The missionary mind: A psychological exploration of evangelizing in Israel – analysis

To effectively neutralize Christian missionaries in Israel, it may be helpful to first understand the psychological conditions that drive their behavior.

By Donald Zev Uslan, Vision Magazine

“The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice and the desire for personal independence, these are the features of the Jewish tradition which make me thank my stars that I belong to it.” Albert Einstein

This article is a preliminary exploration of the psychological and psychosocial motivation of missionary individuals and organizations in Israel who have the specific intent of blurring the lines and breaking down the walls of separation between Christianity and Jewishness.

Their mission in Israel is to create “One New Man” – a synthesis/marriage of Jew and Christian, in Jesus.

Some concepts first need definition here: “psychopathology” and “ethics.”

“Psychopathology” is the study of abnormal mental states including their development, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

“Ethics” are moral principles that govern people’s actions and behavior. Laws are theoretically based on ethics.

Both of these are obviously society and culture bound. One society may consider something a psychopathology, another not. One culture may think something is unethical, another culture may not.

Thus, this discussion about the psychology of the missionary mind brings into question: “With regards to missionaries and missionizing, what is the Israeli definition of psychopathology?”

What is our definition and understanding of unethical (thus immoral) behavior when it comes to missionizing?

Does our legal system have a clear classification of missionizing?

Is missionizing abnormal behavior in our country?

missionary cartoon

(Artwork: Elisheva Horowitz)

Psychological conjecture is a “soft science” open to interpretation. But it’s a starting point for a conversation about what motivates missionaries and the impact of their actions.

Discussions, both public and private, about missionaries in Israel are fraught with sectarian, financial and political vociferous debate. It appears nothing can tickle the proverbial paw of the lion in Israel faster and more furious than even a “parve” conversation about missionaries: who they are, their history, their impact, the stereotypes, their legal status and their fiscal impact (just to name a few some contentious points).

But little has been written about the psychological makeup of the missionaries themselves and what drives these groups and individuals to legitimize, sanction and justify the organized and oft-times deceitful invasion of the most personal, intimate and spiritual realm of the Other.

Here we will refer to the various actions of Christian missionaries in Israel, not mere Christians or Christianity.

People tend to conflate the two when this topic arises. And let’s be clear: this discussion is not intended to be a criticism of Christianity in general, Christian theology or ideology, churches, Christian culture, nor even their love and friendship and political and financial support for the State of Israel.

It is important to further understand that the very definition of a “missionary” is a person sent to a foreign country on a faith-based mission, who uses various ministries and services to religiously persuade and influence others. An “evangelist” tries to convert others to Christianity.

Up for discussion is not the freedom of an otherwise competent adult who, of his/her own volition, seeks and explores alternative religious or spiritual paths. We are talking about those employing methods of subterfuge, deception, seduction and confusion to lure members of the Jewish nation away from their community, family, faith, commitments and historical-national identity as the children of Israel.

What is the psychological and psychosocial makeup and motivation of missionaries to overtly and covertly, over the long-term, attempt to seduce vulnerable Jews in an effort to form “One New Man” – a Judeo-Christianity melding Judaized Christians and Christianized Jews.

What does it all mean?

On its website, the First Fruits of Zion (a “ non-profit Messianic Jewish educational ministry that focuses on Bible study and education for Christians and Jews”), an organization committed to missionizing to Jews in Israel, states: “One New Man refers to a composite unity of Jews and Gentiles… after spiritual regeneration in Christ… It is a renewed Israel, expanded to incorporate Gentile Christians as co-citizens.”

So how do we conjecture the psychological and psychosocial makeup and motivation of countless missionaries both in Israel and abroad who dedicate their lives to causing a covenantal people with over 4,000 years of collective memory, history and belief, to deviate from their path?

There is scant academic or rigorous scientific based research on the subject of the psychological make-up of missionaries, and little in the popular press.

Let’s posit some hypothetical psychological, quasi-psychological, psychosocial and character concepts and questions concerning the missionary mind:

  • Cognitive Theory: Cognitive theory is the assumption that thoughts are the main determining factors of emotions and behavior. A dissertation by Jennifer Eaton Dyer, Ph.D., entitled, “The Core Beliefs of Southern Evangelicals: A Psycho-Social Investigation of the Evangelical Megachurch Phenomenon” (Vanderbilt University, 2007) attempts to address many of the psychological and social questions raised above. Dr. Dyer states: “Cognitive Theory’s language of core beliefs, namely helplessness and unlovability, best describes the beliefs which shape the worldview, actions and behaviors of Evangelicals…”
  • Hostility: The long-term effort to form “One New Man” may be considered a form of conquest. Is there a camouflaged form of hostility behind the apparent kindness and stated goodness to help Jews endorse a belief in Jesus in place of their own belief system?
  • Cognition:  Holds that one acquires understanding and knowledge through their experiences and senses as well as thoughts. Traditional Jewish thinking is complex, with historical debate and argument a key cultural trait. Is the missionary mind unable to embrace complexity and confusion? Thus, is there a need to simplify that which is “the Jew” (i.e., the Jewish character and cognitive style) into a simplistic singular belief (i.e., belief in Jesus)?
  • Intra-psychic Psychology: Does becoming or being a “missionary” sent from the United States to Israel alleviate that individual’s normal human struggle with anxiety, shame, fear, doubt and guilt in a pre-determined manner? Is it a form of identity, a vocation, within which to find comfort and protection without self-doubt? Anxiety is a sensation, a feeling of dread, fear and nervousness. Does a missionary’s non-complex devotion alleviate anxiety due to its predictability?
  • Identity Psychology: An individual’s identity is their own sense of self and their self-image. Does conversionary activity provide the evangelist an affirmation of his identity, that is, who or what they are. “I am good because I love Jesus and want Jews to love Jesus. I shall make them… me!”
  • Defensiveness: Defined as exhibiting behaviors that are meant to protect oneself. Is the quote above from Albert Einstein (“The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice and the desire for personal independence… are the features of the Jewish tradition…”)  a “red flag” to an evangelist? Are these Jewish Peoplehood features antagonistic to the missionary mind? Are these characteristics something to be subdued, restrained, contained? Does Jewish identity or the Jewish worldview present a form of threat to the missionary’s narrative, an intrusion into their systemic beliefs that needs quashing?
  • Stagnation Psychology: Defined as the failure to find a way to play a role in society, community or family. Is the “mission” of the missionary endeavor in Israel providing  religious renewal that, without the challenge of conversion of Jews, would stagnate?
  • Emotional Symbiosis: Symbiosis is the attempt to have a mutually beneficial relationship with features that could best be described as parasitic. These individuals have a restricted ability to be aware of, respect, appreciate or comprehend another. Those missionizing to vulnerable Jews and Jewish populations fail to understand or accept the pain to the community, the family and the Jewish people.
  • Envy: Does the evangelical zeal to combine with Jewishness harken back to its separation from the orthodox ritualistic and scholarly roots of Catholicism and other high churches and thus is an effort to invigorate and incorporate more ritual and structure (but not debate)?
  •  Sociopathy:
    • Organizational and Financial Sociopathy: Missionary organizations have successfully embedded themselves into many Israeli communities and influenced religious and political leaders anxious to accept their economic and political power. This has led to infiltrations into Israeli governmental and quasi-governmental bodies, utilizing the legal system to protect missionary activity, preventing the passing of anti-missionary laws and regulation and curtailing implementation of existing barriers to false entry, residency, and citizenship. Missionary organizations have successfully promoted evangelism as “freedom of religion” rather than a deviant behavior or a form of anti-Semitism.
    • Individual and Communal Sociopathy: Michael Elk and his wife were successful covert missionaries operating for years in Jerusalem until outed by an Israeli investigative journalist and publicized by a former missionary. The Elks spent years in the physical and social guise of religious Jews fully inserted into various traditional religious Jewish roles with the long-term intent of influencing their communities into a blurring and blending of Jew and Gentile. Their outing caused significant and ongoing harm to those they had befriended, with resultant anger, trauma, denial, mistrust and doubt of legitimate gerrim (outsiders who join the Jewish people through an ancient ritual process). Some other covert missionaries have been outed, with no apparent consequences, and many more remain successfully covertly integrated into Israeli communities.
  • Compulsivity: Do evangelists embrace a type of compulsive behavior? Are missionaries characterized as adhering to converting Jews to allay otherwise intrapsychic anxiety, fear and confusion?
  • Spectrum Disorder: In the psychological literature, there are discussions about the nature of “autism spectrum disorder” (a form of which was  known as “Asperger’s Syndrome”). Are missionaries hampered with non-well-developed mirror cells such that they are unable to sense, empathize, experience the pain of those they are trying to convert and remove from their identity and long-standing relationships?
  • Narcissism: Do missionaries possess a form of “narcissistic personality” that wants only what it wants (and needs), and can’t see the world from another’s point of view? This condition is characterized by superficial and exploitative relationships, lack of empathy, a belief that they know better than the Other and the need for increased praise (to name just a few features).
  • Sexual Predation: Is there a sub-conscious sexual aspect to this conversionary zeal? Are missionaries seeking to exploit vulnerable Jews as an intimate form of dominance and control? Numerous articles and Facebook pages discuss sexual violations of vulnerable adherents amongst evangelicals. Is missionary zeal a form of sexual predatory behavior or an expression of sexual drive? Do missionaries possess this type of motive to seduce and induce by deception an individual to “join” an intimate relationship such as community (family)?
  • Social Reward Theory: Do evangelicals use their missionary activity in Israel as a form of reward for themselves because it provides social reward in their community? Does a missionary gain social approval and status from their peers for bringing a Jew into the fold of Jesus belief?
  • Sales Psychology: This is a process of analyzing and understanding the psyche of “the Jew” then using emotion rather than logic and reason to “close the sale.” Research indicates that the financial support of missionaries in Israel is a “respectable” job, secure, dependable… perhaps a form of salesmanship, an occupation like any other occupation but with the façade of “doing good” (at least in the evangelical community).
  • Competitive Psychology: This is the desire to surpass others. Are various missionary organizations in the United States and Israel tantamount to “big business” – a religious form of entrepreneurship? Is there competition for influence and power between missionary organizations?
  • Pathological lying: This defines a person who lies frequently, who tells untruths. They lie extensively and extravagantly without worrying about the outcome of the lies on others; it is a habit and they often believe their own lies. Pathological lying may be an indication of other very severe mental health disorders, including antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and delusions.  Professional sources indicate there are consequences for pathological liars, including the failure of relationships and friendships, as well as potential legal problems, including fraud.

Since 1967,  India – a secular and majority Hindu country – has defined missionizing as unethical and established strong anti-conversionary laws. Some states in India have passed bills that “protect individuals from unlawful conversion from one religion to another by ‘force, misrepresentation, coercion, influence, allurement or by any other fraudulent means’.”  “Punishment ranges from a jail term of 1-5 years and a fine, making it a non-bailable offence.” (Ananya Varma, Republic World, 23/12/2021)

Should Israeli society consider missionizing a type of aberrant psychological behavior? Should Israel consider missionizing unethical?

Perhaps we should also conjecture the psychological and psychosocial makeup and motivation of those among us in the Jewish community who empower and ignore missionary inroads within Israel and their designs on the Jewish people.

One wonders what Albert Einstein would say.