Jewishisrael is no friend of Jimmy Carter. Yet in the aftermath of this month's brouhaha over the incongruous decision by the editors of Cardoza Law School's Journal of Conflict Resolution to honor the former president, JewishIsrael felt it timely to recount an episode also plagued with absurdity which still has serious repercussions for both Israeli and Diaspora Jewry.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter, under pressure from the American Jewish community, most likely intervened to save countless numbers of Jewish youth from Christian missionary Mike Evans, who was effectively working to "save" [sic] as many young Jewish souls as possible.
What follows is no parody, but it is a terrible paradox, as both Evans and Carter have caused irreparable damage to Am Yisrael, but now find themselves being acclaimed by leading American Jewish and Israeli institutions. How the Jewish community got to this absurd juncture is worth exploration.
Jewish community mobilizes against Mike Evans and Bnai Yeshua
In the late 1970's, the American Jewish community mobilized to form a united national front to battle missionary organizations which were effectively targeting young Jewish college students across America. The number of young Jews embracing Jesus under the guise of the "Hebrew-Christian" and "messianic" movements had markedly increased. The most virulent organizations were Jews for Jesus and Bnai Yeshua, the latter being directed by evangelist Mike Evans.
Evans, a product of the "Assemblies of God" missionary movement, who today claims to have birthed the modern Christian Zionist movement with Menachem Begin, founded Bnai Yeshua in the early seventies in Texas. In 1976, with the backing of evangelists such as Pat Roberson and David Wilkerson, Evans relocated the "Hebrew-Christian/messianic" organization to the college town of Stony Brook Long Island. The new twelve acre, million dollar estate, had a significant staff. Evans' stated objective was "to see every Jewish person in the world come to a greater relationship with the God of Israel through the acceptance of Jesus as the messiah."
Evans' conversionary agenda, when combined with the hijacking of Jewish symbolism and use of Zionist causes to entice vulnerable young Jews, caused alarm among American Jewish leadership. An emergency task force was formed with leaders such as the Jewish Community Relations Council's (JCRC) Malcolm Hoenlein, Dr. Seymour Lachman, and the American Jewish Committee's (AJC) Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum leading the charge. Mainline Christian leaders involved in interfaith diplomacy jumped into the fray and empathized with Jewish concerns, charging groups like Jews for Jesus and Bnai Yeshua with subterfuge.
When Jewish leadership fingered Mike Evans and Bnai Yeshua as a major menace and threat to the Jewish community, Evans disingenuously countered by accusing concerned Jews of anti-Semitism:
"For Jewish people to demand that we stop being Jews is anti-Semitic - no one has the right to take our Jewish heritage away from us." - Jews who call Jesus the Messiah Move to Stony Brook Area, Edward Idell, The Statesman, April 22, 1977
"This stuff is terrible…people who write this kind of stuff are morons. This produces anti- Semitism" (Evans reacting to a counter-missionary article in the Jewish Press) - The Soul Snatchers of Long Island, A. James and Marcia R. Rudin, Moment Magazine, May 1977
“Recently, he [Evans] offered to send a yellow Jewish star, reminiscent of those forced on Jews by the Nazis, that Jewish believers could wear to identify themselves as Jews!" - Messianic Judaism: A Progress Report, James A. Hutchens, Missiology, July 1977
Evans effective portrayal of a young, charismatic Jewish convert and leader of the messianic missionary movement got him a staggering amount of publicity. He, his organization Bnai Yeshua, and his campaigns to convert Jews were the subject of countless articles in the press and featured in Time, Present Tense, and Moment magazines.:
"Mike Evans, a handsome, modishly dressed young man, is the major force behind Operation Gideon, an intensive three-month recruitment and training session to improve missionizing techniques among Hebrew Christian proselytizers, which he started in May. He sponsored Shechinah '77, a national gathering of Hebrew Christians from all over the country, in June in Stony Brook, climaxing an eight-week drive (Messiah '77) to convert Long Island's Jews."” - Onward (Hebrew) Christian Soldiers, Present Tense Magazine, Summer 1977
President Carter feels pressure from Jewish and Christian leadership
By 1978 advertisements for the Shechinah '78 fifth annual conference of messianic Jews to "celebrate the lordship of jesus" featured Mike Evans and Ruth Carter Stapelton as the two keynote speakers. Evans was billed as "one of the most well known Jewish Evangelists in America, an author and founder of B'Nai Yeshua". Carter-Stapelton was described as a world renowned evangelist and sister of the President. Both Ms. Carter and Evans had appeared together a month earlier at a huge rally in Giants Stadium, called “Jesus ’78″, which gathered over 58,000 people from more than sixty Christian denominations - with Evans representing the "Messianic community".
An outcry over the scheduled 3-day Stony Brook happening was heard all the way to the White House, with pressure being brought to bear on Ms. Stapelton and consequently on President Carter by the AJC and the National Council of Churches. When Ruth Carter Stapelton decided to bow out of Mike Evan's conference, just days before the scheduled event, it made news across America – from the New York Times to Oregon's Register-Guard
Stapelton confirmed in national press sources that she was initially informed by her brother of the controversy and had sought his advice. The JTA Bulletin reported that the President spoke to her about the matter at a family wedding two weeks prior to her backing out of the event but that the decision to cancel was "hers alone". Other press reports mention pressure from the Jewish community and from the White House. The New York Times reported that President Carter's sister, had canceled her scheduled appearance because, she said, "I might have been used to convert, which is against my calling". Her decision was ultimately attributed to a number of reasons including, "the Lord's will", her unwillingness to get involved in interreligious disputes and what she claimed to be threats to her life. Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum the director of the inter-religious affairs for the AJC called the decision to cancel "an expression of moral courage, civility and decency."
Despite the cancellation by keynote speaker Ruth Stapelton Carter, the show went on for Mike Evans. The crowd for the three-day conference drew over 2000 participants, who were met by Jewish protesters with placards and chants of "we will not assimilate". Mike Evans spoke under a large banner which ironically read, “B'nai Yeshua We Support Israel; Am Yisrael Chai.”
The Damage done
It was a politically dynamic and confusing time for young Jews on college campuses. While there was a collective Jewish consensus on issues such as the need to free Soviet Jewry and the threat of messianic missionaries, maintaining clarity on political matters concerning Israel was not so simple. There was debate over the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt with Israel's impending withdrawal from Sinai, and liberal and radical Jewish voices were challenging traditional Zionists with calls for Palestinian rights and territorial compromise.
Among the hawks and doves there were also vultures - those who prayed for the state of Israel while preying upon the souls of Jews. Proselytizing messianic Christians would frequently appear at events of Jewish concern with their pro-Israel/anti-Jewish bag of mixed messages. When Abba Eban came to Stony Brook in December 1977, Jews from the Zionist camp and those from the radical left (Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade) were facing off at a protest. The Bnai Yeshua missionaries also put in an appearance. They were wearing T-shirts proclaiming, 'Jesus made me kosher', and their political position was reported as follows:
"…although the Sinai Desert is negotiable, all of the other occupied Arab territories are Israel's by divine right." - "Statesman of Stony Brook ", December 14 ,1977.*
*[Note: 27 years later a similar approach would be taken by evangelical leaders close to President George W. Bush. Disengagement from Gaza was only deemed acceptable to Christian Zionist leadership because they were convinced by those in the President's inner circle that Gaza was not part of the "biblical heartland" and did not have the biblical significance of Judea and Samaria.]
Vulnerable Jewish souls on campus were not the only ones confounded by pro-Israel evangelical proselytizers dressed as Jews. American Jewish leaders themselves were sending mixed messages. As Israeli and Diaspora Jewry were increasingly turning to a growing evangelical power base, even the most severe community alerts ,while warning that evangelizing groups were claiming to be pro-Israel in order to win converts, would include a cautionary diplomatic note that "not all evangelical groups seek to convert Jews". It was deemed a delicate problem.
Almost 30 years ago, the late Ira Gissen, an ADL director, suggested that Evans presented the Jewish community with a problem – a problem that continues to plague the Jewish community today. He had no answers:
"Mike Evans is a pro-Israel evangelist who seeks to convert Jews to Christianity. Evangelists who are enthusiastically pro-Israel, but who also seek to convert Jews to Christianity pose a dilemma, or at least so it appears." - Charlotte Jewish News, February 1984
Mr. Gissen went on to describe Evan's brutal history of targeting Jews, including a disturbing record of conversions. Yet Gissen concluded with Evans' proclamation of American support for Israel, and restated the "dilemma". In retrospect and from a truly Jewish perspective, there should have been no reason for the quandary.
Three months after Evans' conference fiasco with Jimmy Carter's sister, it was reported that Bnai Yeshua was inundating the streets of Stony Brook with "thousands upon thousands of New Testament Bibles", free of charge.
A year prior to that in 1977 Evans' had run a similar campaign in which he had distributed "one million pieces of literature" and in that effort alone he reportedly admitted to bringing 500 people, including 100 Jews to a belief in jesus christ.
When one considers that this was a single summer campaign and that Mike Evans had been relentlessly leading the drive to convert young Jews for several years, the numbers become frightening and the tragedy immense.
Indeed, the AJC Year Book for 1980 saw fit to highlight the missionary crisis of the late 70's and, in within the first 3 pages of their 60 page Civic and Political review, cited Bnai Yeshua in particular. Excerpts
"Of special concern to Jews was the perceived threat of missionary activities. In January the Jewish Community Relations Council of Philadelphia released The Challenge of the Cults, which noted that "a distressingly large number of the young people being recruited into so-called cult groups" were Jewish; estimates ran as high as 60 or 70 per cent. In the metropolitan New York area alone there were some 60 such groups whose activities were geared primarily, if not exclusively, to the Jewish community. According to Malcolm Hoenlein, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the conversionary techniques of Hebrew-Christian groups included "misrepresentation of biblical scripture; distortion of Jewish symbolism; the use of performing groups to gain entrance to Jewish organizations, synagogues, and institutions; and street corner distribution of cleverly designed humorous pamphlets with titles such as 'Jesus Made Me Kosher.'” *
“….Jewish communal groups in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other cities mobilized to meet the challenge of the cults and missionaries…”
“….Ruth Carter Stapleton, the president's sister and a well-known evangelist, cancelled her appearance as keynote speaker at a Long Island convention of B'nai Yeshua, a Hebrew-Christian group, after she was criticized by officials of AJC and the National Council of Churches. Stapleton indicated in an announcement made on June 2 that she was concerned about the possibility of angering American Jews….”
"There were other factors besides missionary efforts which adversely affected the attitudes of Jews toward evangelicals. Among these were the Carter administration's policies on Israel…"
*[Note: a chapter penned in Evans’ book promoting Messianic Judaism published in 1974 book is titled, "Jesus Made me Jewish"].
Despite the missionary onslaught of the late 70's, The AJC report notes that, "efforts went forward, however, to improve relations between evangelicals and Jews."
Political change and expediency
With the 1980 elections around the corner, a significant number of both Jews and Evangelical Christians were becoming increasingly disillusioned with America's first evangelical, born again President. The Christian Right was concerned with the moral decline of America. Reverend Jerry Falwell would respond by forming the political movement known as "the moral majority". Despite differing with fundamentalist Christians on a number of social and cultural issues and feeling unease of the rise of the "New Christian Right", a significant number of loyal Jewish Democrats were alarmed enough by President Carter's attitude and policies towards Israel to cross party lines and cast their ballot for Ronald Reagan. Republican presidential candidate Reagan would defeat Jimmy Carter in part due to unprecedented support from both the Evangelical and Jewish communities.
Henceforth Jews and evangelizing Christians would do all they could to bury the hatchet and whitewash the missionary problem. They had found enough "common biblical ground" and blind spots to form a faith-based political alliance that left room for evangelicals to "share their faith", lobby for Israel, and promote messianic Judaism in the Jewish state.
Virtually overnight, messianic leaders and evangelists like Mike Evans, who had targeted Jews for conversion, assumed new identities and morphed into founders and leaders of the modern Christian Zionist movement. As part of his new persona, Evans and other Christian Right leaders would frequent White House meetings under the Reagan administration and take solidarity trips to Israel.
Evans' notorious history as "the soul-snatcher of Long Island", who had brought untold destruction to the Jewish community, would be revised, forgotten, and erased from modern chronicles. Jewish leadership who knew who and what Evans was, would apparently forget how Evans had deceived and targeted the young, vulnerable and confused sectors of the Jewish community.
For Christians, "Dr. Mike Evans" would remain, first and foremost and continue to be, a televangelist and prophet, taking the message of jesus christ throughout the world and converting thousands. For the unsuspecting Jew, Evans became a Middle East analyst, best-selling author, journalist and "advisor" to Israeli prime ministers.
A young college generation of up-and-coming Jewish leaders would watch and learn as a politically expedient relationship would push leading voices in the Jewish community into the arms of the very missionaries they had been fighting to protect their children from. The traditional Jewish value of going to great lengths to preserve even "one Jewish soul" was trumped by the desperate quest to form a no-questions-asked partnership with the growing evangelical lobby.
The AJC reports for 1981, 1982 and onwards make little or no mention of the ongoing evangelical conversionary agenda targeting Jews, nor of the growing messianic movement in Israel and the world. The "fraud" and "deception" that Jewish leaders decried a few years earlier was still very much there, but no longer a priority or a part of the national Jewish agenda. The founding and spread of messianic Judaism by the evangelizing church is a tragic episode in Jewish history which continues to unfold and cause destruction. Outside of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY), it appears that no major Jewish organization with political and civic clout was left to monitor the situation.
In 1980 Bnai Yeshua announced that it was closing down its operation in Stony Brook but a year before that Mike Evans had already set his sights on Israel.
Evans bonds with Begin and anoints Bibi
By 1979 Mike Evans had had fully molted and re-surfaced in Jerusalem, no longer engaged in street proselytizing, but still every bit the missionary and more. Jesus guided him all the way to doorsteps of the Israeli government. As Evans tells it, he met then Prime Minister Begin, prayed with him and together they founded the modern Christian Zionist movement. A short time thereafter Evans claims that he prophetically "anointed" Binyamin Netanyahu with oil (from the empty tomb of jesus, no less) as a future Prime Minister. Evans goes on to become Begin's confidant and an "unofficial" spiritual and political advisor:
"I encouraged the Prime Minister of Israel to quote the words of Jesus and it changed the fate of nations". - March 16, 2013 fundraising newsletter recounting the Reagan-Begin Years
The same Mike Evans who two years earlier Time Magazine had likened to a fast-talking "auctioneer” who appealed for "commitments to Jesus, blending Jewish terminology with tent revivalism", and who as "a Jew" had bombarded young American Jews with the new testaments and messianic proselytizing materials, suddenly discovered his "bashful "side.
When asked about his beliefs in a Jerusalem Post Magazine feature, he replied that he was "embarrassed to tell Begin about his mixed faith":
“I was a little fearful of [telling my religious beliefs to] Menachem Begin, because I thought, he’s probably going to be embarrassed by me. But he said to me, ‘Don’t be embarrassed. You are a Jew.’ “I said, ‘But this could be a problem for you. I also believe in Jesus.’ “He replied, ‘Look, I believe in the Messiah, too. The only difference is that you know his name and I don’t. Why is it such a big difference between us?’”
One may wonder why Diaspora Jewish leaders or Israeli officials didn't warn Menachem Begin about Mike Evans who up until 1985 still appeared on the Jewish community missionary alert bulletins put out by the JCRC's Task Force on Missionaries and Cults. Apparently Israeli diplomats in Washington D.C. did try to warn Begin. Evans claims he prophetically zapped them, so to speak, at the Waldorf Astoria and that they subsequently lost their positions at the Israeli Embassy in Washington:
"I am an ambassador for Jesus Christ. God will put your lights out for slandering me, and trying to destroy my integrity with the prime minister.” - Dr. Mike Evans Blog, March 31 2012
Evans' roadshow runs roughshod over Israeli leaders
“As he walked me to the door and I stepped outside, the professor said, “Breathe deeply.” As I did, he said, “You’ve just breathed in about sixteen atoms that were exhaled from the mouth of Jesus on the cross. I’ve calculated the time and Density.” - Excerpt from July 30, 2012 Jerusalem Prayer Team Article describing a meeting Mike Evans had with Professor Yisrael Aumann
Mike Evans regularly recounts his exploits with Israel's top leaders and personalities at speaking engagements, on YouTube, in articles, books and as part of his frequent Jerusalem Prayer Team email fundraising campaigns and blog posts. Like any classic snake oil salesman on a road show, Evans uses these tales to both peddle himself as a prophet and to sell his wares - AND to prove that jesus is an integral part of the great prophetic plan for Israel and the Jewish people.
Regardless of what these Jewish personalities actually said or meant while in conversation with Evans is somewhat irrelevant. Evangelist Mike Evans, like evangelist Joel Rosenberg, is the one writing the best-selling books and telling the story ,and Evans is going to state a christ-centered case and witness his faith every time.
It doesn't help that Evans stands unchallenged. The writer of a Jerusalem Post feature on Evans couldn't reach Prime Minister Netanyahu for comment to confirm or deny Evans’ eccentric version of how Netanyahu got his first job in politics. However, the writer of the article notes, that "it is easy to assume from photos that the two have indeed had a close relationship over the past 30 years".
Mike Evans does indeed have a tremendous collection of VIP images and footage to illustrate his stories, but nobody else does. Jewishisrael contacted the archive department of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center to ask if they had ever come across any documentation to back up Mike Evans' claims that Menachem Begin envisioned a World Evangelical Center in the heart of Jerusalem, or that Evans' got Binyamin Netanyahu his first political appointment and anointed him as Prime Minister. It took some doing, but eventually we received the following answer:
"The archives have been checked. There are a few mentions of Begin by Evans (but no Begin material on Evans). Therefore, we have no documentation, visuals or voice that can confirm what you are asking."
In June 2011 the Begin Heritage Center hosted a gala book launching for Evans, attended by Knesset members and a number of very prominent Israeli figures. The event was featured in their newsletter. Jewishisrael wrote to Herzl Makov, CEO and President of the center and asked for a statement. Excerpt:
"In light of Evans' disturbing history and activities, how does the Begin Heritage Center justify the use of their facilities to host a high profile book launching and to promote Evans in a newsletter and blog affiliated with the center? Does it disturb you that the name of Menachem Begin is being used to promote an overtly evangelistic agenda and to rewrite history?"
JewishIsrael received the following reply:
“We appreciate your concerns but are unaware of missionary activities that Mike Evans has been a part of in Israel. Mike Evans did have an event here at the Begin Center, and undertook the event as any ordinary person would, by renting a hall. We can't discriminate without a legal basis.”
Leading scholarly and popular works published on the evangelical-Israel relationship, which have been written by Jews, mention Mike Evans as a Christian Zionist leader, but fail to expose his obvious history as a man who gained notoriety targeting Jews for conversion while serving for several years as a leading figure in the messianic missionary movement. Either these authors failed in their research, or they made a calculated decision to dismiss Evans' past, because they felt it was not relevant to the story – or perhaps not in keeping with the impression of Christian Zionism that they wanted to convey. The fact that the roots and motivation of Christian Zionism has always been missionary in nature is both terribly inconvenient and intolerable for the Jew, and gets in the way of a match made in heaven (so best sweep it under the rug).
Long ago Jewish voices fell silent and handed the task of defending Zionism and Israel to bible-thumping missionaries, and now we are reaping what was sowed.
Some will casually dismiss Evans' fundraising antics, and preacher man style because they say that he is not directly proselytizing in Israel, and that he is effectively stating Israel's case to a Christian audience. But Mike Evans can weave some whoppers and without Jewish writers, spokespersons, and accurate archives, no one will be able to effectively rectify any of the revisions to Jewish history that Evans has spun. Nor will we be able to loosen the foothold that he has gained in Jerusalem.
Today Mike Evans can mesmerize Christians and Jewish audiences alike with his personal story of how he, a poor, abused Jewish boy found jesus after being strangled by his father and left to die in his own vomit.
But JewishIsrael has a very different version, also written by Evans on his upbringing and journey to jesus. In his 1974 pocket book publication on messianic Judaism, a collection of essays by leaders of the messianic movement, Evans writes in his essay "Jesus made me Jewish" of being the product of a mixed marriage and growing up in a loving, church-going family. By 19 he was a confident youth who had a religious experience after stopping at a church one night. Excerpt:
"Everything was going my way. At nineteen I had a black belt in Karate, a new car and a pocket full of money…One night however I became bored with it all…the idea hit me to drop in at a church and get acquainted with the girls there…" – Young Lions, Mike Evans, 1974, page 38
Today the story of Zionism and the modern state of Israel is being rewritten in evangeleze. With no one available to call Evans to order, he has full license to enlarge or diminish the details, and the Jewish people, in order to confirm his prophetic tale and accomplish his Christian mission to "the End".
Like so much of Jewish history, this is a laugh/cry situation. A Yeshiva University affiliated publication honored Israel's nemesis, Jimmy Carter, a man who arguably endangered Israel and the Jewish people. Alan Dershowitz minced no words when he penned, "The blood of Israel's victims of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism is also in part on Carter's hands…". Mike Evans, is a man who has countless converted Jewish souls on his hands, yet he is now welcomed with open arms in the Knesset, at Ariel University and at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Evans has purchased a significant piece of prime property in central Jerusalem to establish a museum of "Christian love", which is the subject of part 2 of this report.
Yet it gets even worse. Just last month at the NRB convention Jewish leaders and diplomats from Israel and the Diaspora marked the 65th anniversary of Israel's statehood by bestowing awards upon two leaders of the messianic missionary movement:
Messianic attorney Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), who gained fame as the lawyer for Jews for Jesus, received the "Defender of Israel" award and evangelist Mike Evans received the "Leadership in Zionism" award.
The Carter era of the 1970s marked a time when Jewish spiritual survival still meant as much as physical survival, and when an entire Jewish community, despite their differences , could rally around the singular cause of Jewish continuity. It was a time when Jewish leaders were not afraid to storm the Oval Office over the value of a single Jewish soul. But there were emerging cracks, contradictions and "dilemmas" which were never fully addressed or resolved by the Jewish community. As a result, the changing theo-political landscape and emerging partnership with the Christian Right would take a toll on Jewish principles and self-respect.
Perhaps the moral of the story is not to expect moral clarity from Yeshiva University law students if our mentors and leaders, who are supposed to be older and wiser, fail in their mission to serve as consistent, accountable, and honest examples for the Jewish community.
[This is the first segment of a two-part series on Mike Evans].