Rice for Dinner

Commentator “ulyankee” brings to my attention (cheers!) a column by Tim Chavez in The Tennessean. Chavez is discussing evangelicals, and he exhorts us: “Don’t Buy Stereotypes”:

After President Bush’s re-election, lots of pundits and self-acclaimed experts have been talking about evangelical Christians — who went to the polls in record numbers — like a blended species of The Beverly Hillbillies and Jim Jones of Guyana cultist infamy.

Chavez, like David Brooks in several much-discussed columns for the New York Times, wants us to understand that evangelicalism is more complex (and less weird and scary) than that. However, while David Brooks recently introduced non-evangelical Americans to the British evangelical intellectual John Stott, Chavez presents us with Rice Broocks, who in fact is a neo-Pentecostal revivalist. Of course, here Chavez is just following recent popular usage of the term “evangelical”: although I would say that the evangelical and Pentecostal/Charismatic traditions should be distinguished (Stott eventually rejected the Charismatic movement at his church, All Souls), there is clearly a significant (and increasing) overlap. And using “evangelical” to cover conservative Protestants as a whole is at least an improvement on “fundamentalist” or “religious right” (which I would only use for specific individuals or groups).

Pentecostalism, like evangelicalism, can boast some intelligent and moderate leading figures. Even the Charismatic-run news service ASSIST, which is terminally credulous when it comes to miracle healings and such, manages a generally spontaneous and thoughtful approach to its reporting of world news. But why has Chavez chosen Rice Broocks as his exhibit A, a man linked with the controversial Maranatha Campus Ministries?

Describing a dinner hosted by Broocks, Chavez is impressed by the diversity he finds there:

the evangelical Christians on hand last Saturday night were of practically every race and ethnicity. One minister and his wife were originally from Singapore…Yet here it was in one home. And in these evangelical ranks were lawyers, ministers, a Texas Supreme Court justice, a former NFL player, authors, lobbyists, real estate executives, three Tennessee elected officials, local judges and so many others more educated than me — a puny pundit.

But what really surprises him is this:

Then, among attendees and guests of honor, were people of the Jewish faith, who felt free in remarks to several hundred Tennesseans on hand to talk of the connection between faith and politics…This budding relationship between Jews and evangelical Christians is more natural than we’ve been led to believe.

What a discovery, and only a mere 26 years after Yona Malachy published American Fundamentalism and Israel and 18 years after Grace Halsell’s Prophecy and Politics: The Secret Alliance Between Israel and the U.S. Christian Right (to give just two examples, and leaving aside the many best-selling books published by Christian Zionists themselves over the last thirty years, as well as several decades of more thoughtful Jewish-Christian dialogue based on other foundations). Apparently the fact that his “evangelicals” were hosting some Jews and saying nice things about Israel proves the moderation of conservative Christianity.

But what Chavez completely misses is the “why”. The “people of the Jewish faith” dining with Broocks and Chavez actually represent the Israeli far right: MK Yuri Shtern is a former settler leader, and his National Union party advocates “voluntary transfer” of Palestinians from their homes in the name of “greater Israel” (1). Chavez says to us “Don’t Buy Stereotypes”, while the only reason Shtern met with Broocks’s Christian guests is because he wants to encourage stereotyping: the stereotype of the Jew as basically being God’s puppet, and the stereotype of the Arab as Muslim fanatic, the “wild man” descended from Ishmael (plus, in Chavez’s report, the stereotype of the godless European Arab-lover). These stereotypes are central to Christian Zionism, a movement that now appears to be gaining appeal beyond its premillennialist roots.

Broocks has been considered on this blog before. He is the President and co-founder of Morning Star International, a neo-Pentecostal denomination. Morning Star in turn oversees His People Ministries, a South African grouping that has churches in several other countries, including some that bear other names. Doug Giles’s Clash Church used to be called His People Miami, and it is not clear what links he maintains with this group or with Morning Star. Giles’s Clash Church site (under “pastor”) is cagey, saying only that he is overseen by unnamed “local, national and international leaders within the greater body of Christ”; he also still “speaks regularly” in South Africa, according to his Clash Radio site.

Recently, I came across a titbit about His People and Kenneth Meshoe’s African Christian Democratic Party (which has seven South African MPs and seventy councillors, and is also robustly Christian Zionist):

The ACDP is funded mainly by the Louis Group of Companies, who also publishes the ‘charismatic Christian’ magazine Today. To further complicate the picture, the Cape Town headquarters of the ‘His People’ movement, consisting of ‘charismatic’ extremists, is based in the buildings of the Louis Group in Century City. It can thus be presented as an interlocking organisation, with the ACDP as the political front, Today magazine as the propaganda mouthpiece, ‘His People’ as the religious front, and the Louis Group always in the background as financiers.

The site where this came from is run by South African Randian-libertarians, who are not my cup of tea, and no footnotes are included, so I decided to check this out for myself. Sure enough, the Louis Group describes itself as a Christian company, and lists under its “Social Responsibilities”:

NGO affiliations: The Ark, ACDP, Jabez Community Project, Transformation Africa ; His People Christian Church

Further, in an undated profile, CEO Dr Alan Louis identified his minister as Paul Daniel, who used to endorse Giles’s products until Daniel resigned from His People leadership after admitting adultery. How far these connections support the contention that the Louis Group “mainly finances” His People and the ACDP, or that the two must therefore be “interlocking” is impossible to judge, but these links are worth keeping an eye on.


(1) According to IsraelVotes, the National Union does say that “Arabs choosing to remain in [the West Bank and Gaza] would become full citizens of Israel”, but comments by former party leader Rehavam Zeevi (who was murdered in 2001) suggest that the “voluntary” nature of the transfer should not be taken too literally. At any rate, any Palestinians remaining would become “full citizens” of a Jewish state, not a bi-national one.