Pastor Warns Believers Against Shunning Israel: ‘It’s Heresy’
With anti-Semitism rising and Iran stirring up conflict, California pastor Dumisani Washington reveals the biblical basis for supporting Israel — and why his criticisms of the nation remain between friends.
When U.S. leaders gathered in Jerusalem this past May to dedicate the new U.S. Embassy in Israel, media noted how a Christian minister gave the closing prayer. It was Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI). “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we thank you for the state of Israel… who lives and prospers because of your everlasting love for the Jewish people,” he prayed.
Claiming 4.3 million members, CUFI has been at the forefront of a movement to educate Christians on the threats facing Israel. However, Hagee’s views are hardly shared by majorities of believers. In a recent national LifeWay Research survey, evangelicals were asked whether or not “the Christian church has fulfilled or replaced the nation of Israel.” 28 percent agreed, and another 32 percent were not sure. For evangelicals ages 18 to 34, those answers combined rise to 71 percent.
Senior pastor of the Congregation of Zion in Stockton, California, Dumisani Washington has spent decades studying what he calls the “mystery of Israel and the church.” He now heads CUFI’s efforts in communities of color. We spoke following his session at the CUFI national gathering in Washington, D.C.
“Read the Plain Sense of the Text”
The Stream: This year, many are paying tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years after his assassination, what have you been highlighting about his life message?
Pastor Dumisani Washington: This year, I’ve shared about Dr. King to students and pastors across the country. The truth is he was an unapologetic supporter of Israel and the Jewish people. He was also a man who pursued justice and advocated for peace. I halfway jokingly tell our students that he was the first Christian united for Israel.
For us as Christians, his legacy is very crucial. He stood with Israel and the Jewish people, defending their right to exist even in the face of terrorism. Some of his most poignant, strong words were almost a year after the 1967 war. In the spring after that war, in 1968, he never capitulated. He didn’t bow to the pressure of the Arab states or the anti-Israel forces.
At the same time, he spoke out and advocated for the Arab population that had been decimated by these wars. He actually called out the poverty. The only difference between Dr. King and what gets passed off as social justice today is — because of his integrity — he did not blame the plight of the Arabs on Israel. He simply said that we as an international community had a right and moral obligation to do what he called a “Marshall Plan” of sorts for the Arab population.
His voice now, where Israel is concerned among other things, is as powerful as it ever has been.
The Stream: How does your reading of the Bible lead you to support Israel?
Pastor Washington: I don’t think one can read the plain sense of the biblical text and not support Israel. Reading Scripture in its most fundamental way, whenever you read Israel or Israelites, that is a literal reference to Israel and the Jewish people. It’s not a metaphor for something else. It’s Israel. We as the church believe we are grafted in to Israel, but that does not replace Israel.
We read in Jeremiah 29 verse 11, when God speaks to Israel in the midst of exile, I know the plans I have for you — plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. If you believe those words are true, then you understand there is no expiration date on those promises. His covenant with Abraham did not have an “Expires On This Date” notice. If we believe his word is true, we have to believe that when he says, I make my covenant with you forever, He means it.
If “forever” is only until the church came into being, that means God is not telling the truth. To read the Bible and not support Israel, it means we cannot be taking the Bible seriously.
Holding Contentions in Confidence
The Stream: Does support for Israel mean backing anything the Israeli government does?
Pastor Washington: No, and this is where the debate is sometimes the fiercest. As Christians, it doesn’t mean we’re blind to something that may not be right. But I believe that has nothing to do with the biblical mandate of standing with Israel.
I have many Israeli friends, on both the right and left side of the spectrum. In my experience, the most fierce criticism of the Israeli government comes from Israelis. There is a consistently powerful argument I hear my Jewish friends make. They say, Sure, criticize Israel. But at the same time, recognize it is an autonomous government in a democratic society.
The Israelis ultimately have to decide what direction they’re going to go in. Our defending Israel is saying they have the right to do that just like any other sovereign nation has the right to decide what they are going to do.
The Stream: Could you give an example of when you or CUFI has publicly disagreed with the Israeli government?
Pastor Washington: I do not criticize the Israeli government publicly, nor has CUFI to my knowledge. It’s not because I haven’t found something to be critical of.
It’s because I’m aware of two things. First, Israel has so many enemies. For someone like myself to say anything publicly that would be critical of Israel, it would be taken, misconstrued and used as a bludgeon. Whole networks are dedicated to distorting what Israel is doing. I am not going to help Israel’s enemies.
Second, because I have enough significant relationships with friends in Israel, I can have those conversations with them. It’s kind of like in the black community. I may not like something a black leader did. But if I’m sensitive to how my words get used in public, I may go direct to that person and never say anything to anybody else.
That’s the type of relationship that we need to have with Israel. It would be different if there weren’t enough mechanisms in place to criticize Israel.
To Stand Or Not To Stand
The Stream: What is replacement theology and how prevalent is it among Christians in the U.S.?
Pastor Washington: Paul himself, the most famous Jewish believer in Jesus, warned the church multiple times about replacement theology. Throughout Romans, he talks about how the Jews are still the ones who have the covenant. They are our older brothers in the faith, if you will.
In Romans 11, Paul talks about us being grafted in. He starts off the chapter by saying, “Has God rejected his people? By no means!” For us to read that from the apostle, then somehow preach that God is done with the Jewish people — it turns Scripture on its head.
Yet this ideology is prevalent in the church. Some of the most prominent evangelical voices are either virulently anti-Israel or, at the very least, are lukewarm to the idea of the Jewish state. This is also true of leaders from other Christian streams.
These teachers with millions of followers on social media and many thousands in their churches preach things like: God is done with the Jewish people. Or, We don’t need the Old Testament; the Jewish part of the Bible is no more. To me, these teachings are downright heresy. Jesus literally said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Torah, I have come to fulfill it.”
How can we in our Christian arrogance say, It’s all done now? Anti-Israel sentiment seems to be driven by biblical illiteracy. The less our generation knows the Bible, the more easily people are pulled into anti-Semitism and Israel hatred.
The Stream: Communities of color in the U.S. are known as highly religious. How does this correspond to views on Israel?
Pastor Washington: Not only does the black community continue to attend church to nurture our spiritual lives, we continue to be pro-Israel predominantly.
Politically, because of so much disinformation and lack of information, you sometimes have prominent black leaders who see the Palestinian cause as the righteous path. Unfortunately, some in the black community will even go so far as to condemn Israel.
While spiritual Zionism remains strong, this debate is very active within the black community. You do have some strong, loud voices that are anti-Israel — or, at least, questioning whether or not to stand with Israel.
Experiencing the Land Firsthand
The Stream: When was the last time you were in Israel and what did you experience?
Pastor Washington: I have the opportunity to go to Israel each year with CUFI. In February, I hosted a group of 50 multi-ethnic pastors — white, black, Filipino, many ethnic groups. Our trips to Israel are very unique. We see the holy sites and have briefings on current events.
We visited Rambam Hospital in Haifa, which is in the northern part of Israel close to the Lebanon border. They are doing amazing work there. Among other things, they are developing the cure for a kidney disease that is particularly prevalent among African-Americans.
This is one tiny example. I get to take pastors there who experience that themselves. Going to Israel allows me to experience the land and culture again, learn new things and see the word of God being fulfilled every time I visit.
The Stream: Some in the Jewish community claim Christian Zionism is motivated by proselytism. What is the goal of CUFI in fostering friendships across faith lines?
Pastor Washington: The whole 70-year history of modern Israel has been fraught with wars, intifadas and attacks. But God has been faithful to his word in calling the Jewish people back. The desert is blooming, everything from the technology to the produce to the diaspora miraculously returning from Europe, Africa and Asia.
For Christians, we see this as a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. God is restoring Israel, as he said he would. The prophet Isaiah tells us God would do it on the shoulders of the Gentiles, meaning that the nations would help in this effort. We are to rejoice in this effort.
It’s crucial for us to be on the side of Scripture. Over and over again, we see how the nations give God praise for what he does for Israel. In Isaiah 2, it says: Come let us go unto the mountain of the Lord… and all the nations shall flow to Zion
The Scriptures command us, as Gentiles, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, seek the welfare of Jerusalem and assist in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. It’s not an accident that our Savior is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah. By standing with Israel, we are doing nothing short of being obedient to the word of God.