Jews around the world are now faced by the greatest missionary threat in history. According to a 1986 Gallup survey quoted in the book, Ministry of Greed, by Larry Martz (Newsweek Books), one third of the U.S. public now identifies itself as "born-again" Christian. "Born-again" crusades for converts are now stronger, with more money and power, than ever before. The targets are you, your children and your parents. Colleges, high schools, nursing homes, centers for the disabled, hospitals, and even prisons are being infiltrated. Missionaries are exploiting the vulnerabilities of the young in transition, the old and lonely, the sick who are helpless, and people in crisis.
Fundamentalist and evangelical Christian missionaries interpret the New Testament scripture, "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19), in its most literal sense. They are casting drift nets across the world like today’s tuna fishermen, trying to catch everything in the waters they work. These efforts have netted many Jews. Today, more than 350,000 American Christians identify themselves as former Jews; 140,000 of that total call themselves "Hebrew-Christians," according to "AD 2000," a 1989 special report by the International Missionary Research Study Center of New Haven, Connecticut.
The year 2000 has great significance to the many "born-again" Christians who believe that this may be near the time that Jesus will return: the world must hear the Gospel message before "Jesus comes again," so that as many as possible can be "saved." However, the pragmatic side of proselytizing cannot be overlooked—more believers mean more members, more money, and more power. Billions of dollars are spent annually by the born-again movement, not only for recruitment purposes through crusades and television, but also for votes. Sara Diamond, author of Spiritual Warfare: Politics of the Christian Right (South End Press), said in an interview for Z Magazine (January 1993), "Pat Robertson just this past week mailed out 40 million voter guides. He didn’t mail those to empty mail boxes."
American schools are one battlefield for spiritual warfare. The larger missionary groups, those that affect students in the US, have more than 20,000 staff members who coordinate a vast army of tens of thousands of volunteers. These groups are supported by a combined annual budget of more than $350 million dollars. The volunteers march out each day to assault campuses across the country, proselytizing students from preschool through college. None of these missionary groups have a written parental notification and consent system for the minors who are then netted by these efforts. Jewish kids can be trapped like so many dolphins in the drift nets of these unethical "fishers of men," all without the advice or protection of parents who will not be told or asked for written consent.
At least half of all American high schools are affected by or more evangelical ministries, according to Don Wilkemeier, of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCS), Wilkemeier, and others, speak freely about their youth ministries. FCA has a $15 million dollar annual budget and 206 staff members. They are in 500 junior high 2,500 high schools across America. The group Young Life has 617 staff members and a budget of $46 million dollars per year. Youth for Christ has 221 chapters, 900 staff members, and a 1991 budget of $40 million dollars. Student Venture, part of Campus Crusade, has 270 staff members with 115 field workers. One group Child Evangelism Fellowship, targets children from preschool through sixth grade, with 450 chapters in 50 states and a staff of 600.
Colleges are now totally saturated by missionary groups—and Jews represent a substantial percentage of those targeted. Campus Crusade, who has shared programs with "Jews for Jesus," is perhaps the largest evangelical ministry in the world, with a staff of 40,000 that covers 19 metropolitan areas, 100 outlying areas, and 150 colleges. Their 1991 budget was over $185 million dollars. Intervarsity Christian Fellowship has 378 staff members. They coordinate groups at 566 colleges in 48 states, with a budget of $30 million dollars. FCA also has some type of activity at 1,000 colleges.
More than 450 missionary organizations specifically target Jews in the United States, Canada, and Israel, according to Mark Powers, national director of Jews for Judaism. These groups are like packs of wolves, predators stalking only one prey—the Jewish community. The obvious anti-Semitic implications of targeting Jews for special missionary consideration must not be overlooked. Ordained Baptist Conservative minister martin "Moshe" Rosen, head of the so-called "Jews for Jesus," put it this way: "God’s power formula for preaching the Gospel is "to the Jews." This is based upon Rosen’s interpretation of Romans 1:16 in the New Testament, an interpretation that he acknowledges "many will write to dispute."
"Jews for Jesus" (annual budget more than $10 million dollars), the American Board of Missions to the Jews [now known as "Chosen People Ministries"] (budget $7 million dollars), and the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry (budget $5 million dollars, spend $24 million dollars per year combined. There are 160 "Messianic Jewish synagogues" in the United States. One third are affiliated with the Assemblies of God, the same that once supported both Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. These groups often proselytize Russian-Jewish immigrants.
Thousands of missionaries in Israel are supported by so-called "Christian Zionists" like the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. "Messianic Jews" now have 40 congregations in Israel, eve though the Israeli courts have made it increasingly difficult for them to immigrate as Jews under the law of return. Jews play a pivotal role in the biblical view that many "born-again" Christians share of "the end times." The New Testament states that "144,000 from all the tribes of Israel" will be "sealed" before the end (Revelation 7:4). This scripture motivates many zealous missionaries to convert Jews in preparation for prophetic fulfillment. Likewise, so-called fundamentalist and evangelical Christian "Zionism" is really a cryptic allusion to the same prophecies which foretell a violent end for the Jewish people and for Israel. In this view, the only Jews that survive the final holocaust will be "Hebrew Christians."
The evangelical Christian community often considers "Hebrew-Christian" groups to be a resource for information about Jews and Judaism. The Jewish community cannot afford to have pseudo-Jews posing as experts about Judaism and its traditions. Not only do groups like "Jews for Jesus" distort and denigrate Jewish beliefs and observances; they often promote anti-Semitic stereotypes and distribute tracts and books about proselytizing Jews. According to Mark Powers of Jews for Judaism, "Hebrew-Christians" frequently act as advisors to "born-again" Christians seeking to convert a Jewish friend or neighbor, and then come in as "closers" to solidify the effort.
These activities only encourage religious intolerance and confrontation, and often destroy any potential for meaningful interreligious dialogue with "born-again" Christians. More importantly, groups like "Jews for Jesus" seek to redefine the historic parameters of Jewish identity. They see themselves as "completed Jews," rather than their real title of apostates. Would the evangelical community accept "Baptists for Buddha," or Pentecostals for Paganism"?
For the first time, the inner workings and intimate details of the one of the largest "Hebrew-Christian" missionary organizations is revealed in a new book by a former member and professional proselytizer, Ellen Kamentsky (Hawking God: A Young Jewish Woman’s Ordeal in Jews for Jesus, Sapphire Press). In December 1987, Ellen’s picture was featured in Newsweek magazine posing the question, "Why can’t Christmas be a Jewish holiday?" This full-page ad was part of a national campaign paid for by "Jews for Jesus." Ellen stayed in "Jews for Jesus" until her family hired an "exit-counselor" to conduct an intervention. This Christian professional was shocked by the cult-like control the group exerted over her life. Ellen writes, "When I left Jews for Jesus, simply handling daily decisions…was difficult. I had been told what to do for so long…for the first time in a long time I finally felt like me." Not all evangelical Christian groups are destructive, but many have deep and serious problems that have drawn the concern even of members within their own religious community.
What happened to Ellen can happen to anyone. However, many of us prefer to believe that only people with problems from dysfunctional families become involved. Extensive research has proven this assumption false. The mind is far more fragile than we would like to admit; anyone can be "brainwashed" at the right time and place, through certain techniques. In Chapter 22 of his book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Robert J. Lifton, M.D. lists eight criteria that clearly define the setting and conditions required to promote totalist thinking. Lifton is perhaps the foremost authority on the subject of mind control in the world today. He explains concisely the interlocking framework that forms the foundation of brainwashing. If a group can control a person’s environment, communication, social interaction, and access to information, it can program his or her mind.
Interventions, like the one undertaken by Ellen Kamentsky’s parents, are often done to free the victims of radical religious groups. This has often been called "deprogramming." Deprogramming is the process of unraveling the program placed within the victims’ mind through the brainwashing of destructive groups. It is dialogue to discuss the group, its history, and its methodology of control. This is done in an effort to free the mind, by stimulating free thought and critical reflection. Radical religious leaders and their apologists have denounced deprogramming for one simple reason; it works.
For more than decade I have been combating destructive bible-based groups, first as an activist, then as a staff member of a Jewish agency. Now, as a private consultant, I meet with families to facilitate interventions, using deprogramming as the means to free the victims of mind control. Many of my cases have included so-called "Hebrew-Christians." I have received thousands of inquiries from across the country, as well as from Canada, England, Israel, Australia, and Europe. Although based in Phoenix, Arizona I have traveled across the United States from Alaska to Florida working on hundreds of cases. My average rate of success has been about 80%.
One such case took me to San Diego, California, where a Jewish mother found herself in a battle for the mind of her 15-year-old son. Sharon, a divorced single parent, struggled to raise her two children alone while working full-time and taking advanced college courses. At her son’s school, his wrestling coach told him about Student Venture, an organization which sponsored hay rides, dances, barbecues, and even a basketball camp. Jason joined, not understanding its hidden agenda; Student Venture never told Sharon it was even a religious group. She found out the hard way, when Jason tearfully told her and his sister that they must "repent and convert," or "go to hell."
I successfully deprogrammed Jason. At first, however, he was hostile. Sharon exercised her legal right to compel Jason to listen. Together, over a period of days, we covered not only the Jewish response to fundamentalist Christianity, but also the techniques of brainwashing used by the group. Jason decided to leave Student Venture and never went back; today he is a successful college student. Sharon filed complaints against Student Venture through her rabbi, Jason’s public school principal, and the local Jewish Federation.
Jason had joined Student Venture because his coach, who he’d looked up to and whose judgement he’d trusted, had encouraged him. Don Wilkemeier of the Fellowship of Christina Athletes revealed in an interview how the same methods used by Student Venture is part of the FCA strategy. According to their research 86% of all Americans are sports enthusiasts. This motivated FCA to enlist football coaches like Joe Gibbs of Washington Redskins, Dan Reeves of the New York Giants, and Fisher Deberry of the United States Air Force Academy, along with thousands of college and high school coaches, to volunteer time to FCA. FCA organizes its member in "huddles," usually led by a coach; there are currently 4,000 FCA huddles, with 100,0000 participants, in the United States. The coaches act as role models in these groups and influence the your people involved.
Wilkemeier described how, in addition to their huddles, FCA also coordinates bible or religious clubs at public high schools throughout the country. Subsequently, they even adopt the name of the school to describe their group. These bible or religious clubs are permitted by the 1984 Equal Access legislation, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1990. However, Equal Access legislation, which allows religious clubs at high schools, does not allow teachers to proselytize or to permit professional missionary organizations on campus. It defines strict parameters that limit groups like FCA or Student Venture. Therefore, not only are such groups thus often acting unethically, but also they tread on the edge of legality. These groups will continue to violate the rules, unless the rules are enforced through parental concern and complaints. Guidelines regarding Equal Access are available through the Institute for First Amendment Studies or the American Jewish Committee.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Mormons), will also recruit minors without parental notification or consent, sometimes indoctrinating them in secret and they baptizing converts at age 18. I have documented such cases across the country. The Mormons distribute the "Missionary Training Manual for Use in the Jewish Proselytizing Program," and other books and tapes are available with the testimonies of converted Jews. A report published in the Mormon journal, Ensign Magazine (May 1992), stated that there are 43,395 Mormon missionaries worldwide. According to an article in US News and World Report (May 2, 1988), about one-third (14,431 of these missionaries are based in the United States. The Mormons have also built the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, and extension of Brigham Young University, at a five-acre site on Mount Scopus in Israel. There have been repeated allegations of missionary activity regarding this facility.
One case concerning the Mormon Church brought me to San Francisco where a Jewish doctor and his wife decided to deprogram their 18-year-old son, who had been recruited as a minor without their knowledge. A Mormon girl had persuaded Brian to join a summer program in Utah and this led to missionary contacts and conversion. His parents objected to Mormon officials, but their objections were ignored. Brian and I worked together for days discussing mind control, Mormon history, and mistakes and contradictions within the Book of Mormon. Brian left the Mormon Church, and years later I wrote one of the letters recommending him for graduate school. He now is studying psychology.
When confronted by missionaries, people in personal are one of the most vulnerable groups. One Jewish woman I deprogrammed, Joyce Lukezic was locked up in the Maricopa County jail in Arizona. She was later acquitted of murder charges and released. Joyce, however, spent more than two years incarcerated before she was found innocent and during that time she was converted by Pentecostal missionaries. Joyce was facing a sentence of death in the gas chamber and this involvement almost cost her her life. In her book, False Arrest (New Horizon Press, Joyce writes that the members of the group said that her lawyer was an "idol" in her life. They told Joyce to believe that "the Lord would provide" for all her legal needs. Their influence was so strong that Joyce did not cooperate with her own attorney. Her daughter contacted me to deprogram her mother and this effort was successful. Joyce then assertively fought for, and won her freedom.
People in crisis like Joyce Lukezic are easy targets for many missionary groups, and that is why they go after not only Jewish prisoners, but also hospital patents and others who are looking for relief from stress and anxiety. Joyce wrote about her experience that, "For the first time since I entered jail, I felt that I belonged to something. It was a special feeling. It was like being a little girl…touched, comforted, loved." Years after Joyce’s ordeal ended I attended her daughter’s wedding which was held in a synagogue. Although Joyce has returned to Judaism, she almost lost a lifetime of tradition and heartfelt faith at the hands of predatory proselytizers. They preyed upon Joyce’s vulnerabilities, her feelings of depression and isolation.
The Jewish elderly often feel lonely and isolated. Missionaries associated with a "Hebrew-Christian" group called the "Jewish Voice" once infiltrated the Jewish nursing home where my grandmother was a resident. As a direct result, I became an activist and helped to stop this unwanted intrusion. A religious program coordinated by a rabbi was then created which now fills the void that the missionaries sought to exploit. Ellen Kamentsky, once a missionary herself, wrote, "A large percentage of the people we saw were elderly. They were easy t influence…sometimes I went door-to-door in nursing homes. No one ever stopped me." It is vitally important to have programs that reach out to Jews with special needs. They must not be neglected, but rather must be effectively included within the framework of the larger Jewish community.
How can we combat the missionary threat that now confronts our Jewish community? Preventative education can inoculate young people against this virus before religious recruiters can infect them. However, for this vaccine to work young people must be offered relevant education that is focused on the specific problems they will face. Curriculums now exist that can provide the shot needed in the larger needed in the larger Jewish educational system. We must stop this plague of proselytizing from victimizing more Jews, and prevent the pain that so many families have experienced.
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) has been instrumental in providing much material concerning missionary and cult movements including: an effective mini-course for the upper grades in religious schools entitled "Missionary and Cult Movements" written by Annette Daum; a video titled "The Target is You," which is about "Hebrew-Christians" and is available in Russian through Jews for Judaism; and "Guidelines for Parents, Youth, and Community Leaders." In addition, there are also some courses concerning cults and missionaries offered by some Jewish Federation Bureaus of Jewish Education such as in Miami and Phoenix.
There are two task forces currently in place, sponsored by the Jewish Federations of New York and Los Angeles, that deal with cults and missionaries and they also have clinics to help families faced with this problem. In addition, Jews for Judaism, with its national office in Baltimore, is tracking missionary groups and can offer meaningful information.
Several books are available to help in understanding the missionary threat and its underlying psychology and methodology. Hawking God is the definitive, first-hand account about "Jews for Jesus," and should be read by anyone interested in the so-called "Hebrew-Christian" movement. The Mind of the Bible-Believer, by Edmund D. Cohen (Prometheus Books), a psychologist and attorney who was once a fundamentalist Christian, also offers deep about that movement. Another book is The Jew and the Christian Missionary: A Jewish Response to Missionary Christianity, by Gerald Sigal (KTAV Publishing). Sigal explores the biblical and theological responses required to deal with zealous evangelical Christians bent on confrontation.
If someone you know is involved in a destructive religious group, be careful. Don’t argue about, or criticize the group. Instead, first educate yourself. Find information about the group and study the subject. If you decide upon an intervention, consult with a recognized expert. Look for someone that has worked with members from the specific group that has drawn your concern. If that is not possible, find a professional that has experience with members from groups that are similar in nature. Take the time to develop a meaningful strategy by using resources that can contribute to a satisfactory outcome.
Over the years, former members and parents have written me to tell of the positive changes in their lives after a successful intervention effort. One mother wrote of the joy she felt after her daughter’s deprogramming, and subsequent departure, from a church called the General Assembly in San Francisco. She said simply, "It is so thrilling to have her free."
Many former members can now better understand the sacrifices their parents and others made for them during difficult times. One young Jewish woman writes about the "team effort" of her "family and friends," and says, "Thank you sometimes doesn’t convey…the overwhelming sense of gratefulness and relief." She describes her deprogramming as if she "was rescued from drowning" and concludes, "I owe my life today to all of my rescuers."
Today there are many Jews swimming in troubled waters. Some may become captured within the drift nets of fundamentalist and evangelical missionaries. Predatory sharks proselytizing as "messianic Jews or "Hebrew-Christians" may stalk others. How many Jews with the potential to make a meaningful contribution to Jewry have been, or will be, lost because no "rescuers" were there for them? Or because they weren’t told or prepared or didn’t even know about the hazards posed by proselytizers? What then will be the response from the Jewish community? Will fellow Jews stand idly by, and then offer the rationalization that it was the victim’s fault for being vulnerable or claim that the victim came from a less than perfect family?
Hillel once said, "If I am not for myself. Who will be? In regard to education ourselves against the missionary threat, perhaps the Jewish community would do well to also remember his other words: "If not now, when?
"The Missionary Threat" researched and completed in 1995 was specifically written for a Jewish audience. It addresses Jewish concerns about fundamentalist Christian missionary groups, such groups that target Jews and also radical groups often called "cults."
The report was initially prepared as a submission to Reform Judaism magazine, a publication of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), which is now the largest denomination of Judaism in America. It largely reflects my experiences working within the organized Jewish community as a member of two national committees for the UAHC and as a professional staff member of Jewish Family and Children’s Service and the Bureau of Jewish Education in Phoenix, Arizona during the 1980s.
The report was subsequently published by the Institute for First Amendment Studies, an educational nonprofit organization that has since disbanded, but was once concerned about the separation of church and state and the ongoing political and social action activities of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians.
Since the report was prepared not much has changed. The missionary groups mentioned continue to be active and/or have substantially expanded. Groups called "cults" have likewise continued to progress and recruit new adherents.
Some have expressed criticism of this report claiming it uses "adversarial, inflammatory and polarizing language" apparently concluding that if Jews oppose unwanted proselytizing this is somehow "bigotry."
Nothing could be further from the facts.
Not only does the organized Jewish community have the exclusive right to determine the parameters of its own identity regarding the spurious claims of so-called "Hebrew-Christians," but also the inherent right and some would observe imperative to defend itself against the unwanted intrusion of missionaries and cults. Jewish parental prerogatives include the protection of minor children against such groups, especially those that target Jews. And it seems to be an expression of religious hubris to suggest otherwise.
No apology is therefore offered concerning the contents or comments within this report. It is simply a response to the overt and often covert acts of some fundamentalist Christian missionary groups and others to convert Jews.
A critic of this report suggested that such a response is somehow "anti-Christian."
Again, nothing could be further from the facts.
Most Christians do not support missionary efforts to convert Jews. The Roman Catholic Church has renounced such activities, as have most of the larger Protestant denominations.
Today we are witnessing an increase in religious fundamentalism around the world, often with disturbing effects. This has included Christian, Jewish and Muslim extremists.
It is my hope that people of all faiths will learn to live together in peace. A positive foundation for this might be laid by recognizing common ethical concerns and subsequently establishing some reasonable boundaries, which would include proselytizing efforts.
Reaching an understanding concerning such basic ethical principles then might also lead to additional meaningful dialogue and some much needed bridge building.