As a rule, I’m not keen on hating, although I will always make an exception for Corbynistas and other latter-day antisemites.
But the people I really loathe, who send shivers up my spine and raise my hackles and trigger all kinds of prehistoric, inbuilt animus, are missionaries. I can’t stand them. I do not want to be brought to Christ or be shown a way to illuminate the True Path, or any of that stuff.
Which is not to say I am against interfaith initiatives. Far from it. I think reaching out to other religions is not just to be commended, but, it seems to me, is the only way to live with other communities in the diaspora.
We Jews need those of other faiths to stand with us when necessary, as we should stand with them when they need us.
But missionaries? No way, José! Leave me alone and I will be more than happy to do the same with you.
Which is why I was so disturbed to read a long article in Haaretz by Judy Maltz, recording the “aliyah” of a married couple from Detroit, Bishop Glenn Plummer and his wife Pauline. The bishop was appointed/anointed “Bishop of Israel” in April 2019, by his community, the Church of God in Christ. Pauline, for her part, has been designated “first lady of Israel”, which may come as a surprise to Sara Netanyahu.
The Plummers arrived in Israel in late summer despite the country’s lockdown and made a long video about packing up their home in the States and arriving in Mevaseret Zion, just outside Jerusalem, from where they intend to carry out their work.
Here begins the problem. First, nobody in the Israeli Ministry of the Interior was prepared to tell me just how it was that the Plummers were given permission to enter Israel. If I could provide the couple’s passport numbers, I was told, there was the smidgin of a possibility, but otherwise no.
Second concern. Glenn Plummer is skilled at skating between the cracks, so much so that he coulda/shoulda been a politician. He has perfected the art of nearly-but-not-quite saying something.
So when Glenn Plummer did an online “meet-and-greet” and said he had no missionary intentions, many in Israel were prepared to give him and his wife the benefit of the doubt. He insists, say his defenders, that he has “never once even attempted to speak to a Jew in any capacity about baptism or conversation or anything that would be considered evangelising or proselytising”.
What then, are we to make of the bishop’s own words in his “pre-aliyah” video, in which he says the mission of the church “rests on two things. One is to win souls and the second is to make disciples… We are called to tell people everywhere about Jesus”.
In the same video, by the way, the couple make much of their intention to engage with Ethiopian Jews in Israel, “people who look like us” – the Plummers are part of the largest Black church in America – and speak enthusiastically of the work of “Pastor David” with young Ethiopian Israelis.
There is a backlash, of sorts, led by a rabid rabbi who is engaged in anti-missionary work, and by some Israelis of whom other Israelis, defenders of the Plummers, say “they see a Christian under every bed”.
What is certainly true is that the Netanyahu government has been supported in the US by evangelical Christian Zionists. Perhaps the presence of the Plummers, and what they represent, means the payment of a price too high.