The pounding of the drums and the wail of the electric guitar filled the church as Pastor Larry Serge sang the words, “Breathe on me, breath of God, breathe on me. I am alive, come alive, when you breathe on me.”
While the band played in the Morning Star Fellowship Church in Quakertown, Bucks County, hundreds of people swayed with their arms raised.
The Oct. 6 evening featured many of the hallmarks of regular Sunday services at Morning Star. Only on this night, many in the audience waved Israeli flags while three large screens displayed images from Israel.
The night began with the singing of “Hatikvah,” included benedictions from two rabbis and remarks from Yaron Sideman, Israel’s consul general.
Part revival meeting, part pro-Israel rally, the “Night to Honor Israel” was run by Christians United for Israel. The organization runs about 50 such events nationally each month, and about 10 each year in Pennsylvania. It’s a way for CUFI, which is based in San Antonio, Texas, to get its message out to grass-roots evangelical Christians: Being pro-Israel should be an outgrowth of your faith.
“You are the true, authentic friends of Israel and the Jewish people. We do not take our friends for granted,” the consul general told the audience. “It is our collective responsibility to make sure this special moment in history” — the existence of an independent Jewish nation — “continues for at least 2,000 years more.”
Christian Zionism has emerged as a major political and social force in recent decades, and CUFI — founded by Pastor John Hagee — is by far the largest organization of its kind. The group’s annual summit in Washington, D.C., regularly draws 5,000 people. The only pro-Israel group that runs a bigger event is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
With the Jewish community failing to grow significantly, and many younger Jews professing limited attachment to the Jewish state, Christians are playing an important role nationally in pro-Israel lobbying.
For years, there was a reticence on the part of many Jewish groups to embrace evangelicals. Many feared that Christian support for Israel was driven by a belief that the Jewish return to Zion will usher in the “Second Coming” of Christ, after which Jews will either accept Jesus or be sent to hell.
Christian Zionist leaders have repeatedly denied this charge and stressed that their support for the Jewish presence in Israel is based in Scripture. Leaders like Pastor Victor Styrsky, author of Honest to God: Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews Need Answered, routinely say that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who don’t will be cursed.
“We want to thank you for bringing to us gentiles the knowledge that there is one God,” Styrsky said, speaking to the Jews in the audience in Quakertown. “Your younger brothers say, ‘We’re here now and we’re your friends — whether you like it or not.’ ”
Hagee and his organization haven’t avoided controversy. He’s taken flak for comments that suggested God brought about the Holocaust in order to move Jews to Israel, an idea anathema to most, but not all, Jews.
On the whole, CUFI pushes an agenda that is on the right of the political spectrum concerning Israeli issues. The group generally opposes making territorial compromises.
But apart from the harsh environment facing many pro-Israel activists on campus, and a few references to the recent meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, there wasn’t much focus on hot-button political issues at the church event.
Rather, the emphasis was on all the good things coming out of Israel, including science, culture and medicine. The Quakertown event raised a little more than $8,000, which organizers said would be divided up between the American Friends of Magen David Adom and CUFI’s campus division.
Theresa and Dan Armstrong, the parents of two teenagers, have been attending Morning Star for about a year. Theresa Armstrong said she hadn’t thought much about Israel before attending the church — but now she’d like to visit the Jewish state.
“What an incredible honor for us to come and just show our support to Israel,” she said.
Her husband — who said in front of his wife that he’d once dated a Jewish woman — also said that, throughout history, the Jewish people have suffered terrible wrongs in the name of Christ.
“For me, an event like this is a real act of repentance.”