFI would need to take great pains to emphasize that it represents its members only, and is NOT a part of and/or endorsed by the LDS Church. This is probably not a big deal to Jews, who are not hierarchically-minded and don’t automatically assume that officers of religious non-profits officially represent their faiths, but it’s important to LDS leaders on all levels to minimize confusion between Mormons with opinions and Mormons who are called upon to officially represent their church.
In addition, unlike CUFI and similar Christian pro-Israel organizations, there can be no expression of anti-Islam sentiment by MUFI. While condemnation of terrorism is unobjectionable, any credible LDS organization will avoid criticism of the Islamic faith, for which Mormons and the LDS Church have great respect.
Finally, it is unlikely that MUFI would choose to adopt the CUFI (and AIPAC) policy of essentially endorsing any position adopted by the government of Israel. Mormons are ultimately led by prophets, not prime ministers, so while MUFI’s support of Israel’s security would be unquestioned, it would probably reserve the right to remain silent on any issues on which it and the Israeli government diverged.
I believe that such an organization could succeed in demonstrating to Jews and their friends worldwide the support of Mormons for Israel, Jews, and Judaism. We have an unparalleled history of continuous support for the Jewish people, and in many ways it’s a shame that a MUFI does not yet exist. While I applaud the efforts of Evangelicals in CUFI to embrace the cause of Israel, I can’t help but hope that Mormons will soon have a pro-Israel group to call their own.
My good friend Larry Bagby, a former LDS bishop, will be speaking on “Order in the LDS Church” at Adat Elohim synagogue in Thousand Oaks, CA on Wednesday, April 18 @ 7:30 p.m. Free.