Every once in a while I am blessed with the opportunity to act as God’s fool. Last night was one of those times.
Just prior to Thanksgiving I traveled to Israel with a small group of Nashville rabbis and Evangelical pastors. Last night we convened an open forum to discuss our first-of-its-kind journey with the community at large. Hundreds of people attended. For the most part we focused on a number of amazing moments of deep dialogue that occurred between us, and while it is my habit to play Devil’s Advocate in such settings, I kept myself under control, and happily joined in the Jewish-Evangelical camaraderie. And then I got carried away.
An audience member asked a question regarding the fate of the Jews in the Evangelical scheme of things. The pastors spoke passionately about God’s eternal covenant with the Jewish people and how the modern State of Israel was proof of God’s steadfast love of the Jews. As they spoke I kept waiting for something more. As I heard the question, the person was not asking about the political fate of the Jews in this world, but the eternal fate of the Jews in the world to come.
While I applaud and welcome Christian Zionism and its love of and support for Israel, I had learned, or thought I had learned, that in addition to their belief that God would resettle the Jews in Israel the relationship between God and the Jews was such that they had a special place in Heaven that did not require them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I swear to Krishna I heard this from the pastors while I was in Israel.
Proud of my evangelical friends’ theological liberalism I took the microphone and shared that teaching with the crowd, inviting the pastors to affirm that I had heard them correctly.
Dead silence. A dead, dark, deafening silence that sucked the heads of my colleagues deep into their shoulders. The kind of silence neither Rachel Carlson nor Clarice’s lambs could never know. A silence so painful I smelled brimstone rising around my chair.
Suddenly our moderator, a Vatican Two Catholic who believed God, like Motel Six, left a light on for all people, said, “Well, I want to thank you all for coming. Good night.”
Really, that is how the evening ended. A ninety-minute Jewish-Evangelical love-fest ruined by five seconds of, “What, you still think I’m going to burn in Hell for all eternity? Damn!”
To be fair, one Evangelical panel member came up to me afterward and copped to being the one who told me Jews were going to Heaven, but admitted to being the odd person out theologically. I just heard what I wanted to hear. I do that a lot.
I am not proud of ending the evening on a down note. It was not my intent. In fact, I had intended the opposite. But if someone had to point out that the Emperor wore no clothes, I am glad it was me.