I grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois. My family were members of South Park Church, whose main claim to historic fame may be that it dismissed Bill Hybels as its youth leader, sending him on his journey to found Willow Creek.
Like most evangelical churches shaped after World War II, our church’s theology included the kind of interpretations of the “end times” found in Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind novels. I recall some of those complex charts on walls of Sunday school rooms with passages from Daniel and Revelation giving clues to current events and fueling expectations that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was drawing near.
My dad was a business executive, and two of his associates—Wally Stolkin and Sid Luckman, the former Chicago Bears quarterback—became close family friends. Wally and Sid were both Jewish. So I first came to know the Jewish community as a child through these relationships.
I was theologically curious as a young boy. Like other evangelicals in the 1950s, I would hear interpretations of world events that were pointing to Christ’s return. Once, when I was probably 9 or 10, Mom was explaining to me how exciting it was that the Jews were returning to Israel. This was concrete evidence that biblical prophecies were being fulfilled and that the Second Coming was near. And I remember asking, “When are Wally and Sid going to move there?”
This was the first time in my story that the theology of evangelical Zionism began colliding with actual facts and relationships in my experience. That would happen many more times.
In 1970, I was working for Sen. Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon. He decided to take a trip to the Middle East. As governor of Oregon, he had visited Israel more than once, getting to know figures such as Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, Golda Meir, and others. But this time, he decided to visit a couple of Palestinian refugee camps in addition to meeting with political leaders.