Evangelical Texas Governor Rick Perry and Pastor John Hagee have joined forces to bring a branch of Texas A&M University to Nazareth. The "Peace Campus" will work towards fostering better relations between Jews and Arabs and has plans for 5000 students to attend. Most of the funding for the project will be provided by US donors.
According to the New York Times, Perry has played a supporting role in the project, while Hagee describes his role as the "messenger boy". The main man behind the endeavor is A&M's chancellor, John Sharp, a pro-Israel Catholic who for years has aspired towards "having a presence in Israel" for the University.
ABC News reports that Chancellor Sharp said that "the city [Nazareth], best known as the place of Jesus' childhood, was chosen after consulting with Israeli President Shimon Peres."
The Jerusalem Post reports that President Peres "emphasized that the project represented the common denominator of the Holy Land in that Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel as well as holy to Christians."
The Washington Times quoted Governor Perry as saying that the A&M deal would “further bind Texas and Israel, which have much in common — in traditional values such as taking care of yourself and your family."
Shimon Peres and Rick Perry - Associated Press (AP)
Many media sources are making the point that no other American university has opened a branch campus in Israel until now. However that is not exactly true. There is the large satellite campus of the Mormon Brigham Young University (BYU), on Mount Scopus, which was opened to students in 1988. It should be noted that BYU-Jerusalem prominently displays a link to their non-proselytizing agreement on their homepage.
On March 24, 2009, Southeastern University (SEU), a Christ-centered institution located in Lakeland, Florida, opened the doors to its branch in the heart of Jerusalem. The accredited university trains missionaries and is affiliated with Assemblies of God Ministries, which, needless to say, have no such non-proselytizing agreement with the State of Israel. The 13,500 square foot five-story building in Jerusalem’s downtown Nachalat Shiva neighborhood was leased to the University in a deal arranged by messianic/evangelical attorney Calev Myers.
SEU was campaigning to raise the funds to purchase the building but it seems evangelist Mike Evans beat them to it. Evans purchased the building and is converting it into a museum of “Christian Love for the Jewish People”. At this time we do not know what type of arrangement, if any, SEU has made with Evans.
Evangelical donations are making an impact on Israel's educational institutions. Although not on the same scale as Texas A&M, The Netanya Academic College (NAC) has received sizeable donations from Pastor John Hagee and his wife, Diana. The Jewish Heritage Center at NAC carries the Hagee name, as does the Chair for Christian-Jewish Dialogue. In addition to promoting activities on campus to bring Jews and Christians closer, Pastor Hagee was instrumental in establishing the synagogue on campus. Hagee also supported the recruitment of the campus rabbi Moshe Pinchuk, who now directs NAC's Dr. John and Diana Hagee Jewish Heritage Center.
When evangelical pastors start building our synagogues and Judaic studies departments and have their say in recruiting our rabbis, we are potentially placing the foundations of Judaism at risk. Once again, appropriate red lines need to be drawn.
That the Texas A&M Nazareth branch will be serving a mix of Arab, Jewish and international students is also being underscored in media reports. For example Perry told the San Antonio Express that, “the real beauty of what Texas A&M is putting forward is this campus where Muslims and Jews and Christians have the opportunity to study together.”
Yet Israel’s institutions of higher learning have always been open to Arabs, Christians and international students of all creeds.
A lot of people associate Texas A&M University with their football team. In the near future, if Pastor Hagee builds a sports Superdome in Nazareth, grander than the facility he built in Ariel, one can only hope that the stadium will not be used by Texas Governor Rick Perry for a mass prayer rally, such as the spectacle he held in a Texas stadium in 2011 in which a number of speakers openly and shamelessly prayed for the conversion of the Jews.