Pews for Jews

A local evangelical is building a local connection to Israel.

First, evangelical pastor and onetime Bush campaign activist Joe Fuiten brought high-profile conservative author Dinesh D’Souza to speak at his Cedar Park Church in Bothell. A month later, on Dec. 2, Fuiten had the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Daniel Ayalon, deliver a speech to his congregation just days after the diplomat participated in the Mideast peace conference in Annapolis.

Fuiten concedes that he’s making “a little” effort to step up his profile in these parts as a leading religious figure. To this end, he flew in Ayalon, who left his ambassadorial post last year and is now co-chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that supports Jewish immigration to Israel, especially for his church’s event. When Fuiten first met Ayalon three years ago at a function here, the pastor says, he told the Israeli that “one of the weaknesses in the Jewish approach has been the failure to connect with the evangelical world.”

Evangelicals are “overwhelmingly Zionist,” according to the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council. Fuiten, though, has a stronger connection than most evangelicals to Israel. He travels to Israel every other year (12 times so far), sometimes bringing large delegations with him, and periodically takes church offerings for groups supporting the Jewish state. Fuiten also leads his congregation in celebration of many Jewish holidays, including Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), at which time he blows an ancient type of horn called the shofar. At Passover, he holds a seder.

“We are people of the Bible,” Fuiten explains, “and the Old Testament is part of our Bible, too.”

Pride of place in Cedar Park’s sanctuary is given to a 4-foot-tall, gold-leafed replica of a menorah from the Second Templedepicted in an ancient Roman relief called the Arch of Titus. Ina separate chapel on the sprawling church grounds, a huge paintingshows Jesus in a blue-and-white Jewish prayer shawl.

“In a way, it’s a positive development,” says Anson Laytner, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s Seattle chapter. “So much of Christian history is based on a rejection of Jesus’ Jewishness.” On the other hand, Laynter is not so sure about the blending of Jewish and Christian traditions so that neither is distinct. Fuiten, for his part, says that he interprets Jewish traditions through a certain lens. “All point in one way or another to Christ,” he says.