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May 1, 2017 1:56 pm

At Evangelical Press Association, Israel Serves as Unifying Force

avatar by Nicole Foy / JNS.org

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A stack of newspapers. Photo: Daniel R. Blume via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – At the annual convention for American Christian media early last month, support for for Israel served as a unifying force for a community finding itself on opposing sides of some polarizing political issues.

The Jewish state’s place at the Evangelical Press Association’s (EPA) three-day meeting was evident in the conference’s list of co-sponsors, which included Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, American Friends of Magen David Adom and the forthcoming Washington, DC-based Museum of the Bible, which will house the Green Collection, one of the world’s largest private collections of biblical relics and manuscripts. (Steve Green — the collection’s eponymous owner, the museum’s chairman and president of national retail chain Hobby Lobby — gave the EPA conference’s concluding keynote address.)

Though the conference included a number of programs addressing divisions within EPA membership and readership since the contentious election of President Donald Trump, Israel remains one issue on which a “majority of [members] really have” a shared “commitment and strong feeling,” said Jill Daly, the Midwest director for the Israel’s Tourism Ministry.

Daly expressed hope that, even as antisemitism and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement continue to gain traction on American college campuses, current and future members of the evangelical press — including dozens of student journalists at the EPA conference — would counter the usual narrative about Israel found in mainstream media.

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“These people become ambassadors for us, the voice of support for Israel,” said Daly.

Many EPA members and conference attendees have visited Israel on media trips with Daly, who said she looks forward to guiding similar programs this fall.

Dwight Widaman — the outgoing treasurer for the EPA board of directors, as well as co-publisher and editor of the Kansas City Metro Voice — has attended three press trips to Israel with the Ministry of Tourism. He said the EPA readily recognizes the special relationship that evangelical Christians have historically maintained with Israel.

“Partnering with Jewish organizations and the Ministry of Tourism provides unique opportunities for journalists to delve into and explore that relationship and its relevance to the Christian faith,” Widaman said. “With our readership demographics changing, it is even more important to reintroduce Israel to a new generation evangelicals — often for the first time — and stress the importance of that relationship.”

Conference attendees were also able to catch an advance screening of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “In Our Hands: The Battle For Jerusalem,” a docudrama recounting the battle for the Old City of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War, told through the eyes of Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade.

“I definitely think our leadership in the EPA wants good relations in Israel, with the Jewish press, and is looking to write stories about that unique relationship between the evangelical community and Israel….It is the birthplace of our faith,” said Widaman.

But Lamar Keener, executive director of the EPA, emphasized, “We are not an activist organization.”

“We do not take positions,” he said. “We do not hold press conferences and announce that our position is this, or we have a resolution to do this. We have a diverse membership, so we really try to avoid those kinds of issues, other than presenting them in a forum with multiple viewpoints.”

The focus of the conference, said Keener, was education, professional development and building relationships.

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