By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
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By Alan Scherstuhl
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"At this point and for all future mails it is important for me to note that this country has very stiff anti-missionary laws," she warns the followers back home. [D]iscretion is required in all mails. This is particularly important to understand when people write mails or ask about organization efforts regarding such."
Her boss, Pastor Upton, displays a photograph on the Apostolic Congress website of a meeting between himself and Beny Elon, Prime Minister Sharon's tourism minister, famous in Israel for his advocacy of the expulsion of Palestinians from Israeli-controlled lands.
His spokesman in the U.S., Ronn Torassian, affirmed that "Minister Elon knows Mr. Upton well," but when asked whether he is aware that Mr. Upton's staffer may be breaking Israel's anti-missionary laws, snapped: "It's not something he's interested in discussing with The Village Voice."
In addition to its work in Israel, the Apostolic Congress is part of the increasingly Christian public face of pro-Israel activities in the United States. Don Wagner, author of the book Anxious for Armageddon, has been studying Christian Zionism for 15 years, and believes that the current hard-line pro-Israel movement in the U.S. is "predominantly gentile." Often, devotees work in concert with Jewish groups like Americans for a Safe Israel, or AFSI, which set up a mostly Christian Committee for a One-State Solution as the sponsor of last year's billboard campaign. The committee's board included, in addition to Upton, such evangelical luminaries as Gary Bauer and E.E. "Ed" McAteer of the Religious Roundtable.
AFSI's executive director, Helen Freedman, confirms the increasingly Christian cast of her coalition. "We have many good Jews, of course," she says, "but they're in the minority." She adds, "The liberal Jew is unable to believe the Arab when he says his goal is to Islamize the West. . . . But I believe it. And evangelical Christians believe it."
Of Jews who might otherwise support her group's view of Jews' divine right to Israel, she laments, "They're embarrassed about quoting the Bible, about referring to the Covenant, about talking about the Promised Land."
Pastor Upton is not embarrassed, and Helen Freedman is proud of her association with him. She is wistful when asked if she, like Upton, has been able to finagle a meeting with the president. "Pastor Upton is the head of a whole Apostolic Congress," she laments. "It's a nationwide group of evangelicals."
Upton has something Freedman covets: a voting bloc.
She laughs off concerns that, for Christian Zionists, actual Jews living in Israel serve as mere props for their end-time scenario: "We have a different conception of what [the end of the world] will be like . . . Whoever is right will rejoice, and whoever was wrong will say, 'Whoops!' "
She's not worried, either, about evangelical anti-Semitism: "I don't think it exists," she says. She does say, however, that it would concern her if she learned the Apostolic Congress had a representative in Israel trying to win converts: "If we discovered that people were trying to convert Jews to Christianity, we would be very upset."
Kim Johnson doesn't call it converting Jews to Christianity. She calls it "Circumcision of the Heart"a spiritual circumcision Jews must undergo because, she writes in paraphrase of Jeremiah, chapter 9, "God will destroy all the uncircumcised nations along with the House of Israel, because the House of Israel is uncircumcised in the heart . . . [I]t is through the Gospel . . . that men's hearts are circumcised."
Apostolics believe that only 144,000 Jews who have not, prior to the Second Coming of Christ, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah will be saved in the end times. Though even for those who do not believe in this literal interpretation of the Bibleor for anyone who lives in Israel, or who cares about Israel, or whose security might be affected by a widespread conflagration in the Middle East, which is everyonethe scriptural prophecies of the Christian Zionists should be the least of their worries.
Instead, we should be worried about self-fulfilling prophecies. "Biblically," stated one South Carolina minister in support of the anti-Road Map billboard campaign, "there's always going to be a war."
Don Wagner, an evangelical, worries that in the Republican Party, people who believe this "are dominating the discourse now, in an election year." He calls the attempt to yoke Scripture to current events "a modern heresy, with cultish proportions.
"I mean, it's appalling," he rails on. "And it also shows how marginalized mainstream Christian thinking, and the majority of evangelical thought, have become."
It demonstrates, he says, "the absolute convergence of the neoconservatives with the Christian Zionists and the pro-Israel lobby, driving U.S. Mideast policy."
The problem is not that George W. Bush is discussing policy with people who press right-wing solutions to achieve peace in the Middle East, or with devout Christians. It is that he is discussing policy with Christians who might not care about peace at allat least until the rapture.
The Jewish pro-Israel lobby, in the interests of peace for those living in the present, might want to consider a disengagement.