When interfaith and Jewish ethics collide: Giving platform to Christian missionaries – opinion

Israeli political leaders, media personalities and even rabbis are giving a platform to Christian missionaries for fear of losing evangelical support.

By Ellen W. Horowitz, VisionMag

Within the past year and a half there have been several high-profile evangelical missionary outrages that have posed, and continue to present, direct challenges to Israel’s leadership and to state and quasi-government institutions.

Israeli politicians and diplomats are experts at sweeping interfaith scandals under the rug, lest embarrassing episodes jeopardize fragile Christian-Jewish alliances.

But it’s nothing less than shameful to see just which personalities Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) has chosen to rehabilitate in time for the Fifth Christian Media Summit, taking place on November 11th. And it’s no less disgraceful that the participants, including leading political leaders, scholars, journalists, and rabbis either failed to perform reasonable due diligence or have seemingly chosen to sacrifice their obligation of upholding the integrity of the Jewish people and the State of Israel on the altar of faith-based diplomacy.

In June 2020, international headlines were made when the Israeli Cable and Broadcasting Authority pulled God-TV’s license to broadcast, or rather proselytize, to all of Israel. God-TV’s President and CEO Ward Simpson ran a bombastic and strident missionary campaign declaring his intention to evangelize the Jews, in Hebrew, via the HOT Cable network: “God has supernaturally opened the door for us to bring the gospel of Jesus into the homes, lives and hearts of his Jewish people… There are 9 million people in Israel who need to hear the gospel of Jesus.”

And yet, the GPO saw fit to “reinstate” Ward Simpson as a respected media personality by promoting him as a featured speaker at the upcoming media summit.

Another personality appearing at the Christian Media Summit is COGIC’s (Church of God in Christ) Bishop Glenn Plummer.

In October 2020, Plummer (“the First Bishop of Israel”) and his wife (“the First Lady of Israel”) announced that they were making “aliya.” Much of Bishop Plummer’s rhetoric on YouTube, as well as COGIC’s missions’ itineraries, reports and press releases were focused on outreach and missions to the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel.

In fact, it’s been reported that COGIC has already established several Christian congregations in and around those communities.

If there was any doubt regarding intentions, in June 2021, Bishop Plummer – who continues to reside in Israel – was appointed as COGIC’s Vice President of World Missions. COGIC’s World Missions Vision statement says, in no uncertain terms, that they are missionaries going to foreign countries to carry the gospel to those who have not yet heard it and to try to “win them to Christ.” COGIC’s World Missions page also features Bishop Plummer surrounded by a large group of male and female Ethiopian IDF soldiers.

And then there is Pastor Mike Evans, founder of the Jerusalem Prayer Team (JPT) and the Friends of Zion Museum (FOZ), who gained notoriety as an evangelist leading the “messianic Jewish” missionary movement on college campuses in the 1970s and ’80s. His conversionary efforts directed at young Jews were so menacing that the Jewish Community Relations Council’s (JCRC)  and American Jewish Committee  (AJC) formed an emergency task force to fight him. At that time Evans pulled the “antisemitic” card on concerned Jewish leadership saying, “For Jewish people to demand that we stop being Jews is anti-Semitic – no one has the right to take our Jewish heritage away from us.”

According to a publication on Missiology, “he [Evans] offered to send a yellow Jewish star, reminiscent of those forced on Jews by the Nazis, that Jewish believers could wear to identify themselves as Jews!”

Forty-plus years later, the now reinvented Dr. Evans claims to be the leader of 77 million Christian Zionists and his rhetoric isn’t much better. In June 2021, he made major headlines by calling Naftali Bennett a “disgusting disappointment” and accusing him of “shitting on the face” of U.S. evangelicals. He compared the opposition to then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “rabid dogs” and suggested he knew how the Holocaust happened – referring to German Jews drunk with pride.

Even if the volatile messianic evangelist, turned “Christian Zionist” author, has apologized for these highly publicized rants, surely the GPO can do better than to grant legitimacy to the likes of Mike Evans.

To her credit, Haaretz reporter Judy Maltz did call the GPO to task for inviting Evans to participate in the summit. It’s not clear, however, why Maltz focused exclusively on Evans, when there are other high profile and highly problematic evangelical personalities being featured at the event.

But Maltz was able to elicit telling responses from GPO Director Nitzan Chen: “Asked whether Evans has in the past or this year provided financial or other sponsorship to the event, Chen said that the GPO ‘occasionally uses’ the media center that belongs to the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, which Evans founded.”

Chen also told Maltz that he was not aware of any opposition to Evans’ participation among the other scheduled speakers at the event. But there is opposition among attendees.

While it’s unfortunately unlikely that many of our political leaders, diplomats and media personalities are up to the test, several prominent rabbis are also scheduled to participate in the Christian Media Summit.

Unlike more insular rabbinic figures in the Jewish world, both Rabbis Yitzḥok Adlerstein and Avraham Cooper are no strangers to Jewish-Christian interfaith happenings and the very real possibility of pitfalls.  One would have hoped they would have done some vetting before agreeing to be included on the same platform as Messrs. Simpson, Plummer and Evans.

Rabbis Adlerstein and Cooper are also accomplished in the areas of Jewish law, ethics and social action, which makes their appearance at the summit not just particularly awkward, but plain wrong.

The inclusion of evangelists who openly challenge the State of Israel’s leadership — or who flaunt their missionary agendas and challenge Jewish identity — efface the dignity, respect, integrity, and humanity that should characterize any meetings between the State of Israel and members of other faith communities. It’s offensive. These events are no more than grotesque kowtowing displays motivated by a real “fear” of losing evangelical support.

The buck must stop somewhere. One wonders what would happen if scholars, educators, and all concerned Jewish leaders in both the public and private sectors (including rabbis) were presented with a clear and reasonable document calling for a cessation of missionary activity targeting the Jewish people in Israel. Would you sign? Or could you sign, given the current scope of evangelical influence in the Jewish state?

Note: The writer has written to Rabbis Adlerstein and Cooper and will publish an update once responses are received.