As an Orthodox Jew participating in evangelical Christian prayer and activities, Dr. Faydra Shapiro has had some strange, even awkward moments.
But as the founding director of the Center for Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College in Israel, the religious studies professor’s ultimate goal is to gain a deeper understanding, from the inside, of evangelical Christian love for Israel. In her new book, Christian Zionism: Navigating the Jewish-Christian Border (Cascade Books), Shapiro, who was raised in Canada, explores how evangelicals in Israel interact with Jews, the social services they provide, and even what it is like being an “unbeliever” at a Christian event.
Shapiro will speak at Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell during Shabbat morning services on Saturday, Jan. 16. She spoke with NJJN in advance of her appearance.
NJJN: Is there a quid pro quo in embracing the Christian evangelical love for Israel? That is, are Jews expected to go easy on other issues because they are our allies on Israel?
Shapiro: I don’t think that’s the case. Conservative Christians are undoubtedly perplexed by liberal Jews and their values and voting patterns. But it’s just accepted, however sadly, as a case where Jews are not in touch with their true nature and destiny. There’s no doubt that Christian Zionists would love for Jews to be more conservative, which in their eyes would be “more Jewish,” as they understand it.
NJJN: What about the notion that some of these groups do at some level proselytize?
Shapiro: Some of these groups do indeed proselytize directly, or indirectly support individuals and organizations that do so.
NJJN: As interesting as your book is, isn’t the Christian evangelical issue old news? Haven’t we moved on from worrying about the meaning of their support and simply accepted it?
Shapiro: First, the book isn’t meant to be “breaking news”; it’s meant to provide some deeper understanding of a current phenomenon. It’s also not in any sense meant to be an answer to “Should we accept Christian support,” but rather to understand in a more nuanced way some of the implications for Jewish-Christian relations.
Most important, though — taking Christian support for Israel for granted would be a mistake. The younger generation of evangelical Christians is nowhere near as pro-Israel as their parents. In fact I’m on my way now to speak at a CAMERA conference in Los Angeles on the very topic of threats to the evangelical-Jewish friendship.
NJJN: Is this entire issue low-hanging fruit — that is, isn’t the more pressing issue Muslim-Jewish relationships?
Shapiro: Low-hanging fruit? I’d urge us not to think that what might be obvious in New Jersey is to be taken for granted in other parts of North America or the world. I work with Western Christians all the time who have never met a Jew, and Jewish Israelis who have never met a Christian. Don’t get me wrong — I do think that Muslim-Jewish relationships are important. But there are many reasons that Jewish-Christian relations are of critical importance, not the least of which is the fact that Israel’s staunchest supporters and most ardent critics are to be found in the Christian world.
NJJN: Are there lessons from this book and/or your experiences that could carry over into Muslim/Jewish relations?
Shapiro: We need to be less fearful of one another, and of engaging with religious difference, generally. We need to develop the guts and the skills to have difficult conversations, and the spaces in which to have them. And finally, we need to be able to sometimes vehemently disagree, but to do so in a civilized manner.