WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Leaders of the Christian Coalition drew strong parallels linking interests of political conservatives, Israel and God at the group's national "Road to Victory: God Bless America -- One Nation Under God" conference.
Headlining the Oct. 11-12 meeting in the nation's capital, a "Support for Israel" rally featured Jewish-style dance and coalition founder Pat Robertson proclaiming: "There are millions of us [conservative American evangelical Christians], and we will stand with Israel regardless of what the United Nations does."
Coalition president Roberta Combs, who took over for Robertson in December, said support for Israel has always been integral to her faith, and conveyed to Israelis her organization's backing. "We want to pledge from the Christian Coalition that we will always be there for you," Combs said.
At the meeting's convention hall, booths featuring pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian literature nearly outnumbered those selling devotional books and music. The sign for the booth run by the Israeli State Tourism of Ministry read: "No One Belongs Here More Than You."
Coalition leaders said more than 10,000 attended the rally -- moved indoors because of rain and fear of sniper attacks. Others estimated the crowd at closer to 3,000, however.
Many observers predicted that Combs would use the meeting as an attempt to "revive" the coalition from recent years of declining influence and membership.
Robertson dismissed such characterizations as attempts by the "liberal media" to obscure the fact that the coalition has "always been here."
"This movement is alive," he said. "We aren't going anywhere."
Rep. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) echoed Robertson's view. "We're here today in Washington to let the political establishment know that the Christian Coalition is still in business ? and is more effective than ever," he said.
Combs said that, since taking over the group's leadership, God had inspired her to intensify the spiritual life of the coalition. The Washington conference featured keynote sermons by St. Louis-based pastor Joyce Meyer.
Combs said she felt God was telling her, "Bring the spiritual with the political; pray first, then participate."
The group still found room for two Mormons -- Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) -- among the more than 15 members of Congress to address the coalition. All were Republicans.
Like several of the speakers, Istook emphasized the importance for religious conservatives to elect a Republican Congress in the upcoming elections to ensure that President Bush's most conservative nominees to federal judgeships are approved.
"This battle that the president is engaged in on who can get into the judiciary is important for some of these religious-expression cases," Istook said. "A lot of these things are right on the edge, and we can turn them around."
Several speakers spoke derisively of the concept of the separation of church and state. "The notion of separating church and state with such policies as disallowing prayer in public schools is a deception from Satan," Meyer said.
One voice of dissent to the pro-Israel theme came from a small group of Orthodox Jewish protesters demonstrating outside the convention center. Holding signs reading "Zionism and Judaism are extreme opposites" and "Israel is a cancer for Jewry," members of a group called Neturei Karta International said actions of the Israeli government toward Palestinians violate Judaism and stir up anti-Semitic sentiment in Arab and Muslim countries.
"We were sent into exile by God and clearly forbidden by God to return to the land before the coming of the Messiah," said Rabbi Yisroel Weiss, the New York-based group's spokesman.
"Zionism was started 200 years ago by non-believing, non-practicing Jews," Weiss said, and the result of the Zionist movement has "caused Palestinian blood and Jewish blood to be spilled in rivers."
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