Thank You Christians
This is far overdue, but an upcoming annual event that I will unfortunately miss this year reminded me that I needed to say thank you to the Christian community.
Last year I went to something I never thought I would, but a weird set of circumstances lead me to something called the NRB, the National Religious Broadcasters convention that was held in Nashville at the Opryland Resort. To the Jews reading this, the easiest way to explain it is like saying it’s AIPAC for the gentiles, minus the politics. Thousands of Christians gather and they have a massive convention hall with booths. It encompasses everything from Christian bookstands, to jewelry from the Holy Land, to even the Israel Ministry of Tourism advertising trips to Israel for church groups. Not all of it is religious however. Many booths have things that would naturally appeal to American Christians. One was pushing a film about the American Revolution, another dealing with finance, etc. There are also numerous sessions with speakers and other events as well, but more on that in a bit. So, what was I doing there? Here’s where it gets kind of weird.
Even though standup comedy is my primary job, I also have written a few films. I like history and I like religion, so most of what I focus on deal with those two subjects. I know as a comedian you’d figure I’d stick to comedies, but I enjoy the outlet of the serious side coming out in film.
One I sold is a film about the Exodus from Egypt through the eyes of the women in the story entitled “Miriam”. By far, this is the most feminist thing I have ever done, except for watching the Yankees play, since they consistently play like girls against my beloved Astros (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). As it is technically a Bible film, some of the producers on the film ended up being practicing Christians and attend the NRB every year. Half the convention is media and film, and it was thought me going would be a good idea to meet others who might be interested in this kind of project.
When I registered, I saw online there were numerous side events you could attend, and one that popped up was the “Breakfast Honoring Israel”. I registered not thinking much of it, because I was there to push our film.
I called the Chabad of Nashville, as I was going to be there over a Shabbat and we ended up “trading out”. I agreed to do a show for his community, (which ended up being a fun one) and he agreed to put me up the entire trip. He said the Chabad there is called the “Chabad Hyatt” as it has two really nice guest rooms, and as this was a strange situation where I’d be traveling not specifically to do a show, the Rabbi was more than nice about helping me out.
As I arrived to the convention hall, I was given a lanyard showing that I was there for media and film. I didn’t realize just how huge an industry it is in the Christian world. I would later learn they have their own Academy Awards, and some of their films outdraw Hollywood’s. I felt pretty good about our film, as many people were already familiar with the project and a distributor was adamant we finish it as women of the Bible were in great demand on his end. All of the business aside, what struck me was just how nice everyone was. They were just genuinely pleasant people to be around. Now before you start thinking, “They are just doing that to try and convert you, or they want all the Jews in Israel so the rapture comes and Jesus returns! Etc. etc. ” allow me to quickly put that to bed and tell you how wrong you’d be. More on that later. Even when I went to a booth that had video Bible trivia, I warned them that being Jewish I would need serious help with the New Testament stuff and they laughed and said of course they would help.
I was also shocked by just how many Jews were there, and I mean practicing religious involved Jews. Aside from the Ministry of Tourism, which of course had a bunch of Israelis, there was an orthodox Jewish woman selling jewelry from the Holy Land, another guy manned a booth to bring awareness about single Jewish mothers in Israel, StandWithUs, the Israel advocacy group had a booth, manned by Christian students, and I even got flagged down by some people who had seen my shows in Israel. When I asked what they were doing there, they said they study Talmud with church groups when they visit Israel. It was really nice to see.
Granted there were also some, shall we say, “unique” individuals as well. I saw a few people who wore a tallis and represented some churches, but there was no effort to try and convert anyone or pretend they were Jewish. I only had one uncomfortable situation when I stopped by one of the booths with jewelry from Israel and the Israeli woman who ran it started off super nice and very social and then proceeded to tell me how she found “Yeshua in her life” and I immediately gave an “OK! Gotta go!” vibe and took off.
When I stopped by the woman at the other jewelry booth also selling stuff from Israel, who was Shomer Shabbat, I told her about the other woman and she just rolled her eyes and shook her head. Aside from that though, it was honestly fascinating to see and there was no effort to push any kind of belief on me. They could not have been more welcoming. It piqued my interest in what the breakfast honoring Israel would be like.
When I went the next morning, I heard plenty of people talking about how it was sold out and they regretted not registering earlier. There would be 1000 people there and I got seated next to a pastor named Calvin Battle (Great name) from Oklahoma. We began talking and I brought up my interaction with the Jew for Jesus the previous day. He immediately fired back, “Man, we can’t stand those guys. It undermines what we are trying to do in our support of Israel!” I also learned that the “Rapture” approach is a fringe perspective, and most Christians won’t even know what you’d be talking about if you brought it up. It’s also not scripture. For them it simply says in the Bible, those who bless Israel will be blessed, and those who curse them will be cursed… AND THAT’S IT! It honestly doesn’t go past that for them.
The breakfast started with a black minister taking the stage and singing Hatikva perfectly. How many unaffiliated Jews could sing Israel’s national anthem without a problem? My guess, not many. A music group then sang and was amazing. A representative from the Israeli consulate then spoke and thanked everyone for the support. A short film about coming to tour Israel was then shown and while I’m there all the time, it even got me excited to go again.
Finally, Pastor Johnnie Moore spoke. He’s a well-known pastor and not only has a thriving congregation, but deals with many celebrities as well, including being Roma Downey’s pastor. He often even quotes Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his sermons. He grew up in the rural south and said he did not even meet a Jewish person until he was an adult. He said it was this group’s job to go into the Jewish community and show visible support for Israel. He also said that you may be met with skepticism, and that it would be totally fair for the Jewish community to feel that way based on history, and to expect it. He really wanted to stress that they should not only support Israel, but it was practically an obligation. When I got back to LA, Rabbi Abraham Cooper who works at the Wiesenthal Center told me he knows Pastor Moore well, and he would honestly consider him one of the true righteous men walking this earth.
As the breakfast wrapped up, we were all given gift boxes with products from Israel and I heard numerous people talking about upcoming trips they would be taking and how they had “only been 10 times and it’s not enough!”
I dare say, I don’t think the Jewish people or the state of Israel has better friends than the Christian community. So, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for being supportive even when many Jews are not. Thank you for being supportive although you may be questioned about it as genuine, and most importantly, thank you for teaching me what the true meaning of being a friend is. I’ll miss you at the NRB this year, but hopefully I’ll see you in Israel on our next comedy tour. You will always have a seat saved. After all, it’s the least friends could do for each other.