Barry Newman

The Hidden Face of Proselytism

In the war against Hamas, there has been, thankfully, virtually unanimous support for Israel from Evangelical leaders and organizations, both locally and abroad. A force to be reckoned with, Christian Zionism has exerted political pressure on Israel’s behalf in many capitals of the world and provided the financial resources to ensure that Israel does not unduly suffer during this period of turbulence and distress. A number of Christian organizations, in addition, sends groups of volunteers to assist in this country’s fields, orchards and vineyards, providing the manpower that has been lost as a result of foreign workers fleeing the country out of fear for their safety, young Jewish men called up for service, or Palestinians temporarily prohibited from entering Jewish kibbutzim and moshavim.

Their efforts, Evangelical leaders insist, are motivated by nothing more than a love for Israel and the land they believe is holy to both Christians and Jews. There is awareness that Israel has little tolerance for proselytism, and they go out of their way to assure both the secular and religious leadership of Israel that they have no objectives other than to ensure that Israel gets through this period of uncertainty. And yet, to no small degree, emotional and spiritual uncertainty provides the lifeblood of evangelical and missionary activists.

One such organization, HaYovel, has been attracting considerable attention in both the local English and Hebrew media. For nearly two decades, this organization has been sending volunteers from both within and outside of America’s bible belt to fulfill the biblical prophecy of helping grow the crops and produce that G-d has blessed Israel with. Most recently, a group of fifteen HaYovel volunteers arrived, costumed as cowboys, to help alleviate the agricultural crisis Israel is trying desperately to get through. Although ten-gallon hats and spurred boots hardly fit in with sandals and tembel headwear, their labor in the fields of Judea and Samaria are very much needed and greatly appreciated.

The president and founder of HaYovel, Tommy Waller, frequently recounts his “eureka” moment while at Har Bracha some fifteen years ago, which triggered his awareness of the unique relation between the bible and the Jewish people. Despite the fact that anti-missionary professionals vouch for Waller’s sincerity regarding his repeated declarations that HaYovel has no interest in proselytism of any kind, I nonetheless remain unconvinced by his insistence that he has no camouflaged objectives or hidden agenda; I’m among those who believe that altruism and evangelism do not go hand in hand.

Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation is the standard line of evangelicals regarding their association with Israel. Somewhat troublesome, though, is that a bit of due diligence displays a more realistic perspective of their true intent. Independent surveys indicate that up to eighty percent of evangelicals concur that the modern state of Israel can be viewed as a “fulfillment of Bible prophecy that shows we are getting closer to the return of Jesus Christ.”  The majority of evangelists, in other words, see Israel as a means to a very specific end.

A number of Waller’s co-religionists, moreover, view the current hostilities in Gaza as still another fulfillment of prophecy. Indeed, while the world is mourning over the mounting loss of lives brought on by the Simchat Torah Reign of Terror, some members of the evangelical clergy are actually cheering. Pastor Wayne Edwards of Georgia, for example, could hardly contain his delight when he wrote, “Just think! G-d has allowed us to see the day when His prophetic clock started running again. We are the generation to see the final biblical prophecies come to pass. Rejoice! The King is coming!”

And even the mainstream American press was concerned that Texas Pastor John Hagee joined the march for Israel that was recently held in Washington. Hagee, a renowned antisemite, is the head of Christians United for Israel (CUI) and does not pretend to be something he isn’t. Anti-missionary investigators have concluded that what Hagee means when he says “Christians and Jews are one” is that when the Jewish people, in its entirety, convert, the world will end in “ bliss for the saved and misery for everyone else”. His message could not be any louder or clearer.

Granted, not all evangelicals share this worldview, although there is little doubt that they see their support of Israel as part of a bigger plan. Just how passive they are as components of that plan, however, is subject to speculation. After all, you need not wave a flag to be patriotic; some actions may be less obvious but prove to be as or even more effective.

Those insisting that evangelicals have nothing but good intentions based on Christian love for the land of Israel are overlooking the fact that there exist, in fact, two types of missionary activities. The kind we’re most familiar with are proactive and aggressive – typical of Jews for Jesus and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others. No less dangerous, however, is the subliminal form of proselytism, the kind in which carefully selected words, expressions, phrases and ideas are nonchalantly entered into casual conversation or seemingly neutral literature. This approach is particularly effective among those who have become, for one reason or another, dispirited or depressed. Communities, for example, that have been torn asunder by the ravages of terrorism and warfare.

Subliminal promotion as a marketing tool is certainly not new. Companies have for the longest time been paying handsome fees to have their products strategically placed as “extras” in both films and television programs. It’s by no means a mere coincidence that the heroic fireman relaxes after a particularly grueling rescue session with a Coke, a high-profile attorney meets her client at a Burger King, or a box of Tide detergent is clearly visible in the laundry room of a suburban home. And what works commercially works equally well where spiritual issues are at the center.

Bear in mind, moreover, that successful proselytism is not only measured by the number of converts. The sowing of curiosity and confusion, too, are considered notable achievements by those engaged in “spreading the word”. These are regarded as worthwhile, long-term investments, even though the dividends may not be realized for another generation. Israelis are most certainly more sensitive and resistant to this type of indirect promotion than less enlightened and educated societies in, let’s say, Africa or Central America, but it would be foolishly risky to assume that we are hermetically protected from cleverly designed entrapments. I suspect that evangelical leaders are no novices in recognizing vulnerabilities that can be quietly exploited.

I’m by no means suggesting that Christian Zionists such as HaYovel’s volunteers not be allowed in Israel; on the contrary, their assistance, particularly now, is nothing short of urgent. But it would be a mistake to remain unguarded against what appears to be single-minded devotion to the prophetic promise of Israel’s greatness. Even if they bring with them a big smile and say howdy and shucks.

About the Author
Born and raised on New York’s Lower East Side, Barry's family made aliya in 1985. He worked as a Technical Writer for most of his professional life (with a brief respite for a venture in catering) and currently provides ad hoc assistance to amutot in the preparation of requests for grants. And not inconsequently, he is a survivor of stage 4 bladder cancer, and though he doesn't wake up each day smelling the roses, he has an appreciation of what it means to be alive.
Related Topics
Related Posts