The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel

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The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel. By Caitlin Carenen. New York: New York University Press, 2012. xvii + 265 pp.

Caitlin Carenen's historical analysis of American Protestants' changing relationship with American Jews and Israel from 1933 to 2008 serves as a welcome addition to the already extensive literature on American Zionism and, in particular, the growing scholarly field of Christian Zionism. The Fervent Embrace argues that Protestant clergy and lay leaders, on the whole, experienced a shift in attitudes from anti-Semitism to enthusiastic support for Israel during the twentieth century. Liberal Protestants, particularly members of the American Christian Palestine Committee (ACPC), advocated for a Jewish homeland in Palestine based on humanitarian concerns and political pragmatism, whereas evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants later "embraced" Israel for eschatological reasons.

By framing the first two chapters in the context of Hitler's rise to power and the ensuing Holocaust, Carenen ably demonstrates that many American Protestants focused more on the schism within the German Evangelical Church concerning the status of German Jewish converts to Protestantism, termed "non-Aryan Christians," than on the escalating violence against Jews during the 1930s. The systematic Nazi annihilation of Jews, along with the persecution of other religious, ethnic, and institutional bodies deemed opponents to the German government, including the church, led many American liberal Protestants to call for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, echoing the entreaties of American Jewish Zionists. The second chapter, arguably Carenen's strongest and most fascinating, details the establishment of the ACPC as a liberal Protestant Zionist organization dedicated to political lobbying for a Jewish homeland. Comprised of members of the United States Congress (Harry Truman served as a member during his Senate years), ministers, theologians, and influential lay leaders, the ACPC viewed itself as a corrective to the perceived centuries of Christian injustices inflicted on Jews. In contrast to the liberal Protestant constituency of the ACPC, which reflected the slowly changing attitudes toward Jews among mainline Protestants, evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants, who had retreated from politics after the 1925 Scopes Trial, viewed the debate for a Jewish national home as religiously significant but still remained on the political sidelines in the 1930s and 1940s.

The book's later chapters effectively highlight the various tensions present in American Protestant support for Israel. Although Carenen devotes much of her analysis to liberal and conservative Protestant supporters of a Jewish state in Palestine and later Israel, she acknowledges the presence of Protestant anti-Zionists via a discussion of the American Friends of the Middle East and this organization's efforts to combat the pro-Israel rhetoric of the ACPC. Further, Israeli military maneuvers during the 1956 Suez War and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War served as watershed moments for American Protestant humanitarian concerns and Christian theology. …