Jews, Joes, and Gentiles for Judaism

Arutz Sheva reports on the latest development within the Kahanist “Sanhedrin” in Israel:

A council of non-Jewish observers of the Seven Laws of Noah has been selected and will be ordained by the reestablished Sanhedrin in Jerusalem this January.

B’nai Noach, literally “Children of Noah,” known as Noahides, are non-Jews who take upon themselves the Torah’s obligations for non-Jews – consisting of seven laws passed on from Noah following the flood, as documented in Genesis (see below)… Rabbi Michael Bar-Ron, with the Sanhedrin’s blessing, travelled to the United States to meet with representatives of the Noahide movement and select members for the High Council.

The best-known of these Noahides is Vendyl Jones, the self-styled archaeologist previously profiled on this blog, who keeps claiming to be on the verge of revealing the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Bar-Ron met with Jones at this event.

The “Sanhedrin”, of course, has no official recognition in Israel, and its members consist of the Israeli theocratic right. It has received glowing reports from Christian Zionists like Hal Lindsey, who believe that its existence is a sign of Israel’s increasing restoration, and of the last days. However, the Sanhedrin’s plans to include recognition of these “Gentiles for Judaism” may cause some tension. Back to Arutz Sheva:

A third goal of the creation of the High Council and the Sanhedrin’s efforts in regard to the Noahide community, is to “transform the Noahide movement from a religious phenomenon – a curiosity many have not heard of – into a powerful international movement that can successfully compete with, and with G-d’s help bring about the fall of, any religious movement but the pure authentic faith that was given to humanity through Noach, the father of us all,” said emissary Bar-Ron.

The idea is not to make converts to Judaism, since only Jews by birth are required to follow all the commandments laid out in the Torah. The rest of us, though, should be following these seven rules:

Shefichat damim – Do not murder.

Gezel – Do not steal or kidnap.

Avodah zarah – Do not worship false gods/idols.

Gilui arayot – Do not be sexually immoral (engage in incest, sodomy, bestiality, castration and adultery [Glad that “and” isn’t an “or” – RB] )

Birkat Hashem – Do not utter G-d’s name in vain, curse G-d or pursue the occult.

Dinim – Set up righteous and honest courts and apply fair justice in judging offenders and uphold the principles of the last five.

Ever Min HaChai – Do not eat a part of a live animal.

So is Christianity among the “religious movements” which deserve to “fall”? Some more of Bar-Ron’s views are available in English on a website named Torah Voice, which deals with a third category; we all know about Jews and Gentiles, but there are also the “Joes”, descendents of the lost tribes. In discussing how the “Joes” can be included in Israel, Bar-Ron gives his views about Christianity (emphsis in original):

R. Bar Ron states: Because certain members of the Lubavitch community hold that the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, z’’l, was/is the messiah, the Sanhedrin “may” decide not to discriminate against those who hold Y’shua/Jesus to also be “an anointed one.”  Although believing in Jesus as a prophet, messiah, or tzadik is contrary to Jewish tradition and highly improper; such beliefs do not preclude the believer from becoming a kosher returnee to the Covenant of Abraham and the Israelite nation, according to Jewish law.  The absolute qualification is that no shi’tuf (association with the Deity) be made with Y’shua/Jesus, and that no prayers be directed to him, even as an intermediary.  Any Sadiq, a righteous man, be he Israelite or Gentile, must only have the most direct, unmediated, personal  relationship with HaShem (G-d).

The author of Torah Voice is Maggid ben Yosef (or “Maggid ben Yosseif”, “Maggid ben Yoseif”; formerly Dell Griffin), and he himself is a “Joe”. He got a brief mention in the Forward back in 2003, in a report of a Christian Zionist rally:

Many in the crowd identified themselves as “Joes” — Christians who have an affinity for Torah and try to adopt Jewish worship practices. The name refers to prophecies about the House of Joseph being scattered in the winds but being gathered in again before the end of days.

Maggid ben Yosef, president of Jerusalem Torah Voice, said Sunday’s event presented his “Joe-ish” group with a chance to take a dramatic stand. Ben Yosef’s organization has already mailed a copy of the King James Version of the Holy Bible to the White House, with more than a dozen specific admonitions and prophecies cited, to warn the president against pressuring Israel.

This definition is not quite accurate, though. For one thing, as with a Jew, it’s possible to be a Joe without realizing it, since in fact it’s genetic. Ben Yosef tells us:

Interest by non-Jews in the land and people of Israel and Torah has never been more noticeable.

This unexplainable “Israel thing” may have an explanation, however. A biblical one. Hashem (G-d) may be preparing vast numbers of long-assimilated descendants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to return to their ancient homeland. These stirrings, motivated by the Ru’ach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit or Spirit of Holiness) of Hashem, point to the future reunion of the Jewish descendants of Judah with the non-Jewish “Joes,” (descendants of Joseph), if not a remnant from all of the Northern Kingdom.

The only alternative, of course, would be that people like Ben Yosef are just ordinary folks, devoid of specially blessed DNA – which simply would not do. Ben Yosef also rejects the idea of Jesus as being God; instead, he was a holy man with a message about the restoration of the lost tribes. He claims to have found

conclusive evidence that Y’shua was not Deity, but rather renewed the Covenant to the Assimilation as a tzadik, consistent with the expectations of noted Jewish mystics concerning the role of the tzadikim

Further, Ben Yosef believes that the West Bank properly belongs to Joes like him, and his site includes a curious map which supposedly proves his point. Don’t worry about the present inhabitants: they can go to Gaza, while “the annihilation of the Palestinian population who remain in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank), is a biblical certainty” (Unsurprisingly, he’s also a fan of the late Meir Kahane). He also gives us some more details about both himself and Bar-Ron:

Maggid ben Yoseif  has Orthodox “smichah,” from the Rebbe Shani Dor, also known as the Breslov Hasid Rav Yisrael Tzvi Yehudah Schneider of Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel.  His beloved “Rav, esteemed teacher, Nachman mysticist, travel companion, prayer conspirator and Dodi,” of 13 years, was recently chosen to fill the 23rd seat in the Revived 71 Seat of Moshe known anciently as “The Sanhedrin.”

MbY is also in a dialogue with the Rabbi Michael Shelomo Bar-Ron, to whom Rebbe Shani-Dor passed his spiritual baton and blessing for the work of “bringing back Rachel’s kids.” R. Michael is one of the nine members of the revived Sanhedrin’s ruling council and the English spokesman for that council. Due to health issues, in January of 2005,  Rebbe Shani Dor instructed MbY to work with R. Michael.

However, ben Yosef and Bar-Ron are not in complete agreement about everything. Ben Yosef believes that Jesus had a “true message” about the restoration of the ten tribes into the West Bank; Bar-Ron asks ben Yosef to “leave Jesus out of it”. Bar-Ron also makes the following observations in a letter published on ben Yosef’s website:

As I specifically told Dr. Jones, I do believe there is a historical base for Anglo-Saxons to claim mixed Israelite descent, a source of inspiration to many to return to the Hebrew nation, and the Jewish People…Like Mr. Davidy, (albeit in your own unique style, and your own strong sense of purpose and destiny) continue to do what you’re doing, raising awareness of mixed Israelite ancestry of Northern Europe.  It’s powerful stuff.

OK, first off a sort of Christian who believes God will annihilate the Palestinians so he can live in the West Bank, and now a Jew who believes in British Israelitism. And I thought Prophet Yahweh was way out there…But Bar-Ron is not the only one; “Mr Davidy” is Yair Davidy (or Yair Davidiy, Yair Davidi), and his organization Brit-Am is devoted to the subject.

So, what about Bar-Ron and ben Yosef’s mutual guru, Shani Dor/Yisrael Schneider? Schneider is a long-time Greater Israel activist; back in 2003 he sent this message to protestors at an anti-road map rally in Houston, making reference to the Joes:

“Fight the road map! Israel’s greatest threat today is not from Arafat. It is from Bush and the State Department. No one is better prepared to fight this enemy than the children of Joseph in America. Bush and the State Department have raised a Palestinian flag over Joseph’s and Judah’s possessions. That flag must come down. The children of Joseph have the side of right and justice with them. But you must be united. Come down from the theological pinnacles which divide you and unite in the spirit of service and sacrifice. Make your stand united and the world will take notice.”

Like a dodgy British salesman selling fake aristocratic titles, it seems the “Sanhedrin” really knows its market among certain credulous Americans. And those of us cursed by fate to be neither a Jew nor a Joe can at least take solace in one thing: in God’s eyes, you’re only at the bottom of the pile if you’re a Palestinian.

UPDATE: Maggid ben Yoseif graces the comments section! He tells us that the Joes have been “excluded from consideration by the Sanhedrin”.

UPDATE 2: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach discusses the Noachides in the Jerusalem Post:

Already, there are whole Christian congregations that have removed the cross and steeple and transformed themselves into Noachide communities who reject the deification of Jesus, observe the Sabbath on Saturday rather than Sunday, study the Torah for its general prescriptions of a spiritual life, but do not embrace all the rituals of biblical law.

…The Jewish community should be spearheading this movement, and should fund a global campaign to have non-Jews join a Jewish confederation, if not adopt Judaism in its entirety.

This is not to knock Christianity or portray it as a lesser faith. On the contrary, Judaism and Christianity, both Godly religions, simply have vastly different appeals, even as they share a great deal in common. Christianity will always appeal to those who prefer a more corporeal religion, where God is incarnate in human form, just as Judaism will always appeal to those attracted to a more subtle and intangible God, and those who wish to approach God without intermediaries.

Give Me Oil in my Lamp

Zion Oil & Gas is back in the news. As readers may recall, this company has been in the news on and off for the past couple of years; CEO John Brown believes that the Bible provides a code which will lead to the discovery of oil reserves in Israel, and for the past few months he has been drilling away. Last year Hal Lindsey encouraged his readers to buy shares in the company – but as was revealed exclusively on this blog, he failed to disclose that his cousin, Ralph DeVore, owned a large share of the company, and that Lindsey’s puffing of the shares would therefore directly benefit his family. DeVore later fell out with Brown; Lindsey has been curiously quiet on the subject of oil in Israel since then. However, others at WorldNetDaily have since taken up the baton. Over to the inevitable Aaron Klein:

KIBBUTZ MA’ANIT, Israel – Is Israel sitting on an enormous oil reserve mapped out in the Old Testament that when found will immediately change the geopolitical structure of the Middle East and confirm the validity of the Bible to people around the world?

So believes John Brown, an evangelical Christian and founder and chairman of Zion Oil and Gas, a company he and others poured several million dollars into to drill a hole 15,000 feet deep that will as soon as next week tap a rock interval that may contain oil.

Or may not. Long-time WND followers may recall this article, from 1998:

IRVING, TX. — A $30 million, six-to-eight-month project to uncover the world’s largest oil field atop a salt dome at the southwest end of Israel’s Dead Sea, is expected to begin in early 1999, according to respected Texas oil man, Harold “Hayseed” Stephens.

… Stephens, a one-time “hell-raiser” and former pro football quarterback with the New York Titans, explained Israeli oil officials had approved his lease in early September and drilling equipment would likely arrive at the site early in the New Year.

…The Hebrew translation of Isaiah 45:3 reads: “I will shoot up to you deposits stored in valuable dungeon-type containers, so that you will know that I Am the Lord your God, who called you by name.” However, Stephens had his own version: “I will shoot up (Texas terms: I will gush up to you) deposits (oil deposits) that are stored in the valuable dungeon-type containers (oil traps) so that you will know that I Am the Lord your God Who called you by name.”

It seems it’s always just around the corner. That article also noted:

…Prominent born-again Christian oilmen have drilled in specific locations in Israel based on their interpretation of various Scripture references. Among them have been Gilman Hill, Andy Sorelle, Jr., and Canadian Lyle Harron. Hill invested $6 million at a drill site near Mount Carmel in the ’70s. It came up dry. Sorelle also drilled during the 80’s, on the Mediterranean, and spent millions on various leases throughout Israel. Harron spent nearly a decade at a Netanya lease, just north of Tel Aviv. Even the late Armand Hammer was dedicated to finding “black gold” offshore in the Mediterranean.

So why is Brown any different? Back to Klein:

Brown says he used a strategy explained to him by James Spillman, an evangelical minister and Bible scholar who lectured at his local church, to determine exactly where on the biblical map the oil might be.

WND encourages us to buy a book by the aptly-named Spillman and his son Steve, entitled Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil. James Spillman is deceased, but Steve Spillman is today due to appear on Farah Live.
So how does the Bible lead the way to oil? This is the late James Spillman’s “anatomy” theory, which we have seen before:

Brown, pointing to the Bible he says he always carries with him, referred to several biblical passages he is certain indicate where to find petroleum. He stressed that two passages, detailing God’s blessings to each of biblical patriarch Jacob’s 12 sons, are very specific:

“Let Asher be blessed … and let him dip his foot in oil.” – Deuteronomy 33:24

“Joseph is a fruitful bough by a well … blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that couches beneath shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head.” – Genesis 49: 22-26

…Mapping the tribes’ biblical territory indeed shows that Asher’s area resembles a giant foot “dipped” into the top, or “crown” area of the land of Joseph’s son, Manasseh.

And what will this mean? The book’s blurb on WND‘s shopping area tells us:

A major oil discovery in Israel will not only have a profound effect on that nation’s economy but also a potentially explosive political effect on the surrounding Arab nations. More importantly, says Spillman, the discovery of a huge oil reserve in Israel and its geo-political implications could be a precursor to last days events mentioned in Ezekiel 38, leading to the battle of Armageddon.

That’s the final bloody battle in which millions will perish, including most Jews, but for which we’re all supposed to look forward to.

John Brown in fact actually believes he is mentioned in the Bible, as his testimony on an older Zion Oil website explains (square brackets in original):

While visiting Israel with Alger Wolfe in May 1983, John Brown’s prayer to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was for oil to be found in Israel. This prayer and G-d’s specific instruction to John were based on the Biblical portion describing the Dedication of the First Temple in Jerusalem and Solomon’s prayers thereat. (I Kings 8:22-66)

…”Moreover concerning a stranger [John Brown], that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country [U.S.A.] for thy name’s sake: (for they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm); when he shall come and pray towards this house; hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to ALL that the stranger calleth to thee for [Oil for Israel]: that all the people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name.” (I Kings 8:41-43).

Some, however, take an alternative, controversial view that the Bible does not revolve around Americans and their energy wants. One such is Gordon Franz of Associates for Biblical Research, an organisation which can fairly be termed Biblically fundamentalist. Writing last year, Franz argued:

It is clear from the context that the oil in this passage is olive oil. The Hebrew word “shemen” is used 190 times in Scripture for “generally olive oil whether pure or prepared for various uses as perfume or ointment” (Austel 1980: 2: 937), and is never used for petroleum oil. Interestingly, the early rabbinic writings understand it to mean olive oil as well. In the tractate Menahoth on regulations concerning the meal offering in the Temple, the rabbis taught,”And let him dip his foot in oil: this refers to the territory of Asher which flowed with oil like a fountain” (Menahoth 85b). The context is talking about olive oil.

Franz also notes Spillman’s long-term influence:

A number of years ago an expose appeared in the Wall Street Journal with the headline, “Prophets and Profits Motivate Evangelicals Hunting for Israeli Oil” (Getschow 1985:1). The article describes some of the personalities and operations, and then goes on to list several states that have prohibited the sale of their “penny stocks” because of the suspect nature of these groups and their operations. At one prophecy conference, a book by Rev. Jim Spillman entitled The Great Treasure Hunt (1981) outsold the Bible (Getschow 1985: 16).

The new book is self-published by Steve Spillman’s True Potential Publishing, which is devoted to James Spillman’s work; an extract can be viewed here. It’s worth also taking a look at some of James Spillman’s other books, such as The Resurrection Clock:

What is the real meaning of the seventh day? Does quantum physics confirm the Bible regarding the Sabbath?

God has created a clock that will strike twelve at the very atomic moment of resurrection. The chimes of the Resurrection Clock are Sabbath days. Is each Sabbath telling us that our eternity is near? How close is the resurrection? Is it five minutes to twelve? One minute? The Resurrection Clock is ticking…

A short bio of James Spillman is rather uninformative, but further details can be gleaned from the web. Here’s one story:

In years gone by, Jim Spillman, a friend and a man of God, was one of the pastors at Melodyland Church, across from Disneyland in Southern California. One time a young lady whom he knew came up to him before a service and said, “Pastor, I think this is my day to be healed!” He noticed that one of her eyes was a little irregular and they did not move together.

It was a glass eye. However, after prayer from Spillman:

…While she was being prayed for, one of the ushers saw the glass eye come out of the right socket and begin to roll down the aisle. He retrieved it and put it in her right hand. He then noted some white, swirling substance in her right eye socket and saw an eye being formed under her eyelid.

This is well documented and was reported on Channel 9 in Los Angeles (1972), including testimonies by her parents and her doctor.

Probably not the only person to have rolled their eyes at Spillman, but with a testimony like that, how could one not want to invest in Zion Oil & Gas?

For those wanting daily updates, be sure to check out Zion Oil & Gas’s news section, and riveting daily reports:

September 22, 2005: Day #65 of completion operations. Finished in hole with bit and scraper, tagged top of cement at 4253 meters. Washed and reamed to 4270, drilled hard cement to 4346. Shut in for night.


(Image from Jesus’ General)

Opening the Chest of Joash

(Special thanks to a reader for tip and some links)

A couple of weeks ago, WorldNetDaily reported on an interesting religious charitable effort post-Katrina:

The charitable arm of a Louisiana pastors’ council is moving at full tilt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, providing everything from physical and spiritual sustenance to chainsaw crews to help in clean-up efforts.

PRC Compassion is a division of the Pastor’s Resource Council, a coalition of Louisiana churches and pastors formed several years ago to provide for community needs.

…Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum is on the group’s pastoral committee. Yesterday, he posted a message stressing the need for continued assistance in the state.

“The local churches in the state are supporting 10,000 people who lost everything,” Mills wrote. “At this point, there is no help from the federal government – Tony [Perkins of Family Research Council] has made every effort to get assistance from folks in the faith-based office at the White House to no avail.

The PRC itself is low-profile, and has no pre-Katrina web presence. However, the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) gives a bit of detail about the “community needs” the PRC is addressing:

Because LFF refuses to remain silent in this culture war, we want to provide an opportunity for pastors to arm themselves against the attack on the institution of marriage and other attacks on family values. This is the Pastors Resource Council.

We’ve identified 400 churches across the State who have joined the PRC and are committed to uniting and working together. We’re asking pastors to commit to four simple “Action Items.” Click the “Pastors Resource Council” title above to learn more!

Then, weirdly:

Many pastors have requested Adolf Hitler’s quote regarding his assessment of the pre-war church. Here it is.

The “Action Items” consist of: opposition to same-sex marriage; distribution of LFF materials; help with a voter registration push; and donation of cash to LFF. The Statewide Director is Rev. Mark Stermer of Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge. There is also a vaguely sinister logo that manages to make a Bible in silhouette look like a gun (see below). Can’t think why the “folks in the faith-based office” are dragging their heels…

The Beauregard Daily News gives further information:

The Pastors Resource Council (PRC) is a network of pastors and churches throughout the state. For the duration of the present relief effort, the PRC will include the Family Resource Council under the direction of Louisianian Tony Perkins and Louisiana Congressman Bobby Jindal. The effort itself is being headed-up by Executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum Gene Mills with great help from Paster Dino Rizzo of Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge.

But there’s also someone else involved, keeping a low profile. Back to the LFF website, where the section on its board includes a profile of a certain Lee Domingue:

Lee is an independent business owner and founder and operator of The Lazard Group (named in honor of his grandfather). Along with their four sons, Lee and Laura have lived in Baton Rouge for over seven years and attend Healing Place Church.

The Lazard Group was founded in 1997, and is also known as Lazard Sterling. It is a conglomerate working in many areas, and earlier this month Domingue and two other Lazard executives, S. Chris Herndon and Riley Hagan III (profiles can be seen here), filed a new organisation with the Louisiana Secretary of State. This was Chest of Joash, Inc. Returning to the PRC Compassion website, we find at the base of the page:

© 2005 Chest of Joash, Inc. All Rights Reserved. PRC Compassion is a division of Chest of Joash, Inc.

The “Chest of Joash” is a reference to a Biblical story, found in 2 Chronicles 24:

And the king [Joash] called for Jehoiada the chief, and said unto him, Why hast thou not required of the Levites to bring in out of Judah and out of Jerusalem the collection, according to the commandment of Moses the servant of the LORD, and of the congregation of Israel, for the tabernacle of witness? And at the king’s commandment they made a chest, and set it without at the gate of the house of the LORD…And all the princes and all the people rejoiced, and brought in, and cast into the chest, until they had made an end.

Domingue’s company profile notes that he “serves on the boards of numerous faith-based organizations.” A Biblical tale of tax money going to religious enterprises might therefore have special appeal.



PS: One other link that may be interesting is that Chris Herndon of Lazard/Chest of Joash used to be CEO of The Mattress Firm; here he worked with Greg Feste, who is deeply involved with the charismatic grouping known as Every Nation (see blog Christian Dem for more details on Feste). Every Nation has been the subject of this blog several times before; EN is also involved with PRC Compassion.

Church of England takes on US Evangelicals

The Church of England has launched an attack on American imperialism and its religious justifications. Over to the Guardian:

A group of Church of England bishops issued a report today criticising American foreign policy, the US war on terror and some American Christians’ use of biblical texts to support a political agenda in the Middle East, and accuses the US of using illegitimate and dangerous rhetoric.

The four bishops are Richard Harries of Oxford, Colin Bennetts of Coventry, Peter Selby of Worcester, and Peter Price of Bath & Wells. Of these, Harries is the most well-known and intellectual figure, having held public discussions with Richard Dawkins. According to his profile:

The Bishop of Oxford was Chairman of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility from 1996 – 2001. He chaired the House of Bishops’ Working Party on Issues in Human Sexuality and he was a Board member of Christian Aid. He is an active member of the House of Lords contributing on a range of issues. His publications in this area include Christianity and War in a Nuclear Age (Mowbrays, 1986), and Is there a Gospel for the Rich? (Mowbrays 1992)…The Bishop was Chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews from 1992 – 2001. He is also a founder member of the Abrahamic Group in Oxford which brings together Jews, Muslims and Christians for serious theological dialogue. After the Evil: Christianity and Judaism in the Shadow of the Holocaust was published by OUP in 2003.

The other three bishops have a background of involvement in the Middle East and opposition to the war in Iraq: back in 1998 they were among signatories to a caution against invasion, and another in 2002, both of which were supported by Rowan Williams. Bennetts of Coventry and Price of Bath & Wells have also been involved with anti-war protests (see here and here), and in 2000 were also outspoken against the effect of sanctions on Iraq. (Bennetts’s position against invasion would have brought him into conflict with Canon Andrew White, the Director of the Cathedral’s International Centre for Reconciliation, who took a liberal hawk line; Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester supported the invasion on the grounds of WMD).

The report itself, entitled Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy Post 9/11, can be viewed here; there is a short summary at Ekklesia. The Guardian also notes that the bishops

Did…receive advice from defence specialists and military experts in drawing up their work.

Of particular interest to this blog are pages 41 to 46, which deal with “American nationalism: the religious dimension”; and it’s a shame the bishops didn’t include some scholars of religion (or even some religion journos) among their experts. First off:

Samuel Huntington’s thesis that, “those countries that are more religious tend to be more nationalist,” has been used recently by a number of political scientists to explain the rise of American nationalism in the early part of the twenty first century. Some secular European commentators have used this thesis to draw critical attention to the growing evangelical tradition in the US and its impact upon American domestic and foreign policy.

No names are given, and Huntington’s thesis is not explained, but it seems to me a bit odd. Adrian Hastings made a distinction between religions that go against nationalism – Islam and Roman Catholicism – and those that support it: in particular, Protestantism. The key was Protestantism’s support for a vernacular language. And I’d prefer “resurgent” rather than “growing” for the US evangelical tradition. The bishops also tell us:

Not all evangelicals are either fundamentalist in religion, or advocates of a right wing nationalism in politics. Large numbers of Black Americans belong to the evangelical tradition and yet their religious beliefs do not necessarily translate into right wing political positions.

There follows some general information about US religion, taken mainly from America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, by British journalist Anatol Lieven (which also informs other sections of the report). The New York Review of Books calls this book “tightly written and extensively researched”, but one would have thought the bishops might have had a word with either Mark Noll, Robert Wuthnow, or Alan Wolfe, to name just three scholars at the centre of discussions about American religion.

The report goes on as one would expect – noting the Christian Right’s “uncompromising moral messages”; its old habit of red-baiting; and now:

Although the Christian Right lost political ground following the end of the Cold War, 9/11 has become a rallying flag around which it has regrouped. The war against terrorism, with its potential to be perceived as part of a clash of civilisations, replaced anti-communism as the Christian Right’s new moral crusade. Jerry Falwell, for instance, called the Prophet Muhammad a ‘terrorist’, while Pat Robertson described him as a ‘wild-eyed fanatic’ a ‘robber’ and a ‘brigand’. To Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, ‘Islam is a very evil and wicked religion’, while Henry Vines a leading southern Baptist, called the Prophet Muhammad a ‘demon obsessed paedophile’.

This will irritate some – over at Get Religion, they are currently bemoaning the media’s obsession with these aged “usual suspects”. I don’t share that view – Robertson and Falwell remain influential figures, but the above is a bit stale in that the media reported all these comments years ago. Why not refer to something more current? For instance, Mike Evans last year produced a best-seller that argued that the very existence of Arabs is a mistake, since Ishmael was born as result of Abraham’s disobedience to God (Pat Robertson said something similar just recently, but I don’t have the reference to hand).

Next comes a discussion of millenarianism and Christian Zionism. This is a bit more detailed, and draws on scholarship from Stephen Sizer and Michael Northcott (both ordained Anglicans). But emphasis is, unsurprisingly, on the Left Behind novels:

The political philosophy of these views is even more startling in the twelve books of the Left Behind series, apocalyptic fantasies by Tim LaHay [sic] and Jerry B. Jenkins that have appeared since the mid 1990s. These are allegedly novels, but they carry LaHay’s designation as a nationally recognised speaker on Bible prophecy. They refer to the period on the earth after the rapture, that is after certain special Christians have simply disappeared. The world that remains is a world of struggle against the anti-Christ, which seems to be identified with the work of the United Nations. All this is a prelude to Christ returning to kill millions of people. Sales of this series have long since topped the 55 million mark. All this, particularly the political implications of the book, with its endorsement of unbridled American power, the role of Israel, including the rebuilding of the temple and the unquestioning acceptance of violence in the name of God is deeply worrying.

All very well, although I would have been more impressed had Tim LaHaye’s name been spelt correctly. I also wonder about the long-term significance of the books, with their genesis in the Clinton era. In a new world of evangelical power, being Raptured away is less attractive – although unquestioning support for the Israeli right may continue for other reasons, and the books’ anti-UN paranoia and American triumphalism will ensure continued sales. If the bishops wished to focus on the theocratic tendency in the USA, drawing on Frederick Clarkson’s long accumulation of information about the movement would have provided a more useful picture. Tellingly, the bishops identify post-millennialism with an earlier, optimistic, period of American history: but today’s conservatives seem to be very optimistic. Have any of the bishops heard of Rushdoony?

Channel 4 News also covered the report last night, which can be seen here (the news presenter, by the way, is Jon Snow, son of a former Bishop of Whitby). It includes a rather pointless debate between Richard Harries and Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Pointless because, much as I dislike Tooley, he actually knows rather more about American religious conservatism than Harries.

(One titbit from the interview: at one point Tooley mentions conservatives “both religious and se…non-religious”. What’s he got against the word “secular”? Is it now perjorative?)

Did Bilbo’s Critics Cause Katrina?


Pastor Garland Bilbo

(Updated with extra info)

From the Toledo Blade:

A devastating flood in New Orleans was predicted by the Rev. Kim Clement, a South Africa-born evangelist, in a prophecy given at a suburban Houston church July 22.

The full text is available on Clement’s website, with mp3 (and electric guitar backing; Clement is a “singing prophet”) – emphases in original:

Enough of past curses reminding you of yesterday’s failures. Enough of New Orleans and its treachery. Enough of stealing the Ark of the Covenant from my people just because you had those surrounding you that had no faith. Caleb said we are able to take this land. Joshua said we are able to take this land. But ten voices arose against the Lord God. And they would stone my servant Moses and say let us stone them and raise up another leader so that we may go back to Egypt. Would you go back to your dung? Would you go back to your vomit?

O New Orleans God speaks to you from Houston tonight and says enough of this! For a judgment is coming says the Spirit of the Lord, and I will take the men that have stood in faith, raise them above the flood that shall destroy those that constantly bicker and stand against my servant Moses, or my servant Bilbo. I want you to understand there are great men in New Orleans that have faith but you have been set aside not to lose but to win. Enough of this! For I will take the curses and the bodies will even rise and they will come forth on the water, but I will keep you and the stench of death will only last a few days. And then what I promised two years ago will come to pass for August, September and October of this year I made a promise it would happen, and God said be strengthened now, be strengthened now for enough is enough says the Lord.

Clement adds some commentary:

…My dear friend, Pastor Garland Bilbo, who had hosted my ministry a number of times was present in the meeting that night, and God even referred to him in the prophecy. His family had been a target of attack during the eighties and suffered persecution from religious forces during the Nineties due to a public scandal in their family. This prophecy is one of the most accurate that I have ever been given and yet it almost sounded like God was about to deal with the Gatekeepers and spiritual leaders of New Orleans rather than the sinners of that City.

A part of the prophecy that concerned me was the fact that the flood would destroy those that constantly bicker and stand against my servant Moses (or my servant Bilbo.) I did not truly believe that these people would be destroyed in the flood but rather the waters would rid the City of the curses and bring an end to discord and divisive leaders…

Of course, Clement is far from being the only person to have associated the words “New Orleans” and “flood”, but his timing is impressive. So, who are Kim Clement and Garland Bilbo?

Let’s look at Garland Bilbo first. The “public scandal” to which Clement refers is that of Bilbo’s father-in-law, Marvin Gorman (thanks to Bene Diction for that tip). From a book review in the Texas Observer:

Gorman, who was a friend of Jim Bakker, had been a rising star in the televangelist world until 1986, when he was summoned by the Assemblies of God hierarchy to answer charges of adultery. Though he confessed to a moment of weakness with a distraught female parishioner and denied having intercourse, Gorman received extremely harsh treatment and suffered catastrophic professional and financial losses.

This “harsh treatment” was prompted particularly by none other than Jimmy Swaggart. But Gorman fought back:

…A little over a year later, in the fall of 1987, it was Gorman who set up the camera in the room across the courtyard from the one where Jimmy was meeting Debra Murphree…Gorman was willing to make a deal with Swaggart (essentially blackmailing him) but ultimately Swaggart was too arrogant, spurred on by his steely wife Frances, to keep his end of the deal.

This information comes from Ann Rowe Seaman’s excellent biography Swaggart – which also tells us that the photos were taken by Gorman’s son Randy and…Garland Bilbo (p. 331). Gorman also won a $10 million defamation case against Swaggart, who had made other accusations of adultery against him. Gorman has since stepped down from his position at Praise Church in favour of Bilbo.

According to the profile on his church website

Garland has had the honor of being featured speaker at the Brownsville Assembly of God Pastor’s Conferences, as well as other pastors and leadership conferences. He has also written curriculum and training manuals for church leadership.

Garland Bilbo is the author of the book entitled, “The Jezebel Spirit”, which has proven to be an effective tool for ministers and leaders. It is an expose’ of the traps that Satan uses to abort the anointing and revival in an individual and in the corporate body of Christ.

“The Jezebel Spirit” is a Pentecostal idea that can be taken two ways – it can refer to the church being seduced by “worldliness” (as here), or can mean women behaving in ways that they shouldn’t – particularly disagreeing with their husbands. Bilbo’s book is obscure, but someone who attended a talk by Bilbo’s wife reports the following:

A week before the conference I almost influenced my husband to leave the ministry. I never realized that I was allowing the spirit of Jezebel to influence me. I just thought my nagging and berating of my husband was a behavior that self-control could help. But in my heart I knew something more was at work. When Ms. Bilbo spoke on the Jezebel spirit, my heart started to beat fast.

There’s also this interesting titbit from Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and development:

BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, June 1 [2004], for the new I-10 Pump Station in New Orleans . Gordon Nelson, DOTD Assistant Secretary for the Office of Operations, served as Master of Ceremonies for the event, which was held on June 1 to coincide with the first day of Hurricane Season. The ceremony took place at Praise Church, located on Academy Drive , directly across from the Pump Station…Pastor Garland Bilbo, of Praise Church , provided the Invocation and the Benediction.

That would be one of the pumps that failed, then… Bilbo now has a site dedicated to the reconstruction of the city.

Kim Clement, meanwhile, has a higher profile, with frequent appearances on Trinity Broadcasting and a CV-full of previous prophecies. The Blade notes this one:

In the 1996 prophecy, which made headlines after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mr. Clement said America “will go to the place of the east and we will go and we will bring them down for what they did to our people as they flew in the air over Long Island.”

However, these have made him a target for criticism, and there are a number of websites that are unimpressed with some of his previous predictions, and his theological perspective (the 1996 prophecy is debunked here: the author notes that it “was only 8 days after TWA flight 800 exploded in the air OFF THE COAST OF LONG ISLAND”.)

Clement’s website gives some biographical details, beginning with his 1973 conversion when he was delivered of “strong demonic oppression”. A spell in the army and Pentecostal ministry followed, with full-time ministry work from 1977. He soon after joined Fred Roberts’s Full Gospel Church of God in Durban, later the Durban Christian Center, which he says was actively opposed to apartheid. Then (link added):

During 1983 Prophet Bill Hamon confirmed my call as a Prophet while I was in Durban. Pastor Fred Roberts and the leadership of Durban Christian Center released me to obey this call. I was ordained through Christian Fellowship International and I acquired my credentials through CBTC, Durban, South Africa. I received an honorary Doctorate in 1996 in Houston, Texas.

Now based in Dallas, Clement adds:

After a bad accident in 1994, in which both of my arms were broken, I was left scarred from surgeries on my hands. During my recovery from surgery, the Lord visited me with visions. I received specific instructions regarding my ministry…After these visions, I founded a movement called ‘Warriors of the Millennium’ and the ‘Kick Devil Butt Generation’.

MinistryWatch has further details about Clement here. It notes:

Most disturbing is Clement’s claim to a gift of prophecy and the unmistakably pretentious air with which Clement issues his prophetic harangue, indicting virtually anyone who might take exception.

That indictment now apparently includes the “spiritual leaders” of New Orleans that didn’t get along with his friend Garland Bilbo, and who should be blamed for the hurricane’s consequences.

So what’s next? Clement’s site has his most recent prophecies here.

(Tip via Bulldada Newsblog)

Christian Israelis Complain of Persecution

Staying in the allegedly “Holy Land”, an interesting report from ASSIST:

Messianic Jews have called for international protests against violations of religious freedom in Israel. Orthodox Jews have harassed a congregation in the desert town of Arad in Southern Israel for more than 18 months.

Messianic Jews are Jews who have become Christians, but who maintain a Jewish identity and worship in a Jewish style. ASSIST notes that there are about 6,000 in Israel (I previously blogged on Israeli Christians here), and continues:

An orthodox group called Gur Chassidim has been persecuting 30 messianic Jews in Arad. They have been insulted in public as Nazis, whores and dirty Christians. According to eyewitnesses the police have turned a blind eye or even sided with the persecutors. An assembly hall has been burnt down.

A fuller account by one of the Messianics can be read here.

Haaretz covered the problem last year, noting:

In the past few weeks, the Haredim in Arad have been harassing the 15 Messianic Jewish families in the Negev town. Hardly anyone has come to their aid. The police gave the Haredim a permit to hold demonstrations opposite the homes of the Messianic Jews, the mayor is ignoring the harassment, and the members of the municipal council, including those who are secular, support the Haredim, who have representatives in the local governing coalition.

The local Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Ben-Zion Lipsker, is also quoted:

“You disguise yourselves as sabras and smile at us, but you’re just waiting for the first chance to grab us and crucify us. Get out of here, hypocrites. At least if you wore robes and large crucifixes, we would be able to be careful of you. You are the ones whose forefathers burned Jews to death throughout all the years of history. You are an abomination in Israel, and therefore you must be spewed out of here.”

Lipsker told the journalist that because two residents of Arad had converted, the Messianics had broken the law. The Messianics responded with a police complaint against Lipsker, local Shepardi Chief Rabbi Yosef Elbo, and the ultra-orthodox anti-missionary organisation Yad L’achi. Given that this was a year ago, the police do not appear to have exerted themselves.

Gur Chassidim (or “Gur Hassidim”) is dominant within Agudat Israel, a body which represents many Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and has a long history of militancy that goes back to nineteenth-century Poland. Here’s a passage from a website devoted to the Jewish history of Mlawa, a Polish town:

The Gur Hassidim were very zealous and far more militant than the Alexandrower Hassidim…In later years, the Gur Hassidim stormed the building in which the Hebrew gymnasium was housed and made it into a “Talmud Torah.” The Gur Hassidim went en masse to capture the building, ready to sacrifice their lives, if necessary. Their aim was to take over all the public institutions and to rule them with an iron hand.

In Israel, the group enjoys considerable support from the Religious Affairs Ministry, to the annoyance of other Jewish strands.

Yad L’Achim, meanwhile, is well-known for targeting religious groups. Its work has been reported in a number of Jerusalem Post stories by Larry Derfner. One article notes that:

Yad L’achim mainly targets the two largest Christian sects seeking to convert Jews – the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Messianic Jews – but also goes after Scientology, Hare Krishna, Falun Gong, Landmark Forum and other cults operating in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

“Over the years we’ve brought back hundreds of Jews who had gone over to Christianity, and we’ve prevented the assimilation of many thousands of others who had started the process by going to a lecture or two from the missionaries,” says Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifschitz, who co-founded Yad L’Achim in 1950. He emphasizes repeatedly that Yad L’Achim “has nothing whatsoever against Christians in Israel, just against missionaries.”

Their methods, however, are pretty ruthless:

“When we find out a missionary is working at a company, we go to the boss and explain to him that there are plenty of ways to fire the worker without anybody being the wiser. This way there’s no trouble with the courts, the media, and with Meretz.

“Some bosses are smart, they understand, and they deal with the problem quietly. I’d say we’ve done this with nearly 10 different companies,” said Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifschitz, head of Yad L’Achim.

There are also claims of violence:

…The most publicized attack took place last November [2003] when the Holon apartment of Jehovah’s Witnesses Yossi and Sima Levy was broken into by assailants who spray-painted death threats and swastikas all over the walls, slashed their furniture, and destroyed their books.

…The group’s ringleader, who [JW spokesman Mark] Einstein said has been identified by a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses who’ve been attacked, is Alex Artovsky of Netanya.

Artovsky runs Yad L’Achim’s desk.

Maybe the Messianics and JWs should have a word with Don Feder, the right-wing American pundit who recently set up “Jews against anti-Christian Defamation”. Feder’s main target was the ADL, which he felt shouldn’t be criticising conservative evangelicals who are pro-Israel. I’d be interested to see if Feder would be willing to take on powerful groups in Israel itself.

Stuck with the Synagogues

The BBC has been covering Israel’s decision to leave behind a number of synagogues in Gaza. This has been in the offing since a couple of weeks ago – YNet News reported at the end of August:

Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger were invited to attend Sunday’s government session called to discuss the razing of synagogues in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.

The rabbis have raised a last-minute demand, calling on the government to refrain from demolishing the synagogues and ask the Palestinian Authority to safeguard them under international monitoring.

…The decision to invite the chief rabbis to attend Sunday’s government session followed an opinion offered by Rabbi Amar, and also backed by leading rabbis Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Ovadia Yosef, which called to leave the Gaza synagogues intact. Razing the synagogues would serve as a precedent for demolishing synagogues in abandoned Jewish communities overseas, the rabbis said.

We’re also told that Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger had favoured demolition, as the buildings were no longer sacred, but had changed his mind following “scathing criticism”. WorldNetDaily also noted religious objections:

Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, former chief rabbi of Haifa and a member of the chief rabbinate, told WND, “According to Jewish law, synagogues cannot be destroyed unless new ones are already built, and even then, the issues are complicated. Here, the former Gush Katif residents don’t have homes yet to live in, new synagogues have not been built, so there isn’t even a question.”

Cohen is referring to Baba Bathra 3b in the Talmud, which states that

Some honor is to be paid even to the ruins of a synagogue or house of study. It is not proper to demolish a synagogue and then to build a new one either on the same spot or elsewhere; but the new one should be built first (B. B. 3b), unless the walls of the old one show signs of falling.

But does this apply to a synagogue in an area that has been abandoned? It looks to be like a practical instruction concerning how a synagogue should function in a community – obviously if you demolish before building a new one, there will be no place to worship or keep the holy objects in the interim. But I’m no Talmudic scholar…

Meanwhile, some Israeli politicians have taken this position even further:

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom explained his decision to vote against demolishing the structures…”Jews do not destroy synagogues,” said Shalom.

Mark Elf at Jews Sans Frontieres finds that argument rather odd:

This is very strange because, not that long ago, Stanley Kalms wrote a report on the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth and how it should function in future. He argued for the disposal of various shuls (synagogues) on the grounds that it was uneconomic to keep them. I remember one in Earlham Grove in London E7. My nan used to go there. Even I went there sometimes. Well it’s not there now.

Shalom added:

“I hope the Palestinian Authority will come to their senses and not allow barbarism and vandalism to rule over the synagogues. If this does happen, the world will see what we’re dealing with.”

Or in other words, as Haaretz puts it in a critical article:

If the synagogues are doomed to be destroyed, let the Palestinians do it rather than the Israelis, to make them look bad in the eyes of the world.

The fear (or hope?) is that there will be a repeat of the unattractive scenes that followed Israeli withdrawal from Nablus in 2000, when Joseph’s Tomb was attacked and Jewish objects destroyed. (WND absurdly called this “one of the most extreme holy site desecrations in history”, putting both Antiochus IV and the Fourth Crusade into a rather odd perspective.)

The same article goes on to note that:

Out of some 140 village mosques that were abandoned due to the war in 1948, some 100 were totally torn down. The rest, about 40, are in advanced stages of collapse and neglect, or are used by the Jewish residents for other purposes.

…Several mosques serve as housing, and others are used for commercial and cultural purposes. The mosque of an abandoned village on the Iron Valley serves a kibbutz carpentry. A mosque in an artists’ community in the Carmel serves partly as a restaurant and bar. Other mosques serve as museums and galleries. The large synagogue in a township near Rehovot is located inside the abandoned village’s mosque, whose minaret was destroyed and the symbolic half crescent atop its dome has been replaced by a menorah.

One suggestion made by a Palestinian spokesman I just heard on the World Service was having the synagogues shipped out to the USA. Another possibility has also been raised. Back to YNet News:

“There’s obviously a danger that should the synagogues remain they will be desecrated, and may even be turned into mosques,” sources in Jerusalem said.

Turned into mosques? Let’s see now…


Israeli Religious Right Blames Gaza for Katrina

Aaron Klein, WND‘s Jerusalem correspondent and frequent puffer of the Israeli far-right, rounds up some religious opinions about Hurricane Katrina. Not many surprises:

“Katrina is a consequence of the destruction of [Gaza’s] Gush Katif [slate of Jewish communities] with America’s urging and encouragement,” Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Lewin, executive director of the Rabbinic Congress for Peace, told WND.

…Rabbi Joseph Garlitzky, head of the international Chabad Lubavitch movement’s Tel Aviv synagogue, recounted for WND a pulpit speech he gave this past Sabbath: “…And here there are many obvious connections between the storm and the Gaza evacuation, which came right on top of each other. No one has permission to take away one inch of the land of Israel from the Jewish people.”

Garlitzky goes on to recount the mystical similarities (the exception being that moving Israelis into Israel proper is wicked, while killing thousands of Americans is just God’s righteousness), such as:

Close to 10,000 Jews were expelled from their homes in the Gaza Strip and parts of northern Samaria. Katrina’s death toll is now expected to reach at least 10,000.

(Further alleged similarities have also appeared in an article for Israel Insider by Israel National Radio host Tamar Yonah. These include “‘Katrina’ sounds very similar to ‘Katif'”)

In fact, both Garlitzky (vars. Yosef Gerlitzky, Yosef Gololutzsky) and Lewin are part of the so-called Rabbinic Congress for Peace, which in Hebrew goes by the name of Pikuach Nefesh, refering to “saving a life”. It is opposed to withdrawal from any land captured by Israel in 1967; in December its deputy chairman, settler rabbi David Drukman, told the UPI that Palestinians living in such areas “should recognize their place”. Lewin, who also works as a journalist, claims there are 1,200 members. Garlitzky, Lewin, and Drukman are all part of the Chabad (“Lubavitcher”) movement, which saw the Asian tsunami as evidence for the coming of the Messiah.

However, the RCP is not just for Chabad members; it also includes Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef, the son of Shas’s spiritual leader and former Shepardic chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Ya’acov and Ovadia have their differences, although a belief in God killing Americans in vengeance for Gaza is not one of them. Ynet News reports:

Hurricane Katrina is a punishment meted out by God as a result of U.S. President George W. Bush’s support for the Gaza and northern West Bank disengagement…Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said Tuesday.

That’s pretty much true to form from Rabbi Ovadia; back in 2000 he claimed that the Holocaust was God’s punishment of Jewish sinners. However, Ovadia also has a second reason for the tragedy:

There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study…black people reside there (in New Orleans). Blacks will study the Torah? (God said) let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.

Bloghead adds:

As bad as it sounds in English, it sounds even worse in Hebrew, as the word he used for ‘black people’ (‘kushim’) is basically the Hebrew N-word (although, sadly, quite widely used).

I look forward to reading Aaron Klein’s take on that one.

(NB – a number of sites have been following the “Katrina is the wrath of God theme”. Check out The Pagan Prattle for an overview; here for a survey of Christian responses (undertaken by the Universalists); and here for how some Muslims have interpreted it. Get Religion has also covered the subject here).

(A couple of links via Failed Messiah and Jews Sans Frontieres)

Putin and Chief Rabbi in Medal Exchange

One of Russia’s two rival Chief Rabbis has been awarded a medal (hyperlink added):

MOSCOW, Russia – Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar was awarded with the ‘Peter the Great’ First Class Order. The diploma attached to the Order explains that the Chief Rabbi was honored with this award “considering his activities in advancing inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations, and his great contribution to the spiritual rebirth of Russia’s Jewish community and to strengthening Russian state”…

Previous figures to have been awarded this Order include the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and Russia, Alexiy II, UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin, Nobel Prize winner Zhores Alfyorov and the first woman astronaut Valentina Tereshkova.

So why has the award been given now? One would like to think that this shows that Putin is making a stand against the recent upsurge of anti-Semitism in the country; Failed Messiah, however, suggests a less noble motive:

Chabad’s ‘chief rabbi’ of Russia, Berel Lazar has been given a medal by Russia in an apparent quid pro quo for Chabad’s notorious medal awarded in Auschwitz to Vladimir Putin.

That occurred early this year, during a ceremony marking the liberation of the camp. That medal was awarded to Putin in recognition of the Soviet army’s role in the liberation; however, the award was only added to the ceremony at the last minute, and Poland’s chief rabbi and Israeli officials both distanced themselves from it.

On the other hand, Lazar has been a significant figure for a number of years. One profile (from the Federation of Jewish Communities in the CIS, which Lazar helped to found) notes:

When the policies of Perestroika and Glasnost were first implemented by Gorbachov in 1987 heralding the end of the Soviet era, Rabbi Lazar was among the first rabbinical students to travel to Russia to run underground yeshivot and religious classes…Today, Rabbi Lazar and the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS oversee 62 Jewish Educational Institutions in 48 cities throughout the former Soviet Union with an aggregate enrollment exceeding 12,000 students.

However, this profile passes over the conflict with the rival chief rabbi, Adolf Shayevich, and makes a rather contentious statement:

…he has made his voice heard as an advocate for total religious freedom.

I think not. This the same man who has also said:

Reports available to us suggest that more than one million Russian citizens are members of various sects. This is a serious threat. We shouldn’t sit back and wait until something bad happens. We don’t need such sects.

And, when Jehovah’s Witnesses came under ban in Moscow, could only add that:

there are serious questions about the practice of the Jehovists in Russia.

(Shayevich matched this with an attack on ISKCON). So how does this square with Lazar’s “activities in advancing inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations”? That seems to be based on his participation in various official bodies, such as the Interreligious Council of Russia, and a Kremlim advisory group. Last year this latter grouping came together to discuss terrorism; Pravda listed the members as Patriarch Alexy II, along with

Metropolitan Andrian of the Orthodox Old Believers Church; Pandito Hambo Lama, the 25th, Damba Ayusheyev of the Buddhist community; Bishop Ezras of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Ravil Gainutdin of the Islamic Council of Mufti; Metropolit Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia; Rabbi Berl Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia; and Bishop Sergei Ryakhovsky, Chairman of the Russian Pentecostal Union.

It is interesting to compare Ryakhovsky with Lazar. Lazar’s dodgy election was backed by the Kremlin, since when Lazar has been continually close to Putin; various Pentecostal groups have complained about enforced membership of Ryakhovsky’s Union, while Ryakhovsky has accused critics of Putin of working for foreigners and has denounced the change of government in the Ukraine (see my blog entry here). There seems to be a lot of quid pro quo-ing going on…Back in May Interfax reported:

The head of the Moscow Helsinki group, Liudmila Alekseeva, and the director of the Slavic Legal Center, Anatoly Pchelintsev, accused Russian authorities of cooperating with selected religions and infringing upon the rights of other confessions.

“In our country there has been observed a colossal growth of intolerance and xenophobia in both the ethnic and religious areas. All religions except for those that are increasingly more joined to the state, have suffered repression,” Alekseeva said on Thursday at a press conference in Moscow.

The Interreligious Council dismissed these concerns on the grounds that the real danger came from wahabis and Satanists, and because the same human rights organisations had defended the right of non-believers to create anti-religious art.

Maybe this difficult political situation should mitigate Lazar and Ryakhovsky’s apparent toadying of Putin. But I wouldn’t think it deserves a medal.

Lee Jae-Rock Takes New York

God has apparently intervened with a miraculous advert for a new Christian TV station. Over to Dan Wooding and ASSIST:

It was just before midnight Thursday, August 31, when a glowing cross suddenly appeared in the darkened sky above the towering Empire State Building in New York City.

The alleged miracle was spotted by a group of international broadcasters:

…The group was there for the official launch of the Global Christian Network (GCN) with programming airing in the New York market via WEBR — Channel 17 and reaching over 300 cities and more than 14 million households across the United Sates via La Familia Cosmovision cable network.

…After the excitement of seeing the sign of the cross, the group then went down to the GCN broadcast facility on 82nd floor of the Empire State Building to witness, on the stoke of midnight, the first broadcast of GCN’s first 24 hour signal via low power television, WEBR, Channel 17, which will reach nearly 12 million people in the greater New York City area with GCN’s unique programming lineup.

…The broadcasters that included Boaz Lee, president of Manmin TV in Seoul, Korea; as well as representatives of the 100,000-member Manmin Joong-Ang Church who have been instrumental in the development of the project, then joined hands and thanked God for the fulfillment of a vision that began sixteen months previously when many of them gathered in Seoul for the inception of GCN.

Manmin is the base of South Korean faith healer Lee Jae-Rock, who has been puffed by ASSIST regularly in the past, and he is described as being the chairman of the new channel. As I blogged a year ago, Jae-Rock is a somewhat controversial figure back home; his congregants once stormed a television studio which planned to air a critical documentary. Jae-Rock’s religious orthodoxy has been questioned by some Christian sources, while I was singularly unimpressed with an alleged “miracle healing” pic carried by ASSIST a while back (as was James Randi, to whom I forwarded it). Jae-Rock holds meetings in various countries around the world, and last year was crass enough to call on Germany to repent for the Holocaust. Unsurprisingly, Jae-Rock looms large in the “unique programming lineup” that appears on the (slightly overdone) GCN TV website:

…Chennai. The Site of Miracle
2002 India Church Leaders’ Conference Miracle Healing Prayer Festival with Rev Dr. Jaerock Lee ended up successfully in India from Oct.10th to Oct. 13th, estimated at over 3 million total attendance.

Power of God
Rev. Dr. Jaerock Lee’s life-filled spiritual words and works of God’s power are spreading all over the world. Clear evidences of the living God are shown through his ministry…

As well as:

People who love God
People who love God – Part 2 will tell you a bout the news of powerful works of God that showned [sic] in the “Philippines Handkerchief Prayer Meeting”.

The rest of the lineup is not quite so “unique”: news provided by Pat Robertson’s Regent University, and other standard televangelist fare.

Although Jae-Rock is the GCN’s chair, the executive director is Nestor Colombo, former president of the Hispanic National Christians Broadcasters. Speaking suspiciously like a press release, Columbo explained the channel’s background to ASSIST:

“The Global Christian Network is a Georgia-based, not-for-profit, charitable, religious, and educational organization incorporated on June 2, 2004,” he began. “Its purpose is to produce, distribute and broadcast high quality, international, Christian and family-value programming to local and regional affiliate stations and networks around the world, first in English and eventually in as many as five different languages. The vision of the network is to directly impact the cultural, social, and spiritual quality of life for viewing families and individuals with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Christian Today reported on the opening of the Georgia office back in January:

The Global Christian Network (GCN) will open its headquarter offices in the Metro Atlanta area in January 2005.

GCN will join television giants such as CNN, TNT, TBS Superstation, The Weather Channel, Cartoon Network, and other broadcasters, including Christian media ministries such as In Touch Ministries, Leading the Way, and Back to the Bible.

The Network purchased the 10,000 square feet structure in November 2004 which is located on 2 acres of land. Final preparations are being completed for the facilities, which will accommodate administrative offices, production studios and broadcast facilities.

…The Global Christian Network was founded by a group of visionaries around the world, including South Korea, Russia, Australia, England, Spain, Latin America, and the United States.

Jae-Rock’s own Manmin website give more details about who these “visionaries” are:

Mr. Nestor Colombo, former President of HNRB, and his wife Lolly Colombo, Representative of CTN; Mr. Esteban Handal, JBN TV, Honduras; Luis Fernando Solares, President of Guatemala’s CH27; Mr. Igor Nikitin, President TKV, Russia; Mr Neil Elliot, Managing Director of ACC, Australia; Mr. Lisardo Cano, President and Managing director of RTVA, Spain; Mr. David Lozano Perez, President of La Luz Radio, Peru, Mr. Dan Wooding, Founder and Representative of Assisted News Service and his son Mr. Peter Wooding, Sr. News Editor of UCB TV.

(Erm, Dan, do you think you should have mentioned your official role in the venture in your report at all?)

Nestor Colombo’s association with Jae-Rock goes back several years. In 2002 he sang the South Korean’s praises at a crusade in Honduras, as the Manmin website also reports:

Nestor Colombo, President of Hispanic Religious Broadcasters (HNRB) who had traveled from Atlanta with his wife Lolly to witness the crusade, said, “I have a deep conviction that the Gospel is not just a form and it is necessary that it be demonstrated with a message like this — that it be accompanied by power. The gospel is not just words and what I like about this ministry is that there is power.”

And “wife Lolly” is a force in her own right, according to the site of the Christian Media Corporation:

She is co-founder of CMC – The Christian Media Corporation in Santiago, Chile, and in New York State (1990) as a 501(c) 3, whose vision was to produce quality Spanish-language Christian and family-value television. During that time she also served as the National Coordinator of OBIRD, Operation Blessing Relief and Development, in Chile and raised an extensive community service program through the organization and implementation of medical crusades, at-risk youth programs, massive material assistance programs, and disaster relief. In 1997 she was honored with the U.N. World Peace Prize for Chile for excellence in community service. Since 1999, she has consulted for In Touch Ministries, HNRB (Hispanic National Religious Broadcasters,) and the NRB (National Religious Broadcasters) in the areas of media service, public relations, and event planning. She currently serves as an Outreach Director for CMC, the Georgia Director for OBIRD, and is president, co-founder and managing partner of CMC Agents Inc.

Jae-Rock is clearly a very ambitious player in the new generation of Pentecostal evangelists, and he’s managed to rope a number of other significant figures into boosting his ministry. But can a man who claims to have sinless blood, to be able to form photos of Jesus with his hands, and to have cured diseases such as AIDS, really make much impact on New York television? Or will New Yorkers be bowled over by this?: